The high-per­for­mance kit­plane looks to take a shark-size bite out of the Cirrus SR22’s mar­ket share.

Flying - - FEATURES - By Pia Bergqvist

Since Cirrus first cer­ti­fied the SR20 nearly two decades ago, the com­pany has grown to be­come by far the most pro­duc­tive sin­gle-en­gine pis­ton man­u­fac­turer in the world, with its sleek com­pos­ite air­planes known for good speed, com­fort, ad­vanced avionics and the BRS full-air­frame para­chute. Many man­u­fac­tur­ers have tried and failed in the hunt for a piece of Cirrus’ mar­ket share. The lat­est con­tender, Lancair, with its new Mako, hopes to take not just a lit­tle nib­ble — but a shark bite — at Cirrus.

Like the Cirrus and Columbia/ Cessna TTx, which was re­cently taken out of pro­duc­tion, the Mako is a fourseat com­pos­ite low wing with large win­dows and a stel­lar glass avionics suite. But, be­ing in the Ex­per­i­men­tal cat­e­gory, the Mako is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal. Un­like its cer­ti­fied com­peti­tors, the Mako pro­vides nearly lim­it­less op­tions, al­low­ing cus­tomers to truly cus­tom­ize their air­planes. And this air­plane has some ter­rific fea­tures that I had never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.

Lancair In­ter­na­tional’s four-seat Mako was in­tro­duced last year as the com­pany was moved to Uvalde, Texas.

Lancair’s air­planes have be­come known as the Fer­raris of the Ex­per­i­men­tal mar­ket. The com­pany’s founder, Lance Neibauer, had the phi­los­o­phy that air­planes weren’t just about per­for­mance. They also had to be beau­ti­ful. And most pi­lots agree that Neibauer de­signed high­per­for­mance works of art.

It all be­gan with a com­pany called Ne­ico Avi­a­tion in the early 1980s in Gar­dena, Cal­i­for­nia, where Neibauer in­tro­duced the Lancair 200. He soon moved the com­pany to Santa Paula, where it re­mained for nearly a decade and started of­fer­ing an ac­cel­er­ated kit-man­u­fac­tur­ing process through a fast-build op­tion, a pro­gram that sev­eral com­pa­nies have adopted to min­i­mize the work for the cus­tomer while com­ply­ing with the 51 per­cent rule for Ex­per­i­men­tal air­craft. In 1991, the com­pany be­gan pro­duc­ing parts in Cebu in the Philip­pines and moved its head­quar­ters to Red­mond, Ore­gon, where Lancair In­ter­na­tional was founded.

Neibauer sold the com­pany in 2003, but Lancair con­tin­ued to thrive, and so far, more than 2,100 of its air­plane kits have been sold. In 2010, Lancair launched the Evo­lu­tion tur­bo­prop. The smaller air­planes took a back seat, and even­tu­ally the com­pany split into two en­ti­ties. Lancair In­ter­na­tional was put up for sale in 2016. A few months later, a fa­ther and son from Uvalde, Texas, Mark and Con­rad Huff­s­tut­ler, bought the com­pany.

An en­tire book could be writ­ten about the his­tory of the Huff­s­tut­ler busi­ness em­pire, but here is the short ver­sion. Af­ter pur­chas­ing a flight school in 1980 called Uvalde Flight Cen­ter, Mark made a suc­cess out of de­vel­op­ing and ac­quir­ing a va­ri­ety of sup­ple­men­tal type cer­tifi­cates to mod­ify any­thing from light back­coun­try air­planes to large busi­ness jets un­der a com­pany called Sierra In­dus­tries. Mark and his ex­tended fam­ily have kept di­ver­si­fy­ing the busi­ness scope and are now in­volved with air­craft main­te­nance, air­craft man­age­ment, FBO ser­vices, engi­neer­ing ser­vices, char­ters, frac­tional own­er­ship, air­craft sales, air­craft fi­nanc­ing, real es­tate and


war­bird restora­tions, un­der a par­ent com­pany known as SkyWay Group. The fam­ily even owns and op­er­ates the air­port restau­rant in Uvalde.

