Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Single Engine Jets - And the winner is...Cirrus

After talking with all the Single Engine Jet (SEJ) manufacturers at NBAA, it's pretty clear that Cirrus will be the dominant player in this space.

Product design is a series of trade offs and compromises. Cirrus has the best balanced single engine jet. I'm certain they will achieve their goals of not being the fastest or furthest or carrying the most load. They will provide the best value. Cirrus has already taken $100,000 unsecured, fully refundable, deposits on over 500 planes, far more than any other SEJ. They are selling to their installed base, which is the largest demographic likely to upgrade to SEJs. Most Cirrus owners, including me, are generally happy with the company and the products.

The Diamond DJet is still suffering through a major engine change, just months before certification. The cabin still feels too small.

The Piper Jet looks interesting. The cabin is heavily copied from the Meridian/Mirage line. They've added vectored thrust to counterbalance nose drop when power is applied. My biggest concern is Piper's financial depth to bring this product through certification and then support it effectively. While it is nice to have the choice to climb above virtually all weather at 35,000', prudent pilots should stay in the mid-20's in case of depressurization. I don't believe there will be an option for a whole airframe parachute.

The Eclipse 400, like the rest of the company, is a joke. The experimental prototype had better not be indicative of the final design since it is so small and cramped. It was hard to get real data on what the 400 will be.

I gave Epic a cursory glance. They have a diverse and exciting product line on paper. The planes look great on the ramp. How well they succeed in certification and in company strength is an open question at this time.

It's pretty clear to me that Cirrus will sell at least 1,000 or more SJ50s over the next few years. With numbers like that, will Cessna again miss this opportunity and again be forced to acquire a small player like Columbia in order to play catch up? How long will Cessna and Embraer stand on the sidelines?

Cirrus continues to be an innovative, exciting company to watch. They will be company who best fills the $1.5-2M market gap between top end single engine pistons under $1M and twin jets like the Mustang which cost over $3M.

NBAA 2008

Just returned from a busy 30 hours at NBAA in Orlando. While the economy is affecting so many sectors, especially commercial aviation, Business/Private/General aviation is generally doing well and will likely do so for several years to come, at least according to Honeywell.

For example, I stopped by the static displays at ORL where you can actually play with the planes. At the Gulfstream display, I checked out the mockup of the new G650. It goes for a cool $60M, and was only introduced in May. I asked the friendly Sales Engineer what the order backlog was. While Gulfstream does not make this public, it is "higher than any major league batting average, and sold out through 2018." Translation: something like 350-400 units. With a non-refundable deposit of $3M (the cost of a Mustang), the deposits alone are worth $1B.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wii Fit

Nintendo launched the Wii Fit in the US Today. As an individual who takes his endurance exercise pretty seriously, I can't imagine that this game / fitness device will make a significant impact in someone's fitness.

However, I did get a Wii for my son's 11th birthday a few weeks ago and it's the most fun game machine I've played with in a long time (not withstanding $20M Flight Simulators). When I play simple tennis on the game, I get a decent sweat going even if I'm not running around a court. It's a fun, simple distraction from a base line of solid endurance work. It's certainly more entertaining for cross training than watching TV from an elliptical machine.

The best stationary cycling machine I've used is from Expresso. The virtual reality and competition is only way I can stay focused indoors for more than an hour.

Combining an entertaining visual, kinetic and audible experience is a great way for time to pass on otherwise extremely dull indoor activities. The Wii Fit is just a baby step in the right direction for combining exercise and entertainment in new and interesting ways.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I learned some valuable lessons in yesterday's marathon. Ultimately I dropped out at the Newton Fire Station (17.5 mi) due to severe cramping.

Here's what I did wrong: 1) Insufficient training, especially in hot weather. This led to 2) dehydration causing severe cramping. 3) Other minor factors were the Passover holiday over the weekend where we hosted and I had a significant change in diet.

The hardest part about Boston is not the hills - it's training through the Boston winter. I go insane after more than an hour on a treadmill or elliptical machine. While I can endure 120 laps on an indoor track a few times per training season, I don't have the ability to make it a regular part of my regimen. So I'm left with taking long runs outdoors irrespective of the weather conditions. This year, I simply didn't do enough long runs. Consequently, I didn't manage my intakes well past the second hour.

Last year when I successfully completed the marathon, I walked in the last two miles since my quads locked up. In discussing what happened with more experienced friends, and subsequently confirming this during long (6 hr+ ) bike rides, I needed to take electrolyte supplements during warmer days, especially when out for more than 2 hours. So in this year's marathon, I was well equipped for the warm weather with electrolytes.

