Abraham “Abe” Abuchowski

Picking the right airplane requires that you apply objective, dispassionate science to the search. After all, science is all about facts because facts never lie. But here’s the problem: a just-the-facts approach can result in a bland outcome, an airplane that may check all the mission criteria boxes but falls short in one unrelated but important characteristic –– it’s ability to excite. To achieve complete scientific and emotional satisfaction with your choice of airplane, it helps to stir a little bit of art into the analysis. Abraham “Abe” Abuchowski is that artful scientist.

First, the science. Abe is a biochemist. As a doctoral student at Rutgers University, he wrote a thesis on development of a new technology for protein drug delivery. That technology, subsequently named PEGylation, is now the accepted standard in the field, and earned him the unofficial title of “the father of PEGylation.”

While an Assistant Professor in Rutgers Department of Biochemistry he developed what has become the mainstay drug for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children. His career has centered on the science of drug delivery, and today he is an internationally recognized authority and the author of numerous scientific papers and book chapters on therapeutic products.

Now for the art. Abe left the science-focused academic world in 1983 for more artful, entrepreneurial pursuits, and founded a company to commercially develop PEGylation. The company, Enzon, Inc., grew to become a fully integrated pharmaceutical company with several successful drugs. Abe was recognized as New Jersey’s 1990 entrepreneur of the year for high technology, and later became a consultant to help other entrepreneurs become successful. More recently he launched another pharmaceutical company where he still serves as CEO.

A scientist might say that time can be rushed. It takes time to design, develop, and test new drugs. An entrepreneur would say that time is money –– the longer it takes for a drug to get to market, the more money it costs the pharmaceutical company. Abe the artful scientist understands both perspectives, which is why he uses airplanes.

“Part of my success was an absolute desire to move things along as fast as possible,” he says. “I am one of those ‘do it faster, smarter, and more efficient’ guys.

“To get the physicians knowledgeable about our products and get hospitals to use our products I had to travel around, do lectures, and get physicians to do clinical trials and monitor those trials. It was impossible to do by phone –– you gotta look people in the eye. But commercial aviation just didn’t do it for me. The flight schedules wouldn’t make certain trips possible.

“I was already a pilot, but I needed an aircraft. I started with a helicopter but quickly found that it was not fast nor capable enough for my missions.” Next came a Bonanza A36, but it too proved too limiting so Abe moved up to a pressurized Baron 58P. It did a much better job for him, but something happened that changed his direction in aviation: he met Matt Hagans at Eagle Creek Aviation Services.

Abe laughs. “My world changed,” he says. “He is quite a dynamic individual. I love the guy. He showed me how a Commander could do a lot more for me than the Baron.”

That was in the early1990s, when Eagle Creek was developing the Dash 10T engine conversion for Dash 5-powered Commanders. The 40-knot gain in cruise speed appealed to Abe’s go-fast leanings. “I wanted to be the first guy to have them,” he says, “so I bought a Dash 10T-powered Commander 690B from Matt.

“I loved it. It was incredibly capable, a real pilot’s airplane. I was able to fly all around the country, and it helped me and the company become as successful as we were.”

Abe retired from Enzon in 1996, and found he no longer needed a fast, long-range airplane. He sold the Commander and flew rented piston singles to stay current. Eventually he bought into a Cirrus SR20. Retirement ended six years later when he founded Prolong Pharmaceuticals to further apply PEGylation technology in the development of biopharmaceuticals. As the company developed new products and grew from six to 50 employees, Abe found himself in familiar territory –– “I needed to get places quickly, to talk to people and move our products along.” He needed an airplane.

At first he relied on the Cirrus. It was fine for short trips from Abe’s central New Jersey base, but longer flights, such as to Florida to visit a primary supplier, were problematic. “The flight to Florida is not one the Cirrus does easily,” he says. “If I had to stop and refuel it made for a long day. It was too limiting, not all-weather and, boy, that means a lot. If there was a possibility of low-level icing, you are done for the day.”

Abe analyzed the options. A Piper Aerostar or Meridian? Nope. “I’m 66, and I have my aches and pains,” he says. “I need a comfortable cabin to get in and out of.”

How about a light jet? Nice thought, but no-go because of lack of cabin size, range, and short-field capability. How about returning to a Baron 58P? That made the most sense to Abe, except when compared to a twin turboprop. But not just any twin turboprop. “I like the Commander,” he says. “It’s spacious, it carries a lot of weight, it can go a good distance at a decent speed –– 300 knots, and it flies nice.”

Abe decided he needed to get into another 690B. “I convinced the board, and they agreed it’s a rational thing to do.” Abe went back to his friend Matt Hagans and learned that Eagle Creek had just certified the Garmin 950 integrated panel and S-TEC 2100 Digital Flight Control System in the Commander 695 series.

