Lancair demonstrates how an aircraft manufacturer can survive—having a good idea and continuous development of that idea. From the original “Lancer 200,” to the third (or fourth) generation Mako and Barracuda, the core Lancair line has continued to develop and improve on the original aircraft design.
Lancair founder, Lance Neibauer, a successful graphic artist, had grown up around aviation and had learned to fly at an early age. His uncle founded Meyers Aircraft Company which eventually became part of Rockwell International. The operation that would become Lancair, was established by Neibauer in 1981.
As part of his art training, Neibauer had studied sculpture, and was intrigued with the potential for composite materials in aircraft design. By 1983 he had completed design and began building his first composite aircraft, which was originally designated the “Lancer 200.” His first aircraft, ready for public viewing, was completed in December 1984. Powered by a 100 hp, Continental 200, the two-seat aircraft impressed crowds at the 1985 Oshkosh event, but there was a conflict with the name “Lancer,” and the aircraft became the “Lancair 200.”
Neibauer progressively increased the engine size producing the Lancair 235, 320, and 360. From 1985 to 1990, Lancair sold 600 of these two-place kit aircraft. One of the attractions was that the Lancairs out-performed comparably priced production aircraft. They also took advantage of the ability to “sculpt” sleek, strong, attractive airframes using composite materials.
Inevitably, there was interest in a four-place Lancair and Neibauer began work on the Lancair IV kit that first flew in 1996. A pressurized Lancair IV-P was also offered. The four-place Lancairs continued and expanded the “speed merchant” reputation of Lancair aircraft. A Lancair IV set a speed record of 360.3 mph between San Francisco and Denver in 1991.
Neibauer was encouraged to build a certified version of his aircraft. As part of this venture he set up a new company, Pacific Aviation Composites (PAC) USA and developed the Lancair LC-40 that first flew in 1996. Following certification, the aircraft was renamed the Columbia 300, soon followed by the turbocharged Columbia 400.
In 2000, Lancair and PAC USA were merged into the Lancair Company.
Neibauer wanted to focus on production of certified aircraft, and in 2003, sold the kit aircraft business to a Lancair IV-P owner, Joseph Bartels. Once again, there were two companies, Lancair International, owned by Bartels, would continue to sell and develop aircraft kits for builders, and the Lancair Company would produce the certified Columbia 300 and 400. In 2005, the Lancair Company became Columbia Aircraft. The Columbias did not compete well with the Cirrus SR22, a comparable aircraft that had been the first-to-market. Eventually, Columbia Aircraft was sold to Cessna in 2007, and the aircraft renamed the Cessna 350 and Cessna 400. Cessna effectively ceased production of the Columbia 350 in 2010 and Columbia 400 production ended in 2018.
Meanwhile, around 2000, Lancair returned to its roots, updating the two-place versions of the earlier Lancair kits. In 2001, they offered a turboprop version of the Lancair IV-P as a kitplane. The turboprop was also developed into the Sentry, a high-performance model intended for military use and racing.
In 2009, Lancair once again split into two companies. One became Lancair Evolution Aircraft, or just Evolution aircraft, to build and market the Evolution turboprop aircraft. Through 20017, more than 70 turbine powered Evolution kit-built aircraft had been delivered.
The earlier Lancair kit airplane designs were sold to Mark and Conrad Huffstutler, operating as Lancair International, LLC. This company was formed to continue to production of both 2-and 4-place Lancair kits.
This group of aircraft represent progressive developments, primarily in power and speed, and design refinements. They were fast for two-place aircraft, all boasting cruise speeds between 200 and 240 mph. For example, the Lancair 320 claimed a cruise speed of 240 mph on 150 hp. They all shared the same sleek design, although there were minor refinements in the airfoil. These aircraft either had fully retractable gear or, in some cases, a retractable nose wheel with fixed mains. Lancair owners of early Lancairs are reluctant to give up their planes—there were very few listings for aircraft in this series. We spotted a 320, completed in 2014, listed for under $90,000. There were a number listed in Europe, ranging priced at $100,000 or less.
