The Adam A500 is the first new cabin-class twin to be certified in years. The pressurized all-composite airframe can seat as many as six. The first customer delivery occurred in November 2005, and Adam intends to deliver as many as six aircraft per month.
There has always been some debate about the justification for piston twins. True, the second engine may get you home if one mill quits, but standard asymmetric-thrust multis haven't exactly enjoyed a sterling safety record. In too many instances, directional control is so tenuous and single-engine performance so marginal that a safe landing on one engine demands that the pilot be flying a perfect airplane and be doing absolutely everything right.
Rick Adam's A500 is the first corporate piston twin to be certified in 20 years, and in case you hadn't noticed, it doesn't employ asymmetric thrust. The airplane's inline engine configuration breaks with tradition and sets the A500 apart from the vast majority of what has come before. Yes, there was the near-500 mph, experimental, WWII German Dornier 335 fighter, developed too late to enter the war; the semi-successful family of Cessna model 336/337 Skymasters (now you know where the Skymasters' model numbers come from); Burt Rutan's Defiant and round-the-world Voyager; and a few other less notable attempts at huff 'n puff designs.
But twins have traditionally utilized asymmetric thrust, mounting their engines on the wings to improve crashworthiness, ease fuel delivery and isolate noise and vibration from the cabin. The last pressurized, piston corporate twin of any description that was granted a type certificate from the FAA was the Piper Mojave, essentially a piston-powered
So what makes George F. "Rick" Adam Jr. think he can produce and sell a pressurized multi in a 21st-century general-aviation market that's producing only about a fifth of the units it was building when the type disappeared? The Cessna 340/414/421, Beech Duke/P-Baron and Piper Mojave/Aerostar 700P all expired in the mid-1980s, not because there were any glaring deficits in the designs, but because the market had dwindled to a precious few. Beech sold only 16 Dukes in the last year of production, and Cessna delivered a mere 18 Chancellors and Golden Eagles in all of model year 1985. What has changed in 20 years?
For one thing, many of the models listed above are still regarded as reasonably economical, luxurious, corporate transports, even if they're long out of production. Cessna built the top-of-the-line 421 for almost 20 years and the 414 for 15 years, and Beech produced its prestigious Duke for 14 years. In the early '80s, you could buy any of those airplanes for less than $600,000 and provide 200-plus knot transport for six to eight folks, most often flying well above the weather in pressurized comfort.
The very fact that there haven't been any replacements for the pressurized Piper, Cessna and Beech twins is itself one of the justifications for the A500. Many companies and individuals bought those airplanes in the '70s and '80s, and today, thousands of the type are still flying. They're growing old not-so-gracefully and offering their owners few options for replacement. The airplanes have now been out of production for so long that maintenance is becoming more frequent, time-consuming and expensive, and parts are becoming scarce.
Prime examples of all three types still serve the corporate community well and often demand prices north of $300,000. Considering the acquisition costs for twin turboprops, the next level in the corporate pyramid, many operators prefer to keep overhauling their big twins, and those are exactly the owners Adam hopes to tap with the A500.
Another goal of Adam's push-pull design is to revive the pressurized twin without reintroducing the risks formerly associated with those original, heavy, corporate piston twins. Centerline thrust is regarded as so safe and easy to handle by the FAA that there's a special twin rating formerly dedicated strictly to the CLT Cessna Skymasters, but now applicable to the Adam A500, as well.
(As if to confirm the wisdom of symmetrical thrust, one of the world's largest corporate flight-training companies used to teach pilots of heavy, asymmetric-thrust twins that you shouldn't even consider a single-engine go-around if you didn't break out at minimums in IFR conditions. Statistics suggested you'd be safer to simply continue on the ILS and take your chances.)
Adam also feels he can amortize development expense on the A500 between both a piston and jet version of very similar airplanes. Though Adam's step-up A700 jet isn't a push-pull design (engines are mounted Citation-style on opposite sides of the aft fuselage), parts commonality with the A500 is high—the jet uses essentially the same basic fuselage, landing gear, empennage and wing. Both airplanes are made primarily of carbon-fiber composites with metal control surfaces and utilize similar systems—all-electric gear and flaps, trailing link gear, side-stick flight controls, etc.
Adam chose perhaps the premier piston engine available to power the A500, Continental's turbocharged, intercooled TSIO-550E. The engines put out 350 hp each to a critical altitude of 17,500 feet, and because max gross weight is only 6,300 pounds, power loading works out to a mere 8.4 pounds/hp. That's the lowest ratio of any corporate twin, and it translates to excellent climb performance—1,800 fpm at best-rate speed. Even if you settle on a cruise climb of 130 to 140 knots, you'll still see 1,500 fpm.
Modern aircraft engines hardly ever fail these days, but if one does on an A500, sea-level climb is 400 fpm, better than any of the corporate twins listed above. The combination of unaffected directional control and reasonable unimotor performance means a pilot need merely concentrate on cleaning up the airplane and hitting the proper Vyse.
Single-engine service ceiling is listed at 15,000 feet, so in theory at least, the A500 should be able to maintain altitude on one mill above the highest mountain in the continental United States. Under more normal circumstances, Adam's test data suggests the airplane should cruise 230 knots at FL250 on about 40 to 42 gph.
