"Evo" (June 2010)
OK so Cessna 428x is the best 2-seater in the world.
But, despite having 4 seats in the plane, with full fuel (as needed to go 1,000 miles with any reserve) and some suitcases, the plane can only carry 4 people… any more than that and you are over your max allowable take-off weight. As well, while the plane plane is sprightly under full power, it is gulping 40 gallons per hour at full power output… enough to make a dent in the 108-gallon on-board supply pretty quickly. (Remember: The plane has to fly for 5 hours to travel 1000 miles… it cannot do that while burning 40 gallons per hour from a 108-gallon tank.. the power must be reduced to a 16-gallon-per-hour lean of peak setting for a lean-of-peak climb to really carry the fuel to go that far). I can tell you though, that at gross weight, in a lean-of-peak climb (to save fuel and get maximum range) on a hot day, the climb rate is NOT too spectacular… it is a somewhat shallow climb at that point… which makes it all the more unlikely that this plane could ever carry more weight.
In other words, with gross-weight limits being what they are, and climb-path being shallow like it is when at gross weight at a lean-of-peak climb to save fuel, 428x will never be a 4-seat plane... it can only carry 2 people plus full fuel and baggage. If 3 are on board, it can still fly… but with a bit less than full tanks.
If 4 are on board, then you can taxi out and take off… and then note that you are down to under half tanks and need to think about landing soon. You can't really GO anywhere far enough with 4 that the airplane is of any use... with 4 on board you would only fly 200 miles or less, and you could equally easily take a car that distance.
My wife and I want to be able to fly places with other couples, but 428x just is not big enough to let us do that.
-I DON'T want an old airplane… i am always worried about corrosion in old aluminum planes (i have seen it before).
-I DON'T want an old airplane… i would not be able to stand the avionics.
-I DON'T want a big airplane… i hate things that are big and slow.. from campers to airplanes to large companies to the federal government.
-I DON'T want a slow plane… see the above.
-I DON'T want a super-expensive plane (like a jet)… it is out of my price-range (X-Plane is too 'niche', still, to allow tat type of purchase).
-I DON'T want to proceed with my X-1 Cavallo design.. it would only go 250 miles with 4 people and reserves.
Well, my search seems to have settled on the Lancair Evolution… it is about the same size and weight as 428x, but with the power to lift 4 people all at once with full tanks of fuel.
With a PT-6, an Evolution would have the same range as 428x, but at 50% higher speed and 100% higher payload… all in a similarly-sized package.
So, let's go fly one and see what it is like.
My goal from the test-flight was to learn a handful of things about this airplane to see how well (and safely) it could serve me.
The cautions that I had received on the plane were that it would not really do 330 knots, like all the magazines were claiming, that it would be squirrely in pitch at high altitude, and that the autopilot was not very well connected to the G-900 avionics. (The G-900 is simply a G-1000 with no autopilot, delivered as such to keep Garmin from having to mess around with autopilot dynamics in experimental aircraft).
Of course, in an airplane that weighs 2300 pounds empty and has 750 horsepower, two and a half times the power that I am used to in the same weight and size airframe, delivering 5,000 foot-per-minute climb-rates and equally hair-raising descents with the prop, gear, and flaps acting as an airbrakes, I had reservations as well about whether or not I could keep my legs wrapped around the bomb like that guy from Doctor Strangelove. Never having flown a turbine to any significant degree, or anything of this performance, I had a pretty decent right to be skeptical about how well it would go.
So, off we go to KLZU for the 'Parade of Planes' where the Evo is in attendance for my test-flight. Considering the possible 'gotcha' areas for this airplane that I wanted to explore, I decide on the following flight profile:
-Hand fly the plane from take-off to 28,000 ft at full power. This will let me feel the dynamics of the plane both low and slow, and high and fast. It will also let me see the climb of the plane at a wide variety of altitudes.
-Hand fly the plane through a serious of s-turns, climbs, and descents at 28,000 ft to look at the high-altitude dynamics.
-Let the autopilot take us down to test autopilot integration. (a separate autopilot sort of half-way connected to the G-900 a little bit).
