It's a pretty picture, that's for sure. Tooling along at Flight Level 280, truing out at 260 knots in pressurized comfort, a pair of powerplants humming away as the miles slip behind you. If you hadn't already read the title, you'd probably be thinking "turboprop" right now. Unless you already fly an Aerostar. Then you'd know.
Designed by aviation legend Ted Smith, the Aerostar twin has been around for more than 40 years, though it's been out of production for more than 20. While the Aerostar 702P isn't a new airplane, this mod package, done by and at the factory, represents the likely pinnacle of Aerostar development. Short of bolting on turbofan or turboprop engines, just about everything that could conceivably be done to make the airplane fly faster or handle better has already been done.
At around $700,000 for a no-expense-spared job, the cost of a 702P isn't cheap, but what you get is an airplane that if it were made today would cost twice as much, which is one of the reasons the Aerostar isn't being built anymore.
Impressive Airplane, Checkered History
Like every airplane Smith designed-he was the brains behind the Aero Commander series of twins and the Jet Commander, one of the first bizjets-the Aerostar light twin was intentionally overbuilt from the get-go. The idea, and Smith wasn't shy about saying so, was that with a beefy airframe the design could continue to grow in performance over time, including the possible adoption of turbofan engines. Toward that end, the Aerostar has wing skins twice as thick as typical piston twins, triple wing spars and a tail that withstood 14 Gs during initial certification tests.
And while there hasn't been an Aerostar jet-at least not yet-the piston twin has grown by leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings as the unpressurized 290 hp (per side) Model 600.
The Aerostar was originally manufactured by Smith's own company starting in the mid-1960s. Over time more power and then turbocharging were added, followed by pressurization. There were fuel problems early on, which resulted in a number of fuel starvation accidents. Those issues were soon straightened out, and the airplane continued to sell steadily, if not spectacularly. It earned a reputation as a remarkably fast personal twin, while getting a controversial rap for being in too many cases too much airplane for the kind of pilot flying it. By the end of the series' run in 1984 the ultimate Aerostar, by then built by Piper, was a pressurized 260-knot machine with an impressive suite of avionics and a ceiling of 25,000 feet. It was the hottest piston-powered production airplane of the day. Only 25 700Ps were built. (Interestingly, Piper's airplane was nearly identical to a modification that was being done by Aerostar specialists Machen, called the Super 700.)
Life After Production
Even during its production life, the Aerostar was the beneficiary of an impressive number of mods, many done by Machen. The company had engine upgrades for every model, including adding turbocharging to nonturbo models and intercoolers to early turbocharged versions. In terms of market penetration, the Aerostar may be the most thoroughly modified airplane type in existence, a fact that requires potential buyers to study up before writing that check.
Fortunately for the owners of the roughly 600-700 Aerostars that are still on the books (out of around 1,000 built), the airplane remains well supported. Aerostar Aircraft Corporation is not only the owner of the type certificates, but it has dozens of mods of its own for the various models. The company is headed by Steve Speer and Jim Christy, both of whom worked for Ted Smith back in the day and never wandered far from the Aerostar universe. Today the company, located in beautiful Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, does everything an aircraft manufacturer would normally do except build new airplanes. It handles service bulletins, builds new parts for the various Aerostar models-the airplane was a work in constant progress-and completes about a half-dozen refurbishments a year.