Aerostar Super 700 pilot report

The Sports Car of Light Twins

Private Pilot Magazine decided to flight test and evaluate Aerostar Aircraft Corporation's Super 700 Aerostar. This executive bullet was waiting for us at Boeing Field Airport in Washington State. Having read up on the plane and the remarkable performance increases the literature said it had, we were eager to obtain some serious flight time. Given the nature of people and companies to exaggerate, we expected a little fluff in the numbers. One of Aerostar's customer service pilots, Larry Brown, flew the plane to Boeing Field and sat in the right seat, providing technical and operational information.

Entry into the Super 700 is identical to past Aerostars. A clamshell hatch allows the top half to open upward, while the bottom half serves as the step. Larry pointed out that the proper procedure is to slide the pilot seat all the way forward, making entry quite easy. The Aerostar has sometimes received a bad rap for lack of easy entry because the seat was in the doorway. As is often the case, the airplane was blamed for lack of knowledge on the part of the operator. The flight deck is not overly big, but adequate, similar to a fighter crew station, which is probably what Aerostar would like you to believe. After all, they do push the "pilot's airplane" line.

Comfortably seated, we were given a briefing on the instrument panel, which as well-equipped with King NAV/COMs, colour radar and a GPS display coupled into a map that would play on the stormscope. Also, tucked neatly in the panel was a Ryan TCAD (traffic collision avoidance system), with audio and visual annunciation to warn you when you're too near another aircraft. Unfortunately, there was no azimuth information; up and down, yes, but you still have to crane your neck left and right. The autopilot was standard, but it also had an altitude pre-select feature that allows you to watch while the aircraft levels off at the preset cruise altitude.

With both engines humming and the avionics active, we were ready to call Boeing tower for our IFR clearance and departure to Spokane. Taxiing out gave us the opportunity to play with the electric nosewheel steering. Using the electric rocker switch, located on the centre console between the pilot and co-pilot seats, was fun, but it wasn't anything a pilot couldn't master in about two minutes. Those two minutes can be pretty exciting and probably shouldn't be practiced in tight parking areas. For those of you who don't know what we're talking about, during taxi, the plane is steered by activating the rocker switch, which operates a hydraulic pump to turn the nosewheel. White on the runway and rolling, the aircraft is controlled by rudder input.

Once the aircraft was aligned with the runway, we made sure the nosewheel was also aligned with the runway by allowing the aircraft to roll forward a few feet. Once cleared for departure, the recommended procedure is to hold the brakes, throttle up to 30 inches manifold pressure, release the brakes and go to 42 inches. You can hold 42 inches all the way up to 20,000 feet. You'll be climbing about 700 fpm faster than any other Aerostar you've been in. Acceleration is positive, to say the least. Automatic controllers limit the m.a.p. to 42 inches and blow-off valves provide overboost protection. This allows the pilot to concentrate on the departure without having to closely monitor the m.a.p. - as is found on older turbocharger engines.

Due to the relatively small 1-degree positive angle of incidence of the wing, the Aerostar must be positively rotated on the takeoff roll. Following Larry's advice, we pulled back on the yoke, which is spring-loaded to go full forward when left alone, to take some weight off the nose at about 60 kts. At about 90 kts. we gently raised the nose and the plane flew off about 92 kts. (Or, that's what they say it did) The airspeed needle was moving so fast it could have been anything around there. If the nose isn't raised a bit on the takeoff roll, it's possible to over-rotate a bit and initially get the nose too high. They also said we could have gotten to Vmc + 5 kts. about 300 feet shorter than with the standard model. If you have to worry about 300 feet, you don't belong there.

Larry pointed out a great safety feature: the ability of the plane to maintain altitude at 100 kts. with one engine out. Not impressed? How about if we tell you that's with the gear and flaps down and the prop windmilling? It's not happy, but it's flying and unlike the others out there that want it cleaned up and the prop feathered within 10 seconds, you have time to make some decisions without relying on your long-gone teen-age reflexes.

While we're talking about single-engine performance, here's what Larry and Jim Christy, the other Aerostar representative we spoke with, told us. Cleaned up, that standard Aerostar claims about 240 fpm at sea level, while the Super 700 will give you 400 fpm under identical conditions. Now, that's significant. They also tell us that the Super 700 will keep you at 17,000 feet, as opposed to the 9300-foot, one-engine ceiling of the standard model - especially nice to know if you're about 50 miles west of Denver.

