Columbia 400 Pirep Redux

Was asked to post this on the public forum by one of the Lancair position holders. Posted originally on the members site 2/8/02.

Got the chance this morning to tour the Lancair factory and fly the brand new, and still experimental category, columbia 400.
First of all it seemed strange taking an SR20 to Bend, Oregon and parking it in front of the corporate headquarters. Lots of noses pressed against the window and a few chuckles aimed at the Cirrus. Corporate pride runs deep at Lancair and while the competition should be Piper and Cessna, the folks in Duluth are clearly the primary target.
Factory and Construction
The plant is producing only a handful of planes per month. Very little of the construction was machine done, which may be the norm in aircraft manufacturers never having visited one before. There was no sense of urgency in the work being done which struck me a bit given the backlog of product. The fit and finish of the 300s being produced was very good. Clearly the factory has plenty of room to add the 400 line and should be able to speed up the production in short order. One interesting note is that they had a FADEC controlled 300 just coming off the line.
The 400
On the outside, the Cirrus and columbia have a similar look. I like the paint scheme on the columbia a whole lot better than our basic white and got the sense that the nose strut on the columbia is more sturdy. The tail and wings of the Lancair are bolted on for easy removal but since it is certified in the utility category, we have to assume it is plenty strong.
The interior has higher quality leather, but other than that, I like the layout of the Cirrus much better. VSI on the passenger side, radios in a very awkward place, huge MFD made by some company I’ve never heard of and none of my beloved Garmin gear. Now the dual Garmins are an option and it looks like they would have room for dual 530s if they got rid of the MFD.
The start up procedure is straight forward and you can really feel the power. Cool feature #1, before you depart, you pump up the door seal for a quieter cabin and elimination of that leak I seem to get in the SR20 around my left knee.
Hate the controls, no two ways about it. The push-pull Cessna style throttle, propeller and mixture knobs were an unfortunate design choice. Free castereing nose wheel like the Cirrus but the brakes are not anything close which I really noticed on landing. Taxiing for the first time in the 400 was no where near as smooth as the Cirrus but it’d probably come with time.
Take off is a treat. Cruise Climb at 1,500 FPM and 120 knots and when you push the nose to level, it really runs. 220-240 GS at 10,500 with about 75% power. Love to strap on the O2 and see what it would do at FL 250.
The side stick in the columbia is a manly thing unlike the feather touch of the Cirrus side-yoke. For ordinary maneuvers it is great but for steep turns or pulling back to a power off stall, it needs some umph. Trimming the back pressure away takes a while with the thumb adjustment (just like the Cirrus).
Cool feature #2. Speed brakes. A must for the turbo-charged 400 they are also standard on the 300. Easy to descend at 1,200 FPM while not shock cooling the engine. Very effective.
Slowing for a landing is similar to the Cirrus. Very slick plane but the speed brakes help getting into the pattern. Two position flaps and they work well. Lands similar to the Cirrus but hard to judge only making one today. The discouraging thing was the very poor braking. Hope this is only a test plane cuz someone is going to run long on a short strip real soon in one of these.

I won’t be buying the columbia 400. Not a money issue, it just comes down to a safety choice. If I were a single salesman in a hurry to get places with no family to worry about, I would be number one in line for this plane. Without BRS, however, the columbia is just not an option for me.

It is 30% faster than the SR22 and 45% faster than the SR20. Relatively easy to fly and not that much more complicated than a Cirrus. Speed brakes to forget about, props to deal with but nothing like a retractable gear twin. Speaking of twins, this plane will outrun any piston twin I’ve been in and damn near keep up with a turbo-prop King Air 90.

Unlikely I’ll ever own one, but if I see a columbia 400 on a ramp somewhere, there will be just a small twinge of desire that stirs in my heart. It’s the same twinge I get driving down the road in my SUV when I pass a Shelby Cobra going the other way. Looks great but where the hell would I put the kids.