I made sure to drink at every water station. However, in my run induced haze, I badly miscalculated the amount of water I was taking in. During my long training runs, I would carry a water bottle and know quite precisely my fluid intake. Along the marathon route, with the small, sloshing cups given out by the excellent volunteer crew, I was taking in maybe 2-3 oz per station. So after 3 hrs, I had maybe drank 20-30 oz, instead of the 60+ plus oz I would have drank on a long bike ride or a training run. That was exacerbated by the extra electrolytes I was taking in so as to not repeat last year's walk in. Since I hadn't done enough training runs in warm weather I didn't notice the clear warning signs, first at foremost that I had stopped sweating even though the temperature was rising.

Just before mile 15 at the Marathon Sports / Whole Foods location in Wellesley, I popped another electrolyte pill, thinking that a water station was in sight. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a non-official station created by bystanders which we had been warned to avoid. All the salt was already absorbed in my mouth by the time I got to the real station 0.5 mi down the route. My lips and mouth started to swell and tingle. And I still didn't drink enough at this station.

Soon afterwards, near the end of mile 15, just before the Wellesley-Newton line is the biggest descent of the course. It's one of the more technical areas, so I ran it at least 10 times in training to improve my downhills. Halfway down the hill at a decent clip, my left hamstring cramped up, I grunted in pain and barely limped to the side. I walked it out and it seemed to get better. Immediately afterwards is the first of the Newton climbs, from the Charles River to Route 128. By the top of the climb, I had bad cramping everywhere - left and right hamstring, quad, calf. I knew the Dana Farber tent was a short distance ahead. By the time I got into the tent, I was light headed, nauseous and felt like I was going to pass out. They sat me down and I started to recover. Incredibly I was actually worried about hyponatremia rather than dehydration so I refused the water they offered me. I didn't train enough to read the signs.

When I was capable again, I walked 0.5 mi more to the medical tent at the Fire Station. I felt so lousy by then that continuing was out of the question. I called home to let them know I hadn't died on the course. I had blown my estimated time badly. Still feeling cramped and light headed, I lay down on a cot, sipped a bit of water, and was covered in a mylar blanket by the attentive First Aid crew. Eventually, the other wounded and I were bussed to the finish line.


  • Toe blister
  • Some sunburn, chaffing
  • Bruised ego

I will not be running Boston in 2009 because it is around the same time as my daughter's Bat Mitzvah, so I won't have the training time. Perhaps I'll do another, easier marathon. In 2010, I expect to run Boston again, with much better training and preparation. It's certainly a challenging course. The event is really special both for the runners, a valuable charity cause, and the thousands of terrific spectators along the route.

My thanks to Dana Farber for an excellent organization, and especially to my family for permitting me to take the time to train for this valuable experience.

"I'll be back."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a toy

All my spare time has been devoted to preparing for the Boston Marathon this coming Monday, so updates to the blog have been sparse. Now, it is taper time so I can catch up a bit.

Got the attached photo from a friend at Embraer. This is Phenom 100 s/n 003, which has the full, final interior. It is getting cold tested in a big fridge down in Florida. Pretty amazing ramp presence, especially compared to the Eclipse. The Eclipse looks like a toy next to the P100. You get what you pay for...

Monday, March 17, 2008

POGO IPO Delayed - maybe indefinitely

POGO is another start-up Air Taxi operator, basing their business on the much maligned Eclipse 500. They were planning a stock issue of approximately $100 million, mainly for the purchase of aircraft. POGO is led by Robert Crandall, ex-AMR / American Airlines Chairman.

This week, their investment bankers were supposed to set the price, but has since delayed the offer due to lack of interest.

Everyone knows of the turmoil in the capital markets so it clearly is not the best time for any company's IPO, let alone anything aviation related. Airlines have a long history of exaggerating market cyclicality. If we are in a recession, airlines will suffer more than most.

Nevertheless, I have serious doubts about the POGO model. According to their last S-1, they were planning on using the Eclipse 2000 hrs / year. I can't imagine how they would get that kind of dispatch ratio. The Eclipse is having significant problems with delayed FIKI, Moving map / GPS, Autopilot and EASA certification. The shortest of due diligence would see through this.

DayJet, the major current operator of Eclipses as Air Taxis, is expanding but still significantly under utilizing their fleet of 28 planes, as you can see in these detailed stats. DayJet is in the Southeast US. POGO was supposed to operate in the Northeast. For reliable business purposes, it is simply impossible to operate a non-FIKI plane of any type in the Northeast winter.

So even if the economy and IPO market were favorable, I'm skeptical of the Eclipse and Air Taxi operators that base their business upon it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

D-Jet Gets Bigger Engine

Diamond announced yesterday that their upcoming single engine jet will be upgraded from the FJ33-4A-15 to FJ33-19. This will increase thrust from 1,564 lbs to 1,900-lbs.

This larger engine is the same Williams engine planned for the Cirrus Jet.

Rumors have been circulating for awhile that the -15 engine was too small for the plane.

The problem with both of these single engine jets is that they are limited by certification to 25,000'. At 25,000' the fuel burn will likely be 400-500 lbs / hour. In contrast, a Mustang or P100 at 41,000' will burn only 10-15% more fuel. For that you get two engines, less weather and more redundancy in all systems.

