When you tell a fellow pilot what kind of airplane you fly, the list of responses that will elicit more than casual, feigned interest is short. But the Aerostar is on it. It has a deserved rep for being blazingly fast with good range. And unlike most piston twins, it has enough power to actually climb on a single engine. But bring a VISA with high limits. The airplanes Lycomings are somewhat thirsty and although its hardly a maintenance hog, the Aerostar fleet is aging and getting expensive to maintain. But for owners who can afford it, the model is hard to beat for getting from A to B faster than anything that doesnt burn Jet A. The Aerostar is the product of famed aircraft designer Ted Smith, whose name is attached to such classics as the A-20 twin-engine bomber and the Twin and Jet Commander lines. In 1963, Smith formed his own company to build a family of fast fliers, all built around the same fuselage, wings and tail. Five years later, the Model 600 emerged in 1968, with normally aspirated Lycoming IO-540 engines and a takeoff weight of 5500 pounds. A year later, the 601 appeared, with a pair of Rajay turbochargers and manually controlled, electrically actuated wastegates on each engine. With turbos, the engines could maintain 290 HP from sea level to 16,000 feet.
When you tell a fellow pilot what kind of airplane you fly, the list of responses that will elicit more than casual, feigned interest is short. But the Aerostar is on it. It has a deserved rep for being blazingly fast with good range. And unlike most piston twins, it has enough power to actually climb on a single engine.
But bring a VISA with high limits. The airplanes Lycomings are somewhat thirsty and although its hardly a maintenance hog, the Aerostar fleet is aging and getting
expensive to maintain. But for owners who can afford it, the model is hard to beat for getting from A to B faster than anything that doesnt burn Jet A.
The Aerostar is the product of famed aircraft designer Ted Smith, whose name is attached to such classics as the A-20 twin-engine bomber and the Twin and Jet Commander lines. In 1963, Smith formed his own company to build a family of fast fliers, all built around the same fuselage, wings and tail. Five years later, the Model 600 emerged in 1968, with normally aspirated Lycoming IO-540 engines and a takeoff weight of 5500 pounds. A year later, the 601 appeared, with a pair of Rajay turbochargers and manually controlled, electrically actuated wastegates on each engine. With turbos, the engines could maintain 290 HP from sea level to 16,000 feet.
By this point, Smith had sold out, first to American Cement and later to Butler Aviation, which acquired both Aerostar and Mooney and moved them to Kerrville, Texas. A squabble between the new owner and the old over corrosion idled the line for two years. Unwilling to let his idea wither, Ted Smith organized a group of investors and bought the company back, setting it up in Santa Maria, California. The new company began building the 600A and 601A in 1973. The A models had Lycomings with heavier crankcases and crankshafts and engine TBO was boosted from 1400 hours to 2000 for the 600A and 1800 hours for the 601A.
The first pressurized Aerostar, the 601P, appeared in 1974, with a max differential pressure of 4.25 PSI, good for an 11,000-foot cabin all the way to 25,000 feet. The tenth 601P emerged with a longer wing (stretched from 34.2 to 36.7 feet) and higher max takeoff weight, 6000 pounds. These changes were incorporated in the un-pressurized turbo model in 1977. The engines on the new B-model 601 were fitted with an automatic wastegate control, dumping the electric version.
Ted Smith died in 1978 at 70 years of age, after open-heart surgery. Plans for nine-seat Aerostars with 450-HP piston engines and turbines died with him, unfortunately. Later that year, the company was acquired by Piper Aircraft, which moved it from Santa Maria to Vero Beach.
Piper kept at it, despite a soft market. They improved the waste-gate system in the 601B and 601P, increasing critical altitude from 16,000 to 21,500 feet. A known-icing package-boots-was also added.
In 1981, the 602P was introduced, with engines and turbos certified and installed as a package by Lycoming. (Previously, turbos and wastegates were tacked on at the Ted Smith and Piper shops.) The last model, the 700P, was introduced by Piper in 1984 and had intercooled, 350-HP engines, cowl flaps and outward-rotating propellers. With only 25 built that year, the 700P is the rarest model. The most prolific model was the 601P, with 454 built by both Ted Smith and Piper.
