Cessna marks 50th anniversary of first Citation flight

Textron Aviation is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the maiden flight of the original Cessna Citation business jet – the first model in what has become the largest business jet family in the world.

The prototype, branded the Citation 500, lifted off from Wichita’s Municipal airport (now Wichita Dwight D Eisenhower National airport) on 15 September 1969 for a 1h 45min sortie, piloted by Milt Sills and J L LeSueur. US certification was awarded in September 1971, leading to first deliveries in January 1972.

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Textron Aviation

Cessna unveiled a mock-up of the light business jet in October 1968, originally calling it the Fanjet 500. The concept was to offer a growing population of business travellers an aircraft that was a quieter, simpler, safer and less expensive option than other business jets on the market, that also gave pilots of twin-engined turboprops an easy transition.

At a price of about $695,000, the six-seat Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-1B-powered Citation had a maximum cruise speed of 350kt (650km/h) and a range of 1,330nm (2,430km).

“The same vision that led to the creation of the original Citation 50 years ago still guides us today,” says Ron Draper, president and chief executive of Textron Aviation, Cessna’s parent company.

“We are building on our history as an industry leader and investing in the future to continue to exceed customer expectations,” he adds.

Cessna has delivered more than 7,500 Citation models worldwide. The current family line-up includes the M2 entry-level jet, CJ3+ and CJ4 light jets, superlight XLS+, midsize Sovereign+ and Latitude. The Longitude super-midsize business jet is scheduled to enter service before year-end.


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AFRL’s robotic pilot flies Cessna for 2 hours

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Dzyne Technologies have developed a robotic system that successfully flew a 1968 Cessna 206 for 2h during a demonstration at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah on 9 August.

The Robotic Pilot Unmanned Conversion Programme intends for a mechanical robot to fly an aircraft in same way as a human pilot would, says the AFRL. Its robotic system is called Robopilot.

To fly the aircraft, Robopilot grabs the yoke, pushes on the rudders and brakes, controls the throttle, flips switches and reads the dashboard gauges in the same physical way a pilot would, says AFRL. To maintain situational awareness, it uses sensors, such as a GPS and an Inertial Measurement Unit device. A computer processes information from those devices to decide the best way to control the aircraft.

Robopilot first flight in Cessna 206

AFRL

“Imagine being able to rapidly and affordably convert a general aviation aircraft, like a Cessna or Piper, into an unmanned aerial vehicle, having it fly a mission autonomously, and then returning it back to its original manned configuration,” says Alok Das, senior scientist with AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation. “All of this is achieved without making permanent modifications to the aircraft.”

The installation involves replacing a pilot’s seat with a frame holding equipment necessary to control the aircraft, including actuators, a robotic arm, sensors, cameras, power systems and various other electronics, says AFRL.

It is not known how long the installation takes, or if any special training or equipment is required, as AFRL did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is also not known how many general aviation aircraft are compatible with Robopilot.

AFRL and Dzyne of Irvine, California designed, built and tested Robopilot over the past year. Before attempting flight, a joint team of engineers demonstrated the robotic system performing autonomous takeoffs, mission navigation and landings in a RedBird FMX simulator, says AFRL. The research lab says the RedBird simulator is a full-motion, Federal Aviation Administration-certified trainer.

Experiments with Robopilot are similar to Aurora Flight Sciences’ work on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) programme. In that programme, a drop-in, removable robotic kit was installed and tested in a Diamond DA42, Cessna 208 Caravan, Bell UH-1 Iroquois, and de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver. The system later prepared a simulated Boeing 737-800NG for an auto-landing.

ALIAS robotic system prepares simulated Boeing 737-800NG for an auto-landing

Aurora Flight Sciences


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California’s Ampaire demonstrates parallel hybrid Cessna 337

A Cessna 337 Skymaster powered partly by an electric motor flew on 6 June from a California airport, demonstrating a prototype propulsion system that manufacturer Ampaire hopes to deploy commercially by 2021.

Ampaire replaced the twin-engined 337’s rear combustion engine with a “proprietary electric propulsion system” that utilises a lightweight battery system for power.

But the company left the 337’s forward engine in place, resulting in a “parallel hybrid” design in which the gas engine and electric motor run concurrently, each providing thrust.

