Sunday, October 1, 2006
Finally Ready For Its Closeup
|Looking down on the Bend, Ore., airport from 2,000 feet AGL, the ramp at Columbia Aircraft resembled an air show in progress. There were airplanes everywhere. My quick count came up with 63 Columbia 350s and 400s waiting for delivery to their new owners. That’s probably $30 million worth of airplanes. There was little question that Columbia was back from the brink, big time.|
Pricing starts at $378,900 for a standard 350 with Avidyne Entegra and ranges to $485,900 for a Garmin G1000-equipped 350 SLX with all the options: TAWS, Traffic Watch, Precise Flight SpeedBrakes, Bose headsets, automatic air-conditioning, oxygen, Oregon Aero seats and an E-Vade anti-icing system. The latter is intended for inadvertent icing encounters only. The Columbia 350 isn’t approved for operation in known icing.
The 350 SLX also includes Garmin’s attitude-based GFC700 autopilot with flight director and control wheel steering. The new autopilot is the heart of the G1000 and provides features normally found only in high-end corporate jets. The system accepts inputs through its own alphanumeric keypad and is capable of generating either precise vertical rates of climb and descent or accurate forward airspeeds in up or down mode. In the Columbia 350 application, the GFC700 is preloaded with optimum Vy, Vx and cruise climb speeds.
Essentially the same autopilot is installed in the improved Diamond DA40XL and Beech’s A36 Bonanza, and one wonders how long it will be before it begins replacing S-TECs and Honeywell products in G1000-equipped Cessnas and Mooneys. It seems virtually everyone is jumping on the Garmin bandwagon these days.
In a similar sense, many pilots are jumping on the Columbia bandwagon. The entire Columbia program was put in jeopardy following 9/11 when funding dried up and company president Bing Lantis was forced to look overseas for additional cash. New financing is long since in hand, and Columbia is set to challenge the new big five: Piper, Cessna, Beech, Diamond…and especially Cirrus.
SPECS: Columbia 350