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Aerostar Super 700

My years with the great lady
by Greg Arikian
ATP B707 B720B B727 B757 B767 L1011 B747
Greg started flying when 1he was 10 years old and has now flown for 49 years with 29,000 hours under his belt.  He was the TWA Air Line Pilots Ass. International Division Safety chairman for 2 years.

When I saw my first Aerostar, I didnít think much of it.  After all, I was looking for a fast, fun, and fantastic twin engine airplane. The Aerostar looked like a business type aircraft.  I started my search for the perfect twin, there were Aztecs, Twin Commanders, Dukes, 310s, 340s, 414s, and more.  I didnít see, in any of them what I really wanted.  I started to read articles on light twins, and noticed the Aerostar was called ďthe fastest production piston twin ever manufactured.  It turns out Ted Smith, the inventor of the A20 bomber, Twin Commander, and others, conceived and built the Aerostar, gaining certification in March of 1968.   

Hmm, the more I looked at it, the more I admired the clean lines, the jet like forward cockpit, and the speed.  I love speed, and what pilot doesnít, but 260 Knots?  I was very sceptical.  The more I read about it, the more I admired this beautiful creation.  Then it happened.  The deadly bite of the ďI MUST HAVE THIS AIRPLANĒ, ďI MUST HAVE THIS AIRPLANĒ bug.  I was hooked, and if you are a pilot, who has ever been bitten buy this bug, I pity you.  I thought about Aerostar, I dreamed about Aerostar, My every wakening moments were filled with Aerostar.  I had it bad, and when you have this disease, there is only one cure.  If youíre a pilot, you know, what that is. 

The quest was on.  I looked at 600s(unpressurized, no turbos) 601Ps(pressurized, with turbos) 602Ps(like the 601P, but updated) 700s (certified in 1983) and the granddaddy of them all the Super 700.  The Super 700 is a Machen conversion of a 601P or a 602P to make it a Super 700.  This conversion was extensive and added many refinements to a 601P, or 602P, not least of which was the increase to 350HP and square tip props.  I decided it had to be the Super 700 (remember, I was bit).  If you wish to read more on the history, just search on the web. 

I found a mostly burned out, Super 700, that no one wanted to buy, so I bought it, against my mechanics advise.  I was very fortunate, in the fact that I lived only 15 minutes from Danbury (DXR) Airport, and Master Aviation, owned by Alan Speakmaster, which is considered by many, the premier Aerostar shop in the country. Alan knew ALL about Aerostars (it was almost frightening). It took over one and one half years to finish the project, but after new engines (U2-A) new radios (Garmin 530/430) new paint and new interior, new boots, etc. I was ready to rock and roll.

 

This Aerostar was so beautiful it almost took your breath away.  After checking out, I couldnít wait to fly it. We decided to fly from Danbury, Connecticut to Naples, Florida, with a fuel stop Lumberton, North Carolina.  One loads an Aerostar, passengers first and pilot last.  I call this aircraft a PILPOF.  Pilot In Last Pilot Out First.  Many look at an Aerostar, and believe it to be too tight, but once seated, it is quite comfortable, not only for the pilot but also for the passengers.  The six seats are side by side with a small aisle between them. The second seat on the right is a swivel seat, and can be turned to face the rear bench, for club seating.  The great thin about an Aerostars cabin, is as you go towards the back, the roof line hardly decreases at all, so front, middle and aft passengers have the same head room.  Aerostars come equipped with a writing desk, which I promptly removed.  I figured if you would rather write then enjoy the beautiful scenery; there must be something wrong with you. The clamshell door is secured by a single twist lever, and a pressure seal is inflated to maintain a seal.  The visibility is the best of any light twin, and some jets I have flown.  I mostly fly IFR, and had a clearance switch installed, which allowed one to power the number one Garmin 530 to get a clearance without starting or powering up the entire electrical bus.  With clearance in hand, I loaded the Garmins for the first leg.  

The Lycoming U2A engines are very easy to start. I did the before starting checklist which I read from the Garmins.  Turned on the electric fuel supply, throttle cracked a hair, mixture lean, pumps on, mixture rich, pumps off.  Wait a second or two, hit the starter, and in less than a turn they start.  With the engines fires up, I did the after start checklist, and called for clearance.  Taxing an Aerostar is accomplished by moving an electric switch left or right.  After the first 5 seconds of taxing this way, it became intuitive and easy.  After the runup, and the before takeoff checklist, it was into position, and hold.   

