Author Archives: Marcel Colon

August 2020

Peace Pilot Completes Polar Circumnavigation in Twin Commander

Robert DeLaurentis, who dubs himself the Peace Pilot for his ambitious polar circumnavigation, has safely landed back in San Diego after 11 months, 26,000 miles, and 170 hours logged flying his 1983 Twin Commander 900 from pole to pole. DeLaurentis faced numerous avionics challenges near the poles, but otherwise the heavily modified airplane performed almost flawlessly. He credits the power of his Honeywell Dash 10 engines and the reliability of the Twin Commander for flying him safely down through South America, over the South Pole, across the Atlantic Ocean, north through Africa and Europe, and then over the top of the world before coming back down through Alaska to his Southern California base. “I’m happy what the flight has done for Twin Commander,” he said. “I think it’s a prideful moment for the community. Twin Commander has been a great supporter.” You can read more about the DeLaurentis flight in the next issue of Flight Levels Online

Shrike Downed Due to Misfueling

Photo courtesy of AVweb

A Shrike operated by the State of Alaska’s Department of Forestry crashed May 28 after it was apparently filled with jet fuel, according to an NTSB report on the accident. The airplane had just taken off from Aniak, Alaska, when both engines quit. The ATP-rated pilot ditched in the shallow part of a nearby lake. The pilot and three passengers on board were seriously injured. According to the NTSB the pilot wasn’t present for the fueling. A line staffer had asked the pilot if he wanted Prist, to which the pilot said no. The fueler apparently didn’t notice the 100LL placard next to the filler port, and the pilot didn’t notice that the receipt said “no Prist” and “Jet A.”  Although numerous fail-safes such as placards and different fuel-filler nozzles and ports are meant to prevent misfuelling accidents, they are still a regular occurrence. Pilots are encouraged to stay with their airplane and supervise the fueling process, especially at unfamiliar airports. And always double-check receipts, which will detail the type of fuel added.

Now is a Great Time to Visit Your Twin Commander Service Center

Eagle Creek Aviation FBO, Indianapolis, Indiana

General aviation aircraft sales, operations, and support are all faring surprisingly well under circumstances that have brought challenges to the wider economy. Despite that, shops are reporting slightly shorter lead times for things like avionics upgrades and major maintenance. Take advantage of this opportunity to visit your Twin Commander Factory Authorized Service Center for your maintenance, overhaul, and inspection needs. With some destinations still closed to visitors and your vacation plans put on hold, it is the right time to go to your trusted source of Twin Commander parts, maintenance, and upgrades. Technicians at Twin Commander Factory Authorized Service Centers are factory trained to work on your airplane with the latest guidance, best access to parts, and the highest standards. You can find a list of the network at https://twincommander.com/service-centers/. Many are offering specials, so make sure to ask about parts, maintenance, and inspection incentives.

Tribal Knowledge: Avoiding Hot Starts

As a long-time Twin Commander salesman, service center executive, and pilot who frequently ferries airplanes headed to the shop, Bruce Byerly has encountered the occasional airplane that is not quite up to the high standards demanded by most owners and operators and all factory authorized service centers. Stuff happens, sometimes on engine start, and Byerly has had to call on his tribal knowledge to get and keep things going. That’s where we’ll start this tribal knowledge class—with engine starts.

There are situations that increase the potential for exceeding the maximum allowable temperature on engine start—a hot start—such as high ambient temperatures, high altitude, starting the engines with the airplane facing downwind in a strong wind, and a quick turn when the engine core has not had a chance to cool. Regardless, there is no excuse for suffering a hot start, Byerly says. The pilot should see engines temperature rapidly rising in time to abort the start or reduce the fuel flow to the engine, and thus the temperature, using the Horsepower Limiter or, depending on the Twin Commander model, the Torque Limiter switch on the overhead panel.

We’ll have more on tribal knowledge techniques to avoid a hot start in the upcoming issue of Flight Levels Online.

July 2020

Latest Flight Levels Available Online

Twin Commander flown by Erick Teeters & John Kelley.

