Pilot Journal
Friday, September 1, 2006

From Lancair 200 To Columbia 400

Lance Neibauer’s aircraft evolution from homebuilt to certified

lancairThere aren’t many folks in the personal aircraft business brave enough (or perhaps foolish enough) to attempt certification on a homebuilt airplane. Curtiss Pitts may have been one of the few to do it with his S1 and S2 Pitts, and that was in a far simpler time.
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“Anyone who thinks you can simply scale everything up to go from two to four seats doesn’t really understand the problem,” laughs Neibauer. “There are so many other changes necessary to double the number of seats, that it’s practically impossible to retain anything from the smaller airplanes other than the company nameplate.”

Never one to rest on his laurels, the designer next developed a fixed-gear version of the IVP, the Lancair ES and, later, the ESP, again a turbocharged and pressurized version of the same airplane. Along the way, he also designed a fixed-gear homebuilt that could use the comparatively inexpensive 200 hp Lycoming IO-360 engine. The design was dubbed the Legacy.

Meanwhile, Lance’s little company had rapidly outgrown its facilities in Santa Paula. Neibauer moved the homebuilt operation to larger facilities in Redmond, Ore., but soon began considering a further expansion.

Despite his success in the homebuilt field (or perhaps because of it), Lance couldn’t help but notice that there was nothing new in the production ranks. “There’d been no all-new production singles certified since the Piper Malibu,” says Neibauer. “That had been a very popular airplane, but we felt we could do better. It seemed there was a definite hole in the market for an airplane that would incorporate composite design, modern avionics and improved performance.”

Accordingly, Lancair began evaluating proposals from some 100 different economic development councils from all over the country, including several from Alaska. “The pipeline was winding down up there,” says Lance, “the oil companies were laying off, and cities such as Anchorage and Palmer were looking for new businesses to bring jobs to the area.”

Neibauer flew up to take a look at South Central Alaska. He really liked the area around Anchorage, but in the end, he decided to establish the production company in nearby Bend, Ore., only 10 miles from Redmond.

Neibauer and his team launched an effort to design and build a production airplane that would draw on the company’s experience with proven homebuilt designs. “Given our druthers, we would have adapted a production version of the IVP,” Neibauer explains, “but that’s a very complex airplane with a high-speed wing. It probably would have demanded significant modification that would have seriously compromised performance, and it would have been a bear to certify. As a result, we elected to go with something simpler, a modified version of the ES.”


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