The 600A remained in production the longest-10 years-but only 206 were built. Pipers figures show 59 600s, 68 601s, 48 601As, 41 601Bs and 110 602Ps built before the line closed for good. Although Piper exited the cabin twin market by the late 1980s, the Aerostar line endured.
In May 1991, Piper sold the type certificates and STCs to Aerostar Aircraft Corp., headed by Stephen Speer and James Christy, both of whom had been involved in the Ted Smith days. The new owners pledged to keep Aerostar parts and support flowing and theyve done just that.
One upgrade they offered is called the Super 700 Aerostar, which takes 601P and 602P Aerostars and fits them with 350-HP Lycoming TIO-540-U2A engines turning three-blade Hartzell props.
The airplane gets a gross weight boost to 6356 pounds ramp weight. Claimed 75 percent cruise is 261 knots, and initial climb rate is 1875 FPM. At economy cruise (55 percent), the fuel burn is 32 GPH and claimed speed is 225 knots. Owners report that the mod is worthwhile and the speed claims realistic.
Ted Smith evidently liked mid-wing designs, as anyone who has seen a photo of an A-20 would surmise. The Aerostars wings are mounted midway along the oval
fuselage and are the same NACA-64 series used on the Learjet. External skins are butt-joined and flush-riveted. Primary flight controls are via push-pull tubes, torque tubes and bellcranks.
Like larger aircraft, the landing gear, main gear doors, flaps and the nosewheel steering system are electro-hydraulic. The nosewheel has its own steering control and isnt connected to the rudders. Fuel-selector valves and elevator and rudder trim systems are also electric.
The engines are supposed to draw fuel from the two 62-gallon wing tanks and from the 41.5-gallon fuselage tank at the same time and at a rate that leaves 12 gallons in the fuselage tank when the wings have been emptied. But this only works in straight-and-level flight. The thin wing tanks easily become unbalanced-theres only two degrees of wing dihedral-and crossfeed must be used to bring them back in synch.
This shortcut led to trouble if the single fuel pick-ups in the wings became unported and electrical power was lost, leaving no way to reposition the valves. AD 79-1-5 sought to solve the problem by placarding crossfeed procedures and installing a low-fuel warning light and individual tank quantity indicators.
The 601 models have relatively high-compression turbonormalized engines, producing 290 HP. The 601P is especially prone to detonation if leaned to peak EGT at altitude. The 602Ps engines have a lower compression ratio, alleviating the detonation problem, and are groundboosted to maintain 290 HP at 37 inches MP.
Alternators on most Aerostars are rated at 70 amps but can actually put out only about 55 amps due to heat. Potential buyers should be wary of any airplane with an electric air-conditioning system. Its heavy, has four motors that draw a lot of juice and cannot be used at night or in IMC. A better bet is an engine-driven-compressor system.
If you want speed, look no further than an Aerostar. The normally aspirated 600s will easily steam along at 210 knots on 34 GPH at 70 percent power. The 601s model can turn in an amazing 233 knots on 36 GPH at 70 percent power at 20,000 feet. The higher-powered 700P trues at a whopping 260 knots on an equally impressive 51 GPH at 81 percent power and 25,000 feet; throttled back to 65 percent power, a 700P can do 230 knots on 36 GPH.
As if the stock airplane werent fast enough, Machen conversions make them even faster. At 75 percent power and 25,000 feet, a Machen Superstar 650 cruises at 240 knots on 42 GPH; a Superstar 680-intercooled-does 250 knots on 40 GPH. Machen conversions also improve single-engine performance.
Maximum published single-engine rates of climb are 360 FPM for the 600, 240 FPM for the 601s and 602P, and 320 FPM for the 700P. Accelerate/stop distances -with 20 degrees of flap for takeoff-are about 3100 feet for the 600 and un-pressurized 601s, 3400 feet for the 601P and 602P and 4000 feet for the 700P.