Author Dave Duntz has given the Twin Commander world a gift. The former Aerostar owner spent years researching and writing an authoritative history of Ted Smith and his designs. We sit down with Duntz to discuss his bookStars and Commanders: The Life and Vision of Ted Smith, for the latest issue of Flight Levels, which is now online.

Also in this issue, learn about the capabilities and history of Twin Commander Factory Authorized Service Center Winner Aviation, discover the basics of autopilot methodology, read about what to check on your Commander after a long downtime, and learn why Business Unit Director Brian Harbaugh thinks Twin Commander Aircraft is in a healthy position.

Finally, we remember Geoffrey Pence, the longtime technical service manager and Twin Commander expert. Read this and more in the latest issue.

Take Your Twin Commander to the Gym

As aircraft around the world sit dormant for extended periods due to the coronavirus, a host of potential safety issues come to the surface. Pilot proficiency is one of the first things to suffer, but aircraft systems may be impacted as well. This issue became serious for Boeing recently as an airworthiness directive was issued on certain 737s that had been sitting because of the pandemic. It was suspected that bleed air valves stuck open, causing in-flight shutdowns. There’s no evidence that any Twin Commanders have suffered a similar fate, but the longer an airplane sits, the more likely it is that the performance of things like tires, hoses, lines, and valves will degrade. If airlines are any guide, many have chosen to exercise weekly their fleets of 737 Max while they await a software fix. You, too, should be exercising your airplane. If possible, fly the airplane once a week to keep the engines and other components fresh. You can also take this opportunity to perform the 150-hour inspection a few hours early, or opt for an upgrade that’s currently on sale at your factory authorized Twin Commander service center.

FAA Cracking Down on Illegal Charter

Earlier this year the FAA took the extraordinary step of messaging every pilot in the database to pass on a very important reminder—on-demand operations require a charter certificate, and running afoul of the regulations isn’t as hard as you may think. Left unsaid in the message was that the agency is aggressively pursuing those who don’t follow the rules.
Most pilots and aircraft operators know a Commercial pilot certificate is needed to fly for compensation or hire, and that on-demand flying requires a charter certificate. But the meaning of “holding out for the purpose of charter” has often been up to the FAA’s interpretation. Recently that interpretation has tended toward the very strict, with pilots and operators being investigated for activities some previously considered cost-sharing. What’s worse, as AOPA has made clear in recent months, is that the pilot is often the first point in the investigation.
It may come as a surprise to pilots that, according to the FAA’s guidance, some common operations that require a charter certificate include:

  • Any dry lease without sufficient legal distance between the pilots and the lessor. For example, if the lease contract requires the operator to use a certain pilot or group of pilots, even if those pilots are independently paid and contracted.
  • Advertising for cost-sharing. The FAA said in its message that while cost-sharing is allowed, “advertising in any form (word of mouth, website, reputation, etc.) raises the question of ‘holding-out.’”
  • Not flying with a common purpose. In Advisory Circular 61-142, the FAA said that the pilot and passenger must have a common purpose for the trip. For example, if a friend asks you to fly him to the international airport in order to catch a flight, you can’t split the costs unless you have a reason to be at that airport or in that city as well.

In the FAA message and in AC 61-142, the FAA gives dozens of examples of situations it may view as charter flights. If you share costs often or take friends or business acquaintances on trips it is worth your time to review the guidance.

Naples Jet Center Under New Ownership

Naples Jet Center Holdings LLC, an investment group led by Byerly Aviation’s Bruce Byerly, has purchased the Naples Jet Center, a Twin Commander Factory Authorized Service Center. Previously owned by the First Wing family of companies that includes Eagle Creek Aviation Services, Byerly recently took control of the busy Southwest Florida facility he helped start. Byerly said customers won’t see any immediate changes as he takes the helm although significant development plans are taking shape. Although NJC will share resources and expertise with Byerly Aviation, the companies are separate entities with unique management groups. Naples Jet Center includes a busy FBO operation, a 94,000 square feet facility, maintenance, repair, charter, sales, and aircraft management capabilities. Byerly said business has been brisk thus far, despite the pandemic. “Naples is an exciting place for aviation. We’re thrilled to offer Commander owners from across the country and internationally an experienced and passionate support team” he said.

