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New life for old CJs

Most of an M2's performance at half the cost

The old saying that life begins at 30 wasn’t aimed at CitationJets, but strangely, it applies.
The upgraded panel is a mix of digital and analog. The colorful, touchscreen Garmin displays as well as the standby instrument and autopilot are new, but the engine gauges and angle-of-attack indicator are original. The annunciator panel at the top/center of the instrument panel is original, too.
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The upgraded panel is a mix of digital and analog. The colorful, touchscreen Garmin displays as well as the standby instrument and autopilot are new, but the engine gauges and angle-of-attack indicator are original. The annunciator panel at the top/center of the instrument panel is original, too.

At an age when many corporate jets are obsolete, these pioneering Cessna Citation CE-525s are getting new avionics and additional capabilities that allow them to compete with newer models.

I recently flew a refurbished 1993 CJ that had been upgraded with dual G600 primary flight display/multifunction displays, two GNS 750s, a GI 275 standby instrument, and a Garmin autopilot that gave it the look and feel of a Citation M2 for about half a used M2’s $5 million price tag. And the CJ’s performance, while demonstrably less in terms of speed, time to climb, and range, was still in the ballpark with an identical ceiling of 41,000 feet.

And the two airplanes’ sporty, energetic handling qualities are the same.

“In some ways, the G600 touchscreen and 750s in the CJ are more user-friendly and intuitive than the G3000 suite in an M2,” said Bryan Adamez, a pilot and aircraft manager for the CJ, an M2, and several other corporate jets at V1 Aviation in Maryland. “Most pilots will find these aftermarket avionics more familiar and much easier to use than anything else in the flight levels.”

After an aircraft checkout with Adamez, I flew the upgraded CJ from its home base in Hagerstown, Maryland, to Dallas, Texas, and back—a seven-hour, three-leg, day/night journey that provided a real-world test.

A vivid picture

Meeting the airplane at the Rider Jet Center at Hagerstown (HGR) on a humid summer morning, the preflight inspection and walkaround is standard. The airplane sparkles with recent paint, and the panel looks inviting after its thorough, Garmin STC upgrade.

The work was done by Textron in Greensboro, North Carolina, for an all-in price of about $400,000. Blackhawk Aerospace in Texas and JetTech in Colorado specialize in CJ panel modifications, which typically take about six weeks to complete.

There are about 350 straight CJs registered in the United States, and more than 50 have had the Garmin STC upgrades. About 200 more have had less comprehensive panel upgrades.

Since this airframe—N373AA—has spent most of its working life in Germany, its placards are printed in both English and German, and the airplane’s many achtung and verboten stickers are a novelty to me.

The CJ cockpit is snug, even for an FAA-standard-sized human like me. Climbing in and out requires some contortions, and pilots have to be mindful not to kick the three tuning knobs (heading, barometric pressure, and altitude select) on the center pedestal. They’re all critical, and damaging them from clumsiness would be highly regrettable.

The CJ engine gauges are all analog, as they were untouched during the panel upgrade.

Starting the non-FADEC, Williams FJ-44 engines is done with the aid of a 28-volt, 1,100-amp ground power unit, and the process is standard: Check the voltage, press a start button, add fuel via the appropriate power lever at 9 percent N2 or more, and monitor interstage turbine temperature, ignition, and N1 rotation. ITT on both engines rises rapidly after light-off to 900 degrees but remains below the limit, then recedes into the normal range.

Putting the air conditioning on Auto takes the edge off the sweltering heat during the half-mile taxi to Runway 27, and loading the flight plan via GNS 750 is almost indistinguishable from the Garmin Touchscreen Controllers (GTCs) in a G3000 system.

The CJ pre-takeoff checklist has a few additional items compared to a more automated M2, and the CJ engines put out about 65 pounds less thrust per side at full power. But even near the maximum takeoff weight (10,500 pounds) on a sticky, 90-degree day, acceleration is moderate, and the airplane reaches its 105-knot rotation speed after a ground roll of less than 3,000 feet.

With landing gear and flaps up, the airplane climbs about 2,500 feet per minute at 200 KIAS. Rising to 40,000 feet takes 42 minutes and the rate diminishes to less than 500 feet per minute near the end, but the airplane gets to its flight-planned altitude despite extremely warm temperatures all the way—ISA ranges are from 20 degrees Celsius at 10,000 feet to 9 at 40,000. (This airplane isn’t equipped with Tamarack winglets which the manufacturer claims significantly accelerates both climb rate and range.)

The Garmin GFC 600 autopilot does an admirable job of holding the programmed indicated airspeed throughout the climb without bobbling in the thin air. In level flight, the CJ cruises at 355 KTAS while consuming 640 pounds of fuel per hour.

Descent planning via the GTN750 is straightforward, and cooperative air traffic controllers and the airplane’s vertical navigation features bring the airplane down at an almost constant rate of 1,800 feet per minute to traffic pattern altitude. With clear weather and calm wind, following a GPS-derived “visual approach” to Runway 22 provides both vertical and lateral guidance all the way to touchdown.

