Winds of 50kt (90km/h) buffeted our Cessna Caravan as we headed south east from Witchita’s major Mid-Continent airport in the very centre of the USA. The landscape 5,000ft (1,500m) below us is almost moonlike.
For kilometre after kilometre huge empty pastures with just the occasional small pond and remote farm buildings are all that can be seen. Then suddenly, on the nose, still 30km (16nm) away, the shape of a hangar becomes apparent.
For the small town of Independence, Kansas, the hangar represents a rare opportunity for economic stability and employment. For the world’s largest aircraft maker, Cessna, it is the centre for production of an aircraft that it believes will make jet aviation ownership very real for a new generation of aviators.
Independence is the home of the new Cessna Mustang.

When Cessna decided to resume building its single-engine piston aircraft – the 172 Skyhawk, the 182 Skylane and the 206 Stationair – the company looked for a new facility to complete the models. Independence, 160km from Wichita, was selected. The small city airport had the space to build and in May 1995 work began. In July 2006 production was under way.
“Since the restart more than 6,500 aircraft have been built here,” says Terry Clark, Cessna’s general manager and director of operations at Independence. “We are the systems integrators with the detailed parts fabricated at Wichita and Columbus, Georgia. We build the spares here – more than 1,300 in the first quarter of this year – but we knew we could offer even more.”
That “more” was the bid to carry out the final assembly and systems integration for the Mustang.
“We are already the major employer in Independence and had generated more than $200 million of salaries and wages into the economy of south-east Kansas. We had a workforce that already understood the way Cessna wanted to go and a workforce that was embracing ideas like Lean Accelerator and its aim to reduce recurring problems and deliver the business goals. We had the skills – we just needed the chance.”
That chance came and has led to further investment in Independence with runway resurfacing, expansion to 37,200m2 (400,000ft2) of hangar space and the building of a delivery centre, a new flight hangar, and a paint preparation hangar plus a jet blast area for the Mustang.
The investment in Independence was made during a major downturn in business aviation, but with a belief that the good times would return. “It says a lot for Cessna that it went ahead during those bad times. But without that investment we wouldn’t be in the position we are now,” says Clark
The production lines have been reorganised and in the weeks leading up to EBACE, the assembled fuselage for production model number 003, which had followed the prototype and the flight-test aircraft along the production line at Wichita, was shipped to Independence, where the wings were mated. It now heads the line. Production model 004 becomes the first aircraft to be completely assembled at Independence and is close behind. Numbers 005 to 009 are under way.
“The first Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F dual-channel FADEC engines were certified at the end of December and have now been delivered here,” says Alan Orr, director of Mustang operations at the Independence plant. “We have moved the line around to get the process right. We are now ready to step up production.”

The introduction of the Mustang to Independence meant a lot of change and involved workers from the piston engine plant travelling to Wichita to learn the new skills and then others from the headquarters coming back to Independence.  “This is a great place to raise a family,” says Clark. “We had volunteers and now we are growing our own expertise with internal training through our career assistance programme. We spent more than $1.2 million on training in the last year. There’s more opportunities too. Our flight operations now cover seven days a week and the Mustang production will require a full second assembly shift.”
Cessna believes that the location of the Mustang assembly plant at Independence will be a great way to introduce Cessna pilots to the entry-level jet.
“We have trained almost 1,600 pilots on the Garmin G1000 [avionics] since June 2004. People come here. We deliver the aircraft from here and they will get the chance to see the Mustang being assembled. It’s a great looking airplane,” Clark says.
The company has already identified that many of its customers work their way through the products, with more than two out of every three Citation owners having previously been Cessna operators.
The introduction of the Mustang to the fleet gives an opportunity to bring more owner-operators into the Citation family.
Already about 190 of the 245 aircraft on confirmed orders are from owner-operators.
“We designed the Mustang to be easy to fly,” says programme manager Russ Meyer III. “The clean, uncluttered cockpit is intended to make flying this jet more intuitive than many of the multi-engined or even single-engined aircraft Mustang owner-operators may have flown previously.”
Cessna has risen to the challenge of training inexperienced jet pilots. “We are working with FlightSafety to develop a comprehensive multi-tiered training programme, unlike any other in general aviation,” says Meyer. “We include an extensive evaluation of the pilot’s experience, will develop the role of ‘mentor’ pilots as well as the first Level D simulator to include the G1000 avionics package”
Mustang training will begin at the FlightSafety Cessna Learning Center in Wichita in the fourth quarter of this year and the same training capability will be made offered at Farnborough in the UK, in the second quarter of 2007.
“The training for each customer will be customised and may include ancillary courses on high-altitude operations, hypoxia, multi-engine training and G1000 avionics training,” says Chad Martin, Cessna’s training manager.  “Mentoring in the customer’s airplane with a qualified FlightSafety instructor will also be an option. The training will be customised for every person to ensure the highest level of safety for each pilot.”
The $2.53 million Mustang is sold out into 2009. “You would be looking at the third quarter of 2009 now,” says Meyer.
The aircraft was announced at NBAA in September 2002. The six-seat business jet is set be certified as a single-pilot, FAR Part 23 aircraft, with a cruise speed of 340kt (630km/h) and maximum operating altitude of 41,000ft (12,500m).

Source: Flight Daily News