Twin Commander logo aerial shot of Twin Commander airplane
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WHAT WE FLY

From those who know




Jerry Mowbray

(L-R) Jerry Hammes, Jerry Mowbray, and Mowbray’s cousin John Hammes with Mowbray’s 680F(P). As a young man Jerry Hammes flew with his father, Romy Hammes, in the Commander 520 beginning in 1953. Jerry Hammes Mowbray is proud of the fact that he has owned and flown a 1963 680F(P) Commander since 1989 –– 24 years. His airplane, one of 47 680Fs built with an optional hydraulically driven pressurization system, can rightly be called a classic. And although he uses it for reliable business transportation for his Reno, Nevada-based law firm, he takes pains to keep it in original configuration (see photo of instrument panel) and pristine condition.

Mowbray’s connection with Commanders goes back further than the 680F(P). His first airplane was a single-engine Commander 112TCA that he bought in 1985 and flew until buying the 680F(P).

To understand why Mowbray has an affection for Commanders, you have to go back even further, to 1953, the year he was born. That was when his grandfather, Romy Hammes, bought a 520 Commander, the first of two Commanders he would own. Mowbray remembers flying in the 520 when he was a young boy.

Jerry Hammes Mowbray with the 680F(P) that he has owned and flown since 1989. His grandfather, Romy Hammes, bought a 520 Commander in 1953, and then a 560 in 1961. Romy Hammes was a successful car dealer and entrepreneur from Kankakee, Illinois. Hammes recognized early on the advantages of business aviation, and bought a new Beech Bonanza in 1947, the year the distinctive V-tailed single was introduced to the market. Four years later he traded the ’47 Bonanza for a new one.

As his business interests grew in size, scope, and geographic spread, his need for reliable long-range travel grew. When Ted Smith certified the Aero Commander 520 as the first purpose-built multiengine business aircraft, Hammes took notice. In 1953 Hammes went to Aero Design & Engineering Co. in Bethany, Oklahoma, and bought a new 520, s/n 78, from the factory.

Hammes was not a pilot. He hired a former barnstormer, Lawrence Schilling, to fly the first Bonanza, and Schilling continued to fly for Hammes for as long as he operated airplanes.

Mowbray’s uncle, Jerry Hammes, who is the son of Romy Hammes, recalls that the 520 was “such a state-of-the-art airplane, a real head turner, that at every airport they went to, people would come up to look at the airplane. Even the mechanics would come out of their shops to look.”

Schilling kept meticulous records of all the passengers who flew on N4172B. The log for October 24, 1953 includes the signatures of seven passengers, including those of a young Senator and his wife, John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, who were visiting Kennedy’s sister in Wisconsin.

Also aboard that day was The Reverend John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C, the President of Notre Dame University. Romy Hammes was a devoted Catholic and supporter of Notre Dame. His generosity, which has been sustained by Jerry Hammes, is reflected in the Hammes name on several buildings at the University.

Mowbray prefers the original, functional look for the instrument panel in 1963 Commander. In late October 1960 Hammes lent his airplane and pilot to another Kennedy –– Rose, John Kennedy’s mother. She spent several days flying around the Midwest in the 520 campaigning for her son, who was seeking the presidency. John Kennedy sent a note of thanks to Hammes.

In 1961 Hammes traded the 520 for a new 560F.

Jerry Hammes has complied a fascinating online account of the family’s history (www.jerryhammes.com). It includes photos, documents, and descriptions of the Bonanzas and Commanders, the family’s travels, and notable passengers.

For more photos and information about Mowbray and Romy and Jerry Hammes, see www.flightlevelsonline.com.






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Mark Dziuban



Try as he might, Mark Dziuban couldn’t help but end up a printer. “Both my grandfathers owned small print shops, and my father was a printer,” he says. “I did everything in my power to stay out of printing, but it was in my blood.” In the early Eighties, when the economy was down, Dziuban’s father got him a job –– at a print shop, of course. The ink worked its way under Dziuban’s skin. Permanently. He stayed in the business, and in 1994 he and a partner founded American Litho to focus on direct mail and specialty catalog publishing. The company now employs 500 people, and continues to grow.

Printing is not the only passion that flows through Dziuban’s veins. He’s also a pilot and aircraft owner. Not just any aircraft, however –– Dziuban flies a 695B Model 1000 Twin Commander that has the distinction of being the last one manufactured.

Dziuban has been in love with flying for as long as he can remember. He started taking lessons when he entered the workforce and began earning an income, but things changed when he got engaged. “The flying lessons ended,” he says.

About 18 years later he resumed his flight instruction, earning a Private certificate in 2000. The first airplane he bought was a Piper Cherokee Six. A Cirrus SR20 soon followed, then a Cessna 310R, and finally a Cessna 414. “I loved flying in a pressurized cabin,” he says. “Loved it!”

Before After The step up to pressurization changed Dziuban’s perspective. Long cross-country flights were more comfortable, and with the ability to overfly lower weather, more practical and less stressful. Soon, Dziuban began eyeing the next step up in capability and safety –– turbine power.

He had long admired the performance and looks of Twin Commanders, but his partner in the step-up airplane, a non-pilot, was not so enthralled. They compromised on a King Air F90, which they bought in March 2008. Dziuban continued to operate the 414 while the King Air got a fresh interior and overhauled engines.

Dziuban stayed current in both the 414 and F90. In late 2011 the partners decided to put the King Air up for sale, and Dziuban’s 414 as well. Remarkably, both sold within a few weeks, and both went to Mexico.

Dziuban couldn’t be without an airplane for very long, however. He travels to the west coast frequently for business and pleasure, and for him and his wife to go by commercial air carrier with their dogs and bikes was difficult at best. Before buying the King Air, Dziuban had been looking at Commanders and had been in touch with Eagle Creek Aviation Services in Indianapolis. He decided to pay a return visit.

“I spent the afternoon poking around inside airplanes in the shop,” he said. “I spoke to the mechanics –– great guys! No one had any negatives on the airplane. I asked about any Achilles heels. Everyone said there were none. When I went back home there was no doubt that I would buy a Commander.”

Bruce Byerly, co-owner of Naples Jet Center, had acquired the 695B from its English corporate owner at about the same time Dziuban went looking for a Commander, and a deal was constructed.

The airplane came from England in its original equipped configuration with Collins EFIS and Collins analog radios. Dziuban had Naples Jet Center fast-forward the panel to contemporary standards with a Garmin G600 Primary Flight Display/Multifunction Display and GTN 750 and 650 GPS/NAV/COM/MFD. What was once the most contemporary Commander flying had once again achieved that distinction.

And, as a highly useful bonus, the panel makeover provided Dziuban with an astounding 454 additional pounds in useful load.

“I’m so happy with it,” Dziuban said after his initial experience in the Commander. “It’s reliable, and the numbers are right to the book –– almost 300 knots on 75 gallons per hour.

“The biggest thing was getting accustomed to the climb rate,” he adds. “I just couldn’t believe how it climbs. It’s a lot faster in climb than the King Air. And, above Flight Level 180 the King Air got sluggish. With the shorter wing it was hard to fly at altitudes above the low twenties. I’ve been flying at Flight Level 270/280 in the Commander.

“The F90 had no external baggage,” Dziuban says. “It was a hassle to lug bags through the cabin, and the passengers probably didn’t like looking at a cargo net with bags. It had great ramp appeal, but it had a tough cockpit to wiggle into. The pedestal with the FMS was in the way, and visibility from the cockpit was not good; the wing and engines were in the way. In the Commander it’s like sitting in a jet in terms of visibility.

“It’s very stable on instruments –– I often hand-fly my approaches. It’s such a solid platform. The more I fly it the more I find out about it. The direct-drive engines are a lot different than the free turbines in the King Air. When you push the Commander throttles forward it’s a treat.

“My wife and I are cyclists,” he adds. “We can put the bikes in the airplane along with our gear and two Golden Retrievers. And, it makes seeing the kids on a weekend a lot more convenient.”

Support has been another strongpoint for Dziuban. “Eagle Creek and Naples Jet have a great, great bunch of guys,” he says. “Throughout the organizations the people have been welcoming, knowledgeable, and accommodating.

“I’m thrilled to death with everything I’ve experienced so far. I’ve been loving flying the airplane. I seriously believe I’m flying the best airplane in the sky right now.”

Those were Dziuban’s comments not long after taking possession of the 695B. Here is what he had to say months later:

“The airplane is everything I had hoped. It remains a pleasure to fly. I feel that the speed, combined with the efficiency of the engines and the gross weight of 11,800 pounds suits my mission most ideally.

“I have become quite proficient with the G600 and the GTN750/650. Those, coupled with the handling characteristics of the plane –– which are very predictable –– provide me with the confidence to shoot low approaches.

“If asked which airplane I plan on upgrading to in the future, well, I’m already there.”






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Catherine Martin



It’s late February, a bit northwest of Caribou, Maine, and a lone Commander 1000 JetProp, wearing the livery of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), lopes along at 110 knots just 500 feet above the trees. No, they’re not searching for a downed aircraft or lost hiker. This NOAA Commander is using sophisticated instrumentation to measure the water content of snow packs. And it’s the perfect airplane for the mission.

“We are conducting Snow Surveys for the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center, under the National Weather Service,” explained LCDR Catherine Martin, pilot for the agency’s airborne snow survey program. “We are measuring water content in the snow pack to help create spring flood and water supply forecasts.”

Using sophisticated Airborne Gamma Radiation equipment, the NOAA Commanders—they also operate a Shrike—fly above snow-covered regions in the U.S., southern Canada, and Alaska to measure both the water contained in the snow and the saturation level of surrounding ground moisture. The information is then relayed back to the National Weather Service and NWS River Forecast Center. When the spring thaws come, they can get a head start on spotting areas that may be prone to flooding.

NOAA started doing aerial snow surveys in 1978, and has been using Twin Commanders since the early 1980s when they put their first Shrike Commander into operation.

“The Commanders are the perfect airplane to meet the mission profile we fly,” LCDR Martin said. “They have excellent slow-speed handling qualities and their high wing is very beneficial flying close to the ground. We always fly VFR with our eyes outside. The visibility is great.

“We take a lot of photos during a mission,” she said. “The copilot will take pictures of anything of hydrological importance whether it’s a river, snow build-up, an ice jam or whatever may be of interest to the researchers. The high wing and large windows are great for that.”

Turbo Commander 695A upgrade

LCDR Martin said that the Commanders fit NOAA’s profile so well that the agency upgraded their older 690A to a 695A JetProp 1000 in 2005.

“It was built in 1984 and has 7,000 hours on it now, but it was the newest and greatest at the time,” she said. “When we took ownership we did a complete upgrade. We stripped it down and refurbished it to our needs.

“When we redid November Forty-Five Romeo Foxtrot, the Meggitt EFIS was the newest and best system going into the Commanders at the time. Because we fly so low, we were looking to provide our pilots with the greatest situational information available in the flight station (cockpit),” LCDR Martin said. “The Meggitt system delivered that for us. We also have dual Garmin 530s and a Honeywell MFD.”

She pointed out that the Commander also has electronic engine displays, which makes easier than the standard electromechanical gauges.

“Situational awareness is critical at the altitudes and speed we routinely operate at,” she said. The NOAA Commanders fly so low and slow that the crews routinely turn off the aircraft TAWS, so knowing what’s outside and ahead is critical. LCDR Martin also explained that the crew’s situational awareness and overall mission accuracy is aided by the use of FalconView mapping software.

“We have a separate monitor mounted between the pilot’s and copilot’s seats for the FalconView. We can display our flight lines and then visually follow them on the terrain below. We can verify valleys, roads, rivers—landmarks like that,” she said. “We are flying low and VFR so we are out the window all the time. The MFD is just to make sure we’re turning on the right landmark. The copilot operates the survey equipment so they know when to start and stop the lines based on the moving map.”

Along with the opportunity to upgrade the flight station, the move up to the 695A JetProp 1000 also gave the NOAA flight crews the added safety benefit of the Dash 10 engines. “It certainly doesn’t lack for power,” LCDR Martin said.

A pilot’s perspective

LCDR Martin, who also flies a NOAA WP-3D Orion, has been flying the Commanders since 2002. With more than 2,000 hours in type she has plenty of reasons to love Commanders. “It’s a great airplane. I feel very comfortable flying at 500 feet AGL because of the stability and performance,” she said. “You don’t want to be down low and question the climb performance of the aircraft in the event you lose an engine. I know this airplane climbs and performs very well on one engine.”

Fortunately, LCDR Martin’s experience with single-engine operations has been limited to recurrent training exercises. She has not had to shut down an engine on the JetProp during any mission.

As you would expect, the JetProp’s cruise speed is another attraction. “It’s fast. A lot of the times our missions are dictated by recent weather. We can be in New England and need to get to Minnesota because of heavy snowfall. The Commander gets us there quickly,” she said. “It also can take us above the majority of the winter weather. It performs great at flight levels.”

She also said she loves the flight station in 45RF. “We have 11 displays—all the information I need is right there in front of me. There’s noting missing from our flight station display. The Meggitt system also gives us solid backup display capability. If one screen were to fail, you can get everything on the next screen.”

As the agency’s Commander instructor pilot, LCDR Martin also likes the aircraft’s predictability and flight characteristics. “I do all training for our Commander pilots. This season I’m flying with a new copilot and we’ve been doing his first flights in the northeast,” she said. “Most of our new pilots come up from flying piston twins and this is their first experience with a turboprop. Overall the Commander is an easy airplane to transition to. It’s very stable, but it’s a very complex airplane. System training takes time.”

NOAA’s new mission for a trusted aircraft

While the Commander 1000 looks like it will continue to serve NOAA’s snow survey mission for many winters to come, its annual “summer vacation” is about to be dramatically reduced. This summer the JetProp is scheduled to take part in another NOAA survey mission for the National Geodetic Survey.

“The GRAV-D (it stands for Gravity for the Redefinition of the American Vertical Datum; you just have to love government acronyms) survey will create a new, more accurate sea-level height reference for the U.S.,” LCDR Martin explained. “This summer we’re going to be doing the Great Lakes region.”

The purpose of the GRAV-D project is to model and monitor Earth’s geoids (a surface of the gravity field, very closely related to global mean sea level) to serve as a redefined zero reference point for surface heights throughout the U.S. Accurate heights are very critical to many scientific programs.

LCDR Martin said that while this is another NOAA survey mission, it will be preformed at an altitude that is more familiar to Turbo Commanders and their owners. “We’ll be doing these flights at 20,000 feet. That’s a great altitude for the Commander, both fuel consumption and performance wise,” she said. “The flight levels are where the Commander is at its best.”






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Pete Nickerson



Plane Here's what an online site has to say about one Pete Nickerson:

Pete...is a co-founder and director of Growth-Link Overseas Company, a Hong Kong?based firm founded in 1988. The company?s main activity is investment in and operation of a series of footwear factories located in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and most recently India. These factories are engaged in the supply of name-brand footwear and athletic equipment.

He sits on the boards of publicly traded companies in the U.S. and Taiwan, and a handful of for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises.

Since 1979 Pete and his family have resided in Taiwan, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Portland. He is a 1979 graduate of the University of Oregon, B.A. Political Science and is a Chinese speaker. Married 27 years, with four children, he's a flying and sailing enthusiast, enjoys reading history, and collecting antique books about Asia.

Obviously a successful and interesting guy, but the brief profile is far too brief about one very important part of Pete Nickerson's life. Some of best times a guy can have are sitting in the cockpit just chatting, running the machine efficiently, he says. He gets to enjoy those moments in a variety of cockpits, including a Stearman he co-owns, a DC-3 he is restoring, and a succession of piston and turboprop Commanders he has owned and flown.

Commanders have been a Nickerson family tradition. His father owned two different 500-series piston Commanders that he used in his aircraft and equipment leasing and financing business, and Pete has owned three himself a Shrike, a 690B, and his current ride, a 695B 1000. The 1000 is the One, he says.

Pete soloed when he was 18, but left flying for about 20 years to concentrate on his family and building a business. In 1997 he returned to the cockpit.

Plane The first airplane he bought was a Cessna Skylane, which he flew for about four years before looking to upgrade to a twin. His research included a discussion with Swede and Norm Ralston at Aero Air in nearby Hillsboro, Oregon, whom he had known from the days when his father was flying Commanders. Not surprisingly, the Ralstons talked up the virtues of a Commander, especially single-engine performance.

I had to agree with them, Pete says. Moving up to a turbine was beyond his reach at the time, so Aero Air found him a nice Shrike.

As his business took off over the next few years, Pete felt he finally had the time and the confidence as a pilot to move up to a turboprop. Again he turned to Aero Air, and bought a 690B. It was absolutely the right decision, he says. I love the turbine Commander. I'm six feet five inches, and I can sit up straight in the pilot's seat. And I like the fact that I can reach around and control the cabin door without having to rely on someone else to do it. I like the cockpit flow, and the high wing for visibility down and around the airplane.

Pete flew the 690B until business demands led to what he thought would be a long stint living overseas, so he sold the airplane. Two years later, however, he and his family were back in Oregon. I thought, I can live without an airplane, but that lasted only about three months before I got the hankering again, he says.

Pete thought another Commander would be effective treatment for that hankering, but he also evaluated King Airs. I looked at the B200 and C90, he says. The 200 is nice, but it was outside my budget. I could afford the 90, but just couldn't see buying it when compared to a Commander. It's 30 percent slower, and doesn't have the visibility. I just didn't see the advantage.

He went back to see Norm Ralston, who argued for a 695B 1000, the last Commander model produced. He had to wait quite awhile before one became available, but eventually Pete found himself the owner of a late-model 1000.

I just found all the things I like in the Commander, and not in the King Air, he says. The seat position, the cockpit flow, and the visibility. My mother and father were alive at the time and flew with me, and they loved the one step up into the cabin.

The other advantage of the Commander is cost, in a number of aspects. The purchase price was significantly less than a King Air, and the operating cost has been less as well.

Pete's use of the Commander is strictly personal. I fly to British Columbia to fish for trout, to Mexico for game fish, to South Dakota to hunt uplands game birds, and to follow Oregon Ducks football. My wife is from Columbus, Ohio, and is a Buckeyes fan, so we go to Ohio a couple of times a year, too.

He also volunteers his airplane and piloting services to Veterans Airlift, which arranges flights for veterans to visit medical clinics and family. His longest Veterans Airlift trip so far was from Manhattan, Kansas, to San Jose, California. He was able to do it nonstop in the 1000.

Along with the Commander, Pete co-owns a 1943 Stearman that he recently restored. My near-term project is to take a tour of all the lighthouses that remain on the west coast, he says. They are well known and easy to find, with airports around them. I'd like to do the tour in the Stearman.

He also has a DC-3A, and a dream. Some years ago he was flying from Los Angeles to Portland in the 690B with his long-time instructor, John Fjellman. John said that when he was running an FBO he thought about having a DC-3 in the LA basin to do tourist flights. I told him I had been thinking about flying a DC-3 to China and India. A plan was born.