Both SEJs also have less efficient engine configurations that the traditional pylon mount on the tail. The D-Jet has two narrow intakes which will cause some turbulence and inlet drag. The Cirrus Jet engine is vectored so both intake and exhaust are angled.

These two single engine jets certainly have lower acquisition costs than a Mustang or P100, but their fuel burn and therefore fuel cost, will be very similar to the twins.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Registration Sticker, not Duct Tape

An update to my post about Duct Tape Destroying a Wing: The plane was being delivered from Independence (KIDP) to Croatia. The Croatian registration sticker, not duct tape, had been placed over the fuel vent. Many countries require the tail number be displayed under the wing as well. In this case, the registration was a similar white color to the wing.

At least this makes it a little easier to understand why the pilots missed the sticker - perhaps they didn't know the plane well enough to know where all the fuel vents were. When they saw the sticker, they probably didn't assume there was a vent hiding underneath it. An official looking sticker is a lot less obvious than a big piece of duct tape.

There does not appear to be an NTSB report yet, but there is one from the FAA. Two months after the incident, the plane was repaired and was apparently delivered to Croatia.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mustang vs. Phenom 100 Comparison

Here is the definitive Cessna Citation Mustang vs. Embraer Phenom 100 Comparison. There's probably way too much detail. Want a one minute answer? From the first page:

The Mustang is right for you if:

  • It will be owner-flown, often single pilot, with part-time, short distance revenue rides.
  • You are stepping up from something smaller.
  • Passengers are typically 3 F’s: family, friends, and free-loaders.
  • Cabin comfort and convenience is not that important. You are willing to spend $3M on a jet yet would be ok with using a bag in a bucket as an emergency lav and having only half the passenger seats able to recline.
  • Minimal operating expense is important.
  • You need the comfort of an established, reputable service organization.

The P100 is the right for you if:

  • It will be mostly professionally flown, with maybe an occasional owner/operator.
  • You are stepping down from something bigger.
  • You will get paid to carry people.
  • Your wife won’t let you buy a jet unless she’s happy – cabin comfort, color/style, and variety of options are very important. You must have a fully enclosed lav even if it is dry chemical.
  • 5-10% higher acquisition and operating cost won’t break your budget.
  • You rarely use runways less than 4,000’ long.
  • You are confident and willing to bet that Embraer will figure out how to service these planes including AOG issues. Once the factory maintenance is in place, you need a high dispatch rate, say greater than 1000 hrs per year.

Now read the gory details.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Embraer Phenom 100 Review

I've received permission from Embraer to make available the public version of my Embraer Phenom 100 Review. A detailed comparison with the Mustang and part 2 of my Brazil trip report will coming by the end of the week.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Another Use for Duct Tape - Destroy a Jet's Wing

At Cessna's Independence, KS manufacturing facility, a new Mustang's wing was significantly damaged. How? Someone inadvertently left tape covering the fuel vent on the Mustang wing. The fuel pump is strong enough to suck the aluminum skin right through the metal posts. Whoever started up the plane obviously did not do a sufficient pre-flight.

In searching the NTSB records, I found only one other occurrence (ref: FlightSafety, NTSB):

BA HS 125 Series 700A. Substantial damage. No injuries.

VMC prevailed and an IFR flight had been filed for the morning flight from an airport in the US. The captain said that the airplane was being flown at 4,000' when the flight crew heard a bang and believed that the airplane had struck a bird. They conducted a normal landing at the destination airport.

An inspection revealed that the left-wing fuel tank was compressed, the left wing distorted and the left-wing fuel vent was blocked with duct tape. The left-wing fuel-tank stringers and the left-wing ribs also were damaged. The captain said that the fuel tanks had been repaired and pressure-tested before the flight. After the pressure test, the maintenance technician removed duct tape from the right-wing fuel vent, but the maintenance technician and the flight crew did not observe the duct tape covering the left-wing fuel vent. Because the fuel vent was blocked by tape, air could not enter the fuel tank as the fuel pump began pumping fuel out. The resulting low pressure inside the fuel tank led to the collapse.

The final report said the the probable cause of the accident was "the pilot-in-command's inadequate preflight inspection, which resulted in a flight with a blocked fuel-tank vent." The report said that a contributing factor was the failure of the maintenance personnel to remove the duct tape.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Snowshoeing as Cross Training

Last week, running along the beach in Ipanema – this week snowshoeing in Lake Placid. Wednesday was a cross training day, so I tried snowshoeing for 1.5 hrs. Advantages:

  • Easy on the joints, under the crunchy snow
  • Weight distributed more evenly across the foot due to the wide pad of the snowshoe
  • Still weight bearing, unlike the bike or elliptical
  • Great to be outdoors in the woods, rather than in the boxy gym
  • Good for the muscles as it took a non-trivial effort to pull through deeper sections of snow.