We soon received a progressive climb to flight level 220, where the Super 700 likes to be. At cruise, handling is sensitive, yet responsive. Much as we would have like to, we didn't roll it or even do any trick maneuvers. The roll rate was quick enough to be favorably compared to a Bonanza: actually, the whole feel of the yoke approximated the plane. Part of the required modifications with the bigger engines was a BOB weight system which, they told us, improved pitch stability. Since the plane flew wonderfully anyway, how were we to tell?

We were cruising at 65-percent power, 32.0 inches m.a.p. at 2200 rpm, and that resulted in about 22.0 gph from each engine. This produced an indicated 171 KIAS. TAS was 245 kts. with a displayed ground speed of 320 kts.

Larry indicated that he wanted to demonstrate 75-percent power and increased the power setting to 35.5 inches m.a.p. at 2200 rpm. The airspeed went to 182 KIAS with no effort. We were also assured that 75-percent power would be available up to 25,000 feet. Being ever diligent and wanting to catch them up, we asked the obvious questions about fuel burn and range. Larry adroitly avoided the issue by telling me that the gross weight went up 315 pounds and that the useful load increased 265 pounds. Emphasizing the point, Larry said, "What would you rather do: 250 kts on 44 gph or 215 kts on 36 gph? Good question!

Time passed all too quickly on our flight and we soon received our clearance to descend to 6000 feet. We dropped the nose and descended at the rate of about 2500 fpm. With the spoilers, we could have increased that to about 3500 fpm. The pressurization system, let us down in comfort, slowly, at about 400 fpm. The landing, at 100 KIAS with full flaps, was uneventful and positive.

After the flight, we chatted about what Aerostar is trying to do and who the company sells to. "The answer to that," Jim said, "is speed. We sell to people upgrading from 340s, Senecas and those types, as well as those who have discovered that running a turboprop is more expensive than they had originally calculated. This is a happy alternative between them. There's also the issue of decreased down time." He went on to explain that as the standard Aerostars age, their performance drops off. This results in shop time, during which the mechanics try to keep the plane flying at optimum levels. With the 700's higher power margins available at altitude, the pilots have more than enough performance for a longer period of the aircraft's life. That means less maintenance and down time.

This is a pilot's airplane and a high-performance personal transport. If your business needs dictate the latter, or if you are in the market for your own personal bullet, we recommend you take a serious look at Aerostar Aircraft Corporation's Super 700 and its other modified Aerostar offerings and options.

The Company
by Bill Fedorko

Private Pilot recently had the pleasure of test flying the Super 700 Aerostar, quite an impressive aircraft. It has evolved from a simple configuration of the original design: a naturally aspirated, six-passenger twin with a 600 model designation. The older model 600 was followed by the turbocharged model 601, and with a little cabin pressurization and refinements to power and interior amenities added, the 601P Aerostar was born. With the company now in the hands of two original employees of Aerostar - Steve Speer and Jim Christy - it has now created the Super 700 Aerostar. The 700 is similar in appearance to the original Aerostar, but don't let that fool you. Take a closer look; the changes are quite dramatic and the performance matches the changes.

Ted Smith Aircraft Co.

During these model-change years, the company was also changing. Ted Smith, the original designer of the Aerostar, as well as 10 other successful aircraft designs spanning some 50 years, put his dream in the air. In 1963, Smith left Rockwell to start the Ted Smith Aircraft Co. and began building the Aerostar. Smith's dream was to build a reliable, fast comfortable and fun-to-fly aircraft. Did he? Most owners and pilots who had the pleasure of flying one would agree. The first light, twin-engine model completed certification in 1967. There were five models to follow this midwing aircraft, which was faster than other non-turbine aircraft of its day.

In 1968, investors unfortunately negotiated sale of the Aerostar to the American Cement Co., which sold it to Butler Aviation in 1970. Luckily, the Aerostar was eventually re-acquired by Smith in 1972, and design refinements started to improve, as did performance. In 1975, the Aerostar 601 broke the speed record for a piston-engine aircraft over a 1000-kilometer, closed course of 305 mph. Smith had plans to build a jet-powered version of the Aerostar, to be known as the Smith Jet, SuperStar. Plans were canceled when Smith died in 1976. Not long after, in 1981, the Aerostar was sold to Piper Aircraft. Ten years later, the design and manufacturing rights were bought back by the new Aerostar Aircraft Corporation and remain in its hands to this day.

My Experience With the Aerostar

My experience with the Aerostar began in 1974, when I took a job with Midwest Aviation in Willoughby, Ohio. It was a struggling new company, whose main interest in the Aerostar was freight, carrying canceled checks cross-country. The Aerostars we used were mostly 600 models, since the turbocharged model 601, although faster, was more expensive to purchase and required more maintenance.