It took Pete a couple years, but he eventually bought a DC-3 and started what has become a six-year restoration effort. The interior is the last major task remaining. My dream is to get a group of guys together, maybe make a six-month journey up the west coast of the U.S., then over to the east coast of Asia and on to India, with appropriate off-course trips, of course. He hopes to launch on his dream trip within the next five years.

Pete says he tries to find reasons and excuses to go fly, and it's apparent that he is highly successful at it. The Stearman and DC-3 fulfill the low, slow, romantic-glow side of the flying habit but, otherwise, the Commander is all I need, he says. I don't think I'm a jet guy. There are times when I'd like to be higher and go faster, but when the trip is done and I look at the bills I think, Gee, it sure is nice that this is half what a jet would cost. So I'm looking at this Commander as the airplane I will always have.






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Will Shinew



Shinew1 When Will Shinew joined SimCom Training Centers about a year ago, the Orlando-based company was embarking on an ambitious expansion. SimCom had recently acquired PrestoSIM, which conducted simulator-based legacy Citation and King Air 200 training in a facility near DFW International Airport. Then the big move: SimCom bought 14 simulators and training programs from FlightSafety International, including two motion-based Twin Commander simulators and associated training programs. The Commander simulators were relocated to SimCom's new DFW location, and Shinew, who has practical experience flying Commanders, was assigned to the new program.

Today Shinew is the lead instructor for the Commander JetProp training program and simulator, and he's having a ball. I fell in love with Twin Commanders, he said of his experience flying them, and now I've fallen in love with the people. They are enthusiastic about their airplanes. I know once you start flying one, you become pretty loyal.

Shinew is one of seven instructors involved in SimCom's Commander pilot initial and recurrent training at the DFW center. Simulators include a motion-based Dash-10-configured Commander JetProp and motion-based Dash 5-configured 690-series, and a non-motion flight training device (FTD) configured as a 690A with Dash 10T engines. A 180-degree wraparound visual system in the FTD provides realistic motion cues in day, night, and twilight conditions.

The visual motion cues are really outstanding, Shinew says. We have people who swear the simulator is moving.

Commander training is the busiest program at the DFW center, according to Shinew, and has more instructors. With the addition of the former FlightSafety programs and equipment, SIMCOM operates 59 simulators in five training center locations in the United States.

Shinew learned to fly as a teenager, washing airplanes in exchange for flying time. He kept adding to his certificate and ratings count, and eventually landed a job flying auto parts around the country in a Cessna Caravan, King Air 100, and Piper Navajo.

Before turning to professional flying fulltime, Shinew owned his own financial services firm. In the mid-1990s, however, Shinew surrendered to the inevitable. I told my wife that I enjoyed flying, and that's what I want to do.

Along with the early freight-dog experience, Shinew's interesting pilot resume lists a stint flying Casa 212 and de Havilland DHC-8 turboprops in Afghanistan and the U.S. for Blackwater Worldwide. He crewed a Cessna Citation 650 based in Smyrna, Tennessee, and before joining SimCom commanded a Kissimmee, Florida-based 690B Commander, for a businessman-owner.

Shinew4

Shinew and his fellow instructors have worked primarily with Commander owner-pilots, but also military and corporate operators. One bit of advice from Shenew to pilots: Don't rely too heavily on use of the autopilot from initial climb to short final. We try to cure that in the first couple of sim sessions, he says. If the autopilot goes inop, you gotta be able to fly that thing.

For more information about SimCom?s Commander training, see www.simulator.com.






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Chris Kimball

Taking the Fast Track to Flight Levels Flying

main5 Chris Kimball is proof positive that a fat logbook full of multiengine and turbine experience is not an absolute requirement to move safely and swiftly into a single-pilot Twin Commander cockpit.

Kimball, 26, had just over 600 hours total time and all of 10.5 hours multiengine time when he began flying 690JK, the TPE331-10T-powered 690B owned and operated by Belt Tech, the Washington, Indiana-based, family-owned company where he serves as vice president.

Kimball was flying Belt Tech’s Piper Saratoga when, on his recommendation, the company bought the Commander through Eagle Creek Aviation Services. Kimball completed pilot initial training at FlightSafety International, then flew with Ed Maher, Eagle Creek's most experienced Twin Commander pilot, to gain proficiency.

He’s on his own now, flying Belt Tech people on business missions, and family on vacation trips to such places as Las Vegas; Sequoia National Park in central California; and “bucket list” destinations like Breckinridge, Colorado, for winter snow and the Caribbean's St. Maarten for winter sun.

“We love it,” Kimball says of the Commander. “To this point it's doing everything we wanted it to do—take six adults anywhere, and keep us out of the weather. And it's done it every time.”

Kimball’s fast track to flights levels flying may not be so surprising given his history. On his 16th birthday he skipped school to make his first solo flight. He did it in his father’s Piper Warrior. Over the next year he continued his flight training, and he also began an apprenticeship as a mechanic at a local aircraft maintenance shop. On his 17th birthday he took his Private Pilot check ride, and a little more than a year later earned his Airframe & Powerplant certificate. Fast-tracking once again.

main5 Kimball stayed with the maintenance shop for the next couple of years, he got married, and he quit flying. Not because he lost interest, however: “I didn’t want to do it if I couldn’t do it right,” he says. “There were too many guys at the airport who flew just enough to get themselves in trouble.”

He eventually joined his father-in-law’s company, Belt Tech, which services and maintains heavy-duty conveyer systems for power plants, mining companies, and other industrial operators. Like other Belt Tech employees, Kimball was making long, overnight drives to visit branch offices and customers. That led to a conversation. “We got to talking,” Kimball says. “If we had an airplane we could be there and back the same day. We could make better use of our time.”

Kimball got current, Belt Tech bought a Piper Saratoga, and he became the company pilot. Within a few months it became clear that cross-country business travel was nearly impossible without an instrument rating. “We couldn’t fly much between November and March,” he says. One experience in particular convinced him to get the IFR rating. “I had a business trip with the sales manager and one other guy, and some weather came in. We were sitting there waiting for it to lift. The sales manager got a call—his 4-year old daughter had been in an accident, and they were transporting her to the hospital because she had a broken neck. We were stuck in Missouri because of a low-pressure system, yet 15 miles to the east it was VFR. I said, ‘I can’t go guys. I can’t do it.’ The sales manager rented a car and drove home.”

While he was waiting for the weather to improve Kimball went online and booked an accelerated IFR training course. A few weeks later he flew the Saratoga to Beaufort, South Carolina, and fast-tracked the rating.

With the capability afforded by Kimball’s IFR rating, Belt Tech increasingly relied on the Saratoga to support its business. By the end of 2012 he had spent nearly 400 hours flying the big single. Flying saved hours of driving and nights spent in hotels. The airplane had a new engine and good avionics and fulfilled the mission requirements well enough, save for one critical redundant system—a second engine. The logical solution was to upgrade.

main5 In the summer of 2011 Kimball earned his Commercial certificate with multiengine rating in Winter Haven, Florida. His father-in-law met him there and, following the fast-track plan, spent an intensive two weeks earning his Private pilot’s certificate.

Kimball surveyed the field for a piston twin that could deliver the desired range, payload, performance, and reliability at a fair price. Value was a primary criterion, but Kimball was disappointed with what he saw. The search expanded to encompass turboprops—or, more accurately, some turboprops.

“To be honest, I never really liked Commanders,” Kimball admits. “I had no idea what they were. I knew King Airs and Conquests. One day I said it’s not really fair to say I don’t like them. It was a preconceived notion. I just didn’t know enough about them. So I added Commanders to my research.”

It opened his eyes. “They are not much smaller on the inside compared to a King Air 90, they just don’t stand as tall on the ramp” Kimball says. The clincher was Aviation Consumer performance comparisons. “If you compare the performance of a Commander with a King Air, there is no comparison,” he says. “The Commander is a pretty awesome airplane. As a pilot-owner I’m going to take performance over the nostalgia of a King Air.”

Kimball was convinced. “It was nice to learn about Commanders and appreciate what they have to offer. It’s a cool airplane. Nice lines, too, like an Aerostar, which also is a super performer. I had preconceived ideas until I educated myself, and realized the Commander has a lot more to offer than anything else out there.”

Prior to purchasing 690JK, Eagle Creek’s Jim Worrell offered Belt Tech a demo flight with Maher in Eagle Creek’s Commander 1000. “We were getting ready for the flight, and I told Ed I would sit right seat and follow along,” Kimball says. “He shoved me in the left seat and told me, ‘It flies like a big Apache,’ which is what I used for my multiengine rating.” The demo flights were convincing, and Worrell spent a month finding a nice 690B for Belt Tech.

After his simulator training Kimball went back to Eagle Creek to fly with Maher, as required by the insurance underwriter. Maher was impressed with Kimball’s skills, and fast-tracked him to Commander solo status.

The transition was easier than going from the Piper Warrior to the Saratoga, according to Kimball. “Power management is easier,” he says. “No shock cooling, no adjusting the mixture. Just set the power and forget it.” Maintaining strict directional control on the initial takeoff run, staying ahead of the airplane’s speed and climb performance, and achieving consistently smooth landings all took some attention at the beginning, but the usual bugaboo of Commander novices—ground handling—was not an issue. “I had a bit of tailwheel time, which evidently helps transitioning Commander pilots anticipate steering commands,” Kimball says. “The steering system is an awesome part of the airplane. I love it!”

Being the pilot, a member of the Belt Tech family and a certificated mechanic gives Kimball a well-rounded perspective as aircraft manager. “Knowing the family is on the airplane means we want to spare no expense in maintaining it,” he says, “but on the business side we say let’s be practical about it.” Meanwhile, his maintenance experience allows him to talk the talk with Eagle Creek technicians. “I ask their opinion, and they have been very balanced. The guys in the shop, especially John Fogle, are great, and I feel like their service is exceptional.”

main5 Along with giving the airplane credit for his quick climb into turbine-powered business flying, Kimball also salutes the instruction he received at crucial junctures in his training. His primary instructor, Steve Johnson, was second on American Airlines’ seniority list when he retired, and his instrument instructor, Doug Carmody, was a retired USAirways check pilot. And then there was Maher to help with the launch into the turbine world.

“I feel I have been extremely lucky to have had veteran instructors with real-world experience who would tell me exactly like it is when I messed up. That’s had a big impact on how I fly.”

Using airplanes, and especially the Commander, has had a big impact on how Belt Tech does business. “We need to be face-to-face with our branch managers, our employees, and our customers,” Kimball says. “That’s where an airplane has helped. We could do trips by driving, but it would be one a week. Now we can run our business like we want and still have time for family.

“The expense of operating the airplane is negligible when you consider the time we can spend with our employees and our customers, and still have our people at home at night. We’ve built our company culture around that.”




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The Faulkners

The Faulkners, In a Hurry

main5 Twin Commanders are rightfully known as pilots’ airplanes. They check all the boxes that are important to pilots—outstanding performance, fun-to-fly handling, country strip to Chicago O’Hare flexibility, and a commanding presence on the ramp. But how about Commander owners who are not pilots? What do they see in their airplane compared with any number of other turboprops or jets they may have considered?

Greg and Kathy Faulkner are such owners. Greg has always loved airplanes, and even took flight lessons, soloing in a Cessna 172. But between flying, family, and careers—they have four school-age children, Greg is an institutional bond salesman and trader, Kathy is a Harvard MBA-educated CPA, and they own real estate and other investments—something had to give. “When work slows down I probably will get back into flying,” Greg says, “but I knew it wasn’t smart to try and do everything.”

One priority that they cannot put aside is making the best use of their time. “I’ve always been interested in getting places fast,” Greg says. “We’re always in a hurry.” That’s why he and Kathy look at airplanes as “massive” time savers. Family time is very important to them, and when it comes to his work, Greg says that “As a commissioned salesman I only get paid when I’m at my desk,” so it’s important that he make the most efficient use of his travel time. An airplane enables him to see clients in other cities during the day, and be back home that night so he can be at his trading desk first thing in the morning.

PISTONS AND CHARTERING

The Faulkners began chartering and leasing piston twins and jets in 1996 for both business and personal trips. The personal flights included day trips around Florida—they live in Naples in Southwest Florida—to attend daughter Brooke’s soccer matches. But they grew increasingly uncomfortable with the thought of putting their family in ancient piston-powered airplanes. They also were dissatisfied with the hassle and expense of chartering jets, most of which had to be repositioned to Naples from the Ft. Lauderdale-Miami area, and of seeing a different pilot in the cockpit on each flight. So, they began looking around for an airplane to call their own.

One hard-and-fast requirement was that it have turbine power. And, given the Faulkners’ are-we-there-yet nature, it had to be fast. Also, since this would be their first airplane, they wanted to approach it conservatively. “We’re trying to learn about aviation, get our feet wet,” Greg says. That meant operating cost was a primary consideration, which pretty much eliminated a jet from the short list.

A pilot friend told Greg that he should look at Twin Commanders. “He said they can do a lot, for a lot less than a jet.” The Faulkners also looked at King Airs, but concluded they did not compare favorably with Commanders. “The King Air 200 is more expensive and doesn’t have the same performance,” says Greg, “and the 350 is even more expensive, and you’re not getting there any faster.”

The search for the right airplane led them just down the street to Naples Jet Center and Bruce Byerly, who found a low-time, one-owner Commander 690D (Model 900) on the market. The airplane had all the attributes that appealed to the Faulkners. The JetProp 900, built by Gulfstream Aerospace, which had inherited Commander production when it acquired Rockwell International in 1981, was the first Commander to have 6.7 psi pressurization for a lower cabin altitude when cruising in the flight levels. It also has an extended passenger cabin with a wide, slightly curved belted potty seat in a rear compartment that can be curtained off. “Most comfortable seat in the house,” Greg says. And with seating for seven plus pilot, the cabin easily accommodates the entire Faulkner family plus a friend.

FAST AND EFFICIENT

The previous owner had upgraded the engines to Dash 10T configuration, so the airplane is capable of cruising at 300 knots true airspeed at altitude (25,000 to 27,000 feet MSL) in the winter when ambient temperatures are colder. Although Greg would like to be going Mach 2, especially on longer flights, he appreciates the fuel efficiency of the Honeywell engines. On a typical trip the two engines combined use about 85 gallons the first hour, and about 75 gallons every hour after that—less when cruising above FL250.

main5 About 180 lbs of wiring came out and was replaced witha Garmin G600 with electronic Primary Flight and Multifunction displays, and a Garmin GTN750/650 package with integrated audio panel.

main5
The Faulkners also appreciate the airplane’s stamina—about 5 hours 30 minutes endurance with 45-minute reserves—thanks to the 900’s long wing and long-range, 474-gallon fuel capacity. They have taken advantage of it, too, on non-stop trips from Naples to the British Virgin Islands, Boston, Chicago, and Kansas City.

It’s not just about going long and fast, however. The Commander is efficient on short hops as well. Brooke still plays in the traveling soccer league, as does their son, Gregory. What would be five-hours-plus drive times to soccer venues within Florida turn into one-hour round-trip flights in the Commander. That means Greg has time on weekend mornings to get some tennis in—he was a nationally ranked college player and captain of his team—and still go to the soccer games without it costing a small fortune. They are back home by mid-afternoon. Having the Commander available means more time spent with all of the family.

Along with the short, in-state missions that can be done quickly, efficiently, at reasonable cost, and with a lot more peace of mind than in a piston-powered airplane, it’s also been good for those special family vacations to more distant destinations. They recently planned a weekend family trip to Chicago to see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, explore some museums, and do some shopping. The Cubs game started at 1:20 p.m. on a Friday, so as soon as Brooke finished an Advanced Placement math test at school that morning, the family picked her up and drove to Naples Municipal Airport. The Commander was on the ramp ready to go, and within minutes was taking off with all aboard.

About 3 ½ hours later the family climbed out of the Commander at Chicago Midway Airport and into a car that took them directly to Wrigley for the start of the game. The driver then dropped off their luggage at a downtown hotel.

Not long after purchasing the 900 Greg and Kathy worked with Naples Jet Center to design a new panel. The airplane is flown single pilot, and the Faulkners wanted that pilot to have all of the tools. Out came the electromechanical ADI and HSI, the FMS, a Foster loran, and a traffic display, and in their places went a Garmin G600 with electronic Primary Flight and Multifunction displays, and a Garmin GTN750/650 package with integrated audio panel. Greg says that one of the main reasons they bought the Commander was to fly the family, so they were “willing to spend money on safety.”

LAPTOPS EVERYWHERE main5 And comfort, too. The interior is all new—carpeting, headliner, side panels, and chocolate-colored leather seats with baseball-style stitching. The passenger cabin is equipped with three AC outlets, and on a typical family trip there are laptops everywhere for doing homework, watching movies, and listening to music. The Faulkners opted not to install video monitors, a DVD player, and XM music because everyone in the family likes to watch and listen to something different that they have downloaded from iTunes or other sites.

Naples Jet Center, which is an authorized Twin Commander service center, manages the Commander for the Faulkners. “If we can have the airplane managed and maintained by one outfit, that’s good,” Greg says, especially a facility with the depth of Twin Commander experience that resides in Naples Jet Center technicians.

They also like the concierge service. “We’re not looking to make aviation a career, we’re looking to make it easy,” Greg says. And quick. “We want to arrive at the airport and have the airplane on the ramp ready to go with the cabin cooled down. When we get back the car is waiting for us on the ramp and we’re out of there. We’re not looking to spend time around airports.” That’s understandable for a family that’s always in a hurry.




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LARRY ALLEN

ONE COMPANY, ONE AIRPLANE

main5 Airplanes have helped power the arc of Larry Allen's career from a young computer services technician to the owner and operator of a successful computer maintenance firm. That's not so unusual; business airplanes have been instrumental in the success of countless individuals and companies. What is different about Allen's story is that for the last three-plus decades his company's essential transportation tool has been the same airplane—a Twin Commander JetProp 980.

Allen picked up a new 980 from the factory in Bethany, Oklahoma, in May 1980, and immediately put it into intensive service shuttling his technicians around the country to fix customers' mainframe computers. At one point it was flying an around-the-clock schedule, with three pilots on rotation to cover the 24 hours. The travel schedule today is less hectic, but Allen's allegiance to the airplane that has served him all these years remains strong, and for very simple profit-and-loss reasons.

"I'm a big cheerleader for the Commander series, and the 980 in particular, because of the numbers and the maintenance," Allen says. "I talk to King Air owners, and owners of other turboprops, and we beat them by big margins."

main5 There was a time when, because of the high utilization and the long trip lengths the airplane was flying, Allen considered making a change. "After we bought the 980 we looked at upgrading to a larger aircraft, a jet. Our average trip time was more than 2.5 hours, so a jet was something to look at," he explains. "But it didn't make sense from a cost and utility standpoint. We were going into a lot of small airports, short fields, even some farm strips—some customers, like a grower in south Florida, had short strips on their farms—and we could take the Commander into those.

