After a quick tour of the panel, we taxied out for 34 at White Plains (HPN). It was a cool day, we had half tanks and it was just Mark and I onboard, so we were light, around 2,900 pounds, 500 less than max takeoff weight. I expected a short takeoff roll, and I wasn't disappointed. Let's face it, you bolt a 310-hp engine on the front of an airplane with an empty weight of around 2,300 pounds and you're going to go up in a hurry, and we did. The climb performance, as you might expect, is excellent, better than 1,200 feet per minute at max takeoff weight (under standard conditions at sea level).
It strikes me as odd that there's so much skepticism about the cruise speed of this airplane, but there is, so the first thing we did was climb to the optimum altitude, around 7,500 feet, and check out the numbers. Lancair advertises a cruise speed of 190 knots, and our cruise speed, according to the Avidyne air data computer, was flickering back and forth between 190 and 191 knots.
That's fast, but it does come at best power, which puts around 19 gallons of 100LL through the IO-550 every hour. Still, with 98 gallons usable, the range of the 350 is nothing short of phenomenal. With full tanks (and hopefully a relief device) you can fly almost 900 nm (no wind) with reserves; at best economy-and, hence, slower airspeeds-that figure exceeds 1,200 nm (though why anyone would choose to do that is beyond me). With full, or nearly full, tanks and a relatively light load, the 350 will make short work of many regional trips that would require a fuel stop for most other airplanes in its class.
Of course, for carrying more than a couple of average sized occupants, you'll need to leave out some fuel. With a full fuel payload of just over 500 pounds, the lightest possible Columbia 350 will be able to carry exactly three average-sized 170-pound passengers with no bags. Leave some fuel out, and you'll be able to take bags or a fourth passenger on reasonably long nonstop trips.
As I said, the PFD in the 350 is in portrait format, which I went in thinking I'd like better than the landscape (horizontal) format of the PFD in the Cirrus SR22, the airplane that I usually fly. As it turned out, I came away not liking the portrait arrangement as well, though it's hard to say how I'd feel about it after five, ten or 25 hours flying behind it. I did, however, immediately like the vertical orientation on the MFD, because it lets you see more real estate out ahead of you, which, after all, is the direction that we're most often headed in.
The one really nice addition to the Avidyne Entegra PFD is a flight director. As implemented on the Columbia 350, the flight director is a visual display of flight profile as commanded by the autopilot. A remote switch allows the pilot to select from among four autoflight modes: hand flying, autopilot, autopilot with flight director, or hand flying with flight director. When hand flying, the idea is to nest the aircraft reference symbol into the command bars, which makes smooth hand flying easy.
The transition into the PFD-equipped Columbia was a piece of cake, thanks to my nearly 50 hours in the SR22 with a nearly identical PFD. Even though the orientation of the displays is different, you have all the same buttons and knobs with all the same functions. I'm also pretty familiar with the Garmin 430s, and with the IO-550. I felt as though I could have hopped in the airplane solo and safely flown off.