Chris Kimball


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.

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.

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.”

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.”

The Faulkners


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.”


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.

Larry Allen


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."

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."

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.

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.

Scott Main


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.

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.

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."

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.

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."

Bill Borchert


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.”