Any aircraft manufacturer who is serious about marketing big-bore singles for global application has got to at least consider turbocharging.
There’s just too much of the world that lies a half-mile or more above sea level to ignore that market. Sale of successful heavy-breathers have proven that there’s money to be made in marketing for pilots who need to operate from the middle density altitudes, if not necessarily in the flight levels.
When Lancair earned its FAA production certificate for the Columbia 300 in October of 2000, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the company took the next step to a turbocharged model. In fact, Lancair Certified was developing the turbo in parallel with the standard airplane. I was fortunate to fly the Columbia 400 in the experimental category at the Oshkosh EAA AirVenture 2000. All of us here at Plane & Pilot expected the turbocharged model to be certified within a year or two, and in production by late 2002.
The interval turned out to be longer than expected because of a fickle market that challenged Lancair economically, not to mention a few other general-aviation manufacturers. Lancair Certified Aircraft put the 400 on hold until the market turned more favorably toward bringing the project to certification. Under the direction of company president and CEO Bing Lantis, Lancair is currently off and running again, producing Columbia 350s from its newly expanded Bend, Ore., facility.
The 400 was taken off the shelf last year, and the company began working its way through the FAA’s seemingly endless minefield of flight tests. Despite the inevitable problems and some unexpected missteps, Lancair Certified will have earned certification for the 400 by the time you read this.
From the firewall aft, the airplane they’ll be selling will be highly similar to the Lancair 300/350. Like the 350, the 400 will be an all-electric airplane with dual bus, two batteries and double alternators. From the firewall forward, however, the turbocharged 400 will have a whole new personality.
The engine chosen for the Columbia 400 is Continental’s new-generation TSIO-550-N, derated from its maximum 350 hp to 310 hp in this application by running 35.5/2,600 rather than 38/2,700. The result is a slightly reduced noise level and a 2,000-hour TBO.
I asked Lancair VP of engineering Tom Bowen about similarities between the homebuilt Lancair IV and the certified Columbia 400, and Bowen simply laughed. “Despite the deliberate family resemblance, there really are very few design similarities between the two airplanes,” explains Bowen. “Lance Neibauer [Lancair founder] obviously learned a lot from the Lancair IV design and incorporated those lessons in the 300, 350 and 400, but the certified airplanes are very different in almost all respects besides the obvious one of fixed gear.”
Bowen says that the company did consider using the Lancair IV’s 350-hp engine on the Columbia 400, but the tradeoffs wouldn’t have been worth it. “More horsepower can create as many problems as it solves. It has dramatic effects on the airplane’s structural analysis, landing gear, tail configuration, power-on stall characteristics, fuel burn and, therefore, capacity, payload, etc.,” reveals Bowen. “The problem is that max continuous cruise power on the TSIO-550 is 263 hp, no matter what the takeoff rating. We could’ve realized better climb from the higher power, but the 400’s climb is already excellent, and certification requirements would’ve made [the higher horsepower] a poor choice. As it is, the engine is rated for a maximum 85% of 310 hp rather than 75% of 350 hp.”
Turbos on the Columbia 400 are by AiResearch, and twin intercoolers reduce the temperature of induction air for more efficient fuel burn. Critical altitude is 25,000 feet, same as the airplane’s max operating height, so you’ll actually need to throttle back to maintain 75% at FL250.
The three-blade, semi-scimitar, Hartzell prop is larger than that used on the 300/350 and utilizes an airfoil developed specifically for high-altitude application. The dual intercoolers demanded extra space under the cowling and, accordingly, the prop is mounted on a longer hub that pushed the spinner forward, refairing the cowling and adding to the fuselage length.
To handle the extra power at high altitude, the Columbia 400 incorporates a larger rudder in both chord and span, along with a ventral fin beneath the empennage. “We needed a slightly larger, more effective tail because the turbocharged engine develops much more horsepower at higher altitude where the air is thinner and a given control deflection provides less response,” explains Bowen. “The anti-spin ventral fin is three feet long and four inches high at the leading edge. In combination with the big tail, it pops the airplane out of any spin almost instantly.”
“The elevator is modified, as well,” continues Bowen, “with a slightly different horizontal stabilizer. Unlike the Columbia 300 and 350 that were certified as spin-resistant, the Columbia 400 has been approved as spin-recoverable, a more stringent certification class that demanded a much larger matrix of spin tests.” Bowen emphasizes, however, that the Columbia 400 won’t be approved for deliberate spins in the skies.
“On normally aspirated airplanes, power-on spin entries become more benign as you climb higher because you’re losing power and slipstream,” says Bowen. “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 also enjoys more deflection for better control at high altitude and in the landing flare.”