-Hand fly the plane through a serious of s-turns, climbs, and descents at around 8,000 ft to look at the low-altitude dynamics.
-Let the autopilot take us through a full ILS (to test how well it can fly the plane and test approach-flight G-900 autopilot integration)
-Do a touch-and-go (to.. umm.. test handling in that type of exercise)
-Do a full-stop landing (to see how easy it lands and stops)
Doing the flight-test above, we can see how the plane performs, how it handles, and how the autopilot works for enroute and approach flight. In an airplane that can fly happily from sea level to 28,000 ft, doing these things at a range of altitudes is pretty necessary. Note that stalls are NOT on my list, because I treat lo and hi speed limits (stall speed and Vne) as almost identical… neither speed is ever to be exceeded in flight.
Above all, I am fascinated to see what will happen at 28,000 feet, where there is very little damping on the airplane. Of course, no air traffic controller (required about 18,000 ft) would ever expect me to be maneuvering around testing the plane at 28,000 feet.. how will THAT go?
Arriving at KLZU I met with the Lancair demo pilots and we sat down in a conference room to go over my flight plan described above. Anybody that goes blasting off in an airplane without knowing what they are going to do is asking for SOME trouble.. anyone doing it in a plane that does 5,000 fpm in climb and 300+ knots in cruise is asking for a LOT of trouble… in a plane that goes over 300 knots behind 750 hp with 165 gallons (1,155 pounds) of jet-A on board, I really shudder to think of the size, depth, and temperature of the flaming hole in the ground that will mark the end of the flight if it is not somewhat carefully planned… and at 300 knots, which is a nautical mile every TWELVE SECONDS, a statute mile every ELEVEN SECONDS, the ability to 'make it up as you go along' is rather… 'limited'.
So, first things first: Myself, my wife, and the 2 factory test pilots sat down in the conference room and went over the planned flight. The first dynamic I encountered was one I have encountered countless times before: As soon as I start talking about putting G on or off the plane to test pitch stability and damping, and roll-rate on the plane to test roll response and damping, other pilots start getting worried: They think I might throw the stick around like a monkey on crack and get us all killed… not to worry! I always start with very gentle pressures to feel a vehicle response and only gradually ramp up as long as we are not anywhere close to any limits. As well, the demo pilot wanted to demo the stalls to me, but did not want to do any touch-and-go's (I forgot to ask why… perhaps because things just start happening kind of fast doing touch-and-go's, so it is just a bit much to try to handle your first time at bat).
So, we revised the list just a hair to include some stalls, and the demo pilot provisionally planned to use the autopilot a bit more to avoid a possible altitude-bust, and off we went to the airplane. This is summertime in Georgia after a thunderstorm passed nearby… so it was 90 degrees, but at least it was a DRY heat. Just kidding. It was maybe 90% relative humidity. You could cut the air with a dull knife.
Anyhoo, walking out to the steamy ramp we see 527LE (if I recall correctly) sitting on the gritty pavement like some sort of giant white plastic watermelon seed… a perfect streamlined pearl of an airplane with oddly-tapered little wings poking out of the large, slippery body, a big 4-blade feathered prop on the nose, and the typical big PT-6 exhaust nozzles poking out of the sides of the nose like the whiskers of a catfish. The windows are huge (the better to see stuff with) and round (the better to avoid stress-fractures with) and the plane sits SOOOOOOOOOOO high off the ground!!!!! (to keep that huge prop from dinging) on massive trailing-link landing gear. The landing gear is massive with it's heavy metal trailing-link hardware, but the covers on the wheels are carbon-fiber… this is typical of this airplane: Very strong, with structure that is still carbon fiber ALMOST EVERYWHERE to keep down the weight. (The empty weight is 2,300 pounds, just the same as 428x, but the plane is bigger than 428x for SURE, and pressurized… so the use of carbon fiber for almost every bit of structure really pays off in weight savings.
