AEROSTAR, GETTING BETTER WITH AGE!
by James S. Christy
It seems like only yesterday when I was helping complete brand new Aerostars at Ted Smith's Aerostar company in Santa Maria, CA. Actually, those Aerostars we turned out in Santa Maria have been flying for more than twenty years and many are in very good shape having been operated and maintained by both quality conscious owners and maintenance facilities. Unfortunately, some owners that call say they are experiencing nothing but problems.
We sometimes think that if we just had a new airplane design it wouldn't have any problems and we could fly it for years with no worries. In the past twenty years, I have seen several new airplane designs introduced and I've noticed it's not that they don't have any problems, it's that they have different problems, and you don't know what they are yet.
As I see it, one big advantage with the Aerostar is that the design is very mature. By that I mean that almost all the problems that were going to occur have already occurred! Solutions have already been found and corrective action or repetitive inspections are already in place.
For instance, the engine package has received numerous upgrades over the years such as improved turbos, wastegates, exhaust systems, baffles, hoses, etc. and it is more reliable now than a new airplane design will be twenty years from now.
Numerous landing gear components have been upgraded and the gear rigging procedures revised for better reliability. Areas that require repetitive inspections or maintenance have already been identified. Now it's just a matter of doing the maintenance before neglect results in major problems.
The fuel system was fixed in 1977, (21 Years Ago), and updated with improved venting early in this decade. Still, we see airplanes come into our shop that are totally unairworthy. Why? Perhaps the owner is not willing to dedicate to the airplane the financial resources to properly maintain it, and he would be doing the right thing in selling it. Other owners have told me they have written a blank check to their maintenance provider. In such a case, it's hard to imagine why the work wasn't done. Either the shop didn't know what to do, or they decided it wasn't cost effective for the owner, or they didn't have the time to do the work or who knows what.
As a result, when I buy a used airplane with the intention of reselling it, I expect some heavy maintenance and repair bills. That is in part due to the fact that when we offer it for sale, we guarantee that every system in the airplane is working perfectly. Isn't that the way they are supposed to be anyway? None the less, we generally end up removing both engines from every used airplane, (even if the basic engine was recently installed and inspected), and put all of the brackets, baffles, hoses, exhaust systems, engine mounts, turbos, and accessories back in "Factory Condition." We replace worn parts with new. We overhaul wastegates. We reroute hoses properly and replace suspect ones. We replace wiring and ducting, and on and on.
Of course, the engines are only part of the airplane. If the windshield needs replacing, we replace it. If one master cylinder is leaking we reseal all four, because problems with the others can't be far behind. We find the same problems over and over again. The nose gear shimmies because a $400 nose gear collar bushing which wears out about every 1500hrs. wasn't replaced. Now the nose structure is cracked requiring a $3,000 repair and the bushing still needs replacing.
Given the maturity of the Aerostar design I would submit that we have a twenty year "service history advantage" over any newly designed aircraft. Plus, our airplane is totally modern. I read about a year ago that The New Piper Aircraft Corporation was considering developing a new six place pressurized twin with a 5.5 PSI cabin that that could cruise at 260 knots. We already have one! Let's take good care of it.
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