Cessna’s Citation XLS+

Making a great performer even better.

There’s nothing better for a business than finding a great concept- executing that concept exceptionally- and keeping the ball rolling by preserving the fundamentals while improving the product in meaningful- value-adding ways.

Such is the story of Cessna and its Citation Excel- a product that re-wrote the book on light jets when launched in 1994 and continued that run through a pair of improvements leading to the XLS+ nearing certification.

It’s been a heady flight path for the model designated as the 560XL over the years since its first delivery in 1998. Realizing that certification and first delivery of Cessna’s latest incarnation of the 560 model is due a scant 10 years after the original Excel entered service brings on two reactions.

First is the wonder at how quickly 10 years can pass; it seems like only a few months ago that a Cessna staffer was privately briefing me on an all-new Citation unlike any to come before. The briefer wouldn’t share the name but did hint at the equivalent initials: XL. At first- given that a few short years earlier Cessna won certification for the Citation X- it seemed that Cessna was skipping a lot of numbers to get to XL. No- the briefer assured me; the “X” and “L” weren’t numbers… “Think about it-” my contact said.

The second reaction hit home looking at the delivery numbers: Almost 700 in about a decade – an extraordinary degree of success in a field where designs sell in far smaller numbers before being supplanted by something “better.” But even back in the middle 1990s- when the planemaker confirmed the launch of the innovative Excel- the conventional wisdom tilted toward realizing that Cessna had hit on a winning combination in this so-called “super-light” business jet.

Today- with the imminent certification of the second Excel follow-on- what made the original such a winner remains the underlying strength and appeal of the new one- dubbed the XLS+. One sales staffer shared with me recently: “You don’t mess with success; you just keep evolving what works into something even better.”

Best of both worlds
Back in the mid-1990s- business jet customers told Cessna of their desire for a machine with light jet operating and economic traits- but with a cabin that offered more space and comfort than those of the other 500-series Citations. Hearing its customers – and recognizing an opportunity to fill a gap in the field of available options- Cessna undertook development of a jet that borrowed elements from other successful Citation designs.

Already winning rave reviews for its blisteringly fast 0.92 Mach cruise speed- the Citation X also offered the largest cabin ever available in a Citation. So- to give its new light jet an unusually wide and tall cabin for a light jet- Cessna started with the fuselage of its then largest jet- the Citation X- and shortened the fuselage about 21 feet to a length commensurate with the jet the company sought.

To provide the easy flying traits of a light jet and retain the smaller Citations’ advantage in runway performance- Cessna engineers came up with the straight wing of the already successful Citation with a supercritical airfoil on a straight wing borrowed from the already successful Citation V Ultra. The Citation V’s tail was also adapted to the new design.

Add a new P&WC engine – the 3-800-pounds-thrust PW545A – trailing-link landing gear and an interior inspired by the Citation X- and Cessna was ready to make the launch announcement at the 1994 NBAA Convention.

Certification was awarded in April 1998 and initial deliveries started a few weeks later. Along the way to certification- the Excel picked up aft fuselage strakes reminiscent of the Learjets built across the airport from Cessna. By the time deliveries of the Excel began- Cessna held more than 200 firm orders for the 560XL. A new legend was borne- one that would go on to account for 370 units before being superseded by its first update.

The update – dubbed the XLS – offered a new panel- updated engines and a longer standard-equipment list – but kept what had worked so well.
The result was more than a simple designation change to the XLS. Announced at the October 2003 NBAA convention- the XLS sported a Honeywell Primus 1000 three-screen EFIS flight deck- engines improved with 4.9-percent more thrust at 4-119 pounds- a single-channel electronic engine control dubbed the PW545B- a standard APU- TCAS II- EGPWS and LED cabin lighting- to name a few of the changes. In all- the package offered increased value- more range and better runway and climb numbers. All the original selling points – including the 5.7-foot-tall cabin – remained unchanged though. Cessna won continued strong sales of the XLS- with customers taking 329 more XLS models by the time its run ends later this year.

That’s just one short of 700 560XL versions delivered in a decade – the best numbers of any individual Citation and the best of any one jet model ever- according to Cessna.

The latest of the greatest
Cessna didn’t wait five years to announce another evolution in the 560XL- however- instead making the announcement at the 2006 NBAA Convention in Orlando- Florida. The timing assured that the newest version would hit the market right about the 10th anniversary of the type. And- once again- Cessna has moved the bar up for the 560XL- with another cockpit upgrade and another engine rework- to name only the most prominent of the changes.

For the XLS+- Pratt & Whitney Canada has worked some magic on the engine- producing the new PW545C with the same thrust but better fuel control and consumption- thanks to the full-authority- multi-channel digital engine control added to the core engine.

Up on the flight deck- Cessna undertook a sea of change instead of an evolution- opting for a new system from an altogether-different vendor – Rockwell Collins. Cessna opted for the Collins Pro Line 21 suite with four 8-by-10-inch screens- enhanced diagnostics- XM weather datalink- electronic charts and plates and a number of useful ergonomic changes. The planemaker is also offering a second file server to provide additional redundancy needed for electronic charts and plates.

The base attraction of the Excel remains- though- but it’s improved on the XLS+. For example- the XLS+ can take off from runways of about 3-500 feet- climb directly to its FL450 service ceiling in 29 minutes- cover more than 1-800nm- and land using as little as 3-180 feet.

For a light jet on the edge of the mid-size cabin class- that’s an impressive set of numbers. The opening price of under $12 million is another element in the success of the XLS+ and a factor in the model’s continued strong backlog- with more than 130 on order at last reports.

In the wings- ready to soar
The maiden flight of the XLS+ occurred just seven months back- on August 2- 2007- at the avionics maker’s facilities in Cedar Rapids- Iowa- and the program has progressed apace ever since. “With the flight progressing as planned and the aircraft performing as expected- this first flight was a great success-” noted Cessna Citation XLS+ program manager Kevin Steinert- after the initial 90-minute flight. “The integration of the new Collins Pro Line 21 and Pratt & Whitney’s FADEC-equipped engines went smoothly and we look forward to continuing this program on schedule.” The aircraft quickly returned to Cessna’s Wichita facilities to continue evaluation and testing. According to various reports and sources- the test-flight program has proceeded well and certification is reportedly imminent as of this writing in early February.

Pilots who’ve been allowed to sample the upgraded jet report that the XLS+ retains all the excellent handling- pattern manners and outstanding runway performance as its predecessors. But these pilots and others exposed to the all-new- all-electric XLS+ simulator developed by Flight Safety International literally gush about the Pro Line 21 panel and how it works for the crew.

Speaking of simulators- FSI’s move to electric motive force for the Level D XLS+ simulator is winning rave reviews from pilots and instructors allowed to sample its performance. According to several- it’s “smoother”- “quieter” and “more realistic” throughout its motion range. “It’s more like the real thing than I’ve ever flown-” said one XLS pilot exposed to the new simulator.

At last reports- the simulator was completing its final checks with real pilots at FSI’s simulator-manufacturing facilities in Tulsa- Oklahoma- in preparation for installation at the training company’s Citation Learning Center in Wichita- Kansas.

Providing certification is granted in the second quarter- initial deliveries of the XLS+ should occur in the third quarter. But where deliveries end is anybody’s guess. With the total delivered and ordered edging ever closer to 900- it’s no stretch to imagine Cessna announcing the delivery of the 1-000th 560XL before the end of the decade. And if further opportunities arise to improve this singular jet- there seems little doubt that Cessna and its partners will make them happen- giving the 560XL potential for years to come.

More information from www.cessna.com