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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As Lancair tries to catch its breath after the long financial haul to certification, we can’t help but wonder about the next airplane from Lancair founder Lance Neibauer and company. Specifically, when will we see a retractable version of the Columbia 400? Neibauer’s world-beater homebuilt, the Lancair IVP, is, after all, a 290-knot airplane, albeit with the benefit of 350 hp rather than 310, and you know someone at Lancair must be at least in the concept stage of designing a retractable. Contrary to what you may think, the IVP homebuilt is a very different design from the Columbia. In fact, it’s unlikely a retractable Columbia would even use the same fold-the-feet-into-the-belly retraction mechanism.

Estimating pure speed increase by retracting the wheels is a tough job, considering that other factors rarely remain the same. Retractables typically feature a higher gross weight than fixed-gear models, often add a constant speed prop to complement the drag reduction and may even sport additional horsepower. Take a look at the comparison chart, which shows four general-aviation singles that have gone retractable and what happened to cruise as a result. The Sierra and Arrow both added constant-speed props in the translation from fixed gear to retractable, so cruise increase may not be representative.

In all four cases, the airplanes in question are normally aspirated and probably score their best cruise at 7,000 to 8,000 feet MSL. While this doesn’t tell us much about what would happen on a turbocharged model if we retracted the wheels at high altitude, Bowen feels putting the wheels to bed might yield a 12- to 15-knot speed improvement in the thick, draggy air at low altitude. Lofted to the flight levels, Bowen would expect a 10-knot speed increase in the thinner air. That would boost high-altitude performance to nearly 250 knots. The engineer also commented that increasing power to the maximum 350 hp would certainly boost climb but wouldn’t make any difference in cruise, as the Columbia 400 already pulls max cruise horsepower from the 263-hp Continental TSIO-550C. Go configure.

Lancair’s new airplane should find special favor in the Mountain West and other places where pilots need airplanes to match their mountains. Turbos can offer special value even from sea-level airports, however, especially in places such as the Northeast where winter weather can climb three miles high. With a price of admission just under $500,000, the market for the new Columbia 400 may not be huge, but it’s a safe bet Mooney and Cirrus won’t leave Lancair’s challenge unaddressed for long.

For more information, contact Lancair Certified Aircraft at (541) 318-1144 or log on to www.lancair.com.



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