May 2020

Andrew Wilson Hired as Technical Service Manager

Twin Commander Aircraft has hired Andrew Wilson, a longtime aircraft technician and proven maintenance manager, as the company’s new Aerospace Technical Engineer and Manager. He replaces Geoffrey Pence, who is retiring. Wilson comes most recently from Dynamic Aviation where he served as a Maintenance Controller and Flight Operations Support for a fleet of Beechcraft King Airs and Bombardier Dash 8s, and other various aircraft on many government contracts. He has experience in onsite technical support, quality assurance, international operations and regulations, government accountability, and hands-on airframe, engine, avionics, and hydraulic work. In addition to his work as a maintenance technician and manager, Wilson is a certificated pilot and a member of the US Military. He has served in the middle east several times on various aircraft and projects, with the Department of Defense. He credits his lifelong love of wrenching with working on dirt bikes, motorcycles, and cars, starting from age 6, when he did hill climbing and track riding. The Aerospace Technical Engineer and Manager position is the focal point for many important responsibilities at Twin Commander, but one of the most critical is as a conduit between the factory and the Factory Authorized Service Centers. Wilson will be relied on for expertise on parts, service techniques, and troubleshooting. He starts June 1 and will be relocating to Twin Commander headquarters in Creedmoor, North Carolina.

The company has also hired Pam Moore as a librarian. Moore’s duties will include vault and printed document maintenance, maintaining the owner list, subscription information, service bulletin communications, and yearly reporting requirements. Moore starts June 15.

FAA Extends Currencies During Pandemic

With the publication of a 94-page special regulation in early May the FAA extended certain medical, pilot certificate, and currency requirements in light of the ongoing worldwide coronavirus pandemic. In doing so the FAA acknowledged that some currencies and requirements would be hard to complete during state shutdowns and social distancing requirements. Medical certificates that expire between March 31 and May 31, 2020 are automatically extended to June 30. Flight review requirements are more complex. If your flight review expires between March 1 and June 30 of this year, and you have logged 10 hours as PIC in the previous 12 months, you can now act as PIC for three additional months beyond the expiration date, assuming you complete three Wings credits. Finally, instrument currency also extends to June 30, assuming you have logged three instrument approaches within the preceding six months and performed and logged the tasks required by Part 61.57(c)(1) in the preceding nine months. Unfortunately, maintenance requirements have not been extended, so while you may be able to fly under the SFAR your airplane may not. The FAA document has all the details.

Save Big on Spring/Summer Deals!

With much of the country still locked down in various stages and most business still being conducted remotely, now is the time to take advantage of multiple offers on parts from Twin Commander and Aircraft Belts. Custom Kit 170 is being heavily discounted at 25% off. The shoulder strap kit increases crew safety and maintains the value of your airplane. While you’re installing front shoulder harnesses, take advantage of a 15% discount on all passenger belts from ABI. Custom Kit 190, a big upgrade to LED interior cabin lighting, is being discounted 25% while supplies last. Finally, Custom Kit 50, an upgrade to the control column and rudder pedal boots to improve cabin pressurization performance, is also being discounted at 25% off. Talk to your favorite Twin Commander Factory Authorized Service Center about these great deals to improve the look, safety, performance, and value of your airplane.

Maintenance Training Continues

The folks at Eagle Creek Aviation Services made a slight change in March to ensure the company’s Twin Commander maintenance training continued. Normally held in person, the course has been switched to an online format. A spring course had to be cancelled, and future classes will be evaluated based on current community health standards and rules. The training is mandatory for Twin Commander technicians who work at a Factory Authorized Service Center. Type-specific maintenance training is one of the many benefits of taking your airplane to a Twin Commander Factory Authorized Service Center. Each class lasts a bit more than a week and covers all the airplane’s systems. For more information on upcoming classes contact Eagle Creek’s Mike Grabbe at 317-293-6935 or [email protected]

One-of-a-Kind Commander

A Twin Commander 680F is a pretty rare bird. One that has been in the same family for nearly 60 years is unheard of. Ricardo Otaola’s 1962 680F is one of a kind. The airplane was recently imported from Venezuela, where Otaola’s family first started flying Commanders, even owning a dealership and service facility at one point. Otaola’s 680F is one of many highlights of the Spring issue of Flight Levels Online. In this latest issue you can also read about loading flight plans into your Garmin, plan ahead for tropical escapes, learn what’s involved in painting a Twin Commander, and the history and culture of excellence of Twin Commander Factory Authorized Service Center Byerly Aviation.