  • Hard to reach appropriate aerobic levels. If you try running on a bumpy trail, it’s easy to fall. I saw only one other person on the trail, and that was just ¼ miles in. Even with a PLB, it would not be fun alone in the cold woods with a twisted knee. So I was satisfied with a quick walking pace and enjoyed the wonderful Adirondack scenery.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Visit to Embraer Phenom Plant in Brazil - Part 1

I strongly considered the Embraer Phenom 100 (P100) before committing to purchasing two Mustangs, but the delay was too long and there were more unknowns.

One friend is an early P100 position holder and gave design input and feedback to Embraer while still in concept stage. Two other friends have agreed to purchase four P100s with an option for an additional four.

I personally needed to learn more about P100 – to touch it, speak to the engineers, to visit the factory – before making a purchase decision.

To visit the Phenom plant, you must have a visa, vaccinations for yellow fever, and plan at least 4 working days including travel. You must also meet at least two of the following three criteria:

  • be a complete aviation nut
  • have a strong sense of adventure, like flying in a Seneca with visible lightning in all quadrants
  • be forced to by your employer (but at least you may be able to expense the Brazil’s seedy side – no details on that – there are some aspects I wasn’t interested in experiencing).

From the time I left my office at 3pm on Monday Feb. 11, it took 45 hours of travel to meet my first Brazilian Embraer employee. There was a short hop from Boston to JFK, where I met Henry Yandle, the Embraer sales rep and my host on this trip. We woke at 4am on Tue to catch the 7:30am departure for Sao Paulo. Of course the departure was delayed, but we did finagle an upgrade to First Class and lay flat seats for the 10 hour flight. Brazil is a sea of green blanketed by towering cumulus convection, stretching from the equator to the Tropic of Capricorn. The summertime bulging of the troposphere pushed many clouds above our cruising 41,000’ altitude. We circled for an hour over Sao Paulo waiting for the latest thunderstorm to dissipate. Getting low on fuel, we diverted for a 45 minute flight to Rio de Janeiro along with at least 5 other jets.

The plane refueled while we sat on the ground for 2 more hours. There was a clearly sick older Brazilian woman, who tried staying comfortable in business class only to be constantly disturbed by all the chatter around the exit door. I gave her my lay flat seat and gathered some pillows before an ambulance came to provide some care. Since Henry and I were going by private plane to the Phenom plant the next morning, we were happy to stay in Rio rather spend another hour flying back to Sao Paulo and waiting with the rest of the herd to clear customs. We asked two flight attendants who would not let us down the ramp to walk across the taxiway even though we fortunately had no checked luggage. In desperation, I even whipped out my FAA Pilot Certificate – "We’re both pilots – we know how to walk around planes". Finally, after discussing it directly with the Captain, we were set free by bus. The plane eventually made it back to Sao Paulo without us. Amazing that the crew didn’t time out.

We breezed through customs only to be flailed at by four young women each in a tiny booth offering cab services. There didn’t seem to be any differentiation of cabs or services and of course none spoke passable English or any other language besides Portuguese. By passing the Henry’s cell phone around with his contact on the ground at Embraer, we sorted out the destination and fixed price. En route to the Marriott in Copacabana, Henry’s phone rang with the second diversion of the night. We had to re-route to the Cesar hotel in Ipanema because the Marriot was now full. Finally, we dropped into a dumpy room, with a terrible view in the beautiful location of Ipanema. After all the hassles, Embraer picked up the hotel tab at the desperate sucker rate of $500 per night.

I started the next day with a training run along the beach. The only girls from Ipanema I saw running at 8am on a weekday morning were forty-somethings like me trying to stay in shape. The natural beauty of the place is clear once you peek through the overbuilt cement buildings and ignore the dense traffic. Twenty, maybe forty years ago, it must been have spectacular.

Getting from Rio (SBRJ) to the factory in Gaviao Peixoto, (SBGP, map) was by chartered, normally aspirated Seneca with two pilots and minimal avionics. Our passports were held for review by the pilot and we passed through normal security. Somehow, the metal detector failed to notice my bulky watch and digital camera. This GA airport had two uncommon aspects: the two parallel runways were less than one runway width apart, and a nasty gondola cable only 2 miles from and 1320’ above the departure. Take off and turn left.

We sat on the ground for 10 minutes with one engine running waiting for ATC. At 27 dC outside, of course the engine was cooking and the plugs were fouling. We received clearance, taxied into position, then did the run up on the single active runway, found the fouled plug, taxied back, ran up the poor engines to yellow RPM arc for a full minute, and then finally took off and turned left. We were erroneously told to expect a 1:20 flight, which turned out to be 2:20 in the noisy, uncomfortable Seneca. At least my GPS watch was accurate.

When we finally arrived at the factory, we were greeted by a lovely woman named Karen (or maybe it was Kathy – I’ll have to ask Henry). The factory is 30 minutes outside of the small town, surrounded by orange and sugar cane fields (and plenty of gnats and mosquitoes – bring high DEET bug repellent and don’t forget the vaccinations including yellow fever).

