Few people, if asked, would include the Cessna Citation in a list of military aircraft. Although primarily a business jet, 68 military Cessna Citations have served the US in four branches of the US military as well as with Customs & Border Protection, and many Citations continue to serve today.
US Navy T-47A/Citation 552
1. Naval Flight Officer Training
In the early 1980s, the US Navy needed to replace its fleet of aging North American Rockwell T-39D Sabreliners used in the Undergraduate Naval Flight Officer (UNFO) training program. Following a competitive procurement process, the Navy awarded Cessna Aircraft a contract for 15 modified Citation S/II aircraft in 1984. Cessna called the new version the Model 552, and the Navy designated it the T-47A. The T-47 soon became the first in a line of Citations that found military applications.
Compared to the Citation S/II, the T-47A had more powerful engines (P&W JT15D-5 turbofans), a 5.7-foot shorter wingspan (46.5 feet vs. 52.2 on the S/II), a 0.8-foot longer fuselage to accommodate the nose-mounted radar (the same one used on the F-14 Tomcat) and three student radar stations in lieu of the S/II’s executive seating. This combination gave the T-47A an edge over the S/II in acceleration, rate of climb maximum speed (Mach 0.733 vs. Mach 0.721 at 40,000 feet).
The Navy issued a $160 million, five-year UNFO/Training System Upgrade contract (with an optional for three more years) for a turnkey training package. FAA certification for the T-47A was received on November 21, 1984, with deliveries to the Navy beginning in December. This contract helped pull Cessna out of 1983’s slump and $18 million loss.
To provide the required total training program, Cessna teamed with Northrop Worldwide Aircraft Services, Inc. (NWASI) for pilots and maintenance personnel and Singer/Link for the radar training simulators. Cessna delivered 15 T-47A aircraft to Training Air Wing Six at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. Although the Navy assigned the aircraft sequential serial numbers, they retained civilian “N” numbers on the tail with “NAVY” stenciled just below the horizontal stabilizer and the military star-and-bars on each engine pod.
Final deliveries lagged six months behind schedule due to some operational deficiencies, including unexpected radar target acquisition range limitations (quickly corrected by the radar contractor). Other problems necessitated installation of:
- Hydraulically-actuated, graphite-composite Fowler flaps extending farther inboard than standard (improved lift-to-drag ratio in landing configuration);
- Aileron boost system and geared aileron trim tabs (improved roll rates); and
- Impact resistant polycarbonate windscreen able to withstand the impact of a five-pound bird at 455 KIAS (due to the high speed, low altitude operations).
NWASI hired the first T-47A pilots in January 1985, almost all with prior military flight experience (primarily in fighter aircraft). NWASI carefully screened the pilots, who had to be approved by the Navy’s T-47 Training System Manager and whose job was to follow the guidance provided by the UNFO students — closely supervised by UNFO instructors — during departures, arrivals, and airborne intercept training.
The standard UNFO training mission required two T-47A aircraft (taking turns flying as the interceptor and the attacker) with two or three students and one UNFO instructor on each aircraft. An unusual feature was that the UNFO instructor (a non-pilot) was actually the mission commander, and his authority included all facets of the mission, including veto rights over safety-of-flight decisions.
In the training area over the Gulf of Mexico, a ground controlled intercept officer radar vectored the two T-47s to an initial intercept set-up with 500 feet altitude separation. Once the student NFO on the interceptor T-47 confirmed radar contact on the attacker T-47, he assumed control of the intercept and attempted to direct the pilot to a successful stern intercept. On each training sortie, the students alternated NFO responsibility.
The T-47 program also introduced students to low-level navigation procedures over the flat, featureless inland terrain of Florida and southern Alabama, usually at 500 feet AGL and groundspeeds up to 330 KIAS. The students took turns vectoring the pilot to the entry point for the low level route, directing speed and course corrections, and calculating wind drift and fuel consumption.
In 1992, the Navy replaced the T-47A with contractor-operated T-39Ns (refurbished and upgraded T-39Ds). In seven years, the T-47A fleet had logged over 100,000 flight hours, a 95-percent mission completion rate, only a handful of minor incidents, and no major accidents. However, rumors suggested that the T-47 fleet had begun to show structural wear-and-tear and also may not have met Navy desires for high altitude performance. Cessna mothballed all T-47s in a hangar, where a subsequent fire destroyed all but one.