"We were giving up a little on flying time compared to a jet, which was a cost, but when you consider the cost of maintaining the engines and airframe, we beat everything else hands down. Nothing came close."

Allen was a young computer technician when he went to work for RCA doing field-service work. His boss at the time was Larry Morse, who also was a pilot and instructor. Allen developed an interest in flying, and Morse took him on as a student. A few years later when RCA sold its computer services business, Morse transferred to another division within RCA while Allen went elsewhere.

In 1973 Allen founded Allen Myland, Inc. to service IBM mainframe computers. Obviously, a problem with its central computer was a big problem for a company, and Allen Myland was in the business of quickly correcting the problem. "We had found a niche in the market," Allens says.

This meant launching on a moment's notice to the site of the troubled mainframe. "We traveled throughout the U.S and moved hardware for companies. We needed transportation, and back then the airlines are not what they are today," he says. Allen understood that a company airplane was absolutely essential to the growth and success of his new venture.

He started with single-engine aircraft, flying VFR because that's all he was qualified for as a pilot. Then he earned his IFR rating, and the traveling increased. I was flying 400 to 600 hours a year in singles, then light piston twins."

main5 On a trip to Caterpillar in Peoria, Illinois, he met Bob and Larry Byerly, who ran the local FBO, Byerly Aviation. Then, as now, Byerly was an authorized Twin Commander sales and service center. Allen remembers Larry Byerly remarking appreciatively about the Piper Navajo that Allen was flying at the time, then suggesting that he might want to consider a faster, more capable airplane, perhaps something like a twin-turboprop Commander 690. Allen agreed to a demo flight, and was convinced.

After researching other turboprop options and being "quite impressed with the numbers for the Commander," Allen bought a used 690. He also made a phone call—to his old boss, Tom Morse.

"He called me one night and said he had bought a 690 in Peoria, and now he needed help flying it," Morse remembers. "He said he was looking for someone who works on computers and knows how to fly. I told him I was teaching flying and enjoying it, and I wouldn't enjoy getting calls late at night and on weekends."

Allen persisted. "He has a great personality," Morse says of Allen. "This guy is incredible, and he convinced me. I said I'd fly for him for 6 months, he said 12 months, but it turned out to be 32 years."

Allen Myland operated the 690 for four years. "We were flying a lot, and we needed more capability," Allen says, "so we ordered a new one, a 980. We went to the factory to watch it being built."

Over the years the airplane has had several major updates including paint, interior, a switch to an Enviro Systems air cycle machine, and several major panel makeovers. The latest—a Garmin G600 retrofit. "If you saw the airplane now you'd say it had just come out of the showroom," Morse says.

main5 All of the upgrades, as well as all maintenance and inspections, have been performed by Winner Aviation. Winner's location at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in eastern Ohio is convenient to the airplane's base at Philadelphia International (Allen Myland is based in Broomall, Pennsylvania, just west of downtown Philadelphia), but Allen says the relationship goes far beyond proximity. "Their understanding of the engine and the aircraft," and their attention to cost control is an appealing balance, he says.

Morse, who has retired from flying the airplane but still manages the maintenance, also is a fan of Winner. "The personnel is the reason we stay with them," he says. "That's the whole key—who is in that shop. Really, it's the crew that makes the difference. They are a great bunch of people. After 32 years they have the ultimate insight of what's going on in there."

Allen Myland's business model has evolved from maintaining IBM mainframe computers to providing customers with customized data storage maintenance services. Because the work is more of a consulting nature than replacing hardware on site, the travel need is much reduced. Allen still flies it himself to call on customers, and occasionally for more personal pursuits such as getaway trips to the Florida Keys.

Now into his fourth decade of operating the 980, Allen apparently has no plans to do things differently. He's anticipating taking the engines to overhaul next year.




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Scott Main

SAVING A PIECE OF AMERICAN—AND COMMANDER--HISTORY

main5 Pop quiz: Name the lovely shade of blue that distinguishes the Air Force's Presidential fleet. Scott Main knows, at least as it applies to one of the airplanes assigned to the Presidential fleet in the mid-1950s. The improbable answer: Baltic Blue, as in the very same Baltic Blue that Oldsmobile applied to the steel bodies that rolled out of the factory in 1954. Main knows this because of research that he and some sleuths at Twin Commander Aircraft LLC did in preparation for painting the very rare L-26 Commander he owns, has restored, and flies around to air shows.

Main's 1955-vintage Commander is one of 15 the U.S. Air Force bought from Aero Commander for use in the Presidential fleet. It's essentially a Commander 560A with special markings and paint. The story goes that, after he suffered a stroke and was recuperating at his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Dwight D. Eisenhower instructed his staff to get him an airplane that could take off in Washington, fly the 60 or so miles to Gettysburg, and land at his grass strip.

The then-new Aero Commander was the choice, but Air Force brass objected to the President riding in a piston-powered twin. However, when Aero Commander demonstrated the capability and safety of its new twin by removing one of the propellers before taking off from Oklahoma City and flying to Washington D.C., they relented.

main2 The result was the purchase of 15 Commanders to transport the President and other high-level government officials on short trips. The baker's dozen 560As and two 680s that the Air Force bought were the first and only piston-powered twins ever employed in the Presidential fleet. They received the military designation L-26, which even today is little-known among warbird afficianados.

Main has obtained the military records of his airplane, which has a pair of serial numbers—247 from Aero Commander, and 55-4638 from the Air Force—and according to its military records it remained in government service until 1973. Its history after being sold as surplus is unclear—it may have flown weather research missions for the University of North Dakota—but eventually it was bought at auction by two Oklahoma men who intended to restore it, Main said. Instead, the airplane languished.

More than a dozen years ago a friend of Main's was pressuring him to partner on an airplane. Main, who has been flying for 40 years, has done it all in terms of flying—he was an instructor, he repossessed airplanes, he flew as a charter and corporate pilot, he is a lifelong warbird fan and former warbird judge at Oshkosh and Sun 'n Fun, and for the last 30 years he has flown for a major U.S. airline. He grew up working on cars and airplanes—he is an A&P—and had restored a North American T-6 to Oshkosh award-winning condition. But he had tired of the expense and hassle of being a warbird owner and sold the T-6, vowing never to buy another airplane. That did not deter his friend, who said he found an Aero Commander 560A in Oklahoma. "I said 'Geared engines and pressure carburetors—forget it!' " Main laughs.

main3 Then his friend said it may have been one of the airplanes Eisenhower used. "Tell me more," Main said to his friend. The hook was set. Main bought the L-26.

"It was in rough shape," he says, but he got it airworthy and flew it for several years before parking it in a hangar at Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport. The annual inspection and insurance lapsed, and the airplane sat. In 2005 Hurricane Wilma blew through, damaging Main's hangar and the airplane inside.

The storm pushed the hangar door off its rollers, and it fell on the nose of the airplane. The hangar sidewalls collapsed onto the left wing. The wind pushed the airplane into support beams, damaging the flaps. And there was water damage. Although not severe, the damage had to be repaired. Main worked at it, then decided it was time do it right and restore s/n 247 to its 55-4638 Air Force glory.

Getting the paint scheme and markings correct wasn't a problem, but getting the color right was. Main enlisted the help of Twin Commander Aircraft LLC to research obscure records, including military and Aero Commander files. They determined that the Air Force specified the airplanes be painted "Baltic Blue."

main1 Great, but what exactly was Baltic Blue? In the early days Aero Commander painted airplanes in colors borrowed from Ford Thunderbirds and Lincolns. But in 1955, the year Main's L-26 was completed, Ford Motor Company did not have a Baltic Blue in its roster of colors.

Twin Commander's Pam Brown eventually solved the mystery when she found a reference to the color in the Air Force order for the aircraft. It helped identify the color as one used by Oldsmobile on its 1954 cars. "It was a DuPont Dulux color," Main says.

Mystery solved, Main took the airplane to Robert Loomis at Executive Jet Refinishing in Stuart, Florida. "He got excited about the project, and went way beyond the call of duty," Main says. Six weeks later the airplane emerged with every bit of the exterior spit, polish, and military bearing it had 55 years ago when Aero Commander handed the airplane over at Bolling Air Force Base.

After it was painted, Main went to work on the inside, gutting the interior. He replaced the original 1970s-vintage interior with leather-covered seats, and installed more contemporary avionics equipment in the panel. "The panel is not original—I updated it slightly," he says, "but I tried to keep as much of the 1955 look as possible." One component he did not have to put much time into was the engines. They had been overhauled years earlier but are still low time and run well. "The engines were the high point of the project," he says. "To start one I just prime, hit the starter, and in two blades it's running like a sewing machine. The only issue is "sealing endless leaks,'" he says.

main4 The project was completed in the fall of 2010. Its first public appearance was at the Wings Over Homestead air show at the Homestead Air Reserve Base south of Miami. "People loved it, but they scratched their heads because they had never heard of an L-26," says Main. Based on his research, Main does not believe his airplane ever flew the President. That duty was reserved for one of the two Aero Commander 680s the Air Force operated. However, it did transport high-level officials, and as far as he knows it is the only one of the original 15 purchased that is restored, airworthy, and actively flying.

(The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, has in its collection the Aero Commander 680 assigned to President Eisenhower. It carries the Air Force designation U-4B.

Main is happy with his decision to restore and fly the Commander. He calls it "the perfect warbird. There's room for six friends, folding chairs, and coolers," he says. "And, at the air shows it's a built-in shade tree. Plus, it's a pleasure to fly, and everybody loves it. I get lots of positive comments."

Main stopped going to air shows when he sold the T-6. Now, thanks to the L-26, he's back into it "and loving it. My kids fly with me! The project was expensive and very time-consuming, but well worth the effort to save an important chapter of American aviation history."




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Bill Borchert

COMMANDER HELPS SATISFY 50-YEAR PASSION FOR FLYING

bob mays twin commander We all know professional pilots who have grown jaded with flying. What began as a passion became, over time, nothing more than a job, and if you listen to their complaining, a not-very-satisfying job at that. You won’t hear such complaining from Bill Borchert, a former Air Force instructor pilot who retired in September 2002 from what he calls a “terrific” career at Delta Air Lines. How is he spending his retirement years? He probably would say “What retirement?” and with good reason. Borchert is part owner of a primary flight school, and personally instructs students in a turboprop twin. He also shuttles between flight school, extended family, and winter retreat in a beautiful Dash 10T-powered 690A Twin Commander.

A native West Virginian, Borchert enrolled in the Air Force ROTC Flight Indoctrination Program while an undergrad at West Virginia University in Morgantown. After 40 hours of instruction he got his Private certificate, and upon graduating was awarded a regular commission in the Air Force.

He was assigned to Craig Air Force Base near Selma, Alabama (now Craig Field Airport—KSEM), as an instructor teaching undergraduate pilot trainees to fly the T37. After five years of service he resigned his commission, and soon after was hired by Delta. His first assignment was as a flight engineer on DC-8s flying out of New Orleans.

In September 1980 he was a passenger on a Delta flight en route to Atlanta, where he was to take regularly scheduled training, when two passengers hijacked the airplane to Havana. It was a cordial arrival in Cuba. The airport opened up its restaurant, and Borchert and fellow passengers enjoyed a good meal. “We got that out of the way, and flew back to Atlanta,” he says. Once there he decided to meet a Delta flight coming in from Columbia that was going on to New Orleans. Ironically, it, too, was hijacked after leaving Columbia. Borchert says the rest of his 32-year career at Delta was, thankfully, “uneventful.”

bob mays twin commander Over the next three decades Borchert flew just about every model airplane in Delta’s fleet, culminating in the Boeing 767-400. In his off time he invested in various projects, including hotels and real estate. After retiring from Delta he invested in a flight school, Falcon Aviation Academy, based at the Newnan-Coweta County Airport in Newnan, Georgia, with bases at Atlanta Regional Airport-Falcon Field south of Atlanta, Dekalb-Peachtree Airport north of Atlanta, and Athens/Ben Epps Airport in Athens, Georgia.

Borchert soon found himself doing more than just managing his investment. As part of a training package involving airline-sponsored students from China, Falcon gives each student 10 hours of high-performance instruction in a King Air E90. When the school needed another instructor qualified in the King Air, Borchert agreed to help out.

Borchert owns one-third of the King Air, which also is used for charter flights. Along with its use for instruction and charter, Borchert occasionally flew it to visit family in West Virginia, Louisiana, and Texas; on golf outings; and to commute to a home in Southwest Florida. Meanwhile, he began to develop an interest in Twin Commanders. “People told me about its weight-carrying capability, ease of handling, and the low cost of operation,” he says.

That interest eventually led him to Eagle Creek Aviation Services, where in November 2008 he purchased N75U—a 690A powered by TPE331-10T engines and equipped with a full Meggitt Magic glass panel including pilot and copilot EFIS displays and an electronic engine and systems instrumentation display. Borchert had the airplane painted and the interior refurbished, and the result is a beautiful, capable, high-peformance ride.

The pillows in the passenger cabin are embroidered with a “TAC Air” logo. “It stands for Take A Chance,” Borchert laughs, then lays the blame squarely on his son. “He came up with it.”

bob mays twin commander The differences between the King Air, which has been retrofitted with Dash 10 engines—and the Twin Commander were immediately evident. “On a trip from Falcon Field to Ft. Myers, Florida, the King Air averaged 100 gph block-to-block,” Borchert says. “The Twin Commander on the same route burns 85 gph and flies 25 knots faster. In the winter it cruises at 300 knots, and 285 knots in summer. It’s an efficient flying machine.”

Given its performance and cost-effectiveness, the Twin Commander is proving to be a good investment for Borchert. Owning a large flight school may be a riskier venture, but Borchert, who is approaching his 50th year as a pilot, says the decision to invest in the school was at least partly based on other factors, chief among them a continuing passion for flying. “In aviation,” he says, “heart overcomes intellect.”




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Jeff Berg

PAIR OF TWIN COMMANDERS HELP PASSIONATE SURFER LIVE THE DREAM

Any day that you can combine business with flying is a good day. And if the business you are flying in support of is surfing, surely that makes for an extra-good day. Jeff Berg—lifelong surfer, successful surfing entrepreneur, and chief pilot of two Twin Commanders—is enjoying lots of extra-good days.

One of the companies he is actively involved with as owner/investor is Surfline, which he describes as “the 800-pound gorilla in the world of surfing and action sports.” The company's website, www.surfline.com, is one-stop online shopping for surfing news, features, gear, travel, photos, videos, and most important, surf reports and forecasts for beaches around the world.

Someone has to research the exotic surfing destinations that Surfline.com reports on, and who better than Surfline's chairman and chief pilot. “That's what got me started in flying,” Berg says. “I started going with friends who were flying regularly to some pretty remote places in Baja, Mexico, to surf. The more I did it I thought, 'This is pretty cool.' We were escaping the crowds in California and finding phenomenal surf with very few people around.”

GREAT SURF EVERYWHERE

Berg grew up surfing in the Atlantic Ocean off Ft. Pierce, Florida. “If you have any ambition as a surfer, you start thinking, 'Where am I going to go to surf any real waves?' So you go to the Outer Banks, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Central America, Hawaii, Asia. There is great surf everywhere, a lot of it undiscovered. That’s part of the fun and adventure. That’s where with a plane you can do some pretty interesting things.”

As a teenager Berg used to fly with his younger brother, but Berg's aspiration to become a pilot himself was set aside as he pursued an entrepreneurial career. His interest was rekindled when he hooked up with friends who were flying to good surfing destinations. “I thought, 'Enough is enough.' I really need to do this.”

As soon as he earned his Private certificate Berg began renting Cessna 172s to build time and experience, but he also quickly transitioned into multiengine and instrument training. His fly-and-surf mentor was Mike Castillo, whom Berg describes as “a Baja bush pilot legend in the surf world.” Castillo had once owned a piston Twin Commander, and his praise of its capabilities was not lost on Berg when he began to research an airplane to buy.

“The more I flew and talked with these friends the more I realized that the perfect aerial vehicle for missions was an Aero Commander,” he says. In 2003 Berg bought N62LL, a 1958 500A Commander that in 1963 was converted to a 500B by replacing the Lycoming IO-470M engines to IO-540-B1Cs. A year or so after buying it Berg had it repainted with a dramatic ocean-blue curling wave cascading across the fuselage midsection.

LOADING IT UP

The Twin Commander has turned out to be a good choice. “It has the right combination of payload and performance, especially short-field takeoff and landing,” Berg says. “We’re loading up people and boards and equipment, and often camping equipment as well, and flying over a good bit of water and into short desert strips.

“The two engines are great, the payload is great, and the ability to get in and out of tight strips is really important. The high wing helps, too, for exploring and doing aerial photography. The extra clearance also is good when operating into and out of dirt strips.”

The airplane is equipped with long-range tanks (210 gallons), good for seven hours or more of flying. “I can do 1,000 nmi with room to spare, which is pretty nice,” Berg says. And thanks to an STC that allows surfboards to be stowed in the tailcone, he can take up to six surfboards on his trips. “That, plus the room it has in the cabin, makes it hard to beat.”

Along with trips to Baja , mainland Mexico, and Central America, Berg has used the Twin Commander to find good surfing in the Caribbean, especially Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas. “I fly over a lot of water to get there,” he says. “I wouldn’t do it in a single. And with some other twins I couldn’t get in and out of some of the strips I fly to, especially with the payload of the Twin Commander. It's the best surf SUV that I’ve found.”

DOUBLING THE FLEET

Early in 2010 Berg doubled the airborne research fleet when he bought a Commander 1000. “I got the disease—more speed and range,” he says. “ I looked at all the alternatives, and given where I go and what I do there was nothing that could touch it for the money. The range and speed are unbelievable. Twice I've gone nonstop across the country, from Carlsbad, California, to Ft. Pierce, Florida, and landed with close to an hour of fuel left.

“I've flown from Long beach, California, to southern Mexico, 1,600 nmi nonstop, on a surf mission. We took off with four big guys and a lot of gear and flew close to six hours.”

Berg still calls Ft. Pierce his primary residence—his parents and two of his brothers still live there—but he also sets up camp in San Clemente, California, during south swell season (summer), and ranges wherever good surfing takes him. “In the summer I try to set myself up so I can work just about anywhere. I'm a pretty passionate surfer, and the Pacific is much better than the Atlantic for surfing in the summer. During the winter the Caribbean has fantastic surf, so I just try to strike.

“It helps that Surfline.com is the best surf forecast service in world,” he says. “With that and the best aviation hardware, we can do surgical strikes. We can plan knowing there will be a swell hitting and that we'll get really good surf. Often we're taking pros along, generating content and photos for the website. Recording swell events is something surfers love to consume. We try to accommodate them.

NO BETTER WAY

“Surfline is cataloging and databasing pretty much all the surf breaks in the world,” Berg says. “That means cataloging most of the beaches in the world. And there is no better way to do that than with an airplane.”

Buying the 1000 has not diminished Berg's enthusiasm for the piston Commander. “I have no intention of selling it,” he says. Having the two Commanders gives him a choice—the 500B for shorter trips and especially into smaller unimproved strips, and the 1000 for the long hauls.

