The Cessna Citation III was the first of the Model 650 series of Citation jets, which are mid-sized, high-performance business jets. The Citation III led to the later development of the Citation VI and Citation VII. The 650 series was the second of six distinct "families" of jets marketed by Cessna Aircraft Company under its Cessna Citation brand.
While the Citation I and II were successful from a sales perspective, their nearest competitors were twin turboprop aircraft. Cessna decided it needed a high performance, mid-sized jet to compete with the growing market of fast corporate jets. To develop such an aircraft, Cessna started from scratch for its design, rather than building on the exising Citation product line. Development of the Citation III began in 1978, and the first prototype made its maiden flight May 30, 1979, with the second prototype flying on May 2, 1980.