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Aero Commander 500
Shrike Commander
Aero Commander model 690A, N53RF operated by NOAA
Role Utility and transport aircraft
Manufacturer Aero Design and Engineering Company/Aero Commander
First flight April 23, 1948 (Model L3085)
Primary users United States Air Force
United States Army
United States Coast Guard
Mexican Air Force

The Aero Commander 500 is the first in a series of light twin-piston engined aircraft originally built by the Aero Design and Engineering Company in the late 1940s. It later became the Aero Commander division of Rockwell International. The initial production version was the Aero Commander 520. Versions manufactured after 1967 are known as the Shrike Commander.[1]


Design and development

The idea for the type was conceived by Ted Smith a project engineer at the Douglas Aircraft Company.[2]. Douglas were not interested so in 1944 a group of company engineers formed the Aero Design and Engineering Company to design and build the proposed aircraft.[2] Originally the new company were going to build three pre-production aircraft but as the first aircraft was being built they decided to build just one prototype.[2] The final configuration was completed in July 1946 and was designated the Model L3805.[2]

Registered NX1946 the prototype first flew on 23 April 1948.[2] The L3805 accommodated up to five people and was powered by two Lycoming O-435-A piston engines.[1], it was an all-metal high-wing monoplane with retractable undercarriage.

The prototype flew successfully and the company obtained finance to build a new factory at Bethany near Oklahoma City to build a production version named the Commander 520. The first production aircraft was rolled out of the new factory in August 1951.

Operational history

In military service, it was initially designated the L-26 though in 1962 this was changed to U-4 for the USAF and U-9 for the US Army.

One U-4B became a presidential transport aircraft for Dwight Eisenhower between 1956 and 1960. This was the smallest "Air Force One", and the first to wear the now-familiar blue-and-white livery.

As of 2004, Shrike Commanders remained in service with the United States Coast Guard and United States Customs Service.[1]


Safety concerns

Single Engine Safety

In 1950, when the developers were working to satisfy CAA regulations for certification of the 500, they chose a novel method of demonstrating its single-engine safety and performance: they removed one of the two-bladed propellers, secured it in the aft cabin, and flew from Bethany to Washington D.C. on one engine. There they met with CAA personnel, then replaced the propeller and returned to Oklahoma in the conventional manner. The flight received nationwide coverage in the press.

Wing Spar Fatigue

Beginning in June 1991, senior engineers met with FAA officials to discuss concerns over the Aero Commander's main wing spar, which was believed to be susceptible to stress fatigue and subsequent cracking, and was believed to have resulted in a number of fatal crashes.[3]

Noted crashes

World War II hero and actor Audie Murphy died in his Aero Commander 680 while flying in a thunderstorm over Roanoke, VA on May 28, 1971. Five others and the pilot were also killed. The cause of this crash is most likely related to the thunderstorm and not to any design defect of the aircraft itself.[4]

Photographer Galen Rowell died in an Aero Commander 690A accident while attempting to land in Bishop, CA on August 11, 2002. Rowell was a passenger in the aircraft. Two others and the pilot were also killed. The cause of this crash was pilot error and not any design defect of the aircraft itself.