The field is owned exclusively by Embraer for Phenom production, Brazilian Military F5 maintenance and some other random maintenance. The Phenom painting and interior is done here as well. Amazingly, it has a staffed control tower even though during the hours I was there the only traffic was our transport Seneca.

On the ramp was s/n 001 getting ready for a test flight. I was allowed to take pictures from the ramp only at great distance, even though I had signed an NDA. S/n 001 taxied out to an intersection departure, which this case it would use only 3 km of the 5km long runway. It took the runway, spooled up, moved about 100', spooled down and then taxied back for maintenance. Oops! It did eventually make it out while we were touring the factory.

Since our arrival was again delayed, the cafeteria was already closed. Karen provided some boxed ham and cheese sandwiches. Can anyone explain why Brazilians eat so much ham and cheese? On the commercial flight down in first class, we were served an appetizer platter of ham and cheese slices followed by a main course choice of (surprise!) a ham and cheese sandwich. If I did eat ham, I would have had it available at every meal at every location including breakfast. Fortunately, there were fantastic, delicious other choices everywhere else.

The production plant can contain 4-6 planes in various stages of construction. With help from Toyota, a single line will be used for both the 100 and the 300. S/n 002 had already flown and was receiving further modifications. S/n 003 would be the first with the full interior was getting ready for first flight in a couple of weeks. S/n 004 was just a fuselage on the side. Phenom 300 s/n 000 was a fuselage waiting for wings while the Williams engines sat on the side.

I was given free reign to examine the airplanes currently in production.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Real World Cross Country in a Cessna Citation Mustang

On Feb 1, 2008, I accompanied Jim, a Senior Cessna Demo Pilot, on his return flight from White Plains, NY (HPN) to Wichita, KS (ICT) in N327CM. This 1116 nm flight overflew some nasty weather including freezing rain, poorly plowed runways and multiple icing layers and included a LOC BC approach to minimums in the snow. There were some great lessons learned in real world flying of the Mustang.

Getting to HPN

I took a Colgan / US Air Saab turboprop from Boston to HPN. It was a clear, sharp contrast as to why passengers vastly prefer jets to turboprops. Everyone had to sit in the back, behind row 6, for weight & balance. The interior felt 50 years old. Even though it was only a 45 minute flight, the plane was very noisy, and full of vibration which made the hop feel significantly longer. We stayed at 8,000’ initially, dropping to 6,000’ for the second half of the flight, on much the same route as I would have had in the Cirrus. We must have been close to 250 KIAS, as my GPS watch was reporting a groundspeed of 290 kts. Conditions were VFR at night. If I was flying in the Cirrus, I would have been very surprised to see a big turboprop that fast and that low. Opposite direction traffic would have converged quite quickly.

I can only imagine the fuel burn in spite of turboprop efficiencies.

Exiting the plane on the left, it was disconcerting to see the right prop still whirling away. I like walking within 50’ of big props only when they are stopped completely, thank you. In this case, the right engine stayed running while passengers disembarked. Even as an aviation geek, it was not a pleasant experience.

Leg 1: White Plains (HPN) to Terre Haute, IN (HUF)

The next day, we left at 8am to avoid freezing rain in the New York area that was forecast to start an hour later. Panorama, the FBO, was unusually slow about getting our fuel and paperwork finalized, while we watched the nasty pink stuff drift in from the southeast.

After executing our checklists and doing final preparation for takeoff, we turned on the Flight Director. One strange aspect of the Mustang avionics is that you turn on the flight director using the Go Around button on the power lever, but turn it off using the FD button on the Garmin 700 autopilot. I don’t really understand the reason why either button could toggle the flight director.

The Westchester 1 departure off of runway 16 has a sharp turn to 320° at 800’. We were IMC before reducing power from takeoff to max climb. I was hand flying while Jim was handling the radios and pushing the occasional button to keep the flight director in sync with NY Departure’s frequent vectors. With two of us and full fuel, the Mustang handled beautifully again.

Keeping the Mustang tucked the flight director command bars required my full attention but was not difficult. FADEC was a huge help through multiple step up transitions. As I got more comfortable, and the radios quieted a bit, I did more of the button pushing until I did everything but the radios by the end of the day.

We picked up some rime ice through the lower altitudes which was handled fine by the boots. The Mustang wing boots leave a thin seam of icing, about a ¼” high and ½” thick along the front most part of the leading edge, probably where there is a gap between the upper and lower boots. There was no discernable difference in flight characteristics.

There was a huge weather system stretching from Indiana to New York, containing plenty of freezing rain, sleet and snow. We were going to fly from one edge of it to the other. The cloud deck was huge – we didn’t break into the clear until 36,000’ on the way up to our cruise altitude of 38,000’. The XM nexrad showed all the colors of the rainbow beneath us – blue, pink, white. This same system had just dumped 7” of snow on St. Louis.

