The new owners of Lancair International strike at the Cirrus market with a feature-filled, speedy composite kitplane.
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 four-seat 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’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 high-performance 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 parts- manufacturing 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.
An entire book could be written about the history of the huffstutler business empire.
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.
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.
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.
Retractable Nose Gear
Lancair split the difference between the speed benefit of complex landing gear and the insurance benefits of fixed wheels by designing an automatic nose gear retraction system. Lancair claims the system adds a significant amount of speed since the nose gear is right in line with the turbulent prop wash. This unusual configuration makes the Mako look more like a bird of prey than an underwater predator. Insurance companies have responded favorably, and the rates are only slightly greater than those of a Cirrus of similar value, says Lancair International owner Mark Huffstutler.
There are three single lights that show the status of the nose gear: Green means gear down and locked; red means unsafe or in transit; and yellow means pump in operation. All lights are extinguished when the gear is up and the power to the system is completely disabled with weight on wheels.
Five conditions must be met for the gear to retract: weight off wheels, a minimum of 1,000 feet of altitude agl, power set at or above 30 percent, flaps retracted and airspeed above 100 knots. There is no way to manually retract the gear.
Gear extension happens when two of the following three things occur: power below 30 percent, altitude below 1,000 feet agl or flaps deployed to any degree. The gear can also be extended with a button below 165 knots.
Lancair Turbo Mako
Price as equipped: $495,000
Engine: Lycoming Tio-540, 350 hp
Propeller: Hartzell three-blade
Length: 25 ft.
Height: 7 ft. 8 in.
Interior width: 3 ft. 10 in.
Wingspan: 36 ft. 7 in.
Wing area: 140 sq. ft.
Wing loading: 22.9 lb./sq. ft.
Power loading: 10.1 lb./hp
Max gross weight: 3,550 lb.
Empty weight: 2,250 lb.
Payload: 646 lb.
Useful load: 1,300 lb.
Max usable fuel: 109 gal.
Max operating altitude: 28,000 ft.
Max rate of climb: 1,800 fpm
Max speed: 245 knots
High speed cruise: 225 knots
Max range: 1,100 nm
Stall speed, flaps up: 65 kias
Stall speed, full flaps: 58 kIas
Takeoff over 50 feet: 1,800 ft.
Landing over 50 feet: 1,900 ft.
Recommended engine TBO: 2,000 hr.