WHY is this plane bigger than 428x? 428x is the PERFECT size for 4 people. (even if it lacks the 'oomph' to lift them)
Here are the answers:
1: 842x does NOT have a round cross-section.. the walls are very flat between the hips and the shoulders. But the Evo needs a totally ROUND cross-section to PRESSURIZE it!!! Because the cross section must be totally ROUND to be pressurized and still lightweight, it cannot be fit to perfectly mold to the people inside… but it must still give hip and shoulder room. The result? A body that has a lot more room around the elbows, and in the ceiling between the pilot and copilot. A lot of this room is wasted and un-needed, but it is simply the by-product of requiring a ROUND cross-section without losing any hip or shoulder room. Thus, a much wider body. Pressurization with low structural weight dictates it.
2: The Evo has a TON more legroom for people in the back. This is so noticeable that my wife took pictures back there of the space just to show how much of it there is! Honestly: People in the back will appreciate this... especially after 3 hours. This makes the bulbous part of the fuselage go back farther.
3: The Evo has a bit more SPAN than 428x. Why? Because the wing tapers a LOT. A tapered wing reduces drag. So, the wing on the Evo is much more highly tapered than in 428x.. BUT, it must have the SAME wing area to have the same stall speed (a requirement at Lancair, for safety). So, since the wing tapers down to a narrow chord at the tip, but the same total wing area is required, the wing HAS to be a bit LONGER.
4: The plane sits WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY up high on the gear. Why? Simple. It has a HUGE prop. That prop needs to clear the ground. So the plane needs tall gear. Why the huge prop? Cause it has a ton of power.
So, even though the space available to the people in front is no better in an Evo than in 428x, the extra legroom for the people in the back, the shape of the body for pressurization, the span of the wings for efficiency, and the ground clearance for the huge prop for speed all result in the plane being very noticeably BIGGER than 428x. I sure like the size of 428x, and don't want anything bigger, but in this case, the additional size makes the plane FASTER!!! Long wings are more efficient. (bigger. faster.) Big props are more efficient. (bigger. faster.) Round fuselages weigh less to pressurize because the pressurization loads do not deform the body. (bigger, lighter! lighter? faster!)
So you have a plane that is FASTER BECAUSE IT IS BIGGER.
My X-1 Cavallo would have been smaller… and a much worse airplane in efficiency. The big wing, big prop, and round fuselage of the Evo all pay off in low induced drag (from the big wing), high propulsive efficiency (from the big prop), and low weight (from the big round fuselage cross-section)… bigger actually is MORE efficient here. STUNNING. JUST STUNNING. As well, the Cavallo ( a JET) would do 300 knots, this plane (a PROP) would do 300 knots as well… a jet and a prop: The same speed.
Now that everything I thought I knew has been turned on it's ear, let's get in and go flying.
First the ingress: A really really really big step WAY up onto the wing.. the plane sits high! From there the entrance is just fine and easy through a huge door on the left side only. The baggage compartment door is large as well, and serves as an impromptu emergency exit on the other side of the airplane. TONS of room inside for people and bags.
Engine start is kind of interesting: Hit the starter. This spins the teeny turbines in the PT-6 up to 13% in just a few seconds. Hit the igniters while this is happening, and push the mixture handle from cutoff to run once you see you have 13% turbine rpm, which you get within mere seconds of hitting the starter. With 13% rpm or more in the turbines, the igniters sparking, and the fuel engaged, the whine from the engine increases pretty quickly as the fire lights and the engine smoothly and quickly turns into a high-power quick-spinning little 750-hp dynamo. Some time while this is happening, the prop begins to spin up. There is no connection between the engine and the prop (!) other than a flow of air (!) as air spits out of the engine turbine simply to turn a little windmill or turbine in there that is connected to the prop. Building the engine this way, the only transmission fluid is... air! This means that the engine can run with the prop not even turning if someone holds the prop while the engine is started! Yah! I am told you could do it! So, starting this engine, the feeling is really apparent that you are spinning up some really powerful, fast-moving hardware that is connected by air to that big bad-ass slow-turning prop. Of course, within a few moments the prop is a spinning blur (very visible with it's 4 thick blades) that is ready to yank you along at 50 knots at idle. Amongst the screaming whine of the turbine and growl of the prop, you really can tell you have some serious power on tap, and I got a decent intuition that the two were not connected... you get the sense of a powerplant that is totally separate from the prop humming on along under the cowl, driving the plane indirectly, like the diesel engine in a diesel locomotive, which is not actually connected to the wheels at all, but simply runs a generator to power electric motors at the wheels: A rolling powerplant.
