Long before Textron Aviation there was Travel Air. Travel Air launched in 1925 when Clyde Cessna and Walter Beech – two Wichita-based aircraft designers – teamed up with Lloyd Stearman to produce the Model A biplane. When Curtiss-Wright acquired Travel Air four years later, its value had risen by a factor of 40. But Cessna was no longer around to enjoy the spoils. He split from Travel Air in 1927 to focus on developing a line of monoplane aircraft, leaving only speculation about what might have been behind.
Those questions remained open when Textron reunited Wichita’s two most enduring aviation brands in early 2014, closing a $1.6 billion acquisition of Hawker Beechcraft and merging the company with Cessna into the new Textron Aviation division.
At that time, Cessna was still recovering from the same financial crisis that had driven Hawker Beechcraft to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors two years earlier. How the newly-paired rivals would approach the market seemed uncertain, with still no sign of full recovery in the market for light and midsize jets.
But Textron Aviation left no doubt about its strategy at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Las Vegas. In a weakened market, its leaders are taking an aggressive approach, wielding the combined clout of Cessna and Beechcraft to attack competitors in a way neither could manage alone.
The unveiling of the large-cabin Citation Hemisphere is only the latest – and also clearest – sign of the company’s bold new direction. In July, Textron Aviation quietly revealed a new single-engined turboprop programme. Cessna has also re-imagined the design of the Citation Longitude, downgrading its performance to make room for the even more ambitious Hemisphere (below).
As individual companies, neither Cessna nor Beechcraft could successfully penetrate the large-cabin business jet sector, where there is competition from a potent market triumvirate of Bombardier, Dassault and Gulfstream. But none of those firms have released a successful, clean-sheet design into the bottom of the large-cabin segment since the mid-1980s. There is no timidity in Textron Aviation’s strategy, with the promised 2.59m (8.5ft)-diameter fuselage of the Hemisphere a clear shot across the narrower bows of the competition.
Boldness is no guarantee of success, of course. Industry forecasts projecting flat or declining sales of business jets offer a note of caution. But the entire business aviation industry benefits if Wichita’s finest engineers are busy, emboldened and united, whether as Textron Aviation or Travel Air.
Source: Flight International