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Ampaire replaced this Cessna 337’s rear combustion engine with an electric propulsion system, leaving the forward engine in place

Ampaire

Cessna 337s have a push-pull propulsion design, with one propeller at the front of the fuselage and one at the rear. The aircraft are typically powered by two Continental IO-360 piston engines.

The six-seat prototype took off from Camarillo airport northwest of Los Angeles with one pilot and one flight engineer aboard, and flew about 22nm (40km). Ampaire had already flown the prototype but says the 6 June sortie was the first flight before a public audience.

The FAA in May granted Ampaire authority to begin a flight-test programme, which will involve multiple missions each week until August, to “gather data about the electric propulsion’s performance characteristics”.

Califonia-based Ampaire has disclosed few details about the aircraft or its systems on the grounds that it is a prototype.

However, the firm says the modified 337’s range is “nominally” 174nm, although this will vary according to passenger count and weather conditions.

Ampaire will use flight-test data to develop a pre-production prototype, which it expects to ship to the Hawaiian island of Maui, Hawaii later this year for flight testing between Kahului and Hana.

Hawaiian regional carrier Mokulele Airlines will support the effort by providing Ampaire with hangar space, parts, pilots and maintenance, according to reports.

Ampaire is also working to establish a test programme with Puerto Rican regional carrier Vieques Air Link, and 14 airlines have expressed interest in the technology, it says.

“Ampaire has mapped a clear path… to commercial operations in 2021,” the company says.

The effort comes amid a boom of interest in hybrid-electric and electric aircraft designs, which are seemingly coming closer to commercial viability.

Israel’s Eviation is developing Alice, a nine-passenger commuter and business electric aircraft. Likewise, Canadian regional airline Harbour Air expects to begin flights with a modified de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver seaplane later this year, using an electric propulsion system made by Magnix. That company is also providing power for Alice.

Meanwhile, United Technologies has started work on “Project 804”, an effort with Pratt & Whitney Canada to develop a hybrid-electric propulsion system for a regional airliner using a De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Dash 8-100 turboprop as a prototype.


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Cessna eyes Longitude approval, despite US government shutdown

Textron Aviation is in the final stages of the validation process for the Cessna Longitude business jet, having secured provisional type certification from the US regulator last year, which has enabled the company to begin customer training flights.

Although the airframer has yet to see any impact from the partial shutdown of the US government, which affects parts of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it cautions that the agency is still required for final approval.

Speaking on a 24 January full-year earnings call, Scott Donnelly, chief executive of parent company Textron Aviation, said the Longitude team is “working hard” towards the certification goal.

Flight testing is complete, and a problem with the type’s fuel tank has been resolved, he says, leaving just paperwork to finalise. This process is expected to wrap up in around a month.

“The good news is that virtually all those documents are delegated to us, so that work is continuing unimpeded by the FAA guys not being in,” says Donnelly.

But he cautions that the company still requires the US authority to issue the type certification “as that is something, we’re obviously not delegated to do”.

Planned production of the super-midsize twinjet has been “tweaked up a touch” for 2019, says Donnelly, based on the initial aircraft for NetJets, which are expected to begin delivering in the third quarter.

The fractional ownership provider placed an order in October for up to 175 Longitudes, along with 150 large-cabin Hemispheres.

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Textron Aviation

Deposits for the initial batch of NetJets Longitudes were received late last year, as well as “retail units” in the fourth quarter.

Donnelly says the Longitude is in “a very good place” with the programme expected to contribute to a “big chunk” of the company’s profits.

“We’re going to have a product that hits the market in terms of performance and cost, and the demand seems strong,” he says.

Although Textron’s engineering resources are tied up on the Longitude, the company is still aiming to fly its latest turboprop pair – the single-engined Denali and twin-engined Sky Courier – this year. “Those programmes are in good shape,” Donnelly concedes.

He adds that few resources will be allocated to the in-development Hemisphere until Safran has solved the high-pressure compressor (HPC) issue on the Silvercrest engine that has been selected to power the 12-passenger twinjet.

“We will not ramp a lot of spending into that until we’re confident that the engine programme is in good shape,” Donnelly says. “We should have an idea around mid-year.”

Safran will begin testing a redesigned HPC for the troubled powerplant in the second quarter.

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Textron Aviation

Meanwhile, higher volumes, a favourable mix of aircraft types and firmer pricing contributed to a 6% hike in revenues last year, rising to $4.97 billion. That figure is forecast to climb again in 2019 to $5.5 billion.