Mark sold Sierra In­dus­tries in 2016 and was con­sid­er­ing his next stage in life. He had re­cently bought a Lancair IV-P, and when he saw that the as­sets of Lancair In­ter­na­tional be­came avail­able, he jumped at it. It was also an op­por­tu­nity that he could share with his son Con­rad, an ac­com­plished pi­lot and busi­ness­man in his own right.

Since the Lancair prod­uct line had been put on the back burner in the years be­fore the Huff­s­tut­lers took over, the parts in­ven­tory was sparse. And mov­ing a com­pany more than 1,300 nau­ti­cal miles away from a lo­ca­tion where it had been head­quar­tered for the past 25 years, along with as­sets from the Philip­pines, was not a small un­der­tak­ing.

Jeff Ed­wards, pres­i­dent of the Lancair Own­ers and Builders Or­ga­ni­za­tion, says the mem­bers have felt some grow­ing pains dur­ing the tran­si­tion. But Ed­wards says he ap­pre­ci­ates the wealth of knowl­edge that the Huff­s­tut­lers have in pro­duc­ing cer­ti­fied parts, some­thing he be­lieves should trans­late to more con­sis­tency in pro­duc­tion and im­proved pro­cesses com­pared with the pre­vi­ous own­er­ship. “They’re mak­ing progress,” Ed­wards says. “And over­all, I think the own­ers are happy that they took over the busi­ness.”

The Huff­s­tut­lers al­ready had suf­fi­cient space for the Lancair busi­ness at the Garner Mu­nic­i­pal Air­port (UVA) in Uvalde, with the avail­abil­ity of 88,000 square feet of man­u­fac­tur­ing space, in­clud­ing a ma­chine shop that con­tains mod­ern parts­man­u­fac­tur­ing equip­ment.

Aside from sup­port­ing the ex­ist­ing Lancair fleet, the com­pany an­nounced last sum­mer that it would be­gin pro­duc­ing the Mako. The air­plane is based on the Lancair IV fuse­lage, which also gave rise to the ES model, but the in­te­rior space in the Mako is greater. A nor­mally as­pi­rated Mako pro­to­type was built and flown first, but to sat­isfy cus­tomer re­quests it was mod­i­fied with a tur­bocharged Ly­coming up front.

To max­i­mize the speed to match its name­sake (the Mako is the fastest shark in the world), the Mako’s fuse­lage is very clean. Pro­tru­sions of any kind are min­i­mized. There isn’t even a but­ton to open the oil door; in­stead, it is opened through a lever in­side the cowl. There is also no han­dle on the fuse­lage, so get­ting into

the Mako re­quires a bit of flex­i­bil­ity. I stepped up on the wing while reach­ing for the door frame. A han­dle can eas­ily be added for those who don’t mind los­ing a min­i­mal amount of speed for the added con­ve­nience.

From the wing, I slid into the cock­pit and im­me­di­ately felt com­fort­able in the plush seat. I much pre­fer a cock­pit with­out the tra­di­tional yoke in front of the body, but when I scanned around I was baf­fled to find the con­trol stick be­tween the seats with the throt­tle on the left side panel. For me, with my hun­dreds of hours of flight time in the Columbia and Cirrus mod­els, the con­fig­u­ra­tion felt re­versed.

There was, how­ever, a log­i­cal rea­son for the lay­out. Hav­ing grown up in Piper Cubs and war­birds, Con­rad was used to hav­ing the throt­tle in the left hand and the stick in the right. And it took no time to get used to since I also have a fair num­ber of hours in Cub-like air­planes. I would still pre­fer to have the stick on the left side and the power lever in the cen­ter be­cause it makes it easier to in­ter­act with the avionics while hand-fly­ing, though the avionics can be ma­nip­u­lated with a but­ton on the stick. Say what? More on that in a bit. Re­gard­less, the stick and power lever can be placed on ei­ther side de­pend­ing on cus­tomer pref­er­ence.

There is nei­ther mix­ture nor pro­pel­ler levers, but the pro­pel­ler can be ad­justed with a but­ton on the side of the throt­tle. The switch is some­what sim­i­lar to an elec­tric trim switch. It moves for­ward and aft to change the an­gle of the prop blade to in­crease or de­crease the rpm. Push the but­ton and the rpm will slowly in­crease to full. The mix­ture self-ad­justs, but can be tweaked with a ro­tat­ing knob to the left of the PFD.