Doug, the factory test pilot, had me taxi to the runway on this amazingly hot, humid day with me, him, my wife, and full tanks of gas on board. The cabin was at a comfortable, cool temperature within just MOMENTS of engine-start... The A-C is just amazingly powerful. COOL AND DRY as the cockpit may be, taxiing is still tricky. This engine IDLES at a pretty high power output just to stay running fast enough to keep proper airflow and flame through the turbines, so if you leave the prop alone and throttle at idle, you will soon be taxiing at 50 knots, at idle, in a plane without a steerable nosewheel! Yikes. So, you have to keep pulling back on the throttle, lifting a little trigger on the handle, waiting for a second, and then pulling the throttle back even FARTHER into beta mode.. a mode where the prop goes to 0 or maybe even slightly negative pitch to slow you down. Now, here is what is uncomfortable about this: When you pull the throttle back aft of idle and the prop goes to zero-pitch to slow down your taxi, the rpm of the prop INCREASES (you hear it for sure) so it SOUNDS LIKE YOU >ADDED< POWER! So you are taxiing along, with no steering in the nosewheel, touching the left and right brakes to steer (the rudder does nothing during taxi that I could detect) pulling the throttle back PAST idle and listening to the engine REV UP to SLOW DOWN! Obviously, this is no different than down-shifting in a car, but it is still awkward at first to have no nosewheel steering, pull a trigger on the throttle, and pull it aft of idle, and listen to the prop speed up for the plane to slow down.
As I taxied onto the runway with Doug lightly touching the controls to make sure I did not do anything stupid on the take-off, I got a LITTLE BIT of a sense of fear.. this plane is 750 hp, after all… over twice the power I was used to in a package only a teeny bit bigger. Feeling like a contestant on Fear-Factor, I advanced the throttle slowly, using generous rudder to hold the centerline. Now here is where the Evo is different than any other plane I have flown: All other planes i have ever flown involve putting the throttle to max, putting in only a little rudder input to hold the centerline, and then wishing you had more power as the plane gradually accelerates. In other planes, I am always thinking the same thing: "Sure, the plane is RATED at 310 hp, but am I really GETTING that much? I sure wish I had more power now." Not so with the Evo. This plane has so much power that we no longer ask the questing: "Am I really getting full power?". Instead, we are asking: "Do I want to add any more power now? Nah." As we ease the throttle forwards we are pushed back firmly in the seat, and the limit on our acceleration is determined only by how fast I dare advance the throttle! Certainly, for any normal take-off with a smooth, gentle power application, I would be airborne long before the throttle handle ever MADE IT to max continuous. On this day, at gross weight in the extreme muggy heat, we still only used about 70% power to take off, and the push in the seat was SIGNIFICANT.
RESPONSE AT CLIMB: ROLL:
Raising the nose into climb, the plane ROLLED left pretty decently. I was plenty used to watching the rudder in my bird, but I was NOT used to the TORQUE of the prop trying to ROLL me over onto my back to the left. I was always just a little bit behind the the plane in roll during climb-out, countering the considerable torque of the engine with ailerons. (This plane has a max of 750 hp compared to 310 in my bird, and it is delivered at 2200 rpm instead of 2600 like my bird. The torque is therefore 750/310 * 2600/2200 = 2.95 or about THREE TIMES the torque. The wing is also skinnier than mine out near the tip, and the ailerons a lot smaller. Remember, the AUTHORITY in roll comes from nice big ailerons on a nice long wing. The DAMPING in roll comes from a nice fat wing (broad chord) way out at the tip, where almost all of the roll damping takes place. (roll damping is caused by the angle of attack increasing on the downward-moving wing and decreasing on the upward-moving wing as the plane rolls… this effect is strongest at the wing tips by far… almost all of this force occurs out at the wing tips. Therefore, a plane with a hershey-bar wing that is thick out at the tips has great roll damping… a plane with a highly-tapered wing, with very little chord out near the tip, will have much less wing area out at the part of the wing where damping occurs, and therefore have much less roll damping.. Less wing area is exposed to this damping angle of attack during roll!). Well the Evo has a very tapered wing, so the efficiency is good (very little induced drag, so very much speed) but the roll damping is minimal: The plane will gently roll left and right with very little input, and will roll gently over onto it's back from the torque of the engine if you do not put in some right aileron to hold it level. Roll forces are AMAZINGLY LOW, and plenty tight and precise, so the plane is a joy to handle in roll… but be aware that there is little resistance on the controls and little damping on the wing… the plane will gently roll off of level on it's own, and you need to gently roll it back to level when it happens. It is always easy, but always requires attention.