Since it was intended to become a jet one day, Aerostar handling can be said to be jet-like. That means high flap speeds-174 knots indicated for most models-and fairly high gear speeds of 156 knots. The Aerostars wing loading is an eye opener: 35.4 pounds/square foot. High wing loading translates to high speed and a soft ride in turbulence, but also a brisk stall and a narrow slow-speed envelope. Crossing the fence at 100 knots, the Aerostar isnt a terrific short-field performer but owners say its adequate.
Both Piper and the factory have modifications to improve the Aerostars stall behavior at aft CG and alleviate the restrictions imposed by AD 83-14-7. Most owners prefer Machens vortex generators to Pipers water rudder. Stall behavior has been the focus of attention, thanks to tendencies to stall sharply when held into the break. The AD was issued to improve stall controllability with flaps extended with aerodynamic kits like those mentioned above.
Cabin Comfort, Load
Passengers are sometimes taken aback by having to enter the cabin by clambering over the pilots seat; thats the only door in the airplane. Once inside, an Aerostar is reasonably comfortable but no one would mistake it for a chapel; the noise level is quite high, especially in models without pressurization.
The cabin is more than 3 inches wider than a 55-series Barons, but 3 inches narrower than a Cessna 310s, and has 2 inches less headroom. Most owners have taken out one of the middle seats to make more space in the cabin. For a cabin-
class airplane, its on the tight side.
Its also not a great carrier. An Aerostar is hard-pressed to carry even five adults, their bags and a reasonable load of fuel. Real-world useful loads vary from a meager 1600 pounds for a lavishly equipped Aerostar to a marginal 1800 pounds with average equipment. Also, the airplane has a relatively narrow CG range and its easy to bust the limits. Weight-and-balance calculations are a good idea for takeoff and landing profiles, because the CG moves forward as fuel is burned. And in a twin, CG is always a worry for engine-out operations.
No surprises here. The Aerostar can be a hangar queen, but owners who say its a wrench hog also say that this is to be expected in any aircraft of this class and age. Even so, the Aerostar has a couple of marks against it. For one, its a compactly built airplane, so its systems are tightly packed and difficult to get to. Second, the systems themselves are complex. One owner reported dozens of individual failures in his first 18 months of ownership and another said elevating the airplane to squawk-free status is hopeless.
Since the type certificate is owned by a solvent business, owners do have a place to go for support. Aerostar Aircraft Corp. is holding up its end of the bargain, picking up on the task of issuing service bulletins. Some 18 have been published since the company bought the TC. All are conveniently listed on the Aerostar Web site. The most recent SB-600-136-describes visual inspection of the wing attach fittings. Contact the factory at 800-442-4242 or www.aerostaraircraft.com.
Mods, Owner Groups
Interestingly, the factory offers the most mods for the Aerostar. These range from service bulletin kits to factory options available at the time the airplane was built but not installed. The Machen Superstar upgrades are still available-the Aerostar factory Web site has a complete list-and given the low purchase price of the airplanes, many owners may find the prices attractive. Machen, by the way, still exists as a manufacturing company, but all of its mods are provided only through the Aerostar factory.
The Aerostar Owners Association publishes a magazine and holds regional meetings that focus on safety and maintenance. Contact the Aerostar group at 918-258-2346 and www.aerostar-owners.com.
I have owned three Aerostars since 1993: A 601P, a 602P and now a 700P. I have a little over 2000 hours in these airplanes. I bought my first Aerostar because it was the only piston twin faster than my Mooney. I was traveling long distances
and wanted pressurization and to get above weather. I flew this airplane like it was a car for a couple of years, but longed for even more power and known icing. The 602P with five more inches of boost and many refinements added by Piper was the solution.
I flew this aircraft nonstop from places such as Chicago to Boston and Chicago to Dallas.
I looked for a 700P with a good history for about a year. This aircraft incorporates all of the lessons learned from the others built in, not added on later. With 350-HP counter-rotating engines, the airplane is quiet and predictable. She will continue to climb to at least 18,000 feet on one engine. As for speed, flying from Telluride to Chicago at 25,000 feet in the winter, I was asked by ATC what kind of a jet I was flying. Ground speed was 400 knots, in economy cruise. Yes, I like to go fast, but every one of my engines exceeded TBO. They were not working hard.