For the 12 months ended 31 December, the US airframer delivered 188 Cessna Citation jets, compared with 180 during the previous year. Shipments of Beechcraft King Air and Caravan turboprops rose by 31 units over the same period, to 188 aircraft.

The division’s performance was boosted by a particularly strong fourth quarter, with turboprop output growing by 50% year on year, from 45 to 67 aircraft, and Citation deliveries climbing by five units, to 63 jets. This output contributed to a 12% year-on-year hike in revenues in the last three months of 2018, to $1.6 billion.

Donnelly describes the market as “healthy” with “pretty strong demand” for aircraft across the Cessna and Beechcraft product lines.

“Our sales teams are still feeling good about where things are,” he says. “There’s still an awful lot of customer activity, and it’s fairly broadly across the product portfolio.”

Demand for its line-up has been strengthened by the decline in inventory of pre-owned aircraft – particularly models fewer than five years old – which Donnelly says is at an “extraordinarily” low level.

Order intake grew during 2018: Textron Aviation ended the fourth quarter with a backlog valued at $1.8 billion, up from $1.2 billion at the end of 2017.


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UTC to supply deicing system on Cessna SkyCourier

UTC Aerospace Systems will supply the deicing system on Textron Aviation’s in-development Cessna SkyCourier, an aircraft Textron says will first fly in 2019.

The aircraft will have UTC’s Goodrich-branded, pneumatic-inflated rubber deicing boots on critical flight surfaces like wings and tail, says UTC vice-president of business development Mark Skarohlid.

Textron is developing the twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65SC-powered SkyCourier as a freighter and passenger aircraft.

FedEx has already ordered up to 100 of the aircraft, which Textron expects will receive certification in 2020.

The deicing system will use inflatable rubber boots made of UTC’s “Estane” surface material, which the company says provides improved protection against cold-induced cracking and degradation caused by aircraft fluids, ultraviolet light and ozone.

The system will come with a pressure-sensitive adhesive that allows operators to fly the aircraft within 2h of installation, says UTC, noting that other adhesives can require 48h dry time.

The system will also have sensors that notify pilots of icing conditions, Skarohlid says.

The boots can last up to 15 years before requiring replacement, though the useful life depends on aircraft type and mission, the company says.

UTC’s deicing systems are certified on some 200 aircraft types, including general aviation aircraft and regional jets.

UTC’s electro-thermal deicing systems could also be used on supersonic aircraft and aircraft powered by electric or hybrid-electric engines, Skarohlid says.

FlightGlobal updated this story on 19 October to reflect new UTC-provided information that differs from earlier information given by the company. UTC now says it does not make deicing systems for SkyCourier’s propeller blades, nor do its icing sensors detect ice by accreting ice. Also, the deicing boots last up to 15 years. UTC previously said the system can be replaced in 4h, but now says replacement times widely vary. The company clarifies SkyCourier can be flown 2h after installation of the deicing system.


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Cessna short-circuits talk of electric-powered aircraft

The potential of electric and hybrid-electric propulsion has not yet impressed industry heavyweight Textron Aviation, according to the company’s top engineer.

The Wichita-based manufacturer has conducted several projects to investigate electric power as a full or partial substitute for jet fuel, Textron Aviation’s senior vice-president of engineering, Brad Thress, said during a press conference on 28 May.

So far, the arithmetic of electric storage devices, such as lithium ion batteries, still does not provide a persuasive case to replace standard, hydrocarbon-based fuels in aviation, he says.

“We’ve had several projects where we looked into it and did some I think respectable math and try to understand the physics of what’s good and what’s maybe limiting,” he says.

“I think that really fundamentally it comes back to power density. The ability to have about 2% the amount of power stored in a lithium ion batteries as Jet-A, that fundamental math is just hard to overcome.”

Some new entrants to the industry, such as Seattle-based and Boeing-financed Zunum Aero, are working on a hybrid-electric propulsion system for a six- to 12-seat aircraft with a range of about 700nm, with a goal of lowering operating costs by 30% compared with hydrocarbon-powered alternatives.

But Thress says that Textron Aviation’s studies have not provided persuasive evidence to support such a programme.

“You can hybridise it so you can at least use some stored electric power, but it’s very difficult to make an intercontinental airplane just because the power density isn’t what it needs to be,” he says.


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