We planned Terre Haute, IN (HUF) as a fuel stop due to long runways, little traffic and inexpensive fuel. Due to low ceilings, the ATIS confirmed our estimate of an ILS 5 with a reasonable 10 kt tailwind on the 9,000’ runway. This would bring us closer to the FBO on rollout so we could have a quick turn.

While descending through 10,000’, with some rime ice building on the wings again, ATC called to switch us to the LOC BC 23 since winds were now gusting to 20kts, still from the southwest. Jim is a very experienced pilot, with as much time as anyone in the Mustang, but he had never done a LOC BC in the real airplane. So we were both busy in a real hurry. I left the GPS navigation on the left side PFD, while Jim viewed the localizer on his right side PFD. The BC, or Backcourse, button on the Garmin autopilot didn’t function quite the way we expected, but we stayed clearly on course according to both navaids. Presetting the bugs for Vref and MDA was very useful. At the TTH VOR, we descended to the MDA and kept an eye out for the runway. Just a couple of miles out we saw at least the VASI so we could continue our descent. The plane seemed a bit fast so I asked Jim when we should deploy the second notch of flaps. With the distraction of the LOC BC, the weather, the unintuitive BC button, we had both forgotten to drop the second notch at the VOR. Less than a mile out, we put in the second notch.

We landed a bit fast nevertheless, which wasn’t a bad idea given the gusting winds. The runway had patchy snow and ice. Braking action was poor, at best fair in spots. Before I knew it, we’d used up 7,000’ of runway even with speed brakes on rollout. I’d been warned that these slippery jet powered gliders can chew up runway in a hurry and this was a clear case in the real world. We could have been harder on the brakes, but we had plenty of runway and didn’t want the brakes to grab too hard on one side coming in and out of so many ice patches. After we slowed, the tower asked for a braking report so Jim dug in and the anti-skid did the job.

At the end of the runway, we prepared to turn off only to be greeted by a 7” snow bank that would have challenged the propeller clearance on the Cirrus. Jim confidently told me to keep the plane moving and we plowed through like a champ. The 9,000’ taxiway had not been cleared so we left groomed cross-country ski tracks in our wake.

Once settled, we did a near record 16 minute turn, including the long taxi and time to break off the ice seam along the leading edge of the boots with our gloves.

HPN-HUF 2.6 hrs, 1.1 actual, LOC BC 23@HUF.

Leg 2: Terre Haute, IN (HUF) to Wichita, KS (ICT)

We were now on the trailing edge of the storm, heading into clear weather over Missouri and Kansas. Before takeoff, we were cleared up to 10,000’ and of course, encountered some more icing along the way.

Since Jim was heading home, we did not take full fuel in HUF. We were now reasonably light, in go fast mode and the performance showed. At FL320, ISA -1, weighing 7320 lbs, we were truing out at 360kts burning 730 lbs / hr. That’s 20 kts faster than promised by Cessna. When ATC let continue our climb, fuel burn decreased.

As I was more comfortable with the plane, and the workload was lower, we had time to play with the more advanced features of the G1000, including Top / Bottom of descent planning, using different VNAV controls of the autopilot, and re-route planning. A number of these items have been described in my Mustang Wish List(+++ add link).

Since Wichita was VMC, I asked to hand fly the ILS 19L to minimums. ATC was cooperative so we were fully configured on the glide slope at 8,000’ well before the outer marker. We shot the approach at 105 kts, slower than I normally do an approach in light IFR in the Cirrus. We also had a 40 kt headwind, lollygagging along at 65 kts over the ground. I had plenty of time to feel how stable the Mustang was at low airspeeds.

Since this was too easy, just as I looked up from the instruments to go visual within the last 500’, the wind had to shift 50° to the left. While it wasn’t at 40 kts anymore, we still had a significant forward slip, just like a single engine piston. I touched down gently on the left wheel first, albeit to the right of centerline. Even though Jim was reassuring again, I just didn’t know how far I could roll to the left and leave plenty of ground clearance. We easily made the turnout from the dry pavement.

HUF-ICT 1.9, 0.2 Actual IMC, 0.1 Simulated IMC, ILS 19L@ICT

Lessons Learned

Every flight I make in the Mustang builds my confidence about being able to handle the transition and master the twin engine jet. When everything goes right, the first and last four minutes of flight are intense. In between is a calm, comforted state that the plane has so much redundancy, reserve and quality of systems. Flying the Cirrus is very active – monitoring the engine parameters continuously, looking for potential landing or parachute sites, thinking of failure conditions. You anticipate something will break – it’s just a matter of time. Flying the Mustang is less unnerving and significantly less taxing. Something may break, but there’s lots of backup and headroom– a failure rarely means an emergency.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Remembering Bobby Fischer

Reading Cavett's Eulogy of Bobby Fischer, brought back some interesting memories of childhood. At 8, I remember beating an International Chess Master in only 14 moves during a simultaneous exhibition. It was deemed newsworthy in the chess column of the local paper at the time. Encouraged by this, I played in some tournaments, beat some adults and got a rating. As such a young kid, I never had the discipline to study the game - I played on instinct alone. The Bobby Fischer craze died down, and I haven't yet taken it up seriously again. At least I did insist that my kids learn to play.

