Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

It’s What’s Up Front That Counts

Consider for a moment the job of the lowly tractor propeller (with apologies to pusher drivers)

I was speaking to a group of pilots a few years back when one of them asked about a story I wrote a decade before on the London-to-Sydney Air Race. Back in 2001, I was fortunate to help position the winning airplane, a Super 700 Aerostar, from Coeur d' Alene, Idaho, to Biggin Hill, U.K., the starting point of the race.

The Aerostar has always been my favorite twin, and I jump at the chance to ferry one from anywhere to somewhere else. It's not a perfect machine, but it's the fastest piston production airplane with any number of engines. It outhandles even most singles, and it certainly doesn't hurt that it's one of the sexiest shapes in the sky.

On this trip, I was to fly the Atlantic with another pilot. For reasons that only insurance companies understand, Cathay Pacific Airlines Chief Pilot Mike Miller, the Aerostar's captain for the London-Sydney race, was told he needed 10 hours in Aerostars before he could act as PIC. At the time, Miller had more than 22,000 flight hours and a dozen or so type ratings in everything up through Boeing 747s, but he had no time in Aerostars.

That meant he needed someone who knew a little about Aerostars to accompany him on the 5,000 nm positioning flight from Coeur d' Alene to Biggin Hill, just outside London. Since I knew as little as anyone about Ted Smith's marvelous, twin-engine hot rod, I was nominated. We split legs on the three-day trip, and Miller turned out to be a brilliant aviator who had practically memorized the Pilot Operating Handbook. I doubt if I taught him much about the Aerostar, but I certainly learned a lot from him about flying the big iron.

This Aerostar, dubbed, the Spirit of Kai Tak after the famous Hong Kong Airport that had only recently been closed, was sponsored by Cathay Pacific and accordingly, it was definitely different, at least in appearance. In honor of China's semi-independent, breakaway republic, the airplane was painted bright red with a gold dragon on both sides of the fuselage. The Spirit certainly looked fast, and as it turned out, it was.

Before we launched for England, I talked to Jim Christy, vice president of Aerostar Aircraft, the company that had prepared the airplane for the race. Christy mentioned that they had done several things to make the airplane as fast as possible, all within the rules, tricks that any Aerostar owner could perform.


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