Pilot Journal
Thursday, July 1, 2004

Columbia 400 Gets Certified


This four-seat turbocharged composite is now the fastest production piston single in the world


columbiaFor many of us, speed is the ultimate narcotic. Some pilots even regard it as an aphrodisiac that induces a level of pleasure unavailable from any other source. Well, okay, almost any other source. Trouble is, speed is an elusive and expensive quality. It becomes more and more difficult to achieve as the envelope expands, primarily because drag multiplies as the square of speed.
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Pilot Journal flew the second production Columbia 400 on the last day of the Sun ’n Fun show, and preliminary indications suggest it will easily displace the Mooney as the quickest production piston airplane in the sky.

As one who has been fortunate to fly both new Mooney Bravos and Piper Mirages several times across the Atlantic and Pacific and log a few hours in the types, I can attest that the new Columbia 400 appears to be at least 10 knots faster than either of the others. Lancair’s crowded demonstration schedule at Sun ’n Fun didn’t allow time for an exploration of performance in the flight levels, but the numbers at lower altitudes suggest the 400 will have an easy time meeting its 219-knot spec at FL180.

Flying with Lancair’s Mark Cahill and prospect Dr. Bill Grider in the rear seat, we launched out of Winter Haven, Fla., vaulted directly to 11,500 feet, and Cahill set power at max cruise. The airplane was a customer production unit with a standard package of avionics. In keeping with the trend toward multi-talented instrument/navigation avionics, the Columbia 400’s panel offers the Avidyne FlightMax Entegra system, a two-screen unit featuring the EXP5000 primary flight display with an integrated, solid-state air data and attitude/reference, along with an EX5000 multi-function display for navigation awareness and systems instrumentation. The MFD includes virtually every parameter of aircraft system and engine performance, including percentage power.

As I relinquished control from the molded wood side stick to the STEC autopilot and we watched airspeed creep around the dial, Dr. Grider commented on the generous dimensions of the rear cabin, essentially the same 49 inches wide by 51 inches tall as the front buckets. The fuselage maintains roughly the same size and shape to the rear seat backs before beginning its taper toward the tail, so all four folks ride in the same comfort.

Flying in smooth air well above the afternoon cumulus, true airspeed stabilized at 208 knots on what was probably an ISA-plus-10-degree day. Extrapolated to FL250, the cruise number would be 241 knots. Lancair chief engineer Tom Bowen speculated that that actually sounded a little high under optimum conditions. Lancair has set the max cruise spec at 235 knots, a number it’s fairly certain it can meet or beat with every 400.

In the real world, unpressurized airplanes rarely venture to such rarefied heights. A more realistic operational cruise altitude might be 18,000 feet, where the Columbia 400 will offer a book spec of 219 knots. That’s about the same as Mirage and Bravo speeds for 25,000 feet, and the latter two models are both retractables.




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