Lancair IV / IV P
The model IV and IV P (pres-surized) was Lancair’s first venture into a four-place aircraft, and the first Lancair to offer pressure-ization. The Lancair IV was designed around the Continental TSIO-550 350-hp engine that delivered a maximum cruise speed of 335 mph and a 1,250-mile range with 45 minutes reserve. Standard fuel capacity was 90 US gallons and could be equipped with auxiliary tanks for an additional 20 gallons. The aircraft had a useful load of 1350 lb., but with full tanks (90 gal), passengers and “stuff” were limited to 440 pounds. Traveling with the seats full, you could still easily make a leg of two hours–more than 600 miles—after which the humane thing to do is land and let everyone stretch. Prices for a good preowned IV P runs in the $200,000 to $350,000 bracket (15 to 18 years old.)
One specially equipped, purpose built Lancair IV has circumnavigated the globe from pole-to-pole—a trip of 24+ days. Bill Harrelson departed his home airport in Kinston, NC, and headed south to Punta Arenas in southern Chile.
The aircraft was modified to carry some 361 gallons of fuel—enough for 24-hour-plus legs. Even the right seat and controls had been removed to accommodate additional fuel tanks.
From there he flew to and circled over the geographic south pole, allowing his onboard navigation system to record and document his position and then turning to Chile. From there he flew legs to Papeete in Tahiti, Hamilton in New Zealand, Hawaii, and back on American soil at San Luis Obispo, California, where he waited for better weather before heading to Fairbanks, Alaska. From Fairbanks, he flew north, in the Arctic winter darkness, to the geographic north pole, where he again circled overhead, and then headed south and back to Kinston.
Only about 50 Legacy kits were produced. It was a return to a 2-seat aircraft built with knowledge gained from all earlier aircraft, including the IV. At a cruise speed of up to 276 mph, and a range of more than 1,000 miles, it was designed to go places quickly. It, like most other Lancair aircraft, could be equipped with the latest glass panel and flight features including an autopilot. It had a fully retractable landing gear. With a gross weight of 2,200 lb., and an empty weight of 1,500 lb., the maximum payload would be 180 lb. with full fuel. This would be a great little aircraft for one person who needs to make a quick 1000-mile trip. Taking that second person and moderate luggage will reduce the range to a comfortable 600 miles with reserves.
As to flying the aircraft, a builder and owner of a Legacy says, and an Airbus pilot says, “I’m totally thrilled with the airplane. In the terminal environment, you’re flying jet speeds, close to what we do in the Airbus. Climb performance is great. We typically cruise-climb at 170 knots indicated [KIAS] and get more than 1000 feet per minute. Typical cruise, rich of peak [EGT] is 235 knots true [KTAS] at 11,500 feet. If I want to economize, I can run lean of peak and do 228 knots on 11.5 to 11.7 gph. It’s amazing. We’ve compared the trip to Northern California flying versus driving, and the Lancair consumes about the same amount of gas as a nice car. Plus, we’re going so much faster.”(Marc Cook, Kitplanes, August 2011).
Due to limited production, there are very few Legacies on the market, but we did find two listed in the $250,000 range.
Introduced in 2008, the Evolution was designed for the Pratt & Whitney PT-135A turboprop engine. The market for this aircraft were pilots who wanted high and fast transportation an did not object to the $1 million plus cost. Although the lines of the aircraft are familiar to Lancair fans, it does have distinctive oval windows rather than the angular windows of other models. This aircraft was designed for serious travel, making 285 mph at 28,000 feet. With full fuel, the aircraft still has a useful load of over 1100 pounds, thus it is a true four-passenger aircraft suitable for travel. Of course, this capability comes at a price.
People comfort is always a question when essentially confined in a cabin the size of a compact car. However according to Pia Bergquist in Flying magazine, (February 2013), “The cabin is roomy with plenty of leg and shoulder space for the front and rear occupants. The rear seats have quick-release knobs that allow removal of one or both seats should the owner want to carry cargo instead of passengers. But, with a volume of 39 cubic feet and weight limit of 225 pounds, the luggage compartment is likely sufficient in most cases.”
No longer in production, the only option is to find one in the pre-owned market. We spotted eight listings for what appear to be mid-to-low time aircraft, all priced at $1 million, plus or minus $200,000.
This brings us to the only two currently produced Lancair kits, the 4-place Mako and the 2-seat Barracuda. Again, building on everything the company has learned since its inception in 1981, The Mako and Barracuda both achieve impressive performance, comfort, and even better flying characteristics.