RESPONSE AT CLIMB: PITCH AND YAW:
The tail-feathers are immersed in the huge, energetic propwash during climb, and changes in the huge power available are always changing the propwash speed and helix angle. In other words: Stay on it. I was constantly playing with the rudder pedals to try to keep the ball centered.. the plane does NOT fly itself in yaw (like, say, a Cirrus SR-22 almost does, with it's modest power, modest prop, and very tall, thin, efficient vertical stabilizer). The shape of the wings or control surfaces or rigging or something makes all the controls very light… so the plane is happy enough to gently roll on over in roll thanks to the big torque and skinny wingtips, happy enough to be wandering in yaw from the propwash unless you always counter the current propwash with rudder, and pretty light in pitch thanks to the efficient control surfaces and good balance, but it is maneuverable enough that you cannot just 'set it and forget it'… you have to mind the shop even in pitch, compared to a Columbia 400. The bottom line is that the plane requires attention in all axis, but is so well controllable that it can be flown perfectly… you just have to pay plenty of attention to FLY it perfectly.
OK so I figured that much out in the first 12 seconds of the flight (the time it takes to get from the ground to an 800-foot pattern altitude at the partial-power climb-rate of 4,000 fpm) and then the gear would not retract 'cause the emergency-extension switch had been turned on by mistake so we brought it around and Doug landed it firmly and precisely.
We shut down, Doug a bit annoyed at a demo-flight that only lasted 5 minutes because the gear would not retract, but we quickly reset the emergency gear extension switch that someone had moved to the emergency-down position by mistake, and we were ready for another go at it!
OK so the second taxi out went better than the first. This time, I was able to taxi along at 15 knots comfortably, just leaving the prop aft of the idle position, tweaking into beta just ever so slightly to downshift just enough to hold the speed as desired. Take off was the same as the first: You DON'T use full power, any more than you use 100% of your personal abilities to get out of a chair and walk to the refrigerator. You use as much as you FEEL LIKE. I advanced the throttle slowly until the torque indicator was maybe 2/3 of the way up, and held gentle back pressure, gentle right rudder, and gentle right aileron to counter the torque. With these gentle control inputs, the plane lifted smooth and straight as can be… no problem at all. It can fly perfectly.. if you are just on the ball enough to FLY it every moment.
With a series of step-climbs from center, we step-climbed to 28,000 ft, often seeing 5,000 fpm climb. The demo pilot had planned to use the autopilot for this phase of flight because he did not trust my flying during our planning phase, but when I kept the desired altitude within 20 feet, and the autopilot was off by 150 feet, it became immediately obvious that we were better off with me hand-flying than using the autopilot. Now THIS is where I was DYING to see the results: What would a plane be like to hand-fly at 28,000 feet, Mach 0.50, where the air is down to 38% density and there is little damping? From an air-density standpoint, this was going to be 62% of the way to SPACE. (Air density at 28,000 ft is 38% of sea-level… that is 62% of the way from sea level to pure vacuum), Could a person hand-fly there? How well? How different would it be from low-altitude, low-speed flying? I was DYING to know. Remember, damping in pitch, yaw, and roll are caused by air impacting the top or bottom of the wing or stab due to the rotation rates of the airplane… these vertical impacts are rendered totally negligible compared to the FORWARD speed of the plane at high speeds, and have no noticeable force when the air is so THIN. (Note for people that want more precise detail: Damping is due to the angle of attack that is measured as the arc-tangent of the longitudinal and vertical components of relative velocity acting on the wing, and at hi speed the longitudinal component is greater, so the resultant change in angle of attack, and therefore damping, from a given pitch, roll, or yaw rate is smaller, thus there is less damping at high speeds). Put in slightly-plaubner english: Rotating-motions in the plane are damped out by the air striking the wing or tail from above or below as the plane rotates. The faster you go, the more negligable the forces from these motions become, because it is the ratio of these vertical components of motion to the horizontal speed of the plane that result in an angle of attack that damps out the rotation rates. At high speed, the vertical components of speed from the rotation of the plane are too small to notice compared to the forward speed. Thus: No damping to speak of.
