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Tue, Mar 29, 2005

'Progress' Is The Key Word For A Reinvigorated Lancair

It's Blue Skies and Full Throttle in Bend, OR, These Days

A recent plant tour and visit to the scenic town of Bend, OR, revealed an altogether different Lancair from year's past. While the difficulties of the past are receding into the more distant realms of our memory, it is none-the-less a pleasant surprise to show and see a very busy, very organized plant making LOTS of new airplanes.

Heavily devoted to working through a huge back log of speedy Lancair 400s, the plant was in the process of getting serious about also catching up on the normally aspirated Lancair Columbia 350... and airframe that has not been produced for many months while the factory devoted it's resources into getting dozens of new turbo-charged hot-roods into the pipeline.

Just a few weeks ago, Lancair announced the upcoming hiring of an additional 130 employees at it’s Bend Municipal Airport facility in Oregon. Scheduled to be fully ramped-up by summer, Lancair has been increasing its production rate over the past year, with employment currently exceeding 400.

Planned building expansion as well as personnel increases were necessitated due to plans for the delivery of some 190 aircraft this year, after delivering more than 190 Columbia 300s, 350s and 400s since initial certification of the Columbia 300 in 1998.

If you're looking for aero-work, the company is hiring qualified people for such functions as liaison engineering, tooling & mold making, quality assurance, inventory, customer support, flight line services, avionics & wiring, assembly, paint and finish, upholstery, composites lay-up, composites trim, and composites bonding.

A walk through the plant shows a LOT of activity and a factory that is involved in stepping up their activity, aggressively. The line is well laid out, offers sufficient room to get airframes developed without bumping into things (for now... though a plant expansion is coming soon in order to keep it that way), and the staff appears to be doing really solid work (an opinion supported by numerous reports of fairly minor customer delivery gigs).

For the foreseeable future, the factory will be concentrating on the 350 and 400 production lines as well as making ready to start building and supporting some long-awaited options that should increase the versatility of these airframes dramatically. The Lancair 350/400 line use Avidyne's Entegra EFIS line... a system that was the first to see any significant numbers in the GA world and is benefiting now from the maturity that such time in the field produces. Inflight weather and charting is coming to the Entegra MFD, additions that took a while to get through certification but are reasonably priced and quickly added to current flying machines. Avidyne's inflight weather solution is powered by XM WX, a highly regarded system that is getting high marks after a serious of alternate solutions (not necessarily associated with Avidyne) failed to meet expectations.

Both the 350 and 400 will be available with a "Hot-Prop" shortly. The new product is produced by NorthCoast technologies, who has also been behind Lancair's anti-icing choice, the intriguing "Thermawing." Thermawing is an all-electric icing solution that does not require one to tank up with various expensive/heavy anti-icing fluids. An additional alternator is devoted to supporting this technology, which is otherwise isolated from the primary system -- and minimizing potential electrical issues on these (now) all-electric airplanes. Lancair hopes to make the Thermawing optional available to customers by this summer.

I was quite impressed with the new Lancair Air Conditioning system. The installation is well-thought-out, especially firewall forward where the primary (and most potentially troublesome) components are easily accessed for inspection or maintenance. This 74 pound (all told) installation is a digital "climate-control" system... in that you select a comfort range and let the system get you there without having to guesstimate what settings will produce a desired level of cooling. The evaporator blower sits in the aft baggage area and pumps cold air through a series of vents placed overhead and around the cabin. Mind you, it's a $22,000 option, but one that increases the versatility and comfort level of these airplanes dramatically... and field reports from the test teams indicates that this system works quite nicely.

The installation costs the airframe about 50 pounds in useful load, all in all, but most of it is in the aft part of the fuselage, where the additional weight does the airframes (especially the 350) some good. Reports indicate that this system can take a 105 degree cabin to 85 degrees in as little as five minutes -- Southern pilots take note -- you can never be TOO fast, OR too comfy. 

Yes, things are looking up in Bend... and based on some inside info we have at the moment, the trend should not only continue, but escalate. More info to come...

FMI: www.lancair.com

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