Berg's decision to start flying is working out quite well. The Commanders have greatly enhanced his ability to pursue his passion for surfing as well as the business opportunities that flow from that passion. “I plan to just keep flying and learning and enjoying it,” he says. “I want to keep becoming a better pilot, keep getting utility out of the planes. Right now I’m a pretty happy camper.”










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Jerry Severson

AROUND THE WORLD IN A TWIN COMMANDER

Jerry Severson did a lot of flying earlier this year in his Dash 10T-powered 690A Twin Commander. His logbook shows 115 flight hours in 8 weeks, for a total distance covered of 35,000 statute miles. That’s about 10,000 miles farther than flying the circumference of the earth at the equator. In fact, that’s just what Severson did—fly around the world.

From mid-May to early July, Severson, sometimes alone, sometimes with a changing cast of buddies, flew to 50 different airports in 24 countries. It was the trip of a lifetime. “Usually I was two days at most in any one place,” he says. “It was all about the journey, not the destinations, and it was one hell of a journey.”

seversonClick For Larger Image

His constant companion for the entire adventure—his Twin Commander—proved to be the ideal magic carpet. It had the performance to handle any airport conditions, climb quickly to cooler cruise altitudes, and make long, lonely segments seem relatively short. It had the legs to allow Severson to depart Aswan, Egypt, overfly a planned but undesirable fuel stop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and continue on to Bahrain. And it offered up a spectacular, unobstructed view of a very big and very diverse world passing by below.

One more remarkable thing about the performance of his 690A: in all of that frequent, varied flying there was not one mechanical problem. None. Zero squawks.

A QUESTION OF TIMING
Severson spent a year carefully planning the trip, and the successful results speak to his preparation. Except that, early on, it looked like his timing was going to be all wrong. After departing from home base in Bozeman, Montana, and making stops at St. Cloud, Minnesota, and Quebec City and Kuuijuag, Quebec, he planned his next fuel stops at Narsarsuaq, Greenland, and Reykjavik, Iceland, before heading to St. Andrews, Scotland, and three days of world-class golfing.

But the ash cloud from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland was drifting over the North Atlantic and Europe, forcing him to change the planned itinerary. “For the first 10 days of the trip I didn’t go where I wanted to go,” he says.

St. Andrews turned out to be a lunch stop—no time for golf, thanks to the approaching ash cloud. Next stop: Amsterdam, but that turned out to be a simple overnight, again because of the threat of ash. Then it was on to Berlin. Munich was next up, but that had to be scratched in favor of Budapest. “That was the end of the ash cloud,” Severson says. Back to the plan, but not the end of the surprises.

“From the Greek Isles I was headed to Luxor,” he explains, “but then Egypt threw an unpredicted sandstorm at me. Cairo was iffy so I went to Aswan instead. It turned out to be a treat. I ended up staying in the best hotel. I shot pool with the general manager, who upgraded me to President Hosni Mubarak’s suite—all eight rooms of it.”

MOTOR THE ENGINES
When the sandstorm swept through Severson waited and wondered what the effect would be on his airplane. It was covered up, but tiny, windblown sand crystals find their way past any barrier. Severson decided to seek some advice. He called his maintenance facility, Eagle Creek Aviation Services in Indianapolis, where President Matt Hagans assembled a team to conference with Severson. They suggested several strategies including motoring the engines to blow sand out without heating and potentially melting it in the engines. “Everything worked perfectly,” Severson says. “That was a great resources to have.”

The only other unscheduled climatic event was a typhoon. “The typhoon season began June 1, and it tossed one at me,” Severson says. “I was going to stay in Muscat, Oman, but I had to leave after lunch because a typhoon was scheduled to come. Other than the ash cloud, the sandstorm, and the typhoon, all the other weather during the trip was pretty darn good.”

From Oman he flew to India, hoping to avoid Iranian and Pakistani airspace on the way. But published airways took him into Iran for eight long minutes. He was handed off to Iranian air traffic controllers, who turned out to be “very friendly,” Severson says. “I had no problems anywhere with ATC,” he adds. “They were outstanding through the entire trip, they spoke better English than the controllers in Latin America, and they offered very helpful changes.”

A FEW DAYS ALONE
Severson had friends rendezvous with him at various places and ride along. “They would come for part of the trip, then leave and someone else would come along. And no one got sick. I did have a few days alone, which was dandy.”

His favorite stops? Europe—“I’ve flown there several times before and always enjoy it,” and, “I was 10 days in Australia. They drink beer well and they are proud of their convict heritage. Great people!”

Severson’s self-imposed limit of a maximum 900 nmi leg between stops (his 690A has standard 384-gallons-useable tanks) was tested on the flight from Seoul, South Korea, to the Russian seaport city of Vladivostok. To avoid North Korea he planned to head west and then north over the Peoples Republic of China. At the last minute China refused to grant an overflight permit. The alternative—flying to the east of North Korea—meant an 1100-mile leg, all over water. The prudent, though expensive, decision was to make an interim stop in Japan, and then proceed on to Vladivostok.

The finale of the trip was the Russian portion, exiting the country in far northeastern Siberia. “It was four long legs over lonely country with not many airports and alternates many hundreds of miles apart,” Severson says. He had to make an instrument approach in Russia nearly to minimums in driving rain, but fortunately did not have to divert to an alternate.

He took off from Anadyr, Russia, on a Thursday at 4:00 p.m. local time for a two-hour trip to Nome, Alaska, arriving on Wednesday at 10:00 p.m.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS
Severson used Universal Weather and Flight Planning for flight planning, ground handling, and other details during the trip. “It would be very difficult to do it all yourself,” he says. “One of their great recommendations was that they prearrange ground transportation to and from the airport. We could always get a cab to the hotel, but getting back to the airport would have been a corker. We would need to go back to the general aviation area, and we wouldn’t have had a clue how to tell a cab driver to get there.”

Severson has wanted to do an around-the-world trip for a long time. “I’ve known a number of corporate pilots who have done it, but not like this,” he says. “They make few stops and don’t see much. With my 900-mile limit I had a lot of stops.”

He says he’d do it all again tomorrow. “It was SOOO much fun—more fun than you can imagine. And the Commander was just excellent. It is a superb airplane in which to do something like this.”








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Brad Goldman

FIFTEEN YEARS OF TWIN COMMANDER FLYING BREEDS RESPECT

goldman Brad Goldman has been fighting fires for most of his adult life. It's his passion, and for the past nearly 30 years his job, too—he's with the Snohomish County Fire District 7 in Washington State, north of Seattle. Some 25 years ago he learned to fly, and it, too, became a passion. Which explains Goldman's summer job: fighting fires from the air.

Goldman owns and operates Gold Aero, Inc., based in Arlington, Washington. His two-airplane fleet—a Cessna 205 and Twin Commander 500S Shrike—function as aerial supervision aircraft over large wildland fires. An air attack supervisor in the airplane controls the airspace over the fire, and makes tactical decisions on what type of aerial resources are needed to support the ground crews battling the blaze. Air attack aircraft serve a critical function in the high-stakes effort to contain raging, fast-moving wildfires.

Goldman founded the business 11 years ago with the 205. A few years later he heard that his primary customer, the U.S. Forest Service, was going to require that its contractors fly only multiengine aircraft, so he began to research the options. A high wing is an obvious attribute given the need for good all-around visibility on an air attack aircraft. That narrowed the choices down to the centerline-thrust Cessna 337 Skymaster; the Partenavia, a fixed-gear piston twin built in Italy; and Twin Commanders.

He asked air attack supervisors for their preferences. “Most said that their first choice is a Twin Commander,” Goldman said.“The only thing I knew about Twin Commanders was that Bob Hoover flew one. So I started learning about them.”

That effort lasted two years, and eventually led him to San Jose, California, where he found the second-to-last Shrike Commander that Rockwell built. Although it had only 3500 hours on the airframe, it was nowhere near ready for active duty fighting wildfires. In fact, it was already well into retirement. The engines, props, and landing gear all needed overhauling; the avionics were outdated; and the paint was oxidized. Goldman bought it. “We spent a full year-plus going completely through the airplane, making it better than new,” he explained. “It was a lot of work, but now it's a good airplane, very reliable.” Most important, “the Forest Service folks really enjoy flying in it,” Goldman added.

goldman Last year was the Commander's first full season as an air attack aircraft. A typical mission has the pilots reporting for duty early in the morning at a temporary base for the airplanes and helicopters involved in battling a blaze. All pilots attend a briefing to review weather forecasts, the status of the fire and its predicted “behavior,” safety issues, and the plans and objectives for the day. Then it's time to preflight the aircraft, meet up with the air attack supervisor who will be in the right seat and possibly a trainee-observer, and launch.

“We're usually the first one over the fire,” Goldman explained. “We look for changes in the fire lines that occurred overnight, and relay that information to the fire bosses on the ground.” The air attack supervisor also communicates with crews on ground who have just arrived on scene, and calls in other ground-based resources. All the while directing tanker aircraft and making sure no uninvited airplanes jeopardize safety.

goldman The air attack supervisor also monitors flight times of each aircraft to ensure they have adequate fuel for the mission, and calls in replacements to allow for refueling. The objective is to avoid any gaps in the firefighting effort.

The Gold Aero Commander has long-range tanks (223 gallons), but Goldman said they don't usually depart with full fuel. That's because they typically fly for about four hours at a time, and most of that is spent loitering over the blaze with the power set at 16 inches MP and 2200 rpm for reduced fuel flows. The aircraft is equipped with a fuel totalizer and engine analyzer. Most days they fly one sortie in the morning and one in the afternoon, for a total of eight hours. “If it's a big fire we use two air attack aircraft,” Goldman explained, “with one flying in relief.”

The Commander does not have air-conditioning. “I’m flying Forest Service guys around who are pretty tough,” Goldman said. “But there's enough air flow in the cockpit when we're flying two-to-three-thousand feet over the fire.”

goldman Sometimes there's smoke in the cockpit as well. “That was one of weirdest things I discovered when I started doing this—flying and smelling smoke, and it’s normal,” Goldman said. “But it’s woodsmoke, not smoke from an electrical or gasoline-fed fire.

“You have to fly in smoke when you're fighting fires, but if you can’t see through the smoke it's not wise to fly through it,” he added, especially since they're typically flying over hilly or mountainous terrain. “What you want to avoid are the large thermals, large columns of smoke. Most people have no concept of the power and energy in a large fire. I've seen smoke columns from a fire go up to 35,000 feet. They make their own thunderstorms. I've seen tree limbs go past the aircraft in a smoke column.”

Because they fly often in smoky conditions, Goldman changes air filters every 50 hours and washes the aircraft frequently.

Goldman splits the air attack flying in the Commander with one other pilot. “It's a real treat to fly the Commander,” he said. “It's a solid, tough airplane, and I very much enjoy flying it. It's very forgiving as far as high-performance twins go. It’s a good airplane, and perfect for the mission. And it gets a lot of attention. People look at the airplane and ask questions about it.”

Goldman said he is happy with his decision to buy and refurbish the Shrike. “The last tactical group supervisor I flew with said it's the best air attack airplane he’s been in. It's comfortable, and the visibility is outstanding. And if the customer is happy, I’m tickled!”






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Maria Plunket

FIFTEEN YEARS OF TWIN COMMANDER FLYING BREEDS RESPECT

Go ahead, admit it: You don't just like your airplane, as in “I like the car I drive.” No, it goes much deeper than that. You can develop a genuine relationship with an airplane, as in “It is my trusted companion that sees me through good times and bad.” Twin Commanders are like that—familiarity with one breeds respect. Some might even say affection. Just ask Maria Plunket.

Plunket, a professional pilot based in Renton, Washington, has been flying the same 690B Twin Commander for 15 years. “It's a silly thing to say, but it becomes your friend,” she says. “It's reliable, always there for you. It takes you through thick and thin. It does everything you ask from it and more. Sometimes it still surprises me with its dependability and what it can do.

It's rock solid. I can count on it.” Plunket admits to “always bragging” about her trusted companion. “I don't have to worry about a thing,” she says. “It's very simple to fly. Everything in the cockpit is so well thought out. Everything is right where it should be. It makes it so simple. I don't worry about the weather, I don't worry about the wind, I don't worry about moderate ice. It handles all of those things. It handles runway conditions as well. I've taken it into compact snow and ice, and with the combination of braking and reverse thrust I know it's going to be fine.”

Plunket's aviation career began in 1990 when she earned her Instructor's certificate and began teaching at Tacoma Narrows Airport. One of her students bought a 685 Commander, and hired her to fly it. When he sold the Commander, she followed the airplane to its new owner. Meanwhile, the first owner, along with two partners, bought a 690B, and Plunket began flying it as well. Moving from the piston-powered 685 to the 690B turboprop “was an easy transition,” she says. “You just get to go a lot faster.”

In the next few years Plunket added a Shrike Commander, a Lear 24F, and several other Lear models to the stable of airplanes she regularly flew for owners. In 2005 she had her first child, a daughter, and resolved to cut back on multi-day trips and stay closer to home. These days she focuses primarily on Commander flying, including the 690B that is still owned by two of the three partners who bought it in 1995.

“That airplane has very rarely left the ground without me in 15 years,” she said. “When I had my daughter I took six months off. It was a big deal to find another pilot, and it was very strange to watch it take off with someone else flying it.”

For the first five years she flew it with TPE331-5 power. In 2000 the engines came up for overhaul, and the owners opted to upgrade to Dash 10Ts with Hartzell wide-chord props. The panel also was upgraded with a Garmin 530 and 430 and an Avidyne multifunction display. Although fuel flow increased about 9 percent with the Dash 10Ts, time to climb is considerably faster and cruise speed jumped 13 percent, meaning that on the same trip length you get there faster on less fuel. “We certainly benefit hugely with the Dash 10Ts because of the time that we save,” Plunket says. “We are very happy with them. To be able to fly down to Southern California in 3 hours and 15 minutes, and if winds are right get home in same time frame, is just great.”

Along with flying it, Plunket manages the Commander for the owners. “It's easy to manage, too,” she says. “No secrets or gotchas. Just things to watch out for, like replacing the batteries every couple of years. But it's easy to stay on top of and manage.”

As the owners' businesses and families expand, a larger, longer-range airplane may be in their future, according to Plunket. But she says she would “strongly urge them to keep the Commander” for the shorter flights they do now. “The boss has said many, many times it's such a great business tool. He can fly to a business meeting for a face to face, and get back in time to spend the afternoon at the office.

“Personally, I feel it’s just such a privilege flying the airplane,” she adds. “If I had the wherewithal to buy an airplane it would be a Turbo Commander. It's just so reliable. For what it can do and the price you pay to buy it and run it, it just seems to be unbeatable. It's been a fun, fun airplane.”





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Maria Plunket

FIFTEEN YEARS OF TWIN COMMANDER FLYING BREEDS RESPECT

Go ahead, admit it: You don't just like your airplane, as in “I like the car I drive.” No, it goes much deeper than that. You can develop a genuine relationship with an airplane, as in “It is my trusted companion that sees me through good times and bad.” Twin Commanders are like that—familiarity with one breeds respect. Some might even say affection. Just ask Maria Plunket.

Plunket, a professional pilot based in Renton, Washington, has been flying the same 690B Twin Commander for 15 years. “It's a silly thing to say, but it becomes your friend,” she says. “It's reliable, always there for you. It takes you through thick and thin. It does everything you ask from it and more. Sometimes it still surprises me with its dependability and what it can do.

It's rock solid. I can count on it.” Plunket admits to “always bragging” about her trusted companion. “I don't have to worry about a thing,” she says. “It's very simple to fly. Everything in the cockpit is so well thought out. Everything is right where it should be. It makes it so simple. I don't worry about the weather, I don't worry about the wind, I don't worry about moderate ice. It handles all of those things. It handles runway conditions as well. I've taken it into compact snow and ice, and with the combination of braking and reverse thrust I know it's going to be fine.”

Plunket's aviation career began in 1990 when she earned her Instructor's certificate and began teaching at Tacoma Narrows Airport. One of her students bought a 685 Commander, and hired her to fly it. When he sold the Commander, she followed the airplane to its new owner. Meanwhile, the first owner, along with two partners, bought a 690B, and Plunket began flying it as well. Moving from the piston-powered 685 to the 690B turboprop “was an easy transition,” she says. “You just get to go a lot faster.”

In the next few years Plunket added a Shrike Commander, a Lear 24F, and several other Lear models to the stable of airplanes she regularly flew for owners. In 2005 she had her first child, a daughter, and resolved to cut back on multi-day trips and stay closer to home. These days she focuses primarily on Commander flying, including the 690B that she began flying in 1995.

“That airplane has very rarely left the ground without me in 15 years,” she said. “When I had my daughter I took six months off. It was a big deal to find another pilot, and it was very strange to watch it take off with someone else flying it.”

For the first five years she flew it with TPE331-5 power. In 2000 the engines came up for overhaul, and the owners opted to upgrade to Dash 10Ts with Hartzell wide-chord props. The panel also was upgraded with a Garmin 530 and 430 and an Avidyne multifunction display. Although fuel flow increased about 9 percent with the Dash 10Ts, time to climb is considerably faster and cruise speed jumped 13 percent, meaning that on the same trip length you get there faster on less fuel. “We certainly benefit hugely with the Dash 10Ts because of the time that we save,” Plunket says. “We are very happy with them. To be able to fly down to Southern California in 3 hours and 15 minutes, and if winds are right get home in same time frame, is just great.”

Along with flying it, Plunket manages the Commander for the owners. “It's easy to manage, too,” she says. “No secrets or gotchas. Just things to watch out for, like replacing the batteries every couple of years. But it's easy to stay on top of and manage.”

As the owners' businesses and families expand, a larger, longer-range airplane may be in their future, according to Plunket. But she says she would “strongly urge them to keep the Commander” for the shorter flights they do now. “The boss has said many, many times it's such a great business tool. He can fly to a business meeting for a face to face, and get back in time to spend the afternoon at the office.

“Personally, I feel it’s just such a privilege flying the airplane,” she adds. “If I had the wherewithal to buy an airplane it would be a Turbo Commander. It's just so reliable. For what it can do and the price you pay to buy it and run it, it just seems to be unbeatable. It's been a fun, fun airplane.”





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David Tennenbaum

By way of introduction, I have been a pilot for 28 years (multiengine ATP, Commercial privileges ASEL) and my wife Jann holds a Private Pilot certificate. I had a Cessna 172 for about 13 years, and it basically enabled my relationship with Jann (who was working as a photojournalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, while I worked in a similar capacity for AP in Boston). After a brief hiatus, we moved to an A-36 Bonanza, then a 58 Baron. I fly occasionally for work, mostly for personal use, and fly about 150 hours a year. I am the founder and CEO of a software company employing 35, and have a Master’s and Bachelor’s from MIT. Flying has been an important part of our lives together, and learning about aircraft systems, weather, and flying are passions for me.

