Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect cost for the Longitude.
Inside a cavernous building on the Textron Aviation East Campus, a team of workers is putting together what will be the assembly line for the company’s biggest Cessna business jet so far, the Citation Longitude.
The $23.9 million, revamped super midsize business jet was unveiled in November at the National Business Aviation Association Convention in Las Vegas. The Longitude, with a range of 3,400 nautical miles, also will be the first Cessna manufactured in a Beechcraft plant.
Officials said the decision to produce the Longitude in east Wichita came down to availability of space. And with Beechcraft no longer producing business jets – it shelved the Hawker 4000 and Premier business jets after emerging from bankruptcy in 2012 and before it was acquired by Textron in 2014 – it had the space on the east campus to do so.
The jet will eventually be built alongside Beechcraft King Airs at the company’s Plant IV at 101 N. Greenwich.
For now, however, the Longitude team is polishing up the aircraft’s manufacturing process inside the company’s east campus experimental building.
That team – which is made up of tooling, finance, operations and materials workers as well as design engineers, manufacturing engineers and industrial engineers – will also oversee the assembly of the first half-dozen or so of Longitudes. Some of those will be test articles and others protoype aircraft, said Chet Thorne, Textron Aviation’s engineering director for jet aircraft.
Work on those first Longitudes is underway.
The company plans the Longitude’s maiden flight this year, with Federal Aviation Administration certification to follow in 2017.
The Longitude line will be different from all other Textron Aviation production lines but will most closely resemble the west campus production line of the midsize Latitude business jet, the most recent clean-sheet design jet prior to the Longitude.
The Latitude made a big jump (in how the company assembles jets), and the Longitude will make a big jump on that.
Don Alvord, vice president of Beechcraft assembly and completions
“The Latitude made a big jump (in how the company assembles jets), and the Longitude will make a big jump on that,” said Don Alvord, vice president of Beechcraft assembly and completions, who will eventually oversee the Longitude production line. “The flow of the Longitude will have learning from the Latitude.”
One influence of the Latitude is the vertical assembly towers Textron Aviation has created for the Longitude to join its fuselage sections. The towers, for example, prevent workers from bending as much while joining the fuselage sections.
Those towers, along with all other Longitude tooling – including a vertical installation tool for the airplane’s 73-foot wing – were designed and manufactured by Textron Aviation, Alvord said. The company also manufactured an auto-riveting robot that will secure skin panels onto the Longitude’s wing.
“It allows us much more control and efficiency in a customized product,” Alvord said of the company’s in-house work on tooling and robots.
The one thing that’s different is the size of the tooling.
“The main thing would be the magnitude,” he said. “A lot of this stuff was prototyped on the Latitude, and it’s of a greater scale on the Longitude.”
Later this year, all that tooling and robots will begin to make their way across the east campus to Plant IV. There, work – which began in the second half of 2015 – is progressing on making a 996-foot-long space for Longitude assembly.
That space will also have a 7.5-ton crane to move the airplane down the assembly line, Alvord said.
One other modification the company will have to make is to the doors through which assembled Longitudes exit the building. It seems the Longitude’s tail is taller than the Hawker 4000 that was built there before.
Alvord and other company officials would not say how many people will eventually work on the Longitude line. Nor would they disclose the cost of building the line, including the changes Textron Aviation is making to Plant IV to accommodate it.
There is one intangible benefit to the new production line at the plant, though. And that’s the fact that Textron Aviation is filling up what has been an empty line for at least the past four years.
“It’s a huge morale boost for Beechcraft employees,” Alvord said.