Find the full issue online here.

New Book Looks at Twin Commander History

Stars and Commanders, a new book about the history of Ted Smith’s iconic designs, is now available. Author Dave Duntz has created a beautiful coffee table book with more than 600 pages of incredible photographs and stories of the people and places that cemented the Twin Commander and Aerostar as the greatest culmination of speed and efficiency on the market. Duntz describes the book as, “the story of Ted Smith, the unrivaled twin-engine aircraft designer of the 1950s and 60s. How his dream, passion and determination overcame setbacks and sorrow. How he started two successful aircraft companies from the ground up. How his prescience, engineering acumen and courage gave the world some of the best airplanes ever built.” The book is available for $169 from the author’s website at www.starsandcommanders.com

Are You Flying?

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April 2020

Twin Commander Aircraft Fully Operational


The staff at Twin Commander in Creedmoor, North Carolina, is hard at work keeping the factory fully operational during the worldwide COVID-19 crisis. Business Unit Director Brian Harbaugh said that many processes have been put in place to ensure the safety of the team, including virtual meetings, remote work for those employees who are able, more handwashing stations, regular handwashing reminders, and additional office cleaning. “We know how much owners, operators, and service centers rely on the factory being fully operational,” he said. “I’m proud of how well the team has pulled together during this challenging time.” Harbaugh reported few distributions in parts supplies or engineering support as a result of the various state lockdowns.

Community Rallies for Coronavirus Support

The GAM Group, a Twin Commander Factory Authorized Service Center in Australia, is busy flying to remote locations as part of that country’s COVID-19 response. The company operates 21 Twin Commanders, and flies 16,000 freight trips annually in the airplanes. Five days a week they are departing Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, and Melbourne to remote locations all over the vast country. Currently they are transporting medical supplies, pathology samples, and other items necessary to fight COVID-19. GAM flies 17 Shrikes, two 680s, and two 690As.

Twin Commander owners, operators, and service centers around the world have rallied in the face of the COVID-19 crisis to support emergency services, medical facilities, and remote communities. Factory Authorized Service Center Winner Aviation teamed up with Outback Steakhouse and Handel’s Ice Cream to feed employees from Mercy Health Saint Joseph Warren Hospital in Ohio. Winner Aviation’s Tyler Wolfe, the regional manager for ground operations, came up with the idea as a way to show gratitude for all the work the healthcare workers are doing during the pandemic. “When I pitched the idea to Meg Bianco (President of Winner Aviation), she didn’t even let me get to the end of my sentence,” he said. “She heard Outback Steakhouse, Handle’s Ice Cream, and St. Joe’s Hospital, and she was on board.”

Meanwhile, Twin Commander operator Bridger Aerospace has pivoted its considerable Air Tactical Ground Supervisor fleet to supporting COVID-19 mitigation efforts. The aircraft have been repurposed for a number of medical missions, including transporting emergency supplies, blood transportation, and more. In addition, staff from Bridger were resourced to the hospital in Bozeman to help finish construction of 60 hospital beds. CEO Tim Sheehy said, “It’s important for us to do our bit as a company and as individuals in these uncertain times.” Bridger has also committed to paying full wages to its workforce.