It was a nice cool day in Uvalde, so air con­di­tion­ing was not needed. That was a good thing be­cause the AC sys­tem in the pro­to­type can’t be op­er­ated on the ground. Con­rad said a dif­fer­ent com­pres­sor would al­low it. For those who fly in cold con­di­tions, the Ther­maWing is the pre­ferred op­tion, but the TKS weep­ing wing is also avail­able. And if you feel that heated seats are a must in your car, you can

get them in your Mako too.

With just me and Con­rad in the spa­cious cock­pit and 56 gal­lons of fuel in the wings, the air­plane was pretty light, and we used only about half of the ap­prox­i­mate 1,300 pounds of use­ful load. To­tal fuel ca­pac­ity is 75 gal­lons, so with our load we would have had 200 ex­tra pounds to play with if we had full tanks on take­off. Up to 175 pounds can be stored in the

lug­gage com­part­ment, a weight limit that would be tough to ex­ceed un­less

you’re trans­port­ing bricks, I thought. The lug­gage door al­lows for load­ing stan­dard roller bags but not a larger suitcase. There are plans for the door to be ex­panded.

The stan­dard tanks give about three and a half hours of flight time with the turbo at higher power set­tings, and at least an­other hour with a nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gine. Even longer en­durance can be achieved at lower power set­tings, and for those who de­sire ex­tremely long legs, ex­tended 109-gal­lon tanks are avail­able.

Rolling down Run­way 15 be­hind the 350 hp Ly­coming TIO-540 en­gine, I could feel the power push me back in the seat. We got off the ground right around the 1,000-foot mark­ers. Once the flaps came up and we were above 1,000 feet agl, the gear came up. Re­tractable gear? Not quite. The Mako is a hy­brid be­tween fixed and com­plex, with a nose gear that re­tracts and


ex­tends au­to­mat­i­cally (see side­bar).

Climb­ing out over the agri­cul­tural fields sur­round­ing Uvalde at 110 knots, we saw a climb rate of 1,400 fpm. At 130 knots, we were still climb­ing steadily at around 1,100 to 1,200 fpm.

Level at 10,500 feet, an al­ti­tude that gives good per­for­mance but doesn’t re­quire oxy­gen, we saw a top speed of 208 ktas at 2,500 rpm and the top of the green on the MP gauge — 33 inches of mer­cury — burn­ing 25.7 gph. At a more rea­son­able 28 inches, we saw right around 200 ktas and 23 gph. Had we taken off with full fuel, we could have eas­ily gone to Phoenix that day, a dis­tance of 680 nm, in three hours and 30 min­utes with at least 45 min­utes re­serve, ac­cord­ing to the hy­po­thet­i­cal range ring on the Garmin G3X avionics sys­tem’s mul­ti­func­tion dis­play. The range ring was pretty much round due to light winds in the area.

Us­ing the built-in oxy­gen sys­tem, you can climb higher and get even bet­ter per­for­mance with the Turbo Mako. Con­rad says you can ex­pect 330 ktas at

80 per­cent power at 25,000 feet based on his ex­pe­ri­ence in the air­plane, sig­nif­i­cantly faster than a Cirrus SR22T with a com­pa­ra­ble car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity, cabin and avionics pack­age.

Fu­ture plans in­clude a pres­sur­ized ver­sion of the air­plane, which would truly put it into a class of its own, al­low­ing for flight at the op­ti­mal al­ti­tudes for speed with­out the need to wear a mask or can­nula. The Mako fuse­lage has al­ready been pres­sur­ized with the Lancair IV-P, so the tran­si­tion should not be too dif­fi­cult, the Huff­s­tut­lers say.