The takeoff technique is to align with the runway centre line and let it roll a few feet, to assure a track.  After receiving takeoff clearance, I advanced the throttles to 42 inches of manifold. The Aerostar really wants to go with 700HP, and if not for the great brakes, it would skip down the runway.  I checked the RPM, and engine instruments, and released the brakes.  The rudder becomes effective quickly, and steering is not a problem.  Passing 60 Knots I relived the pressure on the nose, and at 80 knots we were flying.  The airspeed rapidly increased to 160 knots, which is a nice climb speed, allowing good visibility over the nose.  With only my wife and me, and full fuel, and a few bags, we grossed out at only 5650 Lbs, well under the 6315 Lbs max gross weight.  Oh, didnít I mention the useful load on my (admittedly light) Aerostar was 2265 Lbs?  Sorry, (eat your harts out you Barons) I digress, but here we were climbing out at 2000 FPM, in pressurized comfort, watching the world go by.  The view was spectacular, and we could see New York City now just 40 miles to the south.  We passed 10000 feet and would blow right by the top of the NY class B.  This would have been a great advantage if we were VFR.  Well I was having much too much fun, so I started thinking about the fuel balance procedures.  I flipped on the autopilot, hooked it up to the Garmin and started to go over the procedure.  Letís see left engine ON, right engine ON, done.  Boy, that took a lot out of me.  The fuel system on an Aerostar is almost impossible to screw up, although many have managed to do just that. The fuel tanks are: left and right (wet) wing, and fuselage tank All three tanks feed into a sort of fuel box located under the fuselage tank.  In normal operation, you just turn the switches to ON and monitor fuel balance. If one tank is lower than the other, you can cross feed fuel to its engine from the opposite tank.  There is no cross feed from the fuselage tank.  Each engine has a 3 position fuel switch, OFF, ON and X-FEED.  Because the Aerostar has almost a straight wing fuel can feed faster than the other if the aircraft is not in trim.  Thatís it, easy huh? 

We were just passing 20,000 feet and still climbing 1800 FPM.  Not bad.  We were told to maintain FL240.  The cabin was holding around 8600í  I leaned the engines for 65% power with the JPI, and  I then set the true airspeed indicator to the OAT and read the TAS of 232 Knots.  Just for grins I pushed the power to max (limited by the turbos) and watched the speed go to 261 knots TAS.  Wow this baby really goes. All this, as with everything in life, comes with a price.  The fuel burn in climb was over 40GPH per engine (thatís 80GPR folks) in cruse the flow was 22.5 GPH per engine (thatís 45GPH).  The question arises; do you want to go 100 miles on 10 gallons or 200 miles on 20 in an hour?  Still, that a lot of gas.  Oh well Iím rich what do I care. (NOT). 

At FL240 she handled just like she was at 4000í sensitive, but not overly so. I watched the earth pass under the Garmin, and all too soon it was time to descend.  I was cleared to 11000í I squeezed off a few inches of manifold, and lowered the nose to 220Kts, we had a tail wind and the GS showed over 280 knots.  I descended slowly to take advantage of the wind, and wouldnít you know ATC asked that I expedite to 11000í.  OK time to try out another new toy.  I reached for the spoiler button, and down we went, over 3500 FPM.  I was cleared for a visual at Lumberton. I started slowing to pattern speed, and it wasnít easy, even with the spoilers.  The flaps and gear are hydraulic, the flaps being infinity variable down to 40 degrees.  I completed my decent checklist and only had GUMPP to go on my landing checklist.  140 on down wind more flaps, and 125 on base, 110 on final with 90 across the fence, and we were there.  I (this time) remembered the nose wheel likes to slam down when the mains touch, I held it off until I ran out of elevator, and it gently touched the pavement. 

Depending who you talk to the Aerostar is a killer aircraft.  It will turn over on its back in a normal stall, will fall out of the sky below 150 kts, it will kill you if you lose an engine, and in all, takes a super man to fly.  None of this is true.  I have been flying for almost 50 years in everything from a J3 to a 747, and let me say; the Aerostar is as honest an aircraft as there is.  Oh, you must pay attention, but then again if you donít, should you fly at all?  When I got 500 hours in the Aerostar, the insurance company finally allowed me to give recurrent in it.  If you lose an engine on takeoff, the Aerostar actually goes up, and sometimes depending on weight, 800 FPM.  Not bad for a piston twin.  I would rather be in an Aerostar than any other piston, when things go wrong. 

The Aerostar is an aircraft that demands the best of maintenance.  Itís pressurized, has 4 turbo compressors, air conditioning, heating etc. etc.  So operating it wasnít cheap.  One day, and by the way donít ever do this if you have an airplane and want to keep it, I computed my cost per hour to fly this beauty.  The numbers almost gave me a heart attack, $452/Hour, Gulp.  Well I finally came to the realization that I wasnít really rich, and was forced to sell this magnificent flying carpet.  Even so, I always remember the wonderful time we had in this, the most beautiful of all piston twins.