How to Disinfect Your Avionics

If you’re lucky enough to possess a bottle of rubbing alcohol you can safely disinfect your avionics screens. As a high-touch center of the panel, your avionics are potential infection spots for airplanes flown by multiple crews. Every manufacturer has its own recommendations, but most agree on the same steps. To be effective the product must have at least 70 percent alcohol and sit on the screen, buttons, and any other contact areas for at least 30 seconds. However, avionics aren’t usually water-resistant, so the best practice is to thoroughly spray a microfiber cloth and make sure there is prolonged contact, then clean it off appropriately. Garmin cautions against any cleaning agents containing ammonia or bleach, as either could potentially damage the anti-reflective coating. If you’re careful, soap and water can be used if you can’t find a bottle of 70 percent alcohol. Garmin further cautions against using paper towels, tissues, or anything other than microfiber cloths to clean the screens, as they may produce small scratches. Don’t forget about the rest of the cockpit and cabin, including seatbelt latches, armrests, door handles, cabinets, and various buttons and switches.

 


February 2020

Well Deserved Retirement. Geoffrey Pence

Twin Commander Aircraft’s stalwart Technical Service Manager Geoffrey Pence has retired. Pence began his stint with the factory in 1999, but his experience with the airplane goes back much further. After graduating from the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics in 1972 he did a brief stint at Grumman American Aircraft. He got his first taste of Commanders at Oregon’s Eagle Aircraft, a Rockwell Service Center, in 1973. Pence has the distinction of working for Gulfstream Aerospace when it was producing the JetProp models, as well as a number of other Twin Commander service centers over the years. But it was possibly his final position for Twin Commander Aircraft where he had the greatest impact on the community. As the primary point of contact for service centers on technical issues, he was the go-to guy for everything from parts questions to troubleshooting to installation issues. It’s the kind of position only someone with a lifetime of learning and experience can perform. “Geoffrey’s contributions to the Twin Commander factory, service centers, and owners is beyond measure,” said Twin Commander Business Unit Head Brian Harbaugh. “We are going to miss him, and we wish him all the best. Someone is going to have big shoes to fill.” The company is currently looking for someone to step into those shoes.

Brian Harbaugh to Visit Service Centers

One key to Twin Commander’s long history of success is that it listens to customers. The primary flow of that communication is through the Factory Authorized Service Centers. This winter and spring Business Unit Director Brian Harbaugh will be visiting a number of centers in an effort to strengthen the bond between the factory, its service providers, and their customers. “I love being in the field hearing what’s important to our Factory Authorized Service Centers because what’s important to them is important to us at the factory.” Harbaugh said. Twin Commander’s robust network of 13 Factory Authorized Service Centers sell Twin Commander parts, have factory trained technicians, and have the most current information on best practices.

Finding a Unicorn

Ricardo Otaola’s airplane is one of fewer than a dozen 1963 680Fs on the FAA registry. But what makes it even more special is that it has been in his family since it rolled out of the factory more than 50 years ago. Otaola’s family helped establish Twin Commander’s presence in Venezuela, and three years ago he made the decision to emigrate to the United States in order to fly the 680F more. Read more about Otaola and his one-of-a-kind 680F in the upcoming spring issue of Flight Levels.

The Commanding Choice

In February the United States celebrates Presidents’ Day, a holiday originally intended to honor the birthdays of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, but what has become a day to honor all presidents. Two presidents showed particularly strong leadership when they used Aero Commanders in their official duties. President Dwight D. Eisenhower commissioned a specialized 680 to use as a regional executive aircraft to shuttle him between the White House and his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The airplane was recently restored and is being operated by the Commemorative Air Force. Lesser known was his successor, John F. Kennedy’s use of an Aero Commander on his official trip to Venezuela in 1961.

Fun Fact

Did you know that best glide speed varies by weight? In a Model 1000, the indicated airspeed for best glide changes approximately 6 to 7 knots per 1,000 pounds. At 6,000 pounds the best glide speed is 91 knots indicated and at 11,000 pounds it is 124 knots indicated. Flying faster or slower than best glide for the given weight will result in less ground covered in the event of a dual engine failure. Assuming the correct speed is flown, weight won’t impact the total glide distance. A heavier aircraft will only arrive at the same touchdown point earlier.

Do you have an interesting fact about your Twin Commander that you would like to share? Send it to [email protected] and we’ll share it here and on Twin Commander social media.