Although I only have minimal experience flying Aerostars, I have several hours under my belt wrenching on them. I managed a couple of FBOs in years past, specializing in Aerostar repair and maintenance. It is not the easiest aircraft to work on and by no means the most inexpensive. I haven't worked on the new Super 700 model, but after talking with the mechanics at Aerostar in Spokane, Washington, I was convinced that things haven't changed too much. Just bigger and better engines and sophisticated systems, most designed and installed at the Aerostar factory.

The Latest and the Greatest?

The latest Aerostar is a blend of old and new. The old is the basic great-looking shape of this performance aircraft. Still, the midwing design - which looks fast, even while sitting on the deck - is chock-full of refinements even Smith would be proud of. When Piper Aircraft owned the rights to build the Aerostar, it didn't make many changes to the 602P. The new Aerostar Aircraft Corporation is currently making several modifications and improvements to this classy-looking bird. Since the company has all the rights, type certificate, engineering drawings and tooling to the aircraft, will it be building new ones? "The company is planning an IPO to put the airplane back into production," said Jim Christy. Until that day, the company is content with offering a wide array of improvements to the existing design. With Ted Smith's dream of a jet-powered Aerostar, is there such a bird on the table? "Certainly," responded Christy."With the airplane in production, that would be a viable option."

The Super 700

The company claims that the Aerostar is arguably the finest aircraft ever built. It also says it can make the aircraft even better using today's technology and upgrading it to the Super 700. So, what is the Super 700? How do you get one and what does it take? Answering the first question is easy: Either have an existing 601, 601P or 602P aircraft converted, or purchase a used one from Aerostar and do the same. The answer to the second questions is: Bring money.

The Super 700 consists of several stages of improvements. You can upgrade a little at a time or jump in with both feet and get the works. Even with only a couple of modifications, the company claims improved performance, reliability and safety.

Let's say money is no object and speed, reliability and comfort are your expectations. To start off, intercooling will bump the horsepower up a tad, and adding a pair of new Hartzell three-blade propellers will deliver it to speed. The props are smaller in diameter and have a more aggressive twist distribution. This lowers the tip speed for more performance and reduced noise. One of the last major steps in the transformation to the 700 is to top overhaul the existing 601P engines and add upgraded turbos, controllers, fuel pumps, injection system and accessories, as well as any airframe components required to prepare the aircraft for increased performance and power. The full-blown modification includes an induction air intercooling system, which will provide an increase in takeoff, climb and cruise performance for any 601, 601P or 602P aircraft. In addition, single-engine, hot-day performance and safety are enhanced.

These modifications will increase the engines to a rated 350 maximum continuous horsepower, while increasing the gross weight by 315 pounds. Also, upgrades to the pressurization and heating system are performed, adding to comfort levels unheard of in this class of aircraft. If it's time, or you are a TBO, you may want to opt for a pair of TIO-540-U2A Lycoming 350-hp engines, on exchange.

Aircraft Support

Aerostar has the type certificate, and with its engineering expertise, the company can solve almost any problem that might arise with existing older aircraft in the field. Aerostar supports owners and maintenance facilities around the world with spare parts and technical service.

The comfort upgrades to the Super 700 offer horsepower increases, as mentioned, but also add pressurization upgrades. The new 5.5 psi cabin pressurization will allow the certified ceiling to increase from 25K to 30K.

Another improvement to reliability is the addition of new Inconel exhaust system, installed on the 350-hp turbo supercharged, intercooled Lycoming engines. It's expensive, but it adds a degree of safety.

Although the cabin and cockpit are rather small, they do have a sports car-like feel and performance.

Aerostar still lays claim to an aircraft that flies higher, faster and farther than the competition in its class. The new 700 not only flies 5000 feet higher, but it is also 30 kts faster and travels 300 nm farther than predecessor aircraft built in the '70s. Other modifications Aerostar is quite proud of are the increased, low-speed handling characteristics. To accomplish this, the engineers installed Vortex generators on the vertical fin, increasing flow over the rudder and horizontal stabilizers.

The test aircraft we flew also had a modification for slowing and dropping altitude quickly: pop-up spoilers, small spoilers located just forward of the flaps, slightly outboard of the engines. Losing altitude quickly is the name of the game. This modification is not offered by the factory, but it was included on our test aircraft. Needless to say, we used the spoilers to the max.

The Aerostar is not for everyone. It demands a pilot's full attention. After all, it is a fast cabin twin, and it goes without saying that it demands respect. It would be a treat to see these aircraft built again, and done so at a somewhat reasonable price.