Fly­ing the Mako is sim­ply a joy. While the con­trol feel could be a bit lighter (some­thing Con­rad is work­ing on), it is a solid plat­form that will help the pi­lot stay out of trou­ble. I tried to get the air­plane to stall but couldn’t get it to break. With Con­rad’s help, we brought it to 56 knots, 6 knots be­low the red line on the air­speed in­di­ca­tor. An AOA gauge popped up au­to­mat­i­cally on the G3X, and it was well in the red. There was no ten­dency for the nose or a wing to drop as we floated down­ward at about 1,000 fpm.

Be­ing an Ex­per­i­men­tal, there are mul­ti­ple en­gine op­tions, and the Mako’s panel can be con­fig­ured with any avionics the builder wants. The panel in the demon­stra­tor is ex­cep­tion­ally clean, with a min­i­mal num­ber of but­tons and switches and three touch­screens: two Garmin G3X screens and a GTN 750 nav­i­ga­tor. The pack­age in­cludes syn­thetic vi­sion, WAAS and ADS-B ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

One Mako fea­ture I knew would come to GA but had never had a chance to try out is voice con­trol for the avionics. Com­mands such as “tune” (a fre­quency), “show” (a cer­tain page) and “say” (e.g., speed) will pro­duce re­sponses. For ex­am­ple, if I com­manded: “say ground­speed,” a pleas­ant voice would re­spond “ground­speed 203 knots.” A ded­i­cated but­ton on the stick ac­ti­vates this fea­ture, so there is no need to re­lease the stick for avionics func­tions.

The G3X is highly in­tu­itive. I sim­ply touched the screen on what­ever pa­ram­e­ter I wanted to change. For ex­am­ple, a screen with num­bers en­ables the se­lec­tion of a tar­get al­ti­tude when touch­ing the top of the al­ti­tude bar, and au­topi­lot func­tions pop up when touch­ing the sta­tus bar at the top of the PFD. Most op­er­a­tions, whether VFR or IFR, re­quire a min­i­mal num­ber of fin­ger taps.

While I am used to hav­ing to man­age speed with my Mooney, it was nice to be able to de­ploy the speed­brakes on the de­scent. Once in the pat­tern for UVA, the green gear light was sud­denly on. I didn’t even no­tice the change in con­fig­u­ra­tion. With the air­plane be­ing so sim­i­lar to the Cirrus and Columbia, I was fooled into think­ing I was fly­ing a fixed-gear air­plane. Cur­rently there is no au­di­ble gear warn­ing if the gear doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally ex­tend, an­other fea­ture that is com­ing. Con­rad has had no fail­ures in more than 100 hours of flight, but no sys­tem is com­pletely fail proof. Man­ual gear ex­ten­sion can be ac­tu­ated with a but­ton be­low 165 knots. The emer­gency ex­ten­sion re­leases the hy­draulic pres­sure to drop the nose gear in place.

If you’re handy and have time to build your own Mako, you can buy a kit for as lit­tle as $127,500, not in­clud­ing the en­gine, avionics, paint and in­te­rior. Cer­tain crit­i­cal pro­cesses must be com­pleted at the Lancair fac­tory in Uvalde and are in­cluded in the price.

The ex­pected build time is about six to eight months, but ac­tual time de­pends on the builder. Lancair is ex­pand­ing the builder-as­sist pro­gram that the com­pany of­fered in Red­mond. A builder-com­ple­tion pro­gram is now avail­able, in­clud­ing paint, avionics and in­te­rior in­stal­la­tion. The first four cus­tomer Makos are al­ready in var­i­ous build stages.

Lancair es­ti­mates that a com­pleted Mako will cost $350,000 up to as much as $550,000 for a tur­bocharged Mako with most op­tions, in­clud­ing a BRS para­chute. As men­tioned, the op­tions are pretty much lim­ited only by your imag­i­na­tion. You can’t get a Mako off the shelf, as you can the Cirrus. But you can truly make it your own, and at a price tag about half that of an SR22.

The gear ex­ten­sion and re­trac­tion is ba­si­cally un­no­tice­able in the cock­pit.

The Mako flies beau­ti­fully, with char­ac­ter­is­tics that of­fer a good bal­ance of ma­neu­ver­abil­ity and sta­bil­ity.

Lancair In­ter­na­tional in­cor­po­rated bright LEDs into the stream­lined wingtips, which were de­signed to min­i­mize roll cou­pling.

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