The first "high-performance" airplane I flew was a brand-new 1975 Piper Arrow II. With its businesslike green-and-black-and-white paint scheme (the color of money, you know) and that certain air that all retractable-gear airplanes had in my mind, I was smitten. And it was a nice airplane, though now that I think about it, it wasn't all that different from the Warrior that I flew all the time. There was a little lever on the panel for making the wheels go up and down-that was cool-and there was an extra lever on the power quadrant for changing the pitch of the prop. It did go a bit faster than the Warrior, 15 or 20 knots or so, and there were a few other differences, but nothing that leapt out. I guess it just didn't take much-a few extra knots and some levers to play with-to make me, or a lot of other pilots, happy.
High-performance singles have really come a long, long way since then, and one of the cream of the current crop is Lancair's latest, the Columbia 350, which is about 50 knots faster than the Arrow, without, by the way, tucking the gear.
It was at the EAA Fly-In Convention at Oshkosh in 1993 that Lancair, then still just a kit company, announced that it would enter the production airplane game by certifying an airplane under Primary Category (Part 23 soon made more sense). Unlike most of the other companies that confidently announced similar plans that day, Lancair eventually succeeded at the endeavor. In 1997 the FAA issued Lancair a provisional certificate for the Columbia 300 (an offshoot of the company's Lancair ES kitplane) and followed that with full type certification in the fall of 1998. Ramping up for production, however, was a battle for a small start-up manufacturer like Lancair, and the company had to shut down the line in 2001, following September 11th, while it looked for funding. It emerged with a new financing package that got airplanes rolling down the line again in January of 2003.
Just last year, it started delivering Columbia 300s again, all the while readying for certification and production of the new Columbia 350, an all-electric upgrade to the 300. In May of 2003, Lancair received certification for the 350, and in October it earned FAA approval for it with the Avidyne FlightMax Entegra primary flight display (PFD). Shortly thereafter, it began making deliveries of PFD airplanes. And, surprise, surprise, just as happened with Cirrus when it began offering the Avidyne PFD in the SR22, Lancair hasn't sold a 350 without the flat panels since.