We took the Baron to Seattle, the Grand Canyon, Tortola in the Caribbean, and did a trip up the west coast of Greenland and over to Iceland that was likely the most fun flying I have ever done. We want to do some long trips (Alaska, Europe) and so started looking to step up about five years ago. As part of that we were involved in the Eclipse debacle, but we were determined not to let that be a defining moment about flying for us, so we went on to look at the usual suspects: Cheyennes, King Airs, Mu-2’s, Citations and CJs.

We did a lot of research and each had issues—parts, low speed, a very demanding wing, REALLY big fuel burns, high purchase expense. I do a pretty thorough research job, and for most of these candidates I got POHs, studied the specs, talked to owners, etc. We were looking for something turbine powered with long range and, preferably, with avionics sufficient for Eurocontrol and Atlantic crossings, so HF was a plus.

REACHING OUT
I reached out to aviation people I respect, and Al Bishop, a Part 135 operator in the Boston area advised me to check out the Commanders. He said that for my mission lengths and the speed, range, and fuel efficiency requirements, there was no finer flying aircraft. He put me in touch with Dr. Mike Alper, also in the Boston area, and Dr. Alper was kind enough to take Jann and I for a flight in his gorgeous Commander 1000. He has also done more than 20 crossings to Europe, and that was just the kind of flying we wanted to do.

What appealed to us? We are both visual people and when we fly to someplace new and interesting, we like to see it from the air. The view from a Commander is just plain superb—no huge engine nacelles to look around. The Honeywell engines are an elegant, reliable design, and in the world of turbines are very efficient and have very long TBOs. Single-engine performance is excellent, as is range with the large tanks available in the 840/980/900/1000 Jetprops. Short-field performance is excellent, too.

Next I touched base with Twin Commander Aircraft, and they were kind enough to send me a stack of back issues of Flight Levels. I also got in touch with Bruce Byerly of Naples Jet Center, and on a trip south in our Baron Jann and I stopped in at Naples and saw a few aircraft. We then attended the 2009 Twin Commander University where we learned a lot, met a bunch of owners, and saw many fine aircraft.

A few months later Bruce advised me that a Boston-based 980 impeccably set up by Mitch Sayare had come on the market, and it had long-range tanks, HF, and excellent maintenance records. After a thorough pre-buy inspection at Naples Jet Center, N218MS was ours. We added a Garmin 330D ES transponder to satisfy Eurocontrol exemption requirements, upgraded the Garmin 530 to a 530W (WAAS certified), and added a 406 mHz ELT.

So far we’ve taken the Commander to a 3000-foot, very narrow strip on the smallest of the Cayman Islands, multiple trips to Canada and Washington, and are planning trips to Jamaica and Europe.

JUST AS WE HOPED
What do we love about it?

It has a great wing. Nice honest handling, crisp responsiveness for such a large aircraft, excellent low-speed handling and high-speed, high-altitude performance. Climb performance is excellent (we usually fly in the high 20s just under RVSM territory). Being able to easily move about the cabin (versus the Baron) is a big plus for Jann, and the back seat is (I’m told) a terrific place to enjoy the flight. Everyone who has had a ride in it loves the aircraft. The view outside is terrific, just as we hoped.

Of course the winds are stronger up high, and that can work for you and against you. On a trip back to Boston from KOPF we saw 421 knots groundspeed; not bad for 500 pph. Standing up the throttles for takeoff is fun, too, as the acceleration pushes you back in the seat.

We love the industrial strength systems, particularly the anti- and deice. The heated baggage compartment is so large it rivals the entire cabin of our original 172. We have been very impressed with the network of Service Centers. Having had “teething issues” work done at the Naples Jet Center, Mid-Continent Airmotive, and Northeast Air in Portland, Maine, we have uniformly run into experienced, knowledgeable individuals with real respect and affection for the aircraft. Similarly, my experience with instructors has been very good, and the Boston area aircraft owners are a great group as well. The Commander community is a real asset for the aircraft.

There have been some surprises. There are a lot of new, more capable and more complex systems than in our Baron. (Part of what I enjoy is learning how engineers solve various needs in the aircraft.) Holding power on landings, and making TINY adjustments to the power when landing were different as well. I’m on the 9th revision of my checklist, and I finally have memorized all 46 overhead switches. There is somewhat more bureaucracy compared to the Baron (the International Registry of Mobile Assets, and Eurocontrol requirements for Mode S Enhanced to name two). And with the more than 52-foot-long wingspan on the 980, a bigger hangar was needed.

So let’s see how the 980 stacks up against a jet. It has much better short field performance, it’s almost as fast, it has much better fuel economy and load, and no bad surprises of any kind. Plus there’s the great, roomy cabin and a great support community. What’s not to like?

We love the plane. It is truly going to be our magic carpet for our next phase of flying.





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Jerry Severson

Many Twin Commander owners volunteer their airplane, time, and piloting skills for humanitarian purposes such as Angel Flight medical transport for deserving patients. Jerry Severson of Bozeman, Montana, has flown such flights in the past, but he rates a recent trip he provided to Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Ryan Bradford and his mother, Debbie, as “the neatest thing I’ve ever done.”

The Bradfords are native Kentuckians and big fans of the University of Kentucky Wildcats, and the flight that Severson made on their behalf was from San Antonio to Lexington, Kentucky, to see a Wildcats basketball game. What made the flight so special was Bradford himself.

On January 18, 2007 Bradford was on patrol with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, near Haditha, Iraq, to clear an area of roadside bombs. He stepped on a hidden improvised incendiary device (IED), which exploded, severing his left leg and so severely injuring his right leg that it later had to be amputated. A piece of shrapnel destroyed his left eye and lodged in his brain, and his right eye suffered retinal damage, leaving him totally blind. He also suffered intestinal damage and a broken right hand.

Three years later he was up in the cockpit of Severson’s 690A, enjoying the ride and even handling the controls.

Bradford’s remarkable story revolves around his refusal to let his injuries rule his life. Instead, after being in a medically induced coma for 3 weeks and then recovering from his injuries for the next 18 months, Bradford has focused on continuing his career with the Marines—he hopes to work with injured soldiers returning from combat—and living a normal life.

For Bradford, who wears prosthetic legs, “normal” means riding personal watercraft, water skiing, rock climbing, surfing, scuba diving, and participating in marathons using a hand cycle. He’s also learned to fly fish, thanks to the Bozeman-based Warriors & Quiet Waters Foundation, Inc. The foundation invites wounded veterans from wars in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan to Montana for a six-day program of fly-fishing and recreation to provide “a respite from the rigors and stresses of war and from the treatment they have endured because of their injuries.”

Bradford was invited to participate in the program in 2009, and became the first blind alumnus.

During his visit his fondness for the Kentucky Wildcats became known, and a WQWF director arranged for Bradford and his mother to attend a game. Severson offered to fly his 690A to San Antonio to pick them up and fly them to Lexington, home of UK, for the game. They would stay the night so the Bradfords could see family and friends in Kentucky, and then Severson would return them to San Antonio the next day. Tom O'Connor, a retired navy captain from Bozeman, and his wife, Celia, accompanied Severson on the flight.

Bradford wanted to fly copilot on the trip to Lexington, which required removing his prosthetic legs to get into the right seat. During the flight he took the controls for a time. “He liked that,” Severson says.

Bradford has a keen sense of humor that his blindness and other injuries have not diminished. Severson saw it firsthand when Bradford said that his serving as copilot “gives new meaning to flying blind.” For the big game, he wore a prosthetic eye on the left side that was emblazoned with the Wildcats logo.

The trip to Lexington went well, as did the game—the Bradfords had excellent seats, Matt wore an ear set to listen to the play-by-lay, mother and son cheered wildly the entire game, and the Wildcats won in a buzzer-beater.

The return trip was into headwinds and deteriorating conditions. “It was crummy weather coming back into San Antonio,” Severson says. “I turned around and told Matt, 'I can't see a thing.' And he said, 'I can't either.'”

“He is a remarkable young man,” Severson says of Bradford. “He doesn't feel sorry for himself at all. He's as positive as can be. I'm very fortunate to be able to fly, and it's great to do something like this.”





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Hank and Yvonne Boni

Garmin g600Hank Boni likes having two motors on his airplane. Not just any two, however. After suffering three engine failures in piston singles and twins, his clear preference is for turboprop power—the Honeywell TPE331-10Ts on his and his wife Yvonne’s 690B Twin Commander. “They just don’t quit,” he says, then adds, “but I know that if one fails, the other will do a pretty good job. The airplane will climb at more than 1,000 fpm on one motor.”

Boni’s first engine-out experience was in his Cessna 182. He had just taken off, and at about 250 feet the engine suffered a catastrophic failure. Boni managed to avoid the hostile terrain and land safely on a road.

The second and third failures were in piston twins. His Piper Seneca lost an engine on takeoff, and Boni says it took him 15 miles to climb to pattern altitude on one engine. The third failure was in his Cessna 340. “It was a nice airplane—until I lost an engine,” he says. That incident ended safely as well, but Boni says he learned something from it. “An underpowered twin is more dangerous than a single.”

Hank & Yvonne BoniA retired general dentist with a successful 35-year practice in Bend, Oregon, Boni met and eventually married Yvonne, whose husband had died some years earlier. She had kept her first husband’s 690B Twin Commander, and was using a contract pilot to fly it. But the airplane was coming up on engine overhauls and needed other expensive upgrades, so she decided to sell it. Boni had the P210 at the time and the couple began using it, and later the 340, to travel between their houses in Bend and Borrego Springs, California.

When she owned the Commander Yvonne was a customer of Aero Air, an authorized Twin Commander service center in Hillsboro, Oregon. Boni remembers arriving on the Aero Air ramp in his P210 and having company President Kevin McCullough look at it and, with a big smile on his face, say, “Hank, what are you thinking?”

“He was a big influence on me,” Boni says. With McCullough’s help the Bonis looked at a variety of upgrade airplanes, from single-engine turboprops to light jets. Eventually they settled on a Twin Commander—the very one she had owned and sold earlier. Nostalgia for the airplane, familiarity with its considerable capabilities, and trust in the reliable Honeywell engines convinced them to buy it back.

Over time and with Aero Air’s help, the Bonis brought their Twin Commander up to contemporary maintenance, reliability, and comfort standards. “Little by little we’ve been replacing everything, doing whatever we need to do,” Boni says.

One of the first items on the list was overhauling the TPE331-10T engines, which turn Hartzell wide-chord propellers. The performance with the Dash 10Ts is remarkable, according to Boni. “It used to take us about five hours to fly from Bend to their house in Borrego Springs, California in the 340, including a fuel stop,” he explains. Now, cruising in the mid-twenties at 307 knots true airspeed, it’s a two-hour-forty-minute nonstop flight for the couple.

The one area of the airplane that remained relatively static was the panel. That changed in a big way earlier this year when they had Aero Air replace the stock panel with one that is almost all electronic, centering on dual Garmin G600 electronic flight and multifunction displays.

The G600 features dual LED screens in identical 10-inch-wide bezels. The Primary Flight Display (PFD) combines information on the aircraft's speed, position, altitude, vertical rate, and flight progress. The adjacent Multifunction Display (MFD) provides a moving map as well as flight plans and navaids, all in full color. The makeover panel also includes dual Garmin GPS navigators and dual Garmin transponders.

Boni says the panel upgrade was driven by lack of reliability in instruments and avionics, including inflight failures of the electromechanical flight director system. He specified a dual installation because he typically flies with John Fjellman, a highly experienced Commander pilot who trained him in the Twin Commander. “I turn 65 in a week,” he says, “and I’m realistic about flying. I used to fly by myself all the time, but having another pilot in the right seat is the safe thing to do when I’m carrying precious cargo—my wife.”

Boni is diligent about staying proficient. “I fly at least once a week,” he says, “but if I miss a week I’ll take a friend and go do some tune-up work. I feel so much safer in this airplane,” he adds. “It’s a tough airplane, and relatively easy to fly as long as you pay attention to things.”

Boni has high praise for the work Aero Air has done on their airplane. “They’ve been wonderful with the quality of their service, their honesty, and their communication,” he says. It’s not finished, either—the Bonis plan to have the Twin Commander painted next year, and the interior refurbished.

Traveling in their Twin Commander is a passion for both he and Yvonne, and they use it extensively, logging 150 to 200 hours a year. Since they’ve had it upgraded it has proven to be “incredibly reliable and cost-effective,” Boni says.

“We have three cars, all of them pretty old, but they have low mileage because we fly all the time,” he says. “We refer to it as our pickup truck because it carries everything—people, bags, dogs. I've gone on hunting trips and we've had as many as four or five dogs in the cabin,” he says. “Even furniture. Weight usually is not a problem.

“The airplane serves our needs perfectly. I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of it.”







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Richard Hansen

NONE CAN DO WHAT IT DOES

TargetWhen Richard Hansen bought a 690C Model 840 Twin Commander for his company, Furnas Electric, in 1988 he had no idea that, 21 years later, he would still be operating the 840, only now as the personal owner.

Hansen originally bought the 840 from Byerly Aviation in Peoria, Illinois, which had taken delivery of it new from the factory and had flown it less than 300 hours as a demonstrator. “I put it to work in the company,” Hansen says. Furnas was a Batavia, Illinois-based manufacturer of electric motor controls that Hansen's grandfather founded in 1940. “We ran engineers and sales people around, taking care of customer issues, calling on customers, and overseeing five other plants.”

The company also operated a Citation II and later a Citation V and employed professional pilots, but Hansen frequently flew the 840 himself with one of the company pilots. When Hansen retired he kept the Twin Commander, and about 10 years ago he upgraded the 840 with TPE-331-10T engines. He's also had it repainted and the interior refurbished at Byerly.

DOING QUITE WELL

TargetAs do all airplane owners, he's looked around at other makes and models, both turboprops and jets, to see how they might make his flying more efficient, but his analysis always arrives at the same conclusion: the Twin Commander does the job quite well, thank you.

“We regularly fly to one difficult airport—Telluride, Colorado,” Hansen says. (The elevation at Telluride is 9,078 feet MSL with higher mountain peaks in all quadrants.) “The 840 is the only airplane I know of that can leave Telluride late in the day when it's hot and the density altitude is high with four passengers and enough fuel to get to Chicago (about 950 nmi) and still climb out at 400 fpm on one engine.”

Hansen says he confirmed the 840's performance while at a recurrent training session at FlightSafety International. “I had them program Aspen Airport into the simulator (elevation 7,820 feet MSL), and asked them to crank up the ambient temperature to 30 degrees Celsius. That made the density altitude about 11,500 feet. We took off at gross weight, and the instructor cut an engine. The first time I climbed out at 500 feet per minute, and 450 feet per minute the second time. On one takeoff I forgot to raise the gear and I was still going uphill at 250 feet per minute. That says everything about the airplane to me.”

But wait, there’s more. “Then, of course, you also get 300 knots in cruise. The Commander is one helluva performer,” Hansen says.

NONE CAN DO WHAT IT DOES

“I looked at lots and lots of airplanes when I was thinking of upgrading,” he continues. “None can do what the Commander can. A jet is faster, but from here (Aurora, Illinois, where he bases the airplane) to Telluride costs more than twice as much in the jet. And we'd have to leave Telluride before the temperature gets up above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.”

TargetA pilot since 1956, Hansen has a Commercial certificate with multiengine, instrument, and seaplane ratings. His 7,000 hours hasn't all been for transportation. He was an active warbird pilot and owner who restored a flew a Curtiss-Wright P-40E Kittyhawk, North American P-51 Mustang, one of two Grumman F4F Wildcats recovered from Lake Michigan, and other vintage aircraft including two Beech Staggerwings, one of which was his first business aircraft. “I flew it many hours on instruments,” he says. “Steam gauges.”

In 1997 he entered the first FIA International Long Range Race with two friends, in the 840. They led until the last leg, which ended in Turkey. Because of handicapping based on flight manuals of the aircraft involved, they lost by three minutes to a team sponsored by the Turkish Aero Club, which hosted the race. A second Atlantic crossing was made several years later with his family. “With the excellent range and turboprop security, everyone felt quite comfortable,” Hansen says.

Hansen also has made a North Atlantic crossing in a Beech 18 that he owned.

These days he uses the 840 to travel to Telluride, Scottsdale, and a home in northern Wisconsin. He always takes another crewmember, a professional pilot on loan from Byerly, a practice he has followed since turning 60. “The passengers are a lot more comfortable when they see two of us up front,” he says.

Although his flying has tapered off, he has no plans to sell the 840. “I’m convinced this is an airplane I will keep forever. There isn’t anything out there for the same money that will do the same thing. A King Air 200 can carry more passengers, but I don’t need that. And it has higher fuel consumption. The Citation V would save me an hour and five minutes from Scottsdale to Aurora, but as a retired person I’m not in that much of a hurry.

“Besides,” he adds, “my wife loves the picture windows and that big baggage compartment.”





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AC EXPRESS, Inc.

WEST VIRGINIA COMMANDER

AC ExpressIt's not easy to make a profitable go of it in aircraft charter, especially in these recessionary times. Along with competitive pricing, efficient management, and strict cost controls, you have to have the right aircraft for the job. Robert “Jake” Wilburn figures he has just that in a pair of hard-working Twin Commanders.

Wilburn owns and operates AC Express Inc., an aircraft charter and management company based in Fairmont, West Virginia. The company owns a 690A and leases a 690B, and manages a Citation CJ2+, Westwind I, and King Air C90B. The charter fleet is comprised of the two Twin Commanders.

Wilburn has been flying for 44 years and managing airplanes “before it became popular.” He founded AC Express in 1988 in Morgantown with an early serial number Citation 500 and a Piper Mojave. The fleet changed and grew with the times. In 2003 one of his management customers decided to set up its own flight department and bought all of Wilburn's aircraft, but not the charter certificate.

“If I had any sense I would have taken the money, bought a little house in Florida, and retired,” Wilburn chuckles. Instead, he took over the small FBO at little 4G7, Fairmont Municipal Airport-Frankman Field, situated between Morgantown and Clarksburg in the northern part of the state. He founded a flight school, bought a Cessna 414, and started all over again with AC Express.

HIGHER, FARTHER, FASTER

AC ExpressAs northern West Virginia and neighboring southwestern Pennsylvania transitioned from a traditional industrial-based economy to one incorporating high technology, Wilburn’s charter business grew and with it the need for more capability. “The client base demanded more performance,” he says. “The leg segments were getting longer, and folks wanted to be able to serve their customer base. We needed to go higher, farther, and faster.”

Wilburn had experience with Twin Commanders. In 1971 he flew the first 681T delivered by the factory. Later, he filled in for a pilot flying a 690B for the owner. In 2004, when he sought to upgrade the AC Express fleet with something more capable than the 414, he concluded that a Twin Commander would best serve those needs “because it does all of that quite well.” His search for a candidate led him to the same 690B he had flown years earlier. The airplane was still in the hands of the original owner and had just over 1000 hours total time since new. Wilburn leased it from the owner and put it on the charter certificate.

