Cessna's Model 303 started life as a four seat twin, intended for the hotly contested light transport and training role.
One four seat 303 was flown for a time from February 14 1978. Powered by two 120kW (160hp) Lycoming O320 engines it would have competed against the Beech Duchess, Grumman GA7 (Cougar) and Piper Seminole. However, a reappraisal of market demand for aircraft in this already crowded class led to Cessna rethinking the 303 design, and the outcome was a larger aircraft. Instead the resulting six seater aircraft was intended to replace Cessna's 310, then nearing the end of its production life.
The new model, designated the T303 for its turbocharged (and fuel injected) Continental TSIO520 engines, flew for the first time on October 17 1979. Certification was granted in August 1981, and first production deliveries commenced in October 1981. For a time the T303 was named the Clipper, but this was changed to Crusader as PanAm held the rights to the Clipper name.
In its definitive form the T303 incorporated a number of advanced features, being the first entirely new piston twin from Cessna in over a decade. Features included bonded structures around the integral fuel tank, a supercritical wing section and counter rotating propellers, while standard equipment included integral airstairs and a full IFR avionics suite (Cessna claimed the latter as a first for its class).
Only minor changes were introduced during production, including the addition of anti ice equipment as an option in 1982, and in 1983 the rear cabin bulkhead was moved aft slightly which increased baggage space and allowed the addition of a cargo door.
Production of the Crusader wound up in 1985 as part of the general decline in light aircraft sales during that period, terminating prematurely what looked to be a successful program. The cancellation also put paid to rumours that Cessna planned to develop more powerful, pressurised, and turboprop powered versions of the aircraft.