Adam launched the A500 program six years ago when he contracted Burt Rutan to design a six-seat, push-pull twin, adaptable to both pistons and turbines. "I really liked Rutan's V-Jet, the airplane he built for Sam Williams," says Adam. "What I was asking him to do was slightly different, however—create a twin-boom, centerline-thrust piston airplane with good parts commonality to a jet. Just as with the V-Jet, though, Rutan outdid himself and came up with a design that was even better than I'd hoped."
Far from a brash risk-taker, Adam is a West Point graduate who made his fortune in the computer business, transitioned to a successful career as a broker with Goldman Sachs and set up shop for the piston A500 and jet A700 at Denver's Centennial Airport in 2000. The A500's first flight came in 2002, and the FAA granted a preliminary day/VFR type certificate in May 2005.
Before you dismiss day/VFR approval for a hard IFR airplane, consider that both the Gulfstream IV and V were first approved for day/VFR before they achieved full day/night VFR/IFR certification. Adam Aircraft expects to have full certification in early 2006.
Adam delivered the first production aircraft at NBAA to a Colorado Springs chiropractor, Mike Leahy, in early November of 2005. Leahy is a former USAF instructor and fighter pilot with 3,000 hours in T-37s, T-38s and F4s, so he knows a thing or three about high-performance airplanes.
Leahy is also the developer of Active Release Techniques, a system of chiropractic procedures embraced by more than 100 chiropractors across the United States and Canada. The Colorado Springs doctor has applied his techniques to sports stars such as Denver Bronco team members and a variety of other prominent athletes.
He purchased his Adam A500 specifically to service his growing medical seminar business. Leahy instructs doctors and therapists all over North America in techniques for treating long tract nerve release, ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome, whiplash, shin splints, tennis elbow and a wide variety of other soft tissue disorders.
"By definition, my practice requires an inordinate amount of travel to all four corners of the continent," Leahy explains. "I'm on the road to probably three seminars a month, and that can be a challenge."
Up to now, Leahy has satisfied his heavy travel schedule by relying on airlines, but that has become progressively less convenient, less comfortable and more expensive as service has declined, flights have been reduced and destinations have been curtailed.
"Colorado Springs is a beautiful place to live," says Leahy. "The bad news is, I usually must connect through Denver and possibly make another connection to reach my destination. Even at 450-knot airline speeds, some 1,500 nm trips can require an entire day, door-to-door."
For that reason, Leahy needed a corporate transport capable of leaping modest distances in a single bound. The Adam A500 is that airplane. "It's a big airplane, both inside and out—54 inches across, the same width as a King Air—so it's easy to move around inside," says Leahy. "With the full 230 gallons aboard, I'll have an easy 900 nm range. Better still, I'll be able to access some 10,000 airports across North America on my schedule rather than have to operate to only 800 airports served by the airlines on their schedule.
"The airplane can cruise at 230 knots if I need that much speed, and I can fly with three passengers across half of the U.S.A. between breakfast and lunch. If I download fuel to 170 gallons, I can fill all the seats and still range out 700 nm. Perhaps best of all, the A500 will never leave without me, and everyone who travels on my airplane will always have a first-class seat."
Leahy supervises seminars in most of America's largest cities, and he plans to fly the A500 to most of his appearances. "We've recently initiated seminars in international locations such as Europe and Australia, so I'll still be flying the airlines some of the time," he comments. Leahy has signed up for Adam Aircraft's step-up program and expects to upgrade to the A700 in a year.
Another strong believer in the Adam A500 is John Tobias of Thousand Oaks, Calif. Tobias, a semi-retired distributor of hair-care products, hopes to accept delivery of serial number 16 sometime in April if the current delivery schedule holds.
Tobias currently flies a Turbo Skymaster, and he loves the airplane. "The Adam A500 simply improves upon all the things I like so much about my 337," says Tobias. "The Adam is bigger, more comfortable, quieter, faster, can fly farther and carry more and, of course, the pressurization makes it a viable airplane for flight at FL250." (The P337's low pressurization differential limits that airplane to 20,000 feet.)
Tobias investigated everything on the market before deciding on the A500. "I considered both used and new airplanes, looked at several of the light jets and even checked into buying a King Air with a partner," Tobias explains. "It turned out the Adam was exactly the airplane I was looking for, partly because of the configuration. My time in the Skymaster has convinced me of the type's safety and easy handling."
The Californian also maintains a home in Sedona, Ariz., and flies back and forth on a regular basis. Tobias says he currently confines his trips to 400 to 500 nm, but hopes to extend those legs to 700 nm or more with the A500, typically carrying three to four people and the family dog.
Adam's A500 backlog at the end of 2005 was 85 airplanes, and at roughly $1 million a copy, that's a good start. Interest in the $2.2 million A700 jet is even better, and the order list currently stands at 280 for that airplane.
For more information on the Adam A500 CLT pressurized twin and the A700 jet, contact Adam Aircraft Industries at (303) 406-5900 or check the company's Website at www.adamaircraft.com.