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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From Lancair 200 To Columbia 400At the time, the FAA was encouraging the development of new aircraft for the Small Aircraft Transportation System, better known by its inevitable abbreviation, SATS. To that end, the feds were offering certification under what it dubbed “simplified criterion.”

“We took a serious look at the ‘simplified’ certification,” Neibauer comments, “and decided it was too restrictive. It wouldn’t have qualified for reciprocal certification overseas, and there were some other limitations we didn’t like. As a result, we elected to go with a standard Part 23 development program.”

Lancair Certified Aircraft was created specifically to handle the expanding company’s production aircraft requirements, but Lance acknowledges the challenges of certification left little time for speculation about anything beyond the basic, normally aspirated Columbia 300. “I designed the 300 to accept the Lancair IV retractable gear, and we hoped we’d someday be able to adapt the same basic airplane for turbocharging. Initially, though, I had a tiger by the tail just trying to get the first airplane certified. Money was always a problem, and higher performance versions were the farthest things from our minds,” Neibauer remembers. “Everything cost more than we’d planned. There never seemed to be enough cash to cover development expenses.”

The problems of certification began demanding more and more of Neibauer’s attention, and he found he had less time to spend on his first love, the homebuilt company. Eventually, he decided to sell Lancair to Joe Bartels, an enthusiastic Lancair IVP builder who’d developed an air-conditioner for the airplane and had been interested in acquiring the company for several years. This left Neibauer free to work on converting the 300 to the all-electric 350 and the turbocharged Columbia 400. To help separate the two companies and dispel any belief that the Columbia was a homebuilt, Lancair Certified became Columbia Aircraft in 2003.

The top-of-the-line, twin-turbocharged Columbia 400 features the 350 hp Continental TSIO-550 engine derated to 310 hp. “The derating has several advantages,” Neibauer explains. “We can maintain full power all the way to 25,000 feet, and when we get there, we can throttle back to 75% of the 350 hp limit, not 310 hp. That means we can still pull 263 hp or about 85% of the derated horsepower at cruise. That allows us to cruise at speeds of 230 knots, and that’s with fixed gear.”


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