The CJ’s control harmony and cooperative nature stand out during hand-flown approaches, and the trailing link landing gear is wondrously forgiving. The combination of anti-skid brakes, thrust attenuators, and ground flaps (60 degrees) allow for rapid deceleration and short rollouts.

At Conway, Arkansas (CXW), I load as much of the relatively inexpensive fuel as the airplane will carry, make another heavyweight takeoff, then cruise at 26,000 feet on the 90-minute leg to Addison Airport (ADS) in Dallas.

Hot, hazy weather nudges me to fly an ILS approach to Runway 16 and loading and activating the procedure has one potential gotcha: The ILS frequency loads in the Standby position, so the pilot must manually switch it to Active on the GNS 750. (A G3000 automatically loads and tunes the ILS frequency.)

The rich, colorful G600 with synthetic vision, flight director, flight path marker (green dot) as well as green ILS needles on the horizontal situation indicator give a vivid picture of the airplane’s surroundings throughout approach and landing. The situational awareness it provides is every bit as good as a G3000.

Photography by David Tulis.
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Photography by David Tulis.
The control yoke. The CJ has slightly less payload, and its performance is limited by non-FADEC engines. The center pedestal Many tasks (such as cabin pressurization, engine synchronization, and anti-skid braking) that became automated on the M2 must still be done manually in the CJ. The G600 primary flight display provides exceptional situational awareness on the ground and in flight. The CJ airframe and interior dimensions are nearly identical to the newer M2 CJ owner and airport engineer Mahesh Kukata flies with this Hindu Lord Ganesha charm in the cabin. The entry door are familiar to Cessna Citation pilots.

Midnight landing

The longest and most challenging leg on this trip is the late-night, 3.5-hour return trip to western Maryland.

It involves another maximum-weight takeoff, some thunderstorm avoidance leaving the Dallas area, a long climb up to the airplane’s 41,000-foot ceiling and fuel management to ensure adequate reserves.

Taking off from Runway 16 with an 8-knot headwind, the Citation is airborne in just under 3,000 feet and climbs about 2,000 feet per minute. The GWX75 radar display on the G600 PFD/MFD shows only a few strong returns during the climb, and minor heading changes on our departure route keep us well clear.

With a temperature of more than ISA +15 degrees at 36,000 feet, our climb rate is anemic and I level off at 39,000 feet about 45 minutes after takeoff. After about 20 minutes in level flight, the airplane gains enough energy to finish the climb to 41,000. There, fuel consumption is 640 pounds per hour and the pressurization system holds the cabin altitude at 7,600 feet.

Winds aloft provide a minor push during the second half of the flight. A mostly direct route, a relatively low fuel burn, and optimal descent timing means arriving at Hagerstown with comfortable fuel reserves of about 1,000 pounds/90 minutes.

I let the automation fly an LPV approach to Runway 9, a type of approach that wouldn’t have been possible in this aircraft before its avionics upgrade. The weather is clear and calm, however, and the runway lights are visible at 10 miles before our midnight touchdown.

Robust retrofits

The CJ’s combination of G600s and GTN750s is extraordinarily powerful and tightly integrated—and there are aspects that I prefer to a G3000 suite.

The G600 touchscreen, for example, makes switching between CDI sources a breeze. The physical position of the GTN750s closer to the left-seat pilot makes both of them easier to reach than GTCs—an advantage for single-pilot flights. Also, the hip-height position of the heading/baro/altitude knobs makes them comfortable to manipulate.

There are some things to miss about the G3000. Its perpetual “fuel over destination” readout instantly updates the ways changing winds or reroutes affect the airplane’s fuel supply; the Performance tab on a GTC crunches METAR data and spits out runway requirements, and it automatically sets speed bugs for takeoff, approach, and landing. And the lone dot on the G3000 airspeed tape that depicts Reference speed is a helpful graphical crutch the CJ lacks.

The CJ’s G600/750 and angle of attack indicator provide all that information—but retrieving it takes some digging.

Many aspects of the M2 are superior to the CJ, most notably the FADEC engines. They’re more powerful, more efficient, easier to start, and they automatically manage ignitions and fuel pumps. An M2’s payload and maximum takeoff weight are about 200 pounds greater, it’s about 40 knots faster in cruise, it’s newer, climbs quicker, and creature comforts are better, too. Pilot seats are more adjustable and supportive, there’s a handle to grab while climbing in and out of the cockpit, and a pneumatic slider prevents the entry steps from banging when they open or close.

But do those things make an M2 twice as valuable as a refurbished CJ?

The long and growing line of CJs awaiting avionics upgrades and renovations says lots of buyers think not. And that robust retrofit market is likely to lead to future upgrades for a wide variety of legacy jets far beyond the CJs that have gained such popularity recently.

Dave Hirschman
Dave Hirschman
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.

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