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.”

Hank and Yvonne Boni

Hank 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.”

Richard Hansen


When 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.


As 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.


“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.”

A 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.”



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.


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.”


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.

Stan & Bob Perkins

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.