The Mako was introduced in 2017. It is the first new aircraft produced by Lancair since the company was purchased by Conrad Huffstutler and moved to Uvalde, Texas. According to the current Lancair Website, the production objective was to produce aircraft that had real, useable performance capabilities, and improved handling characteristics. Final performance numbers will be determined by the builder’s engine choice, and Lancair indicates a wide range of available engines including normally aspirated or turbocharged options. Manufacturer performance specifications are based on the Lycoming IO-540 engine that can pull this airborne shark along at 220 mph.
Speed is enhanced by a retractable nose gear. Lancair claims a speed increase of 11-13 mph with the nose gear retracted. The retracting nose gear—and option that is totally automatic—does not have a manual control lever. The gear does not retract until five parameters are satisfied: airspeed, height above the ground, throttle position, weight-on-wheels sensor input, and flap position.
Yes, the Mako is a “kit built” aircraft, but the “factory assist” program at the assembly facility in Uvalde can cut complete assembly to first flight to under six months—compared to the years involved in most personally built kit aircraft. Final aircraft fly-away cost will be between $350,000 and $500,000, depending on the engine and other options.
According to Conrad Huffstutler, “Our value proposition is very simple. Our airplane will outperform a Cirrus SR22 or Cessna TTx in terms of speed, range, and payload. Ours will be made with equal or better quality, and they’ll sell for half the price of a new certified airplane.” (Dave Hirschman, AOPA Pilot, June 2018)
Not wanting to ignore the sportier two-seat market, Lancair introduced the Barracuda in 2018. With 210 horsepower it will move along at 200 mph, at a fuel consumption rate of 10-12 gph. With a full load of fuel, 75 gallons, 1200 miles range is easily doable. Based on two 180-lb people and 90 pounds of baggage, if you are content to depart with just 45 gallons of fuel, you should have enough fuel for a comfortable three-hours-plus of flying with a comfortable reserve.
Based on Lancair’s projections, in addition to nearly 200 mph cruise, it has a maximum climb rate of 1600 fpm. This should get you to you to a comfortable cruise altitude quickly. The Barracuda has the same innovative retractable nose-gear option as the Mako.
The same factory-assist options available for the Mako are also available to Barracuda builders. Taking maximum advantage of the builder assist program, it should be possible to have an aircraft ready to fly int three to four months. Lancair says the typical price to purchase the kit, an engine, and avionics, etc., should cost on the order of $200,000. Not bad for a modern speed merchant.
And Then There is the RDD LX7
As if a Lancair was not enough, Research, Design, Development Enterprises (RDD) has initiated a program that offers four models based on converted/upgraded Lancair IV Ps. This is not just an engine upgrade and design tweaks—although they do offer a turboprop version—but a significant makeover of the IV airframe. Yes, that means that if you want an RDD LX7, you have to bring a Lancair IV P aircraft to the party.
There are four model options, but the key differences are engine and landing gear. The LX7 is a 350-hp Continental TSIO-550E piston-powered aircraft with retractable gear while the LX7-A has a fixed landing gear. The LX7-20 has a 550-shaft horsepower turbine engine and retractable gear, while the LX7-20A has fixed landing gear. Other than the landing gear and engines (and performance numbers), the aircraft are essentially the same.
The LX7 has a new elliptical wing that enhances handling and stall speeds and an all new lightweight carbon fiber empennage and a larger vertical stabilizer. All control forces have been balanced. The aircraft has a full IFR-capable cockpit including dual Garmin G3X touch-screen glass displays, XM Weather, full ADBS in and out, and a long list of et ceteras. The only options are a three-screen glass-panel and an Iridium Satellite Phone. Standard equipment includes dual side-stick controls and three-axis trim control. All LX7 models include a BRS whole aircraft parachute system.
For those who must go faster, the LX7-20 turbine retractable will deliver 285 knots TAS at altitudes in the mid-20,000s while burning 28 gallons of Jet A per hour.
If this really catches on, Lancair may have to restart IV P kit production!
About The Author
Jeffrey Lawrence Richmond
Jeff has been flying and writing for more than thirty-five years. He flew in the Air Force and later taught college-level aeronautics. He has worked as a flight instructor, commuter airline pilot, a professional photographer, and was a business and technical writer for both Pratt and Whitney and Lockheed Martin. Now retired, Jeff, in addition to continuing his writing activities, is on a mission to visit, photograph and write about aerospace museums—especially the smaller, lesser-known museums.