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Lancair's sleek, innovated design has won it numerous awards at national and international airshow conventions for "Outstanding Design" and "Best New Design." Lance Neibauer, in recognition of his notable impact on the industry, was honored with the August Raspet Award, given by the Experimental Aircraft Association for the advancement of general aviation. He has been included in the "Top Ten Engineers of the Year" by Design News Magazine, awarded "Entrepreneur of the Year" by Entrepreneur Magazine, and has received the Aviation Achievement Award by Teledyne Continental Motors, just to name a few of his honors.
The rapid success of the Lancair family of aircraft is the result of a company philosophy dedicated to expanding and refining the product line, a commitment to style, innovation and technical advancements such as the use of advanced composite airframe structures.
Customer satisfaction in product and service is the truest measure of success. The Lancair customer receives an extensive free technical support service, as well as an optional formal First Flight Test Program (one of the rare few programs in the industry), a Preflight Inspection Program and a Flight Training Program among other services. It is this unrivaled partnership extended to the Lancair customer that insures his or her success as well as that of the company behind the product.
Lancair International, Inc. (pronounced "Lance air") is a leading manufacturer of kit planes. The company has sold about 1,900 kits in 34 countries; hundreds of these sporty aircraft have been completed and are flying. Lancair International takes orders for an average of 100 kits per year, at $100,000 or so each.
The company developed in the 1980s as advances in composites materials technology met a void in the market when conventional aircraft manufacturers stopped producing smaller planes. Bringing the two together was company founder Lance Neibauer, who combined his talents in both visual design and his passion for aviation to shape fiberglass into a masterpiece. The Lancair 320 has even been featured in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Lancair International, the kit plane manufacturer, is a separate company from The Lancair Company of Bend, Oregon, which produces fully completed aircraft. (The two were both founded by Lance Neibauer.)
Lance Neibauer was a successful graphic artist when he decided to follow his love of airplanes in the late 1970s, reports Oregon Business. Neibauer had been flying since childhood and came from an aeronautical family. His uncle had founded Meyers Aircraft Corp., which became part of Rockwell International Inc.
Neibauer had studied sculpture among other arts at Michigan State University. He became captivated with the possibilities of composite materials--fiberglass (later Kevlar) or carbon fiber held together with epoxy--just as they were revolutionizing homebuilt aircraft design.
Around this time, conventional aircraft manufacturers were being crushed by massive product liability lawsuits, and they abandoned the market for smaller, relatively inexpensive aircraft. The homebuilt industry had started with designers selling plans for perhaps $50, leaving the builder to scrounge the necessary parts, recalled Air Progress in 1988. The idea of ready-to-assemble kits appealed to a large number of prospective aircraft owners. To be classified as a homebuilt, or experimental aircraft, buyers had to build at least 51 percent of the plane, transferring the bulk of the liability to them.
According to Air Progress, Neibauer began working on his own kit design in 1981. He then spent a year building the prototype after setting up a 1,100-square-foot workshop in southern California. The airplane first flew on June 20, 1984, noted Air Progress.
After some reworking it was unveiled in 1985 as the Lancair 200. In a 1988 Air Progress interview, Neibauer suggested that the early kits cost about $18,000. By this time, Neibauer was offering the option for customers to build their kits inside the Lancair factory. (In 2003, the fee for up to 18 weeks of access to tooling, etc. was $4,000 per week.)
In the same interview, Neibauer credited his company's streamlined management structure for its initial success. "We don't keep a top-heavy company ... everybody just works their tails off." He also acknowledged technical assistance from the likes of DuPont and noted composite engineer Martin Hollman.
New Designs for the 1990s
The first Lancair found an enthusiastic reception among pilots looking for a high-performance, cross-country touring machine. The two-place Lancair 320 and 360 followed. Next was a four-seat version, the Lancair IV, and a pressurized variant. In February 1991, the Lancair IV shattered the speed record for planes in its class by averaging 360.3 mph between San Francisco and Denver.
By the end of 1990, Lancair had sold more than 600 kits, according to Design News, and 100 of them were flying. Neibauer told the Portland Oregonian Lancair had a 30 percent share of the kitplane market in the early 1990s. Advanced Composite Technology had begun building the kits under license, delivering its first model, a pressurized version of the Lancair IV, in 1990.
In 1992, Neibauer relocated his company from Santa Paula, California, to the town of Redmond in eastern Oregon. The operation had outgrown its southern California site; Redmond was chosen from among 200 candidates. Lancair at first employed 20 people at the new 27,000-square-foot plant next to Roberts Field. The company was incorporated as Lancair International, Incorporated. Another unit, Neico Aviation Inc., was created to market the planes.
Pilots raved about the Lancair's performance, responsiveness, and comfort. The Lancair 320 cruised at 265 mph. The Lancair IV-P first flew in November 1993; it was thought to be the first kit-built aircraft to have pressurization available as an option. The ES model debuted in 1993.
In 1995 the Lancair 320 was featured in a materials exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art. The company, which then had 60 employees, was selling 200 kits a year and revenues were estimated at $8 million.
One of Lancair's kits sold for up to $28,000 and required, officially, 1,500 to 2,500 hours of build time. This price did not include engine or avionics, which could put the total cost in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. While they required a considerable commitment of labor on the part of the buyer before they could be flown, homebuilts were popular due to their lower cost and much higher performance than conventional aircraft.
As of August 1998, according to Flight International, Lancair had sold 1,400 kits, 300 of them the Lancair IV model. The Redmond factory then employed 40 people, reported the Associated Press.
By the late 1990s, Lancair had its eye on the certificated--or fully assembled--aircraft market. The Lancair Super ES, derived from the Lancair IV, was considered for this, but it was the Columbia 300 that was first approved by the FAA. A separate company, Pacific Aviation Composites USA, and later The Lancair Company, was created to develop production aircraft.
A Legacy Enduring Beyond 2000
Around 2000, Lancair International developed a line of side-by-side two-seat kitplanes under the Legacy name. These were essentially a return to the original concept featuring a redesigned, aerodynamically advanced wing.
Lancair International began 2001 with two new offerings. The company made available a 700-horsepower turboprop engine as an option for the IV-P kitplane. The company also began marketing kits for the CH-7 Kompress helicopter. Italy's Heli-Sport designed and built the helicopters, which were designed by Lamborghini Marcello Gandini, otherwise known for his work with Lamborghini automobiles.
The turbine engine IV-P became the basis of the Sentry, a high-performance type being tested for the military and racing market. The Mexican navy had bought nine other kits (Super ES, Legacy, and IV-P models) for use as trainers, noted Flight International, and was evaluating an armed variant of the Sentry as a patrol/attack aircraft.
Joseph C. Bartels, a lawyer from New Orleans, acquired Lancair in February 2003. He had come to Oregon in December 1992 to build his own IV-P, and then formed Aero Cool, LLC to supply air-conditioners for the type. Lancair International sold 68 kits in 2003, ten more than the previous year. The Lancair ES was popular enough to have spawned a miniature remote controlled scale model, made by Great Planes Model Manufacturing Co.
The Redmond plant was being expanded again. Lancair employed 70 people there and 100 at a parts-making operation in the Philippines, according to the Associated Press. Lancair rolled out a pressurized version of the ES kit in 2004. The company was taking orders for 100 planes a year.
Principal Operating Units: Kit Components Inc.; Lancair Avionics Inc.; Neico International, Inc.
Principal Competitors: Cirrus Design; Van's Aircraft.