Those early wins gave me great confidence to tackle larger challenges later on. In spite of the madman and anti-Semite Bobby Fischer eventually became, thank you for inspiring one young kid to play in an adult world and win.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Running in Circles

February is definitely the hump month of Boston Marathon training. The weather is worst, with cold biting wind and icy roads. Mileage is ramping up so every week is a balancing act of building mileage, dropping pace time, dropping weight and avoiding injury.

Today's mid-week run was 6 miles, with freezing rain and sleet outside. Given the conditions, I went to my regular indoor track for 72 laps, which is more challenging mentally than physically. How I stay focused:

  • Count down the laps, rather than counting up. It's more motivating.
  • Whenever possible, use a lap counter rather than keeping it in your head.
  • If you keep it in your head, call out the correct lap at every turn. Losing count is all too easy - which is very frustrating.
  • Keep a tough enough pace so your mind can't fixate too much on the task at hand.

Last year, I once had to do 120 laps, or 10 miles. Once you're in the right mental groove, it feels like you could go on forever.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Piper Meridian Test Flight

Note: I took a demo flight in a Piper Meridian on Nov 2, 2007. This is my PIREP.

Flying Characteristics:

Startup is straightforward. The avionics, including the AHRS, come up before starting the engine, so there is less wait time on the ground. Before the fuel page, the MFD reports if there have been any prior overload conditions. The big Avidyne engine monitoring page provides plenty of information to monitor the startup.

Taxiing is easy. You leave the prop in beta and steer with the movable nosewheel. Brakes are hardly necessary. The parking brake is easy to set without stomping on the pedals.

While being docile with a new demo plane, the Meridian didn't quite jump off the runway. Vr is 85 KTS and the first 1000' were slower than expected.

Departing from runway 11, there was slow traffic immediately in front us transitioning along route 128. We needed a sharp turn to the left which was handled well by the plane.

It's very easy to exceed Vne in level flight below 20,000'. You get a warning horn and the PFD airspeed indicator flashes red. There is no yellow arc.

Climbing to 16,500' took about 12 minutes taking into account leveling off under the Boston Bravo. We were at altitude by MHT and did airwork between MHT and LEB.

Steep turns require two hands on the yoke for heavy back pressure. The feel of the plane is solid throughout, including dirty slow flight, like a sportier version of the PC12.


The Avidyne / Garmin 430 combination is almost identical to the Cirrus. I felt immediately at home. The second PFD/AHRS is reassuring given the number of previous PFD failures. There are tiny backup gauges in the top left which are less usable than the backup Cirrus gauges but at least the attitude indicator is independently battery backed up. The two PFDs are slaved but could be decoupled.

The STEC 1500 attitude-based autopilot is significantly better than the cheap 55X in the Cirrus. However, it isn't as well integrated with PFD. All altitude presets, airspeeds and VSI are set directly on the autopilot. The right side softkeys of the PFD are useless except for the altimeter.

The MFD is slightly different. Each of the two knobs contains an inner and outer dial, which is easier to use than the sometimes overloaded single knob in the Cirrus. Onboard radar is a separate page and controlled directly by the MFD. There are no electronic checklists, which I never use anyway, though the emergency checklist would have been useful. The rest is the same: moving map including engine monitoring, TAWS, CMax, Trip/XM weather, Nearest and Engine.

There is Skywatch and optional IHAS. Dual transponders are an option. This plane had every option except the European avionics.

Cabin and Comfort:

The seats are very comfortable, on a par with a luxury car. The cockpit feels spacious. Forward visibility isn't as good as the Cirrus, though certainly more than adequate. Side visibility is better as the pilot is further forward in front of the wings.

Getting into the cockpit is easier than getting out. There's a three point safety belt instead of four. It'd be nice to have an AMSAFE option especially without a parachute. Getting out of the cockpit is tight and awkward. You end up falling over the rear facing seats.

The cabin is more comfortable than expected. A tall person can certainly stretch out and have excellent visibility. Opposing faced adults would certainly jostle their legs but fit. There's a cheap plastic fold out table which is too far away to put a laptop. With a bed, your dogs would likely have plenty of space on the floor. Passengers would certainly be more comfortable here than in the Cirrus.

There are six standard headset plugs, but no LEMO connectors. There are no power outlets, but this is commonly added by an avionics shop. There's an optional radio/CD storage bin combo. XM music channels are not available.

It was a pleasant day so we didn't really exercise the environmental systems. It was always comfortable, never breezy and the pressurization went unnoticed. The turbine is of course much smoother than any piston.