Three years later, with business on the increase, he went looking for a second Twin Commander for the charter role and found a 690A undergoing an inspection at Winner Aviation, a factory authorized Twin Commander Service Center located in Vienna, Ohio. Wilburn bought the airplane.

“Twin Commander was the logical choice for us,” Wilburn says. “It has the same cabin volume as a King Air 90 but goes faster on about same fuel. In fact, it has about the same cruise speed as the King Air 200 but on about 35 percent less fuel.

“It’s an excellent airplane,” he continues. “An absolute rocket ship. We fly to a lot of small communities with short strips, basically your 3,500-foot-long by 75-foot-wide runway. With about 1500 pounds of fuel on board it will operate out of just about any airport here in the Appalachians and actually make the numbers. We get a tremendous amount of flexibility out of the airplane.”

WORKING FLIGHTS

Most of the charters are for business purposes, Wilburn says. “These are not golf outings. We’re carrying guys to mines, wells—whatever. They are working flights with relatively short stage lengths and long waiting times for the pilots at these small-town destinations. The pilots may have to sleep in a rental car, but we’re going to get these guys where they want to go.”

AC ExpressAC Express is authorized to fly the Commanders single-pilot on Part 135 flights, but Wilburn prefers two in the cockpit. “My philosophy is that the cheapest insurance policy you can buy is another pilot up there. We do a lot of northeast operations—Philadelphia, Teterboro, Washington-Dulles—and it gets busy. It helps to have another set of eyes. Same for flying into and out of short strips in the mountains.”

Winner Aviation serves as the Director of Maintenance for the AC Express Commanders. The September 2009 issue of Professional Pilot included a report on maintenance and repair operations (MRO) used by business aviation, and AC Express pilot Robert Waldron was complimentary of Winner’s work.

Winner is the “service base of choice” for most of the AC Express fleet, Waldron wrote in a letter that was published as part of the Pro Pilot MRO report. “They are a well-established facility that provides expert diagnostic ability and repairs for our engines…as well as service for our airframes and avionics. They’re outstanding at performing complex installations and they understand how critical it is to get the service done on time. Winner Aviation is superb. I salute the entire staff from those in the front office to the hard workers on the shop floor.”

At their peak the two AC Express Twin Commanders were averaging 35 to 40 hours a month combined flying time, according to Wilburn. As his customers reacted to the downturn in the economy by cutting back on travel, Wilburn’s business suffered. At the beginning of 2009 flying time had plummeted 54 percent compared to a year earlier, but Wilburn has since seen most of his customers return to the air.

“It looks like we’re back up to the flight time and number of trips we did in 2008,” he says. Credit Wilburn’s competitive pricing, efficient management, and sharp pencil, plus a pair of capable, hard-working airplanes.





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Stan & Bob Perkins

SHARING A LOVE OF COMMANDER FLYING

Target Stan Perkins pays what may be the highest possible compliment to his father, Bob. “We’re best friends,” Stan says. One of their common interests is flying—both are pilots, and both have been Twin Commander owners. They often fly together, including to the last three Twin Commander Universities, where they could be seen listening attentively at each seminar presentation.

During the 1970’s, Bob Perkins owned three different Twin Commanders—two 680Es, followed by a 680W Turbo II, the second turboprop-powered model in the Commander historical lineup. When Stan started his flight training, (with his dad as his instructor) it was in his dad’s 680E. In fact, he passed his private pilot check ride in it on his 17th birthday. “All my early experience was in my dad’s 680E,” he explains. “I was so comfortable in that airplane that it made sense.”

Soon thereafter he bought a Cessna 172 to train in for single-engine and instrument ratings and a Commercial certificate. He planned to sell it after his training was finished, but instead, he hung onto it for more than eleven years while attending undergraduate school at the University of California-San Diego, followed by medical school at Harvard, and finally his residency at Stanford University. “I used to put all my laundry in the back seat when I flew home for visits,” he recalls.

TargetNot surprisingly, years later when Stan decided to buy a twin he went for a Twin Commander, a 681 Hawk, the model that bridged the 680W and the 690.

Bob Perkins was a World War II Navy pilot and primary flight instructor, and flew in the reserves after the war. “He got to fly nearly all the service aircraft,” Stan says, including the now rare OS2U Kingfisher, an unusual catapult-launched observation aircraft with a single, large, belly-mounted pontoon and two outrigger stabilizing floats.

Following his military service Bob worked in San Diego for Ryan Aircraft Aeronautical Company as a mechanical engineer. He and a friend later founded their own fiberglass and thermoplastic fabrication company, based in Torrance, California. He owned a Cessna 310 at that time, but was looking to upgrade. “Someone recommended the Commander to him because it was more capable and spacious as compared to the 310 and other light twins,” Stan says.

TargetBob bought a 680E to use in his business, and later sold it for another, better-equipped 680E. (His first 680E now belongs to Jim Metzger, founder and director of the Twin Commander Flight Group.) When the business added a division in Texas and Bob’s travel needs expanded, he sold the second 680E and bought the 680W.

Bob Perkins sold his 680W in 1979. Stan sold his 172 in 1985 and spent the next two decades concentrating on building his anesthesia practice and flying friends’ airplanes. In time he started thinking about buying an airplane the two of them could fly in and enjoy. “Dad and I always used to talk about having a family airplane,” he says.

The brand choice was easy. “Dad said the best overall airplane he ever owned was a Turbo Commander. I decided that as long as he is still living nearby and able to fly and participate, I would get one.”

His budget at the time dictated that it would have to be an older model, and the 681 seemed perfect. “Dad had a 680W, and the 681 is the ultimate expression of the 680W,” Stan explains.

Despite not having flown Twin Commanders for several years, Stan quickly transitioned into the 681. “I always admired the Commander design,” he says. “I had so much multiengine experience that I was used to that level of performance, and I understood the systems. I wasn’t uncomfortable at all moving into the Commander. Flying the 681, even after 24 years of not flying a Commander, was like putting on an old shoe. Everything was right where I thought it would be, and it flew just as I expected.”

To date Stan has logged almost 4,000 hours, of which about 2,600 are in multiengine airplanes including 2,200 in Twin Commanders. At age 91 Bob still has a current FAA medical certificate, and, with a big smile on his face, still takes the controls of the 681 on occasion.

“I like to take Dad on trips with me,” says Stan. When he bought the 681 in Dayton, Ohio, he and Bob flew it back to California together. “We’re always doing something with it,” Bob says. “There’s always some great plan,” Stan adds.



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Bill Johnson

ONE MORE REASON TO LIKE A COMMANDER: IT’S DOG-FRIENDLY

TargetBill Johnson bought his 690C model 840 for reasons that any Twin Commander owner will recognize. The first is performance, and because he lives in Aspen, single-engine performance is as important to him as the impressive numbers for two-engine climb and cruise. Then there’s the ability to get in and out of short fields; confidence-inspiring handling; and great visibility for pilot, passengers, and canines, too.

That last attribute means something, because a Golden Retriever has been Johnson’s constant passenger and sometimes copilot.

He had his first Golden Retriever when he had his first airplane, an A36 Bonanza. “He loved flying. He would be up on the wing of the airplane before me, waiting to get in the cabin,” Johnson says.

target“The Bonanza was a great airplane, but coming in and out of Aspen and the type of flying we were doing, I decided I needed a twin,” Johnson says. He looked at piston twins and quickly concluded that, except for the Aerostar (like the Twin Commander, a Ted Smith design), single-engine climb performance in a piston twin departing 7,820-foot-high Aspen in the summer is a contradiction in terms.

He shifted his gaze to turboprops, and eventually narrowed his search to Twin Commanders. A demonstration flight in a Dash 5-powered 690A sold him. “It was the end of August,” Johnson remembers. “I had never flown a turboprop, and it felt great. But after one takeoff I remarked to the demo pilot that we were only climbing at about 950 fpm. Before that we were getting about 2,500 fpm in the climb. What’s wrong? He said that while I was looking around the panel, he pulled the power back on one engine and trimmed out the yaw. ‘You’re flying on one engine,’ he told me. That’s when I decided on the Commander.”

Early in 2000 he bought an 840 with Dash 10T engines and had it renovated from nosecone to tailcone “with just about everything new, the best avionics package you could put together,” plus Hartzell wide-chord props. “It’s an awesome airplane,” he says. “Very fast. I can always count on cruising at over 300 knots— 305 to 312. Other 840 owners have flown it and remarked how fast it is. And it sips fuel compared to other aircraft”

Johnson flew with several experienced Commander pilots to get comfortable in the 840, and on one trip to California they landed on a friend’s 1,900-foot-long strip. “We touched down on the end of the runway, hit the brakes, and went to full reverse. I could not believe how quickly we stopped. We still had most of the runway to taxi down to get to parking.”

Once he began flying the 840 solo, Johnson’s constant flying companion was his second Golden Retriever, Target, who had enjoyed notoriety as the cover model on boxes of Ken-L-Ration dog food. To protect Target’s hearing, Johnson had a special Snoopy-style cloth flying helmet modified to hold a Bose noise-canceling headset in place.

“Target was enthusiastic about flying,” Johnson says, “but he didn’t much like the helmet I made him wear. I think he was afraid another dog would see him in it.”

A few years ago Johnson met and began dating Debbie Norden, and the Commander played a role in their eventual marriage. “We had arranged to meet in New Orleans, spend a few days there, then fly home in the Commander,” Johnson says. “Coming home—her first time in the plane with me—we took off and were climbing through about 19,000 feet when I heard an air noise. I thought the nose gear had partially extended, and sure enough I saw that I was losing hydraulic pressure. I told Debbie we had a hydraulic failure, needed to do an emergency procedure to put the gear down, and may or may not have brakes and flaps. We could either land at Baton Rouge or go back to New Orleans. She looked at me calmly and without hesitating said, ‘I really liked that restaurant we went to in New Orleans last night. How about eating there again tonight?’ That was when I knew she was the woman for me.”

They married in December 2006, and the three of them—Bill, Debbie, and Target—began flying together in the 840. Johnson fabricated a harness that kept Target secured to restraining belts, yet allowed him to lie down in the aisle just behind the crew seats.

Johnson says he deliberately changed his lifestyle from that of a workaday corporate executive—he was Chairman and CEO of Scientific Atlanta, a Fortune 500 company and before that ran his own consulting firm specializing in corporate turnarounds—to living in Aspen and enjoying the natural world. Both he and his wife love outdoor sports—skiing, snow shoeing, hiking—and many of their Commander trips are in pursuit of that love as well as for a variety of business and non-profit activities, including occasional help to managements dealing with challenging situations.

He has the 840 maintained both at Legacy Aviation Services near Oklahoma City and by Executive Aircraft Maintenance in Scottsdale, which is near a second home in Sedona. He’s also used Western Jet Aviation in Los Angeles. Having lost engines twice in T-34s many years ago, he is admittedly demanding on maintenance, and says of the service centers he done business with, “they’ve all given me terrific support.”

Tragically, Target was involved in a freak accident earlier this year and lost his life. It was a traumatic event for Johnson, his wife, and Johnson’s young granddaughter, Sydney, who often travels with them. They created a photo collage “celebrating Target’s life, and life with Target,” and sent it to friends.

“Target was 13 and in great health when he died,” Johnson says. “We were getting ready to go snow shoeing when it happened. He had a great life.”

The breeder who provided Johnson with Target gave them another Retriever for a few months to help ease the loss. “He loved looking out the windows of the Commander,” Johnson says. That dog has since gone back to its owner, and Johnson looks forward to bringing another Golden Retriever into the family, this time as a permanent member of the clan, and crew.







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Will M.

CROSS THE ATLANTIC FOR SERVICE? NO BIG DEAL

willmFor most of us, flying the Atlantic in our own airplane is a dream trip, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. For Will M.. (he prefers to remain anonymous), who lives in the United Kingdom and flies an 840 Twin Commander, ocean crossings are no big deal. His first was eastbound—from the U.S. to the U.K.--in 2002 when he bought his first Twin Commander, a 690A, in the United States. The second was in 2005, also eastbound, when he bought his second Twin Commander, an 840 JetProp, also in the U.S. Now he's done it a third time—a round-trip—because he wanted to have the 840 painted and serviced at Byerly Aviation in Peoria, Illinois.

Why fly more than 7,000 nmi back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean just to get some work done on your airplane?

The “work” included repainting the aircraft, taking care of some outstanding service bulletins, replacing the deice boots, and completing a 150-hour inspection. That project list couldn't have been completed in the U.K. at just one shop, according to Will, which meant he would have had to use several facilities resulting in extended downtime.

willmThe solution: Make the trans-Atlantic trip to an authorized Twin Commander service center in the U.S. capable of doing it all. He chose Byerly, a full-capability Twin Commander service center with a reputation for excellent paint and interior work. “A one-stop shop,” Will says.

The flight from his home field, North Weald Airport just north of London, to Peoria was, in fact, an incentive for Will to use a U.S.-based service center. “I quite enjoy flying,” he said from his home in England. “Flying a turboprop makes the Atlantic crossing easy. I know it sounds like a long flight, but I made it over there in a day and a half. I told Byerly we would be there by 8, and we landed at 7:30.”

The westbound flight to deliver the aircraft to Byerly was conducted in early March in strong headwinds, and took about 16 hours. The longest leg, about 1150 nmi from Frobisher Bay to Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, Canada, took 4 hours 52 minutes.

Will uses his 840 in his residential construction business and to travel with family to skiing and beach holidays throughout Europe. “I can be somewhere at 8 a.m. and be back home in the afternoon,” he says. “I use it for 30-minute flights as well, because traffic here is horrendous. That 30-minute flight would take four hours to drive.”

His first airplane was a Socata TB-20 Trinidad piston single. Next came a turbocharged, pressurized Baron 58P, which he flew for six years. Turbine performance and reliability and Commander ruggedness led him to the 690A.

“Commanders are made to airline standards,” he says. “You can get 150 hours between checks. With the Baron it was 50 hours before I'd get a snag. Turbines can be expensive if they go wrong, but they rarely go wrong.”

He moved up from the Dash 10T-powered 690A to the 840 because “it's a newer aircraft, with newer systems and a wet wing. It's been very economical to own and run.” He logs about 175 hours annually in the 840, and says the airplane has a 100-percent dispatch rate.

Will returned to Byerly in late May to retrieve the finished 840. “I must say how very pleased I am with the aircraft's painting and maintenance,” he told Byerly. “The painting and detail on the finishing is the best I have seen. Please pass on a big thank you to Gerry and the guys and Kerry in maintenance. Your service was very professional and efficient.”

The trip back to England took just over 13 hours and three stops, including the final landing at North Weald.

Reached at his home in England, Will says that taking the airplane to Byerly was the right choice. “Honestly, it's the best thing I've done,” he declares. “Byerly does what they say.”







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AERO LIPEZ

noaaWHEN IT’S HOT AND VERY HIGH, TAKE THE TWIN COMMANDER

Some say that flying is all about the takeoffs and landings. What happens in between those events is the easy part. Eldo Todesco would agree.

Todesco flies a TPE331-10T-powered 690A Twin Commander for Aero Lipez, a Bolivian-based commercial operator that provides air transportation services for mining companies. Aero Lipez’s milk run—Todesco and copilot Luis Osorio make the trip almost daily—is from the company’s base in La Paz to a mine in the Potosi district in extreme southwestern Bolivia.

It’s just a 1-hour 5-minute flight, but the interesting part is the takeoff. The elevation at La Paz’s El Alto International Airport is 4,061 meters or 13,325 feet MSL, making it one of the highest commercial airports in the world. (Qamdo Bangda in Tibet is the highest at 4,334 meters/14,219 ft.)

Departing El Alto’s 13,123-foot-long runway is just the first flight planning challenge for Todesco. Next up is the landing. The destination airport is a gravel strip located at a large lead, zinc, and silver mine in San Cristobal, just south of the largest salt lake in the world. The mining strip measures 2,600 meters by 20 meters/8,530 feet by 20 meters/65 feet and sits at an elevation of 3,754 meters/12,316 feet MSL.

Operating out of extremely high-elevation airports, one of which is unimproved, is a prime reason Aero Lipez has operated a Twin Commander since 2004, according to Todesco, who also serves as operations manager for the company. “The Dash 10T-powered Commander is the airplane that can do the job at that altitude,” he says.

Todesco uses special charts supplied by Twin Commander that provide takeoff performance up to 14,000 feet. “The great advantage is the charts were designed for Dash-5 powered airplanes, and the Dash 10T engines deliver more power producing better performance,” he says.

Given the altitudes and latitudes of La Paz and the mining strip, Todesco and the three other pilots who fly the Twin Commander for Aero Lipez have to deal with ambient temperatures ranging from –8 degrees C in winter to 21 degrees C in summer. Weather ranges from windy and cold in the winter to summer thunderstorms.

Even on the hottest summer day, maximum takeoff distance at the two airports is about 1900 meters/6,234 feet, or 700 meters/2,300 feet less than the runway length at the gravel strip. Normally the Aero Lipez Twin Commander has five passengers and two pilots aboard, but on hot days takeoffs are limited to four passengers and 2 hours 15 minutes fuel. “We follow the charts and IFR rules and there are no problems,” Todesco says. “We never get to those limits.”

The Twin Commander is the only airplane authorized to operate out of the mining strip at night in the event of an emergency. The mining company also takes advantage of the Twin Commander’s ground visibility from the passenger cabin to fly geologists who scout the landscape for mineral deposits and potential new mine sites.

Aero Lipez also operates between La Paz and airports in Peru, Argentina, and Chile.

The company has in-house maintenance capability, but also has a long-standing relationship with Legacy Aviation Services in Yukon, Oklahoma. Legacy technicians have flown to La Paz to do specialized maintenance on the Aero Lipez Twin Commander, including converting it to Woodward Fuel Control Units. Late in 2008 Todesco and another pilot, plus a company mechanic, made the five-leg, 15-hour flight from La Paz to Legacy to have several major service bulletins, airworthiness directives, and inspections performed on the airframe, hot section inspections on the engines, and avionics upgrades in the cockpit. Legacy also installed the new Fuel Quantity indicating system, painted the airplane, and installed a complete new interior.

“We have full confidence that Legacy is delivering,” Todesco said after test-flying the finished airplane before returning to La Paz. “We’ve been here twice to check on the airplane. It is on schedule—no delays. The airplane is working well.”

Why Legacy? “They are always available,” Todesco says. “We can reach them whenever we want—Saturdays, Sundays, holidays. They have very well trained, very good technicians, and they always have good solutions. We have not had one problem. They have great support.”

Todesco appreciates the fact that Legacy doesn’t automatically replace a problem part with a new one. With cost in mind, “They suggest options,” he said. When a new part is warranted, he likes that Twin Commander Aircraft provides it through Legacy. “When you buy parts for an airplane, you want to know where the part comes from,” he explains. “Having guaranteed parts is very important. The most important thing for this company is safety. Safety, security, and then cost.”

When the president of the mining company’s parent firm is in Bolivia to inspect the mine, the Twin Commander “is the airplane he uses,” Todesco says. “The high-level executives fly on it. They trust that Commander.”