There are some add-ons that make these airplanes better. Stock alternators and starters are notoriously unreliable. High output alternators from National Airparts saves taking a prop off every 50 hours.
I have not owned other twins, so I cant compare maintenance or insurance costs. As for the piloting skills required to be safe, this is a very fast airplane. But the number one requirement is patience. As in a Mooney, overreacting to a seeming pilot error is not a good thing. This certainly applies to landing. When she wants to land, she will-just fly the numbers. Stay trained and stay current. I have been in weather, not on purpose, where I had a 10,000 feet block altitude. Power to idle, just keep the wings level. The airplane will do the rest.
I have owned a 1982 602P/700 Aerostar with known-ice equipment since 1995 and have flown it over 1300 hours since then. I have the 700 mod with max gross to 6315 pounds, which includes intercoolers and the upgrade to 350 HP per side with vortex generators for better rudder effectiveness and excellent control through the stall regime. It handles very well on one engine with the 700 engines and flies well even with one windmilling.
I actually lost one on takeoff (blown intake manifold gasket) and I was able to easily keep it level and at blue line until I got my head working, cleaned it up and climbed out without a problem. They are very strong airplanes-they were originally designed to be a jet-and you very seldom see in-flight breakups no matter what the pilot does.
The Aerostar is one of the easiest airplanes to fly if you dont go too slow and keep ahead of it. With the VGs, it does exactly what you tell it to. Its high wing loading makes it very good in turbulence, but the thin wing is not happy when stalled. This airplane takes at least 500 feet to recover from a stall and when it gets slow, it slows down very fast, thus it requires close attention to the airspeed especially in the pattern. The controls are crisp and responsive and lots of fun to fly with all that power. It typically climbs at 1000 FPM at climb power (85 percent) at gross weight at 160 knots all the way up to 17,000 feet-plus.
The 700 engines are basically the same low-compression engines as used in the Mirage and as such they require extra fuel to keep them cool. If you run them cool, at max TIT of 1550 degrees, they use about 23 GPH at 65 percent, which provides 220 knots in the high teens and 240 or so in the 20s. Seventy-five percent power will give you another 10 knots at 26 GPH. To get reasonable range, you need the optional 44-gallon aux tanks, which I have. The 601P with the high-compression engines and intercoolers is probably the most efficient Aerostar. You can run the 290-HP engines at 75 percent and get the same airspeeds as the high-compression engines and use much less fuel while keeping the TITs cool enough for good life. Some of the guys run the 601P engine lean of peak and have good luck doing that.
The best piece of advice I would have if you are thinking of buying one is to join the Aerostar Owners Association and ask lots of questions. Get good training and watch the airspeed like a hawk, especially if you have only flown Barons and Senecas before. There are several good instructors who will teach you in your airplane.
The owners blog has lots of knowledge and they can really help you get the right one that fits your mission. Aerostar Aircraft owns the manufacturing rights and is very good at helping you with advice and parts. Prices are not cheap, however, as when parts are built in small volumes they are expensive to manufacture and keep in stock.
I think a full-featured engine monitor is necessary to keep track of everything and makes maintenance much simpler. The only tender part I would be very careful about is the nose gear assembly. It is very easy to over turn the nosewheel when towing and you can also break it just by turning from one side to the other too fast. Check for damage on a pre-buy. In general it is a very good, fast, responsive, fun owner-flown aircraft.
William E. Lawson,
I have owned a 1976 601P/700 Aerostar since 1995.
Performance: My aircraft was manufactured with 290-HP Lycoming IO-540-S1A5 engines with turbochargers installed by Ted Smith. The prior owner overhauled the engines in 1988 and they were upgraded to 350 HP. I typically fly 15,000 to 17,000 feet MSL. At 65 percent power, my true airspeed ranges from 225 to 235 knots.