Other changes include moving the dual batteries off the forward firewall and back into an equipment bay behind the aft bulkhead to help balance the extra weight of the turbos and intercoolers. The Columbia 400 will include onboard oxygen as standard, three bottles totaling 50-cubic-feet capacity and mounted in a wing locker. Using Nelson flow Oximizers, the O2 supply should support four folks for three hours at FL250.
“By early summer, we hope to introduce a climate control system that will work very similar to one in a Lexus or Mercedes,” comments Bowen. “Heating and air conditioning have often been deficiencies in single-engine airplanes, but they won’t be on this one. You’ll merely set the temperature you want, and the thermostat will maintain it. There won’t be any need to turn off the unit for takeoff, either. Even in the passive vent mode, the new system will be more efficient because of a NACA scoop on the side of the cowling.”
The 400 will share the 300/350’s generous cabin, 49 inches across by 51 inches tall. So there’s little question that even big pilots will fit into the available space.
In keeping with the trend toward multi-talented instrument and 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 and 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.
Gross weight is up 200 pounds from the 300/350’s 3,400 pounds, and that demanded a stronger gear, contributing to delays in certification. The higher gross was necessary to accommodate the weight of turbos, intercoolers, oxygen bottles and other attributes of a turbocharged airplane, but it also includes about 100 additional paying pounds. Bowen reported that the first heavily-equipped production 400 coming down the assembly line at Bend would probably wind up at about 2,500 pounds, leaving an 1,100-pound useful load. Subtract 588 pounds of fuel, and you’d be left with a 512-pound allowance, not an unusual payload among big-bore four-seaters. (Keep in mind that if you do depart at gross, you’ll need to burn down to the FAA’s mandated 95% of gross for landing, in this case, 3,420 pounds.)
The combination of Lance Neibauer’s innovative design talent and Tom Bowen’s engineering skills has produced an airplane that should turn in stellar performance, not unusual for a Lancair product. Climb from sea level runs 1,200 to 1,300 fpm, but the better news is you can maintain at least 1,000 fpm into the high teens. With full power available all the way to the airplane’s max operating altitude, expect to see 500 fpm or more at FL250. In other words, 25,000 feet is well below the airplane’s service ceiling.
High cruise at 18,000 feet is well named. It’s been pegged at 230 knots, which should make the Lancair 400 the fastest production single in the world. A solid overcast on the day of my flights limited us to 10,500 feet (the airplane was still in a non-IFR experimental category at the time), so I wasn’t able to verify the cruise spec. A speed of 210 knots was about the limit at the lower altitude, but a little extrapolation suggests that 225 to 230 knots might not be far off the mark at FL180.
Climb on up to FL250, and the top number may be closer to 240 knots, a considerable figure for an airplane with wheels hanging in the wind. Before you ask, I questioned Tom Bowen about the company’s plans for a retractable version. He wouldn’t discuss future products, but you can bet a retract won’t be far down the road. Experience suggests that you could reasonably expect a 15- to 20-knot improvement with the wheels tucked into the fuselage. Throw in a few aerodynamic tweaks (assuming that there are any left), and a theoretical retractable Columbia 400 running 85% at FL250 might touch the magic 261 knots (300 mph).
Max cruise will extract a 19-gph fuel penalty, so you’ll need to look for a place to land every four hours, but you’ll be at least 900 nm down the road. Throttle back to long-range settings, and you can easily stretch the Columbia 400’s 98 gallons to 1,100 nm plus reserve, making one-stop, one-day transcontinental hops possible in much of the lower 48 states.
Handling qualities with the molded, wood side stick are quick, but probably not the lightest you’ve experienced, especially if you’ve flown the homebuilt Lancairs. Fly the airplane to the bottom of the envelope, and stalls are a non-event, a good indication of landing manners as well.
Entry-level price for the Columbia 400 is $475,000, but in this case, the entry-level cost buys a fully IFR-equipped airplane. It includes dual Garmin 430s, an STEC-55A autopilot and virtually everything to let you leap in and fly. There also are options such as speed brakes, a hot-wing de-ice system (still to be certified), the aforementioned climate control unit and more. Lancair has packaged many of the options to cut production incorporation costs, and that’s definitely the best way to go if you want a totally decked-out Columbia 400.
Elevated to the flight levels, Lancair’s newest airplane will cruise right on by Malibus, Mooneys and all other production singles that fly behind piston engines (not to mention a majority of twins and even some turboprops). Whatever its other talents, that alone guarantees that the airplane will find favor with the class of pilots for which faster is always better.
For more information, contact Lancair Certified Aircraft at (541) 318-1144 or log on to www.lancair.com.
SPECS: Lancair Columbia 400 N143LC