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NOAA

noaaTwin Commanders are at their best when flying high and fast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has long known that they also do a pretty fair job of flying low and slow.

NOAA has been operating two 500S Shrike Commanders for about 30 years, and in 2005 replaced a 690A with a 695A Model 1000 JetProp. The primary mission for the Twin Commanders is airborne snow surveying, which involves flying low and slow to electronically measure snow water equivalent (the depth of water that would cover the ground if the snow cover was in a liquid state). The data is used to predict stream flow and potential flooding when the snow melts in the spring. NOAA has been doing airborne snow surveys since 1978.

“The high wing is one reason we’ve had Commanders from start,” explains LCDR David Demers, chief of the agency’s airborne snow survey program and one of several NOAA pilots who fly the missions. In addition to great visibility, the Commanders have “really good slow-flight characteristics,” Demers says. “We get up in a lot of valleys, and we never know if we might have to turn around.” The ability to maneuver the Commanders at slow speeds gives pilots the confidence they need to do the job.

noaaFrom November through May each year NOAA conducts airborne snow surveys in 31 states and seven Canadian provinces subject to significant snowfall, including remote mountainous regions where the Commander’s attributes really shine. A typical mission in the Rocky Mountains or Alaska may start out in a high valley anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 feet MSL and proceed down slope to either the snow line or to a predetermined end point.

LOWER AND SLOWER

The airplane is flown at about 500 feet AGL and from 100 to 130 knots ground speed. (Pilots have to disable the Terrain Awareness and Warning System when flying snow survey missions.) Even lower and slower would be better for the electronic instrumentation that “reads” the snow pack, but safety dictates a more conservative flight profile.

NOAA pilots follow some 2,000 designated “flight lines” on their snow surveys, with each flight line typically 10 miles long and 1,000 feet wide.

Loss of power when operating close to the ground at low indicated airspeeds and often with flaps partially extended is an obvious concern for NOAA pilots, but it is less of a concern in the Commander. “The 695A with Dash 10 engines certainly doesn’t lack for power,” Demers says. “Even on one engine it is no problem. If something were to go wrong, just put the power in and get away from the ground.”

The depth of snow pack can be measured easily enough, but snow can be heavy and wet or light and fluffy so depth is not a good indicator of how much water will be released when the snow melts. Knowing the water equivalent of snow pack is important, especially out west where snowmelt accounts for 80 percent of the water supply. It’s also critical information for anticipating flood areas.

The water equivalent of snow pack is measured using gamma detectors composed of sodium iodide crystals. Five crystals, each weighing 50 pounds, are carried aboard the Commander in detector packs. “Four of the crystals look down and one looks up,” Demers explains. “Natural terrestrial radiation given off by earth comes up and hits the sodium iodide crystals.” The crystals convert the radiation to an electric signal. The result is a Geiger counter-like measurement of radiation.

SNOW-NO SNOW

noaaBy comparing the attenuated radiation measurements from snow-covered terrain with benchmark measurements of the terrain with no snow cover (gathered in September and October each year), scientists can determine the extent of the water in the snow pack with accuracy of about one centimeter. That information is used by the National Weather Service to predict stream flow and potential flooding.

The gamma detectors can measure up to about 39 inches of water equivalent in snow pack. “That’s a lot of snow!” Demers says.

NOAA’s snow survey program is based at the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center in Chanhassen, Minnesota, near Minneapolis-St. Paul. The 695A and one of the Shrikes is based at Flying Cloud Airport in St. Paul. The second Shrike is based at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.

The Tampa-based Shrike had been assigned to photogrammetry work in support of FAA aeronautical charting activities, but today it is used for marine mammal surveys and as a backup for airborne snow survey work.

Eagle Creek Aviation in Indianapolis refurbished the 695A for NOAA when the agency acquired it from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and Eagle Creek continues to maintain it for NOAA.

Demers cites one more reason why the Commanders are ideally suited to the snow survey mission. “Just try to get 450 pounds of gear up a flight of stairs,” he says. “The Commanders make sense on a lot of levels.”







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ROB BARNETT

One feature in particular makes the Twin Commander a superb platform for aerial observation missions—visibility. A high wing and engines and propellers that are positioned well aft of the cockpit and, on all but 695 models, sweeping panoramic windows on each side of the passenger cabin afford unparalleled views below and around the airplane. Visibility is the Twin Commander’s trump card when it comes to observation duty. But if the job calls for the use of belly-mounted cameras and sensors, all airplanes would seem to be created equal. If that’s the case, why does Rob Barnett chose to fly Twin Commanders for data-gathering missions?

barnett1 “The Commander makes a great airplane for survey work, no doubt about it,” says Barnett, co-owner of Centerline Aerospace. Centerline operates a 690A and a 500 piston twin, and is buying a straight 690. All are dedicated exclusively to collecting data using a variety of electronic sensors and conventional cameras.

“We’ve looked at others—the Piper Chieftain and Cheyenne, and Beech King Air, for example—but the Commander’s power-to-weight ratio, payload, speed, stability, and efficiency are the best. It’s a fantastic airplane, really. In heavy turbulence the ride is much better than in a low-wing airplane. It doesn’t yaw as much, or oscillate. It’s great for hauling equipment, too—you don’t have to walk around the wing all the time to load and unload, you just go under it. The wing makes for a good umbrella in the rain, too. When you live in an airplane you’re kinda particular which one it is.”

Centerline is contracted by various companies, governments, and agencies around the world, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for a wide variety of survey missions. They range from mapping the sea floor and adjacent beach grade, and measuring the moisture content of soil, to photographing all of downtown London to identify potential cell phone tower sites.

The specific equipment used for a mission depends on the data being gathered. For example, to map the sea floor and adjacent beach, the 690A carried a blue-green laser that penetrates the surface of the sea, and also a more conventional invisible infrared laser to scan the beach area.

barnett2 The mapping was done at an altitude of 1200 to 1400 feet above the surface, cruising at 155 knots groundspeed. Those low, often-turbulent altitudes are where the Twin Commander really shows its ride and visibility advantages, according to Barnett. “When you are down low and maneuvering a lot, you really need a good view,” he says.

Barnett, who is both a pilot and mechanic, typically operates with an observer, although on occasion a third and even fourth person will be aboard for training or observation. The observer establishes a grid pattern for the pilot to follow. The 690A is flown with the autopilot engaged, although it is not slaved to the GPS grid pattern. As the airplane rolls into a turn, the expensive gyro-stabilized sensors also roll to maintain a level perspective.

The sensors are controlled by a highly sophisticated inertial reference system that is capable of maintaining vertical accuracy of 2 cm, according to Barnett.

The 500 does not have an autopilot, so missions are hand-flown. On data-gathering runs turns are made with minimum roll by skidding. “Once you get used to it you don’t have to skid much because you’re already using a wind-correction angle,” Barnett explains.

The 500 is equipped with a passive microwave radiometer that can “see” 30 feet below the surface to map soil moisture. The device is used to, among other things, look for leaks in pipelines and levies.

The airplane also has a Midas Pictometer system that uses five cameras—one pointing down and the other four pointing out into quadrants. The effect is to reduce the “leaning” look to outlying buildings that results from the use of conventional cameras that only look straight down.

Centerline’s Commanders are flying in excess of 400 hours a year, and that is expected to go to 700 hours or more when the 690 is brought on line. One of the airplanes will be assigned primarily to NOAA and the Corps of Engineers, according to Barnett. Other jobs will take them to Australia, Southeast Asia, France, Spain, and Portugal.

It’s a nomadic existence, but Barnett, who lives in England, flies for two weeks and then has four weeks of ground-based duties and time off. A second pilot flies for four weeks, followed by two weeks off.

Given Centerline’s far-ranging destinations and intensive schedule, maintenance is a key issue. Barnett uses Legacy Aviation west of Oklahoma City for parts and for inspections and maintenance on the 690A. “The mechanics do a good job, and they give us fair deal on parts,” he says. “We can call them day or night for parts and know they’ll be shipped out. There’s a lot of trust there. They get a gold star.”





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JIM SCHWERTNER

schwertnerIn business, when you find something that works, you stick with it. Jim Schwertner has stuck with the cattle trading business his father, Eugene Schwertner, founded in 1946, and today the Schwertner, Texas-based company is one of the largest livestock dealers in the nation.

Schwertner also has stuck with one of the tools that has helped him grow his cattle business—a Grand Renaissance Twin Commander.

Ten years ago Schwertner was looking to buy a new airplane. He surveyed the options and came to the conclusion that a Grand Renaissance Twin Commander was faster, more economical, and less expensive than the factory-new competition. “I felt like I was getting a new airplane,” he says.

After 1300 hours of flying it, he’s convinced it’s still the right choice today. “The reason I’ve kept it is because it’s such a good tool for me. A lot of the places I go are in rural areas with 3000- to 4000-foot strips, and no air carrier service within 300 or 400 miles. The Commander is almost as fast as Citations and other light jets, and burns a lot less gas. For what I do it’s perfect.”

“This airplane was built right,” Schwertner says, “and the Dash 10T engines are very reliable.” The airplane is maintained by Legacy Aviation at Clarence E. Page Municipal west of Oklahoma City. “They do an excellent job. They know the airplane. Some of the guys who work there built it. And I appreciate that the factory [Twin Commander Aircraft LLC] is supporting the Commander line.”

Schwertner is sticking with his Grand Renaissance. “I plan on keeping it awhile,” he says. “Every time I look at the alternatives, it still looks like the best.”



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GENE GOOD

gene good Gene Good has been flying Twin Commanders for two decades in support of Golden Giant, his Kenton, Ohio-based metal-building manufacturing and erecting company. He has logged more than 4,000 hours in the two he has owned. “The aircraft is a major tool in my business,” he says. “They have helped build the business, no question about it.”

In 2000 he traded his Dash 10T-powered 690B for an Eagle Creek Aviation Services-built Grand Renaissance 1000. Five years later he had Eagle Creek install Meggitt EFIS and electronic engine instrumentation displays along with a Meggitt 2100 Digital Flight Control System, and certify the Grand Renaissance for RVSM operations above FL290.

“I probably average on the north side of two-hour legs on my flights, although some go three-and-a-half hours or more,” Good explains. “I regularly see 300 knots true airspeed and 76 gallons per hour block-to-block fuel consumption.”

His business flights often range to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where he sells and erects dry-rack boat-storage buildings. He also owns a home in Ft. Myers, Florida, that he and his wife travel to often. There was a time when Good felt a need for more speed on those longer flights. He thought seriously about buying a Cessna Citation, and worked the numbers. He calculated that the 1,000-nautical-mile flight to Ft. Myers would take 30 minutes less time to fly in a jet compared to his Twin Commander, but at more than twice the total fuel consumption. These days, that could be $3,000 to $4,000 more round-trip. Good concluded that the economic pain of flying a jet—more fuel, higher insurance premiums, and training for a type rating—would far outweigh the relatively modest gain in speed. “It makes no sense to consider another type of airplane just to gain a half-hour in time for that kind of increase in operating costs,” Good reasons.

After eight years of flying the Grand Renaissance, Good says his opinion of it hasn’t changed since the day he bought it. “I’m real satisfied with the airplane,” he says. There have been no major maintenance issues, and Good says he has never had any engine problems whatsoever. “Being a business owner, the aircraft is used 95 percent for business, and it is money well spent,” he says.

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BRETT FULLER

fullerBrett Fuller flies a Dash 10T-powered 690B Twin Commander for Monte Cluck, whom Fuller calls “a savvy owner.” Why? Cluck grew up around airplanes—it was his father’s hobby, and Cluck learned to fly as well. When Cluck, a fifth-generation Texas cattle rancher and feed yard owner and operator, went looking for an airplane for the business, he put a sharp pencil to the decision and chose one that best fit the mission.

“I looked at price, speed, versatility, and safety,” Cluck says. “Nothing came back to us like the Commander did.” Cluck got some support in his decision-making from friend and fellow cattle rancher Jim Schwertner, who has been operating a Grand Renaissance Twin Commander for a decade. “He had nothing but praise for the Twin Commander,” Cluck says.

“We fly from the Texas hill country to the Texas panhandle, where the feed yard and farms are located,” Fuller explains. “The Twin Commander is perfect for that mission. It has the speed and the fuel burn you can’t beat.”

It also has the view, according to Cluck. “When we’re flying and I’m sitting back there and looking out those windows, I can almost see three days ahead of time, especially over flat west Texas,” he says. “Those big windows are fabulous!”

Fuller says the Commander is “by far the most fuel-efficient” turbine-powered airplane he has flown. “Those two Dash 10Ts burn 600 pounds total the first hour, and 500 pounds every hour after. And that’s at 290 to 300 knots true airspeed. Compare that to a King Air C90 or 200, which are slower and use more fuel.”

The airplane recently went to Legacy Aviation Services in Yukon, Oklahoma, for hot-section inspections and new Hartzell wide-chord props. “Before the hot sections and blades I was averaging 285 knots true airspeed at FL250, burning 78 gph,” Fuller says. “I would pencil in 80 gph, but it was really 78. Since the work we’ve gained about 5 to 7 knots at the same altitude and the same fuel burn. Those wide-chord blades deliver much better performance on takeoff and climb.

“Any Dash 10 conversion should go hand in hand with wide chords,” he adds. “It’s the bite those props get. The takeoff roll gets up to speed a lot quicker, liftoff comes quicker, and our climb rate has almost doubled up to 10,000 feet. Our first trip with the new blades was to Colorado Springs. It was a hot and high takeoff, but the wide-chords didn’t even think about it. We got off the ground clean and climbed well.”

Legacy also refurbished Cluck’s Twin Commander with new paint and interior, and upgraded the panel with a Garmin GNS430 with WAAS capability. The airplane is based in Kerrville, which has a published WAAS LPV approach, and “there were a handful of times I needed it,” Fuller says.

“Legacy has been outstanding,” Cluck says. “They care about what they do, the people are dedicated, and when you call you get a response. They have been wonderful for us.

“We’re really really proud of our Twin Commander,” he adds. “For the money, the speed, and the cost of operation, of the four airplanes we considered—the King Air, Cheyenne, Conquest, and Commander, the Commander is the one to own. Of those four airplanes, we have the best one. It’s the fastest airplane we’ve ever operated, and we think it has been a good investment.”



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TOM FRASCA

You’d think Tom Frasca would be scratching his head with indecision every time he goes to the airport. After all, he has his choice of 32 or 33—he’s not sure of the exact count—different aircraft to fly. They range from a tiny, single-seat Aeronca C3 and open-air Breezy, to a high-flying Twin Commander 690B and a Westwind jet. The decision of which one to fly gets a lot easier if he’s going on a trip of any significant length, and especially if there will be weather anywhere along the way.

“The two best airplanes, the ones we love dearly for this type of work, are the Turbo Commander and the Westwind,” he says. “Both are very easy for passengers to get in and out of, they have tremendous range, and nice cabins.”

frasca Tom is vice president of Frasca Air Services, a division of the Urbana, Illinois, company founded and still run by his father, Rudy, that is celebrating a half-century of manufacturing flight training equipment for airlines, flight schools, and military organizations worldwide. The Frascas are a flying family, and their extensive collection of aircraft reflects their wide-ranging passion for aviation. That Aeronca C3—it’s the one Rudy Frasca flew in high school 60 years ago. They also still own the Luscombe that was the company’s first corporate aircraft, and the Cessna 170 that all of Frasca’s sons learned to fly in.

They also love warbirds, and own and fly 10 including a Fairchild PT-23 that used to belong to EAA founder Paul Poberezny, and a Grumman Wildcat that has been in the family since 1968. The warbirds—in fact, their entire collection—is based at Frasca Field (C16) in Urbana. Tom manages the airport, and is the designated business pilot for Frasca International.

As such, he has been in the left seat for nearly every one of the approximately 3,000 hours that have been logged in the Twin Commander since the Frascas bought it in 1990. “Yea, we’re kinda new in the airplane,” he chuckles. “I think we’re going on 18 years now. I’ve got engine start figured out. Now if I can just learn to taxi it!” Then he comes clean. “Actually, I know where all the switches are. It fits me like an old shoe.”

frasca2The Commander offers Frasca good flexibility for short trips and long to visit universities with aviation programs, aircraft manufacturers, professional flight training providers, and aircraft operators with in-house training needs. “It does everything we need it to do, says Tom. “We use it for anything from a short trip to Chicago, to Key West in the spring. We’ve been to the west coast several times, including Seattle. We’ve done Vegas a million times, Daytona, Orlando, and up and down the east coast—wherever business calls. Every airport is a potential customer for us.”

The Commander is the company’s workhorse. It has been updated with a capable new avionics package and the main gear doors have been removed, but otherwise it is in standard trim with standard TPE331-5 power. It’s also fast—Tom routinely sees true airspeeds of about 270 knots at his typical cruising altitudes from Flight Levels 210 to 240.

The Frascas bought the Commander through Byerly Aviation, and continues to use Byerly for 150-hour inspections and maintenance. All service bulletins have been performed except for SB 237 calling for upper wing skin and strap inspection. That will be done at the end of the year, Tom says.

He has come to expect good service from Byerly and Twin Commander Aircraft—“they take care of us,” he says—and trouble-free performance from the Commander. “It starts and runs every time. It works for me. I plan to have it another 18 years.”



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DOMINGO MINUTTI

Domingo Minutti was born and raised in Mexico, but his name is an obvious clue to his heritage. “I’m a fourth-generation Mexican with Italian ancestry,” Minutti explains, and to further make the point he notes that his middle name is Stefanoni. That multi-cultural bloodline explains Minutti’s business—he owns The Italian Coffee Company, a franchiser of premium retail coffee shops.

Founded in 1996 in Puebla, The Italian Coffee Company (www.italiancoffee.com) has grown to some 400 locations throughout the country.

Minutti makes the rounds to visit retail stores in a 690B Twin Commander. It’s the third Twin Commander he has owned in just six years. His first Commander, which also was his first airplane, was a 690A bought in 2002. It opened up a new world of mobility and convenience for Minutti, and that got him thinking about a jet. He moved on to a Cessna Citation 500, but soon came to rue the operating cost of the Citation compared to the Commander.

“Our normal trip is about 200 to 300 miles,” Minutti explains. “The Citation was not right for that. The fuel cost was too great. A Commander uses half the fuel of the Citation.”

Minutti has a house in San Antonio that he travels to once a month, and his partner has a residence in Houston. Those are convenient to Legacy Aviation Services, Inc., a Twin Commander factory-authorized service center located at C.E. Page Airport in Yukon, Oklahoma, west of Oklahoma City. Minutti went to Legacy’s Raul Gomez, who had sold him his first Commander, and traded the Citation on a Dash 10T-powered 690B.

“He was very happy with the airplane,” says Gomez, but when the Meggitt MAGIC panel upgrade started to appear on Twin Commanders, Minutti had to have it. He returned to Legacy and bought his third Commander, a pristine 690B with Dash 10T engines; Hartzell Wide-Chord propellers; Meggitt EFIS, electronic engine and instrumentation display, and 2100 Digital Flight Control System; dual Garmin GPS systems; and other must-have goodies.

