- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

BEND, Ore. - Nancy Huntsman uses her small plane the way some mothers use their Volvos. She straps in her two children, yells at the dog to hop in the back, pops in a DVD for the kids to watch and then takes off to fly over soaring mountains and parched deserts. Three hours later, they land at an airstrip near grandmother’s house in Northern California.

While owning a private plane remains a dream few can realize, creative financing options and advances in technology have helped manufacturers inch closer to their far-off fantasy of putting a plane in every garage.

“It used to be that you had to do a geometry exercise to navigate a plane,” said Lance Neibauer, the founder of Lancair Co. of Bend, one of a handful of airplane manufacturers helping to transform the way Americans use private planes.

Today’s small planes, however, have a “glass cockpit,” the system of computerized displays and controls that makes pilots’ lives much easier.

“You can literally read a book up there,” said Mr. Neibauer, who sold Mrs. Huntsman her first four-seater plane for $326,000 three years ago.

And read is exactly what she does.

“Last year, we got through ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn,’” Mrs. Huntsman said.

People who can afford small planes are able to avoid the lines, inconvenient schedules and increased security checks of flying on commercial airlines.

Mrs. Huntsman, 50, lives in Salt Lake City and uses the plane in the summer to take her children to her parents’ home in Crescent City, Calif. — a 3-hour trip that would consume an entire day if she were to fly commercially.

Because of the new technology, Lancair’s sales have been growing exponentially. This year, the company expects to ship upward of 180 planes, more than twice as many as last year.

The company’s sales mirror the industry trend for piston-engine, propeller planes.

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