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Biz Jets - Cessna - Mustang

One of a new breed of VLJ (Very Light Jets), the new Cessna Mustang is aptly named. Whether it brings to mind an image of the classic 1965 Ford auto or the wild horse of Montana, this plane is as free-spirited an individualist as the innovators who created it.

Already well-respected for their line of Citation business jets, Cessna is about to increase its reputation for fine flying machines. The Mustang is a four-passenger VLJ with a cruising speed of 340 knots (almost 400 mph - 643 kph) and a ceiling of 41,000 feet (12.5 km). Both are achieved with the help of a pair of Pratt & Whitney PW615F engines, just like its major competitor the Eclipse 500.

The Mustang is targeted to sell for about $2.6 million, almost double the price of the Eclipse 500. Takeoff distance is also greater at 3,120 feet (951m) compared to the Eclipse's just over 2,000 feet (622 m). But Cessna isn't being wasteful. That difference is visible in the styling and comfort built around the passengers and crew.

Already FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) certified, with orders pouring in, Cessna is ready to take off. Production will be slower than the Eclipse, who expects to produce over 500 planes a year thanks to a new, robot-powered welding system. That also cuts the Eclipse manufacturing costs to 1/3 the industry average for basic assembly.

But despite some of the advantages of the Eclipse, Cessna has several things going for it. The company is an experienced airplane manufacturer and it has a reputation for producing excellent jets at reasonable cost. They plan to produce 50 jets in 2008 ramping up to 100 by 2009.

Cessna is also no slacker in the area of innovation.

Along with the Mustang, Cessna has introduced recently several other business jets, such as the slightly larger CJ2 and CJ3. Heavier, but powered by FJ44-3 Williams engines, the latter models will fly faster and farther than the Mustang or the Eclipse, thanks to the 12% greater thrust of the Williams engines.

The CJ3 costs quite a bit more, around $6 million. But it has a cruising speed of 417 knots at 33,000 feet (10 km) with the capacity for two pilots and four passengers. The Eclipse and Mustang will have space for only one pilot, limiting flights to about 1,000 miles.

Since no startup company has succeeded in producing a small business jet since Bill Lear created the Learjet in the 1960s, Cessna is betting its experience will help it carry the day.

Most industry analysts are betting that both companies will succeed, because both have excellent management, engineering, ample capital and - best of all - high demand.

As the nation's commercial airports continue to run at far over their originally envisioned capacity, small business jets are predicted to become increasingly popular.

The Cessna Mustang is well-positioned to take advantage of that. The day it was announced three years ago the company was already flooded with new orders. One look at the plane and anyone could see why.