“It’s a beautiful airplane” Gomez says, and Minutti agrees. “I’m very happy with this airplane,” he says.

They base the Commander at a private strip in Atlixco south of Puebla. The 4,400-foot-long runway sits at 6,000 feet MSL and, according to Minutti, the Commander is the only airplane they considered that can depart from the strip at max takeoff weight.

Minutti employs a professional pilot for the Commander, but he has his pilot’s certificate and has logged about 400 hours flying right seat in both the Citation and the Commanders. That hands-on perspective played prominently in his decision to return to a Twin Commander. The power and handling qualities inspire confidence in a pilot, according to Minutti. “A Commander is a Commander,” he says.



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GREG FARBOLIN

Greg Farbolin is a member of the family that founded the HoneyBaked Ham chain of retail stores. He was with the company for more than 20 years, working on special projects ranging from opening a new processing plant and developing groundbreaking point-of-sale software, to scouting out locations for new retail stores. That last task involved using the company airplane, both logistically and strategically.

“I would fly to a city, say Memphis, then fly around VFR to find houses with swimming pools,” he says. Swimming pools meant it was a good place to start looking at opening a HoneyBaked Ham store.



Today Farbolin is a shareholder in one of the company’s divisions, which has about 260 stores in 16 states. He lives at Spruce Creek near Daytona, Florida, in a spectacular hangar home built by veteran Nascar racer Mark Martin. Farbolin says he spends his time at Spruce Creek “trying to do as little as possible, but I’m not very good at it.” Among other activities he operates several holding companies and an office complex at Spruce Creek. He bought it because the airport’s Downwind Café, which is in the complex, was about to lose its lease and close. Farbolin acquired the building, resuscitated the café, and then turned it over to the operator.

THE AFFORDABLE COMMANDER

While at HoneyBaked Ham Farbolin flew company aircraft ranging from piston singles to Citations. (He also flew for Eastern Airlines for a time.) He’s also owned a variety of aircraft, and one of his favorites was an Aerostar 601P. “I loved flying it,” he says. “I bought it for $150,000, and spent $75,000 in maintenance the first year. I thought it would then settle down, but the second year I spent $75,000 on maintenance. I bought the Commander because I couldn’t afford the Aereostar!”

Why a Commander? Farbolin is an acknowledged performance junkie—“I like getting from here to there as quick as I can,” he says.” The Aerostar satisfied that craving, and Farbolin saw much the same in the Commander. “Once you fly an Aerostar, and you kinda like what Ted Smith does, his mission, well, the Commander is another one of his birds.”

It’s the first turboprop he has owned. “The Commander, especially with Dash 10s, may have props, but it’s basically the same thing as a jet. It’s quite the rocketship,” he says appreciatively. “And it’s an airplane that’s hard to get up to gross weight, especially if you have a 90-pound wife like I do.”

Farbolin is on his second Twin Commander. His first was a 690A with standard TPE331-5 engines that he bought from Eagle Creek Aviation Services in Indianapolis. He flew it for about five years before going back to Eagle Creek to trade for a 690B with Dash 10T engines. He had the airplane painted and the panel upgraded with the latest avionics including TAWS, EGPWS, TCAS-II, and WAAS.

Although he’s never suffered a loss of power in either of his Commanders, Farbolin appreciates the inherent safety of two engines. “I’ve got a couple of buddies with PC-12s. They can argue all day long about the reliability of turbine engines, but I ask them, ‘Okay, we depart an airport in the mountains at night with our families aboard, and lose an engine. What do we do? Me, I’m going to do nothing. Just keep climbing at 1,000 fpm. What are you going to do?’”

He uses his Commander to go to HoneyBaked Ham meetings, and on personal trips including to Ocean Reef south of Miami, where he keeps a boat.

SPECIAL MISSION

He also does the occasional special mission. Recently Farbolin was having breakfast at the Downwind Café and learned that a three-year-old girl in Savannah, Georgia, needed to get to the New York City area for immediate treatment of a serious medical condition. Severe weather in the Southeast was making it difficult to find an Angel Flight volunteer pilot willing to do the trip. Farbolin, who has two young children of his own, stepped forward.

With tornado warnings in the Daytona area, Farbolin departed for Savannah, where the weather was bad enough. Forty-five minutes after landing at Savannah, and with the weather clearing, the Commander took off for Teterboro with Farbolin, six passengers, and bags aboard. Just over two hours later he touched down at TEB.

Farbolin returned to Daytona the next day. The child underwent surgery in New York, and Farbolin got word that it was successful. According to the pastor who with the child and her family on the flight to New York, Farbolin had some help from a competent copilot.

“Do you know He changed the weather right before our eyes, not just in Savannah but all the way to New York,” wrote Jay Sipes, associate pastor of the Corinth Baptist Church in Keller, Georgia. “The pilot left Daytona in a tornado watch and very bad weather to only see it break as he landed at Savannah, which is exactly what we asked God to do...Thank You Lord, Thank You.”

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VILLAGRAN FAMILY LAW

J. Pedro Villagran has spent his entire professional life—nearly 40 years—building his law firm in Hermosillo, Mexico, and today he has much to show for that effort. He has expanded his practice, which originally specialized in civil law, to mining and real estate law, mining and real estate investments, and home building. He has opened satellite offices in Mexico City, Los Cabos, and Puerto Penasco. And, most significantly, he has made his business a family business, with each of his four sons involved in different activities within the Villigran y Villigran Abogados firm.

About three years ago Villagran made another strategic move to expand the firm’s reach when he decided to buy an airplane.

“Our business has been growing,” explains son Ariel, an accountant who works in the real estate side of the business, “and our travel needs have increased. Real estate in Baja has been really good—real estate is one of our main businesses—and we’ve opened an office there.”

The firm also has real estate interests and building projects on the northern coast of the Golfo de California. They travel frequently to the United States, especially the Phoenix area. And they continue to pursue the legal side of the business, which has its own travel urgency.

“Usually, litigation asks for prompt responses,” Ariel explains. “We need to get there on time, and respond as quickly as possible. With the business flourishing, my dad, who has all of his sons working with him, said he wanted an airplane.”

When the decision was made to acquire a company aircraft, J. Pedro Villagran and two of his sons remembered a flight they had taken in a Twin Commander some 15 years ago. “They just loved the airplane,” Ariel says. Although they looked at several aircraft, they settled on a 690B Twin Commander. “We thought the Twin Commander to be the best because it has the speed to get there fast.”

Proximity to authorized service centers also was a factor in the family’s decision to buy a Twin Commander. They make frequent trips to the Phoenix area, and Executive Aircraft Management (EAM) is in nearby Scottsdale. The Villagrans have been using EAM and are happy with the service they receive. With 22 service centers located around the world, they are always within reach of Twin Commander experts.

The airplane is used exclusively by the family, and flies from 20 to 40 hours a month. They love the Commander’s speed, so much so that when it came time to overhaul the engines they opted for the Dash 10T upgrade. EAM is performing the conversion as well as completing component inspections and upgrading the panel.

Ariel expects that the Dash 10Ts will cut flying time to all of their destinations. For example, it has been a 1hour 40 minute flight to Cabos. “With the conversion we hope it will be one hour twenty minutes,” he says.

No one in the family is a pilot—they have a professional two-pilot crew for the Twin Commander—but Ariel said he and a brother hope to someday learn to fly. “There’s just too much work right now,” he says. “So we need to get more involved in work than flying. But I would love to learn. I just need to find the time.”



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WAYNE PLISS

In the nearly eight years that the San Bernardino County, California, Sheriff’s Department has been operating its Grand Renaissance Twin Commander, Wayne Pliss’s enthusiasm for the airplane has not waned. “I still love it,” says Pliss, chief pilot for the fixed-wing division of the Sheriff Department’s aviation unit.



“It’s my favorite airplane. We’ve put 1100 hours on it, and I’ve probably flown 90 percent of that.” The Sheriff’s Department uses the Aero Air-built Grand Renaissance to move executives around the county—the largest in the United States—as well as for prisoner transport and various other law enforcement missions that call for fast, discrete movement of people and evidence.

The Commander also serves as an airborne command post for fighting wildfires in the county. Observers in the Commander, which is fitted with a special portable “air attack” radio package during fire missions, direct fire bombers and manage the airspace in the vicinity of the blaze.

Pliss also flies the department’s King Air, a military surplus C-12 that has been converted to civilian 200 configuration. “If I have a choice, I’ll fly the Commander any day,” says Pliss. Compared to the King Air, the Commander has more speed, better full-fuel payload, lower fuel consumption, and lower engine overhaul costs. “Everything about it makes more sense,” Pliss says.



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RICK BUTLER

Rick Butler, a successful real estate developer based in Lakewood, Colorado, is partial to the color green, as in doing his part to keep the world a healthy green through environmentally responsible development. Butler also thinks the “green” label wears well on his 690C Twin Commander.

Butler, who flew army helicopters in Vietnam, is founder and CEO of Aardex LLC, a developer, designer, and builder of medical, office, and government facilities in the western U.S. Aardex recently completed a 186,000-square-foot office building in Denver called Signature Centre that earned the United States Green Building Council’s highest rating—Platinum. The council’s rating system emphasizes state-of-the-art strategies for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, and indoor environmental quality.

Signature Centre “uses 36 percent less energy” than a conventional office building, according to Butler, yet was built without significant additional cost. “It was done within the economic constraints of the marketplace,” he says, and was fully leased five months before it was completed.

Butler’s commitment to energy conservation—“I’m very serious about mitigating consumption of petroleum products,” he says—is one of the reasons he’s decided to abandon his plan to move into a jet and, instead, continue flying his more fuel-efficient Model 840 Twin Commander. The other reason is performance: the airplane he was most interested in, an Eclipse 500, simply could not complete missions that Butler considers routine in his Commander.

He is based at Centennial Airport south of Denver, elevation 5885 feet MSL, and ranges throughout the western U.S. in the Commander. Butler had purchased an Eclipse delivery position, but when he was finally able to examine the airplane’s performance numbers in detail, he concluded it could not depart from Centennial on a hot day with enough fuel to fly nonstop to California, even with just two aboard. “I started calculating my missions, and it would just not do it,” he says.

Now he says he is “not looking at anything else.” Most jets and other turboprops burn more fuel and use more runway, or have suspect safety records, he points out. Piston twins don’t have the performance, redundant systems, or engine reliability that Butler desires to safely handle Rocky Mountain terrain and weather.

Instead, he plans to work with Executive Aircraft Maintenance in Scottsdale to repaint his Commander, which he has owned for 11 years, refurbish the interior, add some new avionics and, in the future, upgrade the engines to TPE331-10T configuration.

The Commander is “pretty much the only thing that does the mission,” Butler says. “I can fly in and out of a 5,000-foot-long strip at 4310 feet MSL on a 110-degree day, loaded to gross weight, without any trouble. Not many airplanes—jets, especially—can do that.’

The 840 is Butler’s fifth airplane, and other than the Piper Aztec he once owned, the only one that truly meets his present mission requirements. “I love the Commander,” he says.



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MICHAEL ALPER

Michael Alper and his family took a European vacation this year, as they often do. This year Cannes, France, was the destination and, as they often do, they got there by Twin Commander. In fact, this was Alper's 27th Atlantic crossing, 25 of which he's flown in a Commander. The first 21 were in his Commander 840, the next two were in his Commander 980, and the most recent two were in his Commander 1000.

"My family has accompanied me for most all the flights, and love the adventure," Alper says.

Here are Alper's statistics for the trip: "Total flying time was 26.5 hours, covering 7,750 nm, at an average groundspeed of 258.6 knots. Most flight legs were between FL290 and FL340. This is the first flight for me in an RVSM-approved aircraft.

"The route was Bedford, Massachusetts, to Goose Bay: 3 hours; Goose Bay to Reykjavik: 4.7 hours; Reykjavik to Dublin, Ireland (with a stop in Donegal for customs): 2.5 hours; Dublin to Cannes: 2.9 hours. The trip back home was Cannes-Dublin-Reykjavik-Goose-Bangor, Maine-Bedford.

"There was not a single squawk on the airplane for the entire flight. Everything worked flawlessly. There is no other airplane for this type of flying that has such a terrific blend of performance and economy than the Commander."

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EARL LUNCEFORD

When Earl Lunceford had his medical device businesses, he traveled the country in the company airplane—a Lear 35A. Along with owning and operating the company, Lunceford flew the Lear. So it was no surprise that when he sold the business, he went looking for a personal airplane that he and his wife could use to range far and wide from their Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, home.

He considered a single-pilot Cessna Citation, but quickly concluded that it was too expensive to operate for personal use. He surveyed the field of promised very light jets (VLJs), but didn’t particularly like what he saw. “Too many limitations,” he says. “The way I see VLJs, they have a fuselage the size of a Beech Baron with the price tag of a nice Lear 35. You can’t fill them with fuel and carry people, or vice versa. They didn’t appear to meet my needs.”

He turned his attention to turboprops—Beech King Airs and Piper Cheyennes, as well as Twin Commanders. Although he had no previous experience with Twin Commanders, he ended up buying a 690B, one of the last ones manufactured before production shifted to the JetProp series.

Lunceford is the third owner. The previous owner had it from 1979 to 2006, and took meticulous care of it, according to Aero Air’s Ken Molczan. Molczan certainly is familiar with Lunceford’s new ride—he picked it up from the factory in 1978 when it was built, and has maintained it ever since for each of the three owners.

Lunceford’s airplane served as the prototype for Twin Commander’s new Fuel Quantity Indicating System (see story above), and now Lunceford is enjoying the benefits. “It’s working quite well,” he says. “The quantity displayed is accurate, and the cockpit presentation is real nice.”

Aero Air also installed a new panel and avionics suite for Lunceford, including a Garmin 530 and 430 with an Avidyne multifunction display, TCAS, and XM Satellite-delivered Nexrad weather radar.

As this was being written Lunceford had been flying the Twin Commander for a few weeks, mostly on transition training flights with Aero Air as he prepared to attend FlightSafety International’s Twin Commander pilot initial course. But even with that limited exposure, he is convinced he made the right choice. “The Commander does everything I need it to,” he says. “It’s single pilot, it’s fast, and it gets in and out of short strips. It’s a fantastic all-around airplane.”

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JOHN SWIFT

You don’t have to know John S. Swift very long before you come to the conclusion that the name fits the man. John Swift is a savvy businessman that’s always two steps ahead. It’s the way he likes to fly, too.

Swift owns and operates John S. Swift Co., Inc., a very successful binding and offset printing company founded in 1912 by his grandfather. The company offers a comprehensive array of printing services at four plants in four states. And Swift is expanding. The means for pursuing his empire-building goal is a 695B Commander 1000.

Swift has owned and operated a multitude of different aircraft and without a doubt, the 1000 is his favorite by far. He had been operating King Airs, then began to take an interest in Twin Commanders. He was intrigued by the performance numbers he was reading about, and decided to visit Eagle Creek Aviation Services in Indianapolis for a demo. It didn’t take long — “I saw 305 knots” — for him to become a convert, even in favor over the light jet market.

“You kind of get bitten by the Commander bug, and then it won’t let you go,” he says. “I love the way it looks, the low profile, and the way it flies. It’s a pilot’s airplane. Totally unique. When those engines start to sing, hold on because there is nothing else like it.”

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CHICK GREGG

Chick Gregg likes airplanes. He has owned and flown several including a Bonanza, Baron, and Piper Navajo Chieftain. But with the pressures of his central Florida land-development and home-building business mounting, he put flying aside and sold the Navajo. That was 15 years ago.

Fast-forward more than a dozen years. The company, owned by Gegg and four partners, was now building hundreds of new homes annually. They were successful. It was time to enjoy life. So, they sold the business to a public company. Gregg pursued his passion for road racing. He also bought another Navajo, a Colemill Panther conversion.
Gregg had arranged with Richard Hardoon, an Embry-Riddle graduate and former Navy A6 pilot who had a growing aircraft sales and management company at Sanford, Florida, to manage and fly the Navajo. Then Gregg bought a vacation home in Colorado, a decision that prompted a reassessment of the Navajo's mission. "We needed something faster and higher-flying to get out there," Gregg says. They surveyed the field for candidates, but there was never any doubt about where the search would lead.

Hardoon had experience in a Twin Commander and was a believer in the TPE331's performance, reliability, and economy. Gregg had shared a hangar with a Commander owner, and knew of the marque's reputation. They began looking at several examples, and eventually found N20MA, a 690B (s/n 514) with the Dash 10T engine conversion. The owner flew it to Lakeland, Florida, where National Flight Services did a pre-buy inspection (and now services the airplane). Soon Gregg was a Commander owner.

The Navajo had spent months in the shop to bring it up to Gregg's standards. He didn't want to go through the same process with his next airplane. "I wanted something I could start flying pretty quickly," he says. N20MA came with nice paint and interior, a Garmin 530/430 combination, and a Honeywell KMD-850 multifunction display.

Gregg and Hardoon compete for the title of ultimate gadgeteer, so the Commander has since benefited from a few technological enhancements. The two Garmin navigators were traded for new WAAS-approved models, and cockpit additions include a Garmin 496, GPS roll steering (turn anticipation), and a tablet PC with electronic charts.

They've made half-a-dozen trips to Colorado, and although the nearly 1,400-nmi flight requires a fuel stop, it still goes quickly thanks to TPE331 power. "With the Dash 10s it's fast -- one of fastest out there, and it's pretty economical to operate," Gregg says. Hardoon says he regularly sees 305 to 315 knots true airspeed at Flight Level 270 and fuel consumption ranging from 515 to about 550 pph, depending on ambient temperature.

The Dash 10T's power reserve has proved beneficial in situations other than in cruise flight. On one trip out west they landed at 9,927-foot-high Leadville, the highest airport in North America. "The Commander did just fine," Hardoon shrugs.

Gregg has since brought in a partner, and together they are expanding the fleet. Their first partners' purchase is a Citation III. It will assume the Colorado mission while the Commander will range throughout the eastern United States.

Gregg, who rides up front in the Commander, plans to reactivate his certificate, and he's looking forward to flying the Commander. "With that big wing it's a good, safe, all-around dependable airplane," he says.

Photo: Pilot Richard Hardoon (left) and Elisa and Chick Gregg, with N20MA on the ramp at the Leadville, Colorado, airport.

"Aircraft that have been upgraded are very solid," Byerly says. "Buyers want an aircraft that has been taken care of and upgraded." As an example he cites a 14,000-hour 690B that had undergone a Grand Renaissance conversion in 2000, had mid-time Dash 10T engines, and featured numerous cockpit and cabin upgrades. The airplane sold recently for just under $1 million.

"It's difficult because of the relatively small quantities involved in the manufacture of aircraft parts, yet the rigorous quality control that must be exercised," Matheson says. "But, as the trim flex cable example demonstrates, we've been successful."

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