Colonial Aircraft Company – The Last Twenty Years
Written by John Staber – You’ve traveled throughout the whole history of the Colonial Aircraft Company with me in the last three parts. Now its time to cover the last twenty years of the company. The next serial number after the photo in the last article, was know as a Buccaneer EP. Depending on whom you spoke to, it stood for “Extra Performance” (salesman) or “Extended Prop” (mechanic). The joke around the factory was “we finally have an airplane that performs like the brochure says it does!”
The remaining unsold amphibians were converted to the EP model. The engine was changed to a balanced version of the Lycoming 200 horsepower; a 6 inch prop extender shaft was bolted between the prop and the engine, and the cowling extended around the rear of the engine. The exhaust came straight out the back through “augmenter” tubes making the cockpit much more quiet, and they were the nicest performers, so far. While this was going on, one airframe was being modified with a 250 horsepower engine.
The fuselage was stretched by about 12 inches just in front of the wing and the tail feathers and engine pylon were completely redesigned. 6 seats were now available, although most buyers opted for 4 and the extra room. Shortly thereafter a turbo-charged 270 horsepower engine became optional for use on high-altitude lakes. The name was changed to Lake “Renegade”. Performance bettered that of the Buccaneer in both load carrying and “heavy water”. While the Buccaneer could handle 12 inch waves if you were proficient, the Renegade was at home on 24 inch waves. It was a true 4 place with baggage aircraft. Of course, more fuel was required with the larger engine so integral fuel tanks were installed in the wings, making for a whopping 90 gallons that could be carried.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? There was only one slight problem. The cost rose faster than the horsepower and by the late 1990s the price tag was well over $500,000 making for continued slow sales. During the last 20 years, or so, Armand had acquired Aerofab, Inc., the manufacturer of the amphibians, and he wanted to retire and sell the complete works; the Type Certificate, the sales locations, and the factory. Not an easy thing to do when sales are slow, and the price was enormous.
And what was I doing during all those years? Well, back in the early 80s I was in the real estate business, starting with restoring an old colonial house that wasn’t selling. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” We had a quiet winter of 1983 so I joined Armand at the Kissimmee, Florida office as an instructor, demo pilot, and general whatever-needs-to-be-done. It just so happened that I was there for the debut of the Renegade. I lasted until April and then back to New York State and real estate. I was also doing part-time flight instruction in Lake Amphibians, which I continue to do today. The costs of even used Lake Amphibians prevented me from owning one. The income from instructing, while not a lot, helped.
I met Judy and we got married in 1991 and life went on as usual until I found Colonial Skimmer C-1, serial number 1, the prototype, languishing apart in a warehouse in Ohio. This story is told in the book “The Chronicle of Skimmer N6595K”. In 2003 Armand found a buyer for his amphibian business. Enter Wadi Rahim. Sun Lake Aircraft was its name. Aerofab, Inc. became ManAero. The type certificate was owned by Global Amphibians. All this came under Lanshe Aerospace which was part of Mihar LLC. Can you see the handwriting on the wall yet? The Sanford Airport lost the Aerofab hangar. It was dismantled and re-erected by a private party in Maine. ManAero was supposedly sold. The factory itself was abandoned and the manufacturing was moved to Fort Pierce, Florida. Armand sued since he was watching his collateral disappear, and won. What remained of the assets were moved to a warehouse near Kissimmee where they remain today and Armand once again owns the Type Certificate under a company named REVO.
Attempts have been made to sell, but to no avail. Lanshe finished two of the partially built fuselages and Armand contracted out two others. It is now 2017 and no aircraft have been built since 2005. Sad, is not the word for it, since they are wonderful flying and capable amphibians. Others have taken over the manufacturing of some of the parts. Normal attrition has reduced the entire fleet to about one-half its original size, but those who own them, love them and generally keep them for many years.
Since 1956 there were 916 Skimmers and Lake Amphibians and 137 Renegades built; most of them at the humble factory at Sanford, Maine. Today there is no reminder left of the factory nor the airport hangar where they were assembled. What a shame! This writer made a wall plaque honoring the Lakes and it hangs on the waiting room wall. Today, this is the only evidence of the presence of Lake Aircraft over a 50 year span.
This was the final part of a series of articles about the history of the Colonial Aircraft Company. I am considered the Colonial and Lake historian which prompted a compilation (on CD) of everything ever printed (and much more) about these fabulous amphibians from 1946 to 2016. Contact me via Email to obtain a copy of the book I have written, or the CD! John is a founding member of Seaplaneforum.com – specific questions pertaining to Lake Amphibians are always welcome there, too!