"Columbia 2536 Tango is cleared to the I69 airport, direct Hagerstown VOR, then as filed, maintain 4,000, departure on 134.15, squawk 0510." I have gotten that same route clearance many times in my P210 and to take the measure of the new Columbia 400 I would run it out and back over this familiar 320-nm route (to and from Clermont Airport in Ohio) to see how much its speed would change the life of a pilot flying one of the "old fashioned" high-performance singles. It would also be a prime time to enjoy the complete Garmin G1000 package, including the autopilot, which is brand new in the Columbia and makes the 400 a truly integrated airplane. We'll fly the flight and then talk about some details.
Columbia regional sales manager Keith Martinich was the demo pilot and the Columbia is a simple enough airplane that we got it going without much fanfare. The Columbia G1000 installation includes the keypad mounted just ahead of the center armrest and fuel selector, and this was used to input the four waypoints for the flight plan as well as for frequency management. I think this keypad is going to be extremely popular because it is a much more straightforward method of data entry than we have been used to.
With the clearance obtained, the flight plan in the G1000 and the code in the transponder, the final step before takeoff was to have the autopilot ready to take over. The departure was on Runway 27, with the VOR straight ahead, so the heading bug was set on 270. The altitude select was dialed to 4,000 feet and those simple acts had it ready to go. No arming necessary. Just selecting an altitude arms the system. All the autopilot controls are an integral part of the G1000. There is no separate autopilot control head.
Keith said to rotate at 80 knots, which is a little higher than the 64-74 knots recommended in the Pilot's Operating Handbook. They now have a vernier throttle in the airplane and one use of it shows why this was done. By enthusiastically screwing the throttle in, you apply the power in a completely smooth fashion. Sometimes pilots who are not used to turbocharged engines get a little surge during power application and that does not happen here. The sidestick in the 400 is really nice and the liftoff forces are light, but not so light that you get a pitch bobble. The takeoff run seems a touch on the long side and rotation was beyond the point on the runway where my P210 lifts off at 75 knots.
At 400 feet I engaged the autopilot and pressed the flight level change (FLC) button, which told the G1000 to maintain the airspeed that existed when the button was pressed. That was about 120 knots (110 is the best cruise climb speed for rate) and at about 2,000 feet I moved the airspeed target to 140 knots, where the airplane climbed better than 1,000 feet per minute. Full power is used in climb with a fuel flow of 38 gallons per hour. Instead of staying with heading, I pressed the nav button and the autopilot was joined with the flight plan.
We were next cleared to 12,000, the filed altitude, so I just cranked in 12,000 and the climb continued. The controller then asked us to hustle through 7,000 feet, so I selected a lower airspeed with the FLC nose-up button for a better climb rate.
There was a front-like weather disturbance over the mountains and it appeared that 10,000 feet might be below the clouds so, with permission, we leveled there. That didn't last because ice started forming. The clouds above looked not too thick and 12,000 was soon approved and the airplane, ice and all, climbed strongly to that level, which was between layers. A lot, over a half-inch, of ice had formed in a short while. This airplane didn't have Columbia's ice protection system (not approved for flight in icing) installed, so I didn't get a chance to try that and had to wait for the ice to sublimate before seeing the true cruise potential.
The available ice protection system is called E-Vade. It uses heat conducting graphite foil applied to the leading edges of the wings and horizontal tail. Driven by an independent 100-amp alternator operating at 70 volts, it has dual heating zones to melt and shed ice. The leading edges get continuous heat and the shed zones, behind the leading edges, get cycled heat. One switch activates the system and no further pilot action is required.