Aero Commander 560 at Centennial Airport
Aero Commander 500-B at Colorado Springs Airport
Aero Commander 500U Shrike Commander
Aero Commander 680 at Colorado Springs Airport
Aero Commander L.3805
Prototype, one built.
Aero Commander 520
First production version, a developed L.3805 with taller fin and larger cabin with two 260 hp Lycoming GO-435-C engines, 150 built.
Aero Commander 560
Model 520 with swept tail, increased take-off weight, seven seats and more powerful engines (two Lycoming GO-480B engines) and refined wing, 80 built.
Aero Commander 560A
New undercarriage, stretched fuselage and other numerous refinements, 99 built.
Aero Commander 560E
Larger wings and greater payload, 93 built.
Aero Commander 360
Lightened version of the 560E with four seats and two 180 hp engines, one built.
Aero Commander 500
Economy version introduced in 1958, a 560E with 250 hp Lycoming O-540-A engines, 101 built.
Aero Commander 500A
First Aero Commander model - new nacelles to house fuel-injected engines, 99 built.
Aero Commander 500B
560E with fuel injected engines Lycoming IO-540 engines, 217 built.
Aero Commander 500U/Shrike Commander
500B with pointed nose and squared off tail, two 290 hp Lycoming IO-540 engines, replaced 500A, 500B, 560F and 680F, 56 built.
Aero Commander 680 Super
Development of 560A with supercharged 340 hp Lycoming GSO-480-A engines and increased fuel capacity, 254 built.
Aero Commander 680E
Lightened 560E and 560A type undercarriage, 100 built.
Aero Commander 680F
680E with new undercarriage and supercharged, fuel-injected Lycoming IGSO-540 engines and new nacelles, 126 built.
Aero Commander 680PF
Pressurized version modified from 680F, 26 built.
Aero Commander 680FL Grand Commander
680F with stretched fuselage and larger tail, 157 built. After 1967 known as the Courser Commander.
Aero Commander 680FL/P Grand Commander
Pressurized version of 680FL, 37 built.
Aero Commander 680T Turbo Commander
680FL/P with Garrett TPE331-43 turboprop engines, 56 built.
Aero Commander 680V Turbo Commander
680T with increased take off weight and slightly improved cargo capacity, 36 built.
Aero Commander 680W Turbo II Commander
680V with pointed nose. squared off fin, one panoramic and two small cabin windows and weather radar, 46 built.
Rockwell 681 Hawk Commander
680W with improved pressurisation, air conditioning system and nose, 43 built.
Rockwell 681B Turbo Commander
Marketing designation for economy version of the 681, 29 built.
Rockwell 685 Commander
690 powered by two 435 hp Continental GTSIO-520K piston engines, 66 built.
Commander 690
681 with new wing centre section and engines moved further outboard, two AirResearch TPE331-5-521 turboporops, 79 built.
Commander 690A
690 with changed flightdeck layout and increased pressurisation, 245 built.
Commander 690B
690A with improved soundproofing and internal lavatory, 217 built.
690C Jetprop840
690B with increased wingspan, wet wing fuel tanks and winglets, two 840shp TPE331-5-254K turboprops, 136 built.
690D Jetprop900
Similar to 690C with internal rear cabin extension, improved pressurisation and five square cabin windows, 42 built.
695 Jetprop 980
Similar to 690C with 735shp TPE331-10-501K engines, 84 built.
695A Jetprop 1000
690D with higher take off weight and more powerful TPE331-10-501K engines, 101 built.
695B Jetprop 1000B
695A with minor changes, 6 built.
Aero Commander 720 AltiCruiser
Pressurized version of 680, 13 built.
YL-26 → YU-9A
Aero Commander 520 evaluated by the US Army, 3 built.
Aero Commander 560 evaluated by the US Air Force, 1 built.
L-26B → U-4A
Aero Commander 560A sold to the US Air Force, 14 built.
L-26B → U-9B
Aero Commander 560A sold to the US Army, 1 built.
L-26C → U-4B
Aero Commander 680 Super sold to the US Air Force, 2 built.
L-26C → U-9C
Aero Commander 680 Super sold to the US Army, 4 built.
RL-26D → RU-9D
Commander 680 for US Army aircraft fitted with SLAR (side looking airborne radar), two built.
NL-9D → NU-9D
One built


Military operators


Air Force

 Burkina Faso

Air Force

 Dominican Republic
 Republic of Korea
 United States
 South Vietnam

Reef Watch Air Tours (GAM)

Civil operators

 United States


New ZealandNew Zealand

  • New Zealand Aerial Mapping Ltd

Costa RicaCosta Rica

  • Government support, law enforcement and civil duties


  • Air Tempelhof


  • FORTIS Air

Specifications (Rockwell Aero Commander 500S)

General characteristics

  • Crew: one, pilot
  • Capacity: five passengers
  • Length: 36 ft 10 in (11.22 m)
  • Wingspan: 49 ft 1 in (14.95 m)
  • Height: 15 ft (4.56 m)
  • Wing area: 255 ft² (23.7 m²)
  • Empty weight: 4,635 lb (2,102 kg)
  • Useful load: 2,115 lb (961 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 6,750 lb (3,060 kg)
  • Powerplant:Lycoming IO-540-E1B5, 290 hp (214 kW) each


See also


  1. ^ a b c "Rockwell U-9A Aero Commander". March Field Air Museum. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  2. ^ a b c d e Collman, B.J. (May/June 1973). "The Aero Commander Twins". Air-Britain Digest 15 (3): 79–86.  
  3. ^ "THE AERO COMMANDER CHRONICLE". Civil Aviation Safety Authority. 1995-05-01. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  4. ^ "Biography for Audie Murphy". IMDb. 2007-08-01. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  


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