Sleek space-age composites. Round windows. Six seats. Glass cockpit. Sidestick controls. Turbocharged inline engines. Three-bladed props. A wickedly-cool full span horizontal stab atop twin tail booms.
When Dan Schindler saw the classified ad, he knew it was the perfect airplane for him: A super-rare Burt Rutan-designed Adam A500. One of only seven built, one of only four on the FAA registry, and one of only two in the world still flying.
That rarity and a unique design are a head-turning combination.
“Whenever I land at an airport the paparazzi come running,” Schindler says.
Other pilots, linemen, and even the front-counter staff at FBOs drop their work to take pictures of Schindler’s A500, which the line guys at the plane’s home base Dallas Executive Airport (KRBD) call “the spaceship.”
Schindler and his family, however, call the plane “The Smuggler,” as an Adam A500 was cast as the drug-smuggling plane in the Jamie Foxx version of Miami Vice. And while Schindler describes himself as “self-employed,” he’s no drug smuggler. He runs a commercial janitorial service that serves 10 states.
Schindler hails from an aviation family. Both his father and uncle were pilots, and his uncle bought Schindler his first flying lesson as a birthday present in 1991.
Schindler went on to get his private ticket, then attended a Part 141 flight school, eventually earning commercial, instrument, multi, CFI, CFII, and AGI tickets and ratings. He worked as a freight dog before Sept. 11 and then decided to take his employment destiny into his own hands.
Schindler now has about 6,300 hours in his logbook, and while he sometimes flies for business, most of his flying is for the pure joy of it.
What’s it like owning an orphan aircraft?
Well, parts can be a problem, Schindler says, although The Smuggler came complete with “shelves” of spare parts, including props, windows, landing gear, a door — and are you sitting down? — a spare fuselage.
Of course, one thing that scares off many potential Adam owners is the life-limit on the airframe — a paltry 1,200 hours. Schindler says that he’s been told that at the time the A500 was being developed in the early 2,000s, composites were so rare in certified aircraft that Adam Aircraft chose a low life-limit to speed certification, planning to increase it to 10,000 hours down the road with further testing. With the company’s demise, however, that never happened.
What is Schindler planning to do about it? He says that The Smuggler currently has 425 hours on its airframe, so he figures he doesn’t need to worry about it until the number creeps closer to 1K. At that point, one option would be to change the airworthiness certificate to the experimental exhibition category.
Beyond the notoriety on the tarmac, which Schindler loves, one of his favorite things about the Adam is its stability in turbulence. He says the plane is rock solid and heavy.
“The rest of the world can be getting the living tar beat out of them, and I just blow through the bumps,” he reports.
Schindler also loves the way the trailing link landing gear makes every landing look perfect.
His least favorite thing about the plane is the limited useful load, which requires a careful balance between passengers and fuel.
He also says the pusher configuration puts the rear prop at risk. Any loose screw or nut on the rear cowl will blow right though the prop — something that’s actually happened to Schindler. Twice.
Luckily, his cache of spare parts included rear props, because the pusher props are a significant Adam parts “challenge.” They were manufactured specifically for the plane by Hartzell, and are no longer available.
Still, Schindler loves the plane and the design.
“I’m a big Rutan nut,” he says.
One who also just finished a complete rebuild of a Rutan Defiant, another Rutan composite push-pull configuration aircraft — this one a four-seater —— which “ate up his life” for two years. In a good way.
The Defiant doesn’t have a name yet. Maybe he’ll end up calling it Li’l Smuggler.
What I fly
An Adam A500.
Why I fly it
I like unique airplanes. It fits my profile of airplanes I like to fly.
How I fly it
Not by yanking, banking, hard turns — even though it’s over built. I fly it like an airliner. Pretty docile, by the numbers, using airspeed profiles. I’m a by-the-numbers pilot. It’s super easy to fly.
Operating Costs Based on 100 Hours Per Year
The key is to stay proficient. Don’t let yourself be non-proficient. Flying is a disposable skill. If you don’t use it, you lose it. I see a lot of guys who don’t fly enough to stay proficient. Build a proficiency schedule.
And know your skills. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you’re something better than you are.