Greg Farbolin

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Villagran Family Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wayne Pliss

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

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

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

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

Rick Butler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Alper

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

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

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

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

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