So, hand-flying the Evo to 28,000 and 300 knots, I leveled off and we called center and asked for some 'deviations' so I could test stability and damping on all axis. The center controller was perplexed, of course, after seeing people only come and go in straight lines for the last 1,000 people that had passed through his airspace, but in my weird ways I have long ago gotten used to people being perplexed by my actions! With a confused tone he allowed it, so, autopilot off, I gently steered the airplane left and right, up and down, within 100 ft of our assigned altitude. The Garmin avionics had the little highway-in-the-sky hoops to fly through, and we had those set along our course and altitude. The hoops are not that big, and at 300+ knots, they were scooting along by us fast-furious as I s-turned left and right of course, above and below, slaloming between the hoops, left and right, up and down, at 300 knots, like some sort of strange airborne slalom-skier. Though our forward progress was rapid, the turns were smooth and gentle. Roll was interesting: There was basically ZERO roll damping. If you breathed a little left or right on the ailerons, the plane would roll smoothly and gently to the left or right at a placid, smooth, rate… and just keep rolling. It was like bowling: You see that ball sliding down the hardwood, heavy and smooth, and it clearly will NOT change direction on it's own. Once you nudged the ailerons and started a roll rate, that roll would continue smoothly either forever or until you stopped it by breathing on the stick in he other direction, whichever came first. Pitch was a bit more self-regulating. If you eased back on the stick a hair, the nose would come up, and if you then released the stick, the nose would return to level with very little overshoot. This means the plane was stable in pitch, and was nicely damped as well. So, even at this high speed and altitude, pitch stability and damping were good enough to hand-fly, no problem.. you just had the feeling of being in a cannonball with tiny wings, what I imagine an F-104 would be like: Stable enough in pitch and yaw as long as you always paid attention to it, but nothing at all taking care of you in roll: Running along at very hi speed in a straight line that you could very easily spin about in roll with very little deflection of your flight path. You really get a sense of the inertia of the plane. Roll it about all you like, because ROLLING a plane does NOT directly change the flight path. And, at hi speed in thin air, the tricky thing to do is change the flight path. Inertia says that once you get going in a given direction, you KEEP doing it forever unless something stops you, and at high-altitude, high-speed flight, you really feel it: You are slow to bend your flight path around, but with no damping, you are quick to spin the plane around in roll, twirling about a non-changing flight-path. (Note: We did not exceed 45 degrees of bank).
Flying at this speed and altitude is like the Canadian sport of Curling… the stone is sliding smoothly along the ice.. you just brush here and there to very gently change the path of a very heavy object sliding along with very little resistance.
Of course behind the slow-turning prop and humming smooth little turbine, the ride was totally smooth as the plane glided effortlessly and smoothly through the s-turns in both dimensions (up/down and left/right), and I really felt like I was gently caressing a smooth, heavy object into place… it was really quite a pleasure to fly up there… but with no damping, and all inertia, every move you made would continue until you took an action to stop it. The plane would NOT simply flop instantly to nose-level and zero-rotation-rates like a Piper Cherokee at 3,000 ft.
