Jim Schwertner

In 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.”

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.

Brett Fuller

Brett 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.”

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.”

The 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.”

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.