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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Columbia 400 Gets CertifiedThe engine that helps Lancair achieve these numbers is a turbocharged variant of the powerplant employed on the Columbia 300 and all-electric 350, the Continental TSIO-550C. As on the two normally aspirated models, the engine is rated for 310 hp, but AiResearch turbochargers and twin intercoolers provide a critical altitude of 23,000 feet, the maximum height at which the airplane can maintain sea-level power. This means pilots who elect to operate at the Columbia 400’s top height will experience strong climb into the flight levels and will actually need to reduce power to set max cruise.

Out on the business end of the airplane, Lancair has mounted a different rotating airfoil than that used on the 300 and 350. It’s a semi-scimitar Hartzell prop, a three-blade design with a relatively short 78-inch diameter, with fat blades configured specifically for more grip in scarce air.

Aerodynamically, the wing is the same as on the normally aspirated models, but the tail had to be revised to provide better control in thinner air. At high altitudes, a given control deflection has less effect, so Lancair enlarged the rudder and modified the horizontal for better control.

“On normally aspirated airplanes,” comments Bowen, “power-on spin entries become more benign as you climb higher because you’re losing power and slipstream. With a turbo, you’re making the same horsepower and generating the same slipstream at high altitude. For that reason, we redesigned the 350’s single-piece elevator to a two-piece unit on the 400 for more control. The two-piece elevator enjoys more deflection for better control at high altitude and in the landing flare.”

Other changes are designed to emphasize the airplane’s high-altitude talents. Onboard oxygen will be standard, with enough O2 to keep four people healthy at 23,000 feet for three hours. By early summer, Lancair plans to introduce a fully automatic, thermostatic, climate control system that will combine heating and air conditioning for a comfortable cabin on the ground at sea level or 23,000 feet above it.

Inevitably, the 400 is a heavier airplane than the 300 or 350, so gross increased from 3,400 to 3,600 pounds. The first hundred extra pounds are dedicated to intercoolers, turbochargers, oxygen bottles and other accommodations for high-altitude flight, but the other 100 pounds pay for itself. Payload with a full 98 gallons of fuel onboard works out to about 510 pounds, the same as most other big-bore, four-seat singles. Off-load 30 gallons and you could carry the fourth person.

As the new holder of the title as fastest production, piston airplane, the Columbia 400 should easily beat the airlines over longer-stage lengths than you’d imagine, possibly even transcontinental distances. Even at economy cruise speeds, the 400 should manage coast-to-coast trips in one day with a single fuel stop. Considering all the inefficiencies of airline travel, door-to-door time may actually work out in Lancair’s favor between, say, Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Fla.


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