Although I do not normally climb into the flight levels unless my trip exceeds 300 miles, if I do go high, airspeeds range from 240 to 245 knots at 65 percent power. Depending on weight, the airplane at max takeoff power (42 inches and 2500 RPM) can climb at 1800 FPM-plus below 5000 feet MSL. Cruise at 65 percent power in the teens burns 42 to 44 GPH. With my fuel setup, I flight plan no further than 800 miles regardless of forecast winds.
With the additional fuel tank mod, Aerostar claims a range of up to 1000 miles. My full-fuel payload is about 600 pounds. My max payload (fuel plus passengers) is about 1800 pounds. Max payload varies from aircraft to aircraft depending interior and mods. Check the aircraft weight and balance sheet for accuracy and currency.
The aircraft is solid in turbulence due to high wing loading. The flight control system is all pushrod and bellcrank, no wires. The system is positive, although it would probably feel somewhat heavy to a pilot transitioning from smaller/lighter aircraft. It is a fine instrument aircraft with no surprises as flaps and gear are lowered. It has, in the past, had a poor reputation regarding safety. I believe this has, to large degree, diminished, if not disappeared.
Insurance: Until recently, the annual premium has fluctuated around $4500 to $5000 for $175,000 hull coverage and $1 million liability, with $100,000 per passenger sub limits. For reasons I cant explain, my latest premium was $3500 for the same coverage.
Comfort: This is definitely a headset aircraft. However, once headsets are on, the cabin noise level is not excessive. The cabin is not spacious, but once everyone is seated, it is comfortable. Like many owners, I have removed one of the center seats for comfort. Although I have flown with all seats full, weight limitations limit fuel load to a maximum range of around 300 to 350 miles.
Maintenance: Like all aging piston twin aircraft, the Aerostar requires careful, and at times expensive, maintenance. Although at times exasperating, one must keep in mind that most of the Aerostar fleet was built over 30 years ago. During the first 10 years of ownership, most of my maintenance focus was on replacing/overhauling components that one would expect to wear out. Such items as alternators, magnetos, turbos, hydraulic pump, fuel pump, waste gates and turbo controller have been replaced and/or overhauled. Once these were replaced, Ive had no further problems. Any prospective purchaser must accept the fact that no matter how good the pre-buy inspection is, there will be subsequent maintenance expenses.
The Aerostar Owners Association is an excellent source for locating an experienced Aerostar mechanic. Aerostar Aircraft, located in Idaho, is also available for periodic maintenance, in addition to aircraft sales and installation of performance upgrades. It maintains a parts supply, develops aircraft modifications, publishes service bulletins and is an excellent resource for questions regarding the Aerostar. Al Hoover is the contact.
At this point, I am seeing the need for more age-related, as compared to use-related, maintenance issues. I just replaced ducting for the heater and pressurization system. Its hard to complain about replacing parts that lasted 35 years in service. Going forward as the fleet continues to age, I anticipate similar airframe and component issues. Based on what Ive heard about other piston twins, I do not think this is unusual or limited to Aerostars.
Its been 16 years of ownership. The plane has always been a delight to fly. There is, quite simply, no general aviation aircraft available today which can match it in overall performance.
Manhattan Beach, California
My Aerostar is a 1981 602P that has been upgraded to a Machen 700 by the Aerostar Aircraft Corporation, complete with 5.5 PSI pressurization. I further upgraded it to a modern glass cockpit panel with the Garmin G600 and a JPI 960, plus a KFC-225 autopilot.
I get 255 knots true at 25,000 feet on 65 percent power burning 45 gallons total. Annuals run around $6900 without upgrades. Flying the fastest piston twin requires annual recurrent training from a certified instructor for insurance. I love this airplane and would not trade it in for another as it has the best value for money, given the speed.
Las Vegas, Nevada
I have owned a 1980 Piper Aerostar 600A since 1993. I purchased it because I owned a Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche at the time and wanted to move up to a normally aspirated twin with more performance, safety, equipment capability and room.
Nothing could beat the performance. My normally aspirated Aerostar 600A cruises comfortably at 210 knots at 8000 feet, 2350 RPM and full throttle burning 33 GPH at 125 degrees rich of peak. At 10,000 and 2400 RPM, it does 205 knots and at 12,000 feet, 200 knots. Initial climb at 120 knots gives around 1600 FPM at full load and low density altitudes, or a spectacular 2000-plus FPM if lightly loaded on a cold day.