OK so we did this for about 50 miles (a.k.a 10 minutes.. remember we eat a mile every 12 seconds) and then turned it around to come back. A 45-degree bank turn to head back was no problem… forces on the controls were very very light as we pulled a 180-degree turn back to KLZU. Power back and the plane comes down nicely if you leave the prop-control forwards, because the prop acts like a big airbrake at that point. The plane does not have, and does not need, speedbrakes… the prop IS the speedbrake when the throttle is back and the prop is forwards. Once below 18,000 ft we cancelled IFR, threw down the huge, effective flaps, lowered the gear with a 'thump', and pointed the nose down what SEEMED LIKE 45 degrees. Hanging forward in our seatbelts, the Evo dropped at maybe 3,000 fpm or more, thanks to the huge drag of the gear, flaps, and prop. Had the gear and flaps been retracted, and the prop feathered, the Evo would have glided with only a 600 fpm descent at 120 knots indicated.. a lift-over-drag ratio of 20, or TWICE a typical Cessna. Again, with the prop feathered and airplane clean, the descent rate at 120 knots is 600 feet per minute, which is about SIX MILES PER HOUR. Wow.
OK after that the factory rep demo'd an approach stall.. it was a thing of beauty: Hold the stick back until the plane starts shaking and vibrating like a massage-chair… there is no loss of control or significant drop of a wing: The plane just sits there buffeting and popping like an old pickup on a dirt road, telling you that the airflow over part of the wing has just gone all separated and messed up. You could ease off the stick to return to normal flight. Or add power. Acceleration from 100 knots to 200 knots is near-immediate.
Next up is an autopilot-driven ILS approach back to LZU… this is to test if the plane can fly itself down like 428x can. The autopilot was sort of wandering around lost and 150 feet high in altitude, was not properly configured at first (since it is separate from the Garmin) and did not capture the localizer… honestly I was sort of GLAD it did so badly, because I wanted any excuse to FLY that plane! With great happiness I kicked the autopilot off and steered aggressively back to the localizer, grabbed the glideslope, and flew us down the beam by hand. We brought it in at 110 knots, flaps set to one-third, gear down. On medium final we added the rest of the flaps, which add a lot of drag (easily overcome with power, of course), and used the big, lifty, draggy flaps, and copious, excessive engine power to hold right at 90 knots in a plane that would stall, dirty, at about 58 knots.
Now this stall speed needs some discussion.
We hear 'stalls at 58 knots' and say "Oh, good! FAA regs and Navy safety studies show that if a plane stalls below 61 knots, the plane is certifiable for sale, and safe for power-off crash-landings! That is good that we stall below 61 knots!" All of this is true, of course, and the Evo handily accomplishes this goal. BUT there is something to be aware of… a strange little demon lurking just behind the curtains: The Evo GETS that low stall speed by having really big, powerful, well-designed flaps that give a ton of lift. This is good. But remember the OTHER side of the coin with big flaps that deflect a lot: They also give big DRAG. This means that while we do, indeed, get a low stall speed and the ability to approach the runway at 80 knots, just like in a Columbia-400, we have more drag than a Columbia 400 or Cirrus SR-22, so we are DRAGGING it in with power, almost using the ENGINE to hold us in the air. Of course, the Evo has more engine than I know what to do with… but what if we don't HAVE power? PT-6's don't fail often, but they won't forgive fuel mis-management or mis-planning either. Without power, the plane will still stall at 58 knots… but only after coming down in a very steep descent if power is lost. Of course, if the engine quits from you running it out of gas, then the plane will not weigh much, having exhausted it's heaviest single component: Fuel. (1,155 pounds). This could allow a very shallow no-flaps glide, with maybe partial flap-application very shortly before touch-down… the lightweight carbon-fiber body and lightweight turbine powerpack for an engine would be very nice at that point: You have a light body and flaps with a ton of lift and drag… good to slow you down for a gentler impact if used properly… but don't expect it to glide well at 58 knots.. it won't! 58 knots is accomplished with flaps, flaps make you come down steep. You can get either a shallow, fast glide (clean) or a steep, slow glide (flaps), but NOT BOTH AT ONCE.