US Air Force
2. Tanker-Transport Training System
In 1989, a General Dynamics-Cessna team (GD owned Cessna at that time) entered a variation of the Navy T-47A in a competition for the potentially lucrative US Air Force Tanker-Transport Training System (TTTS) aircraft. I worked on the proposal at GD, and we all felt very confident in T-47’s suitability. It easily met all defined performance requirements and had an excellent record in a training environment similar to that envisioned for the TTTS. Ultimately, acquisition cost (and maybe those structural rumors?) drove USAF to select the newly developed, and relatively untried, Beech Aircraft BeechJet, which has served successfully as the T-1A Jayhawk for the past 15 years.
3. OT-47B Tracker
But the story of military Citations did not end there. In June 1995, USAF awarded Cessna a $40.8 million contract for five OT-47B Tracker aircraft for DoD’s counter-drug missions. Although based on the original T-47A, the OT-47B incorporated a longer fuselage, upgraded engines, the radar from the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and an infrared imaging system. The Trackers are operated by Aviation Development Corp., with headquarters at Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama (and may be a CIA-run company). Ten years ago, I discussed this program with Lieutenant Colonel Frank Pratt at the Reconnaissance Systems Program Office at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, who confirmed that the aircraft would be used in operations where the Rules of Engagement were uncertain and where the “bad guys” were, indeed, truly “bad.” Available records indicate that an OT-47B (crewed by three contractor pilots and a Peruvian Air Force officer) monitored the downing of a US missionary plane by a Peruvian AF Cessna A-37B Dragonfly on April 20, 2001.
US Army UC-35A/Citation Ultra
4 & 5. UC-35A & B
In January 1996, the US Army awarded Cessna a $157 million contract for 35 UC-35 aircraft to supplement their aging Beech C-12s for passenger and light cargo transportation. The Army deployed these commercial off-the-shelf Citation 560 Ultra V aircraft to bases in the US, Germany and South Korea. In 2000 and 2001, the Army also bought four larger, higher performance Citation Ultra Encores (designated the UC-35B). UC-35 pilot training became the responsibility of the Army National Guard unit at Bridgeport, West Virginia, which qualifies experienced Army fixed wing pilots in the UC-35 after four weeks of classroom, simulator and inflight training.
US Marine Corps UC-35D/Citation Ultra Encore
US Marine Corps
6 & 7. UC-35C & D
Beginning in November 1999, the US Marine Corps also purchased two Citation Ultras (UC-35C) and 11 Encores (UC-35D) as operational support aircraft to replace their CT-39 Sabreliners. The Marine Corps accepted the last UC-35D on March 21, 2006, with Captain Mark Stone, program manager, noting that they “have the distinction of being Naval Aviation’s least expensive aircraft operate.”
Marine Corps UC-35s are based in the US, Japan and Qatar. The Qatar unit (VMR-1) flies sorties in support of the ongoing “War on Terror” throughout the Middle East, often flying personnel and equipment into Afghanistan and Djibouti for quick reaction missions in these hot combat areas. Major John Gale, VMR-1 Operations Officer, says, “What makes us unique is that we have more flexibility to respond and adapt to get people in and out of theater. . .we get request from all the services to assist them with their needs.”
US Customs & Border Protection
8. C-550 Interceptor
The Customs & Border Protection’s Air and Marine division began flying the C-550 Citation II Interceptor in the late 1970s to intercept and track airborne drug smugglers and has been used effectively in Panama, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico and Aruba. The Interceptors, with a crew of three (pilot, copilot, and sensor operator), can operate from remote landing strips and was the first commercial aircraft fitted with the USAF F-16’s fire-control radar. You can read more about the CBP in my post Cessna Guarding the Borders.
Citations Continue to Serve
Thus, although USAF retired its last operational Cessna (the T-37 jet trainer) in 2007, Cessnas will continue to serve reliably and efficiently for many more years in the Army, Marine Corps, and CBP. Cessna Aircraft Company’s military heritage remains active, strong and proud.