The controls are smooth and light, similar to a Bonanza. Flight in a 600A can be exhilarating and fun. With its high wing loading and the long fuselage, it tempers turbulence and tames the tail wag often associated with low-wing twins. As an IFR platform, it is especially stable with partial flaps and gear down shooting an approach at 120 knots.
The Aerostar has several safety plusses. On one engine, the Aerostar 600A will climb around 400 FPM at low altitude and gross weight, making it one of the best normally aspirated engine-out climbers. Because the props are located close to the
fuselage and to the center of gravity, flying on one engine requires only small rudder and aileron inputs. The airplane handles nicely on one engine.
The visibility is excellent up, down, and forward as the pilot is ahead of the wing and props and has the overhead windows for looking into steep turns. The cockpit door is next to the pilot so he can conveniently latch and unlatch it without leaning across or relying on others. An emergency exit is provided next to the rear seat.
The fuel system is simple. When the fuel selector for each engine is set to on, each engine draws fuel from its respective wing and the fuselage tank simultaneously. The fuel selector remains in the same position for all flights from takeoff to landing unless you need to use fuel from one side to correct an imbalance, which is rare.
My Aerostar has the Machen slow-speed control mod (most have this), which adds vortex generators, stall strips and other changes to provide a well-mannered, docile stall with good control throughout.
The Aerostar interior is 46 inches wide, which is two inches wider than the Twin Comanche. The cabin keeps this width for its entire length, making the rear seats as wide as the front. As a six seater, the Aerostar is tight and most owners remove one or two of the middle row seats. With both middle seats removed, it makes for an enormous area for carry-on items and unobstructed leg room. Everyone likes the big side windows.
For all this, the 600A will be a little noisier in the cabin at full power thanks to those props close to the fuselage. ANR headsets take care of that. It will also require a little longer runway. At gross weight, short final should be 100 knots, if light, not less than 90 knots. If near gross, plan on 3000 feet as a personal minimum with nominal temps and under 2000 feet of density altitude. That said, there are owners who fly regularly into home runways under 2500 feet with clear approaches.
My insurance premium for $1 million/$100,000 per seat liability with $160,000 hull is $2900 per year with U.S. Specialty through the AOPA insurance agency. Annual costs vary depending on whether a big ticket item needs replacing. When any airplane is 30 to 40 years old, things like windows, windshields, engine control cables, fuel hoses and so on need to be replaced or a prop or heater overhauled. Not every annual will require these kinds of items be accomplished, but buyers should expect many of them will.
Parts are usually easily available as Aerostar Aircraft Corp. maintains a huge inventory. There are also numerous upgrades available from Aerostar Aircraft which typically can be installed by your mechanic. An Aerostar 600 probably costs about the same to maintain as other 30- to 40-year-old normally aspirated six-cylinder light twins. However, it can probably be purchased at a better price, making it a good value in the twin market. A pre-buy inspection by an Aerostar-experienced shop is a must to determine the true condition and value of the plane. A bargain airplane is probably not a bargain at all.
Also, new owners must get good training from well-qualified Aerostar instructors. Plan on three days to cover systems and flying in your airplane. Joining the Aerostar Owners Association is a must to find an Aerostar guru for training or pre-buy!
This 40-year-old organization has a fantastic Website (aerostar-owners.com) with a very active member forum for answering any question, a hot line for asking questions or for maintenance help, Aerostar maintenance and safety seminars led by knowledgeable Aerostar gurus, DVDs on flying and maintaining the Aerostar, a parts loaner program and a quarterly full-color 48-page magazine.
The Aerostar 600A is considered by many Aerostar enthusiasts as having the best bang for the buck of all the Aerostar models. Compared to the Superstar 700, the 600A will burn 12 gallons less fuel per hour while giving up only 30 to 40 knots, and can be maintained for roughly half the cost.
If you do not need turbos and want a safe, comfortable, capable and swift IFR cross-country airplane, the 600A should be considered.