Baggage space is a problem. Like the TBM, the only space is accessible by folding down the rear seats. The limit is only 100lbs. You can buy a golf club net for a mere $2100. With the seats folded down, you can lay flat a bike or two.

There are two little external cubbies. One in the empennage for storing rags, and another is behind the weather radar for slow cooking a chicken.

Sound Measurements:

Pilot ear level: 89 dB

Rear facing left and right seats: 88

Forward facing left seat: 86

Forward facing right seat: 91

I measured these twice to be sure and have no explanation for the big gap in noise between the two seats. It would be possible to keep headsets off in the cabin without too much discomfort, but conversation would be difficult. The turbine has a pleasant steady whine rather than the pounding of the pistons.

Market and financials:

This new plane is available now for $2M. It’s unsold inventory. A new custom configuration has a 60-90 day lead time. An early ’06 model, which is when the Avidyne was introduced, ranges from $1.5M-$1.7M. There are plenty on the market and aren’t selling apparently. According to Vref, prices for both the Meridian and the TBM are neutral or falling. In contrast, the PC12 is increasing.

For my missions, the Meridian would be adequate. I can’t justify the additional $1M for a new TBM’s additional range, payload and speed. The G1000 TBM is not available for a year. One option still to investigate is 700B model with steam gauges.


For the Cirrus pilot, the Meridian is the shortest path to turbine flying. The avionics are basically the same. I'd likely feel comfortable with the new systems, including the turbine, within 10-20 hours. It would take more time to get used to high altitude weather and flying in occasional icing.

Mustang Wish List

Mustang Wish List

The most up to date version of the Wish List can be found at Mustang Wish List.

The Cessna Citation Mustang is a wonderful airplane, especially for a brand new design. I'm sure it, or its derivatives will continue to improve over time. This wish list was created to keep track of potential improvements. It is not a critique of the Mustang, but rather practical feedback to provide to Cessna in order to improve the product for every one's benefit. Thanks to various contributors for your ideas and suggestions.

If you have additional ideas or suggestions, email me at the address listed at the bottom of this page. Let me know if you would like credit for your suggestion.

See also my Mustang Review.

G1000 / Avionics:

  1. The G1000 should definitely preset V speeds on the PFD, rather than the manual error-prone process. It has all the necessary information.
  2. When entering an airway on a flight plan, the intermediate waypoints are not displayed. When ATC clears you to a later waypoint, the only option is to take out enroute charts and figure out the waypoint manually even though the G1000 knows. Perhaps there could be a manual "Expand / Collapse airway" menu item on the Flight Planning page.
  3. There is no way to do any "What If?" route planning. On a plane with two separate 430 or 530s, you can use the second to plan alternates for time, fuel or on-course heading / DTK. There is no way using the G1000.
  4. VNAV Planning:
    1. Show Top of Descent (TOD) distance. Right now, it is shown graphically and by time, not distance.
    2. Planning +x / -x miles from a waypoint is less intuitive than the 530/430 VNAV planning where plain English "Before / After" is used.
  5. The METAR graphical display flags are too large, obscuring too much information when zoomed out.
  6. EICAS: have more text available for the messages. There are too many obscure messages to memorize. At least allow highlighting an EICAS message and have a "More..." softkey to get an expanded description or suggested action in case an unfamiliar message appears. Obviously significant messages should be memorized by the pilot.
  7. Why does the "Go-around" button turn on the Flight Director, and the Autopilot FD button turn it off? Couldn't either one flip the state of the FD?
  8. A little tone or beep crossing 18,000' would be useful.
  9. Checklists should be available on the MFD.

Cabin / Comfort:
  1. Like any modern car, allow cockpit and cabin temperatures to be set by thermostat, rather than manually. The plane has a tendency to get warm during descents.
  2. At least a chemical toilet, instead of just a bag. Anyone have a good source moisture absorbing crystals as found in diapers? There have to be some good aftermarket solutions for this already.
  3. The cabin has too much plastic, like a mid-market American car, rather than the luxury details you'd expect from a private jet.

Entertainment / XM Radio.
  1. Passengers should be able to view the current XM channel in addition to changing it.
  2. Crew should have XM output in the cockpit that is muted automatically by ATC.
  3. There should be a external input for an MP3 or DVD audio available in the cabin that would be sent to all cabin headset outputs.
  4. Ideally, the XM radio should be detachable for use outside the plane.

Public Address:
  1. A real intercom should be available between crew and at least one cabin area, as found on some Caravans.
  2. The PA button should be a useful cabin announcement via the two cockpit speakers, which are already clearly audible in the cabin. This is worse if passengers are actually using the XM headphone jacks, since there's no way to break in for a PA announcement.

  1. Tip power should be sufficient to power other brands of headphones, such as Sennheiser, etc. besides just the Telex.
  2. LEMO plugs should be added for Bose or other types of powered headphones.