I guess I would look at it this way: Use all that power and prop to pull it down final approach at a nice safe, low speed, and use all the drag and lift from the flaps to slow it down to a low touch-down speed if I am ever forced down off-airport. The excellent glide is unlikely to be used unless the engine somehow quits at very high altitude where i can scoot along at 120 knots in a shallow glide… a very unlikely event, since any engine failure will likely be due to fuel contamination or exhaustion… the former of which will hit me at take-off, the latter of which will hit me at landing. Engine failures close to the ground will be scary because of the steep descent angles, but, at least, fairly slow due to the big flaps.
Of course, most fatal accidents are caused by icing, thunderstorms, showing off, or flying into IFR without being rated for it… none of those has anything to do with stall speeds or glide-ratios.
OK so we pulled it down final with full flaps and modest power like a car in third gear at 40 miles per hour, dragging just a hair in a low gear for good torque (overcoming big flap drag with big rpm and modest torque) and floated over the fence at 80 knots, I eased out the power as I eased up the nose and touched down as gentle as a leaf at an angle of attack that was maybe 65 to 70% of the way to stall… a perfect landing for a turbine plane made for speed. We never touched the brakes: We just pulled the trigger on the throttle and pulled it back a bit to flatten the prop and dragged to a stop with a RROOOWWWWRRR from the prop in beta… nothing to it!
So I guess I have 3 summaries to consider: How does it PERFORM? How SAFE is it? How does it fit MY MISSION?
Stunning. For the first time ever, I do not ask 'How much power do I have?' and get a number of horses as an answer. For the first time I have seen, the answer to the question: 'How much power do I have?' is NOT a NUMBER. It is a WORD: "Enough". No matter how much power you want, you have it. The power available is always the same: "Enough". Ditto that on the weight. It carries full fuel and 800 pounds in 4 seats. That is all you can put in 4 seats. How much can it carry? "Enough". You are never limited in either power or payload. Now THAT is pretty stunning… nevermind the Mach 0.50 at FL280 for over 1000 miles with reserves.
The avionics are Garmin-900. The G-1000 is the best system in the world right now, so these avionics are almost the best.
The autopilot is not so good.
The engine, the Pratt and and Whitney PT-6, is bulletproof.
The stall speed and glide ratio are very very good (but you only get one of them at a time depending on flap position, not both!!!).
Compared to 428x, the Evo probably has a more reliable engine, worse autopilot, and over twice the push to lift more stuff, faster.
So which plane would be safer?
Fatal accidents seem to be caused by flying into IFR when you are not trained for it, flying into thunderstorms, flying into icing conditions, or showing off… I think either plane is equally able to tell you about weather ahead with the Garmin 900/1000 system, and of course neither plane is responsible for the actions of the pilots, so I think we have a wash for safety there. Looking at fatal accidents in Lancair-4's we see that the small wing results in a fatal accident very frequently by hitting the ground very fast when something goes wrong with the engine or spatial orientation… the lower stall speed of the Evo should really help here, IF you remember to lower the flaps at the right time. The reliability of the PT-6 should really help here IF the engine is properly maintained and never hot-started. I would say the Evo seems to me like it should be a lot safer than previous Lancairs, and could be safer than 428x if the autopilot is upgraded to a comparable level as a Columbia 400. The high altitudes and reliable engine and power to clear any obstacle could be used to safety advantage if you fly the plane like a pro, every flight, never forgetting to properly manage your fuel, which can be drunk at a somewhat-generous rate.
My mission is to move 4 people, safely, comfortably, quickly, and efficiently for about 1000 miles or so. If you can find a better airplane than the Evo to do it, I would be very surprised. Let's imagine a score for an airplane:
SCORE = SPEED IN KNOTS * RANGE IN NAUTICAL MILES (WITH 1 HOUR RESERVE) / FUEL CAPACITY (IN GALLONS) WITH 800 POUNDS OF PEOPLE AND BAGS ON BOARD.
For the Evo, that score is: 300 * 1000 / 165 = 1818. I don't think anything else comes close, short of the Evo with a RECIP engine, which I may write about next, depending on whether I think the recip-engine variant is a better plane for me. (less power, less speed, less fuel flow, more endurance, more range)
Oh gosh. Who am I kidding? Just look at this thing. It is the BEST.