“Matt was interested in putting a G950 panel in my airplane, and I was interested in having it in the airplane,” Abe says. ““I think it will make the airplane more valuable. The new avionics make you more aware of the flight environment. It’s modern, with more information when things start to go wrong. It’s tracking itself to a greater degree. Instead of me diagnosing problems it is telling me when a problem occurs, just like modern medicine.

“The new digital autopilot will fly the airplane better than old analog autopilot,” he adds. “It’s more responsive. I’m really looking forward to them putting the airplane together and flying it.”

His will be the first 690-series Commander to get the Garmin G950 and autopilot upgrade. Meanwhile, he is flying a leased 690B while his airplane is being upgraded.

When we spoke he was preparing for a trip to Richmond, Virginia, then to Ann Arbor, Michigan, the next day, then back to New Jersey. The following week’s schedule called for trips to Charleston, South Carolina, and Indianapolis, then to Florida the week after that. “I make these kinds of trips all the time,” he says. “Last month it was Chicago, and twice to Florida.” He’s averaging about 15 flying hours a month, and he and a copilot –– a company requirement –– often take employees with them on visits to physicians, hospitals, and industry events.

“People ask me, ‘Why do you have an airplane? Airplanes are expensive,’ ” he says. “I ask them, ‘Why do you have a car?’ The airplane is my car. It saves me time, and time is money. I don’t think people understand that.

“While it does cost a lot to operate an airplane, the returns are 10, 20, 30 times greater,” he says. “An airplane doesn’t save you money, it makes you money. You’ve got to be willing to invest in it to make money. Think about it. If you are going to develop even a small drug, the market may be $200 million a year. But the timeframe for drug development is 10-to-12 years. If an airplane can help you get it approved six months faster, that is $100 million in value.”

That is an artful approach to a fact-based analysis of why flying a capable airplane makes all kinds of sense to Abe Abuchowski. “What can I say,” he smiles. “I’m a scientist.”

Clearwater Air


The grand spectacle of a large whale breaching the surface of the sea is the stuff of great memories and great photographs, not to mention a riveting television commercial for a certain insurance company. Andrew Harcombe can claim hundreds of such sightings—but not when leaning on the railing of a tourist-filled cruise boat. Instead, Harcombe does his whale watching from the left seat of a Twin Commander.

Harcombe owns Clearwater Air, an Anchorage, Alaska-based operator that specializes in collecting observational data on marine mammal populations in Arctic waters. “We support aerial research projects in the Arctic offshore environment,” Harcombe explains.

That explanation underplays what Harcombe and his staff of 10 pilots flying three Twin Commanders do for their daily bread. Here’s a typical example:

Several years ago Clearwater Air contracted with NOAA to fly aerial surveys in the Beaufort Sea northeast of Alaska on behalf of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), an agency in the U.S. Department of the Interior charged with “managing development of the nation’s offshore resources in an environmentally and economically responsible way.” BOEM was interested in the possible effects of increased human activity in the Arctic, principally from oil and gas drilling, and an effective way to determine that was to gather data on marine mammal population trends in the region. The most efficient way to collect that data was through aerial surveys flown by Clearwater Air.

Operating out of Barrow and Prudhoe Bay along Alaska’s northern coastline, a Clearwater Air crew and three NOAA observers would depart on a mission lasting up to five hours and reaching 200 miles offshore in the western Beaufort Sea and northeastern Chukchi Sea. The Commander had been modified by replacing the standard windows in the cabin door and emergency exit with special bubble observation windows, and installing camera ports in the belly. With no cabin pressurization available, the crew flew the en route segments to far offshore research areas at 10,000 feet and a reduced, fuel-saving power setting that yielded a cruise speed of 180-200 knots.

Once on scene the crew descended to anywhere between 2,500 to 500 feet MSL, and flew pre-programmed GPS transect lines at 115 knots IAS. When a group of marine mammals was spotted, the crew flew circles to allow the observers to get an accurate count.

The Commanders are stocked with disposable urine containers, but Harcombe notes that “most of our guys and the observers have been doing this a long time, and they are physiologically capable of doing extended flights.” However, “coffee is not practical until halfway through the flight,” he adds.

Some 26 sorties were conducted in July and August, covering more than 17,000 miles including about 9,000 transect-line miles flown at low altitudes. According to the official report on the survey, observers saw 118 bowhead whales including 11 calves; 2,253 beluga whales; 60 gray whales including four calves; 13 killer whales; 923 walruses; and 28 polar bears including four cubs or yearlings. The report did not refer to the great memories recorded, but how could anyone, professional pilots and working scientists included, not be moved after seeing thousands of wild marine animals in such pristine settings.

Those kind of experiences never grow old for Harcombe. A native of Roseburg, Oregon, Harcombe began flying professionally in 1999. Over the next decade he flew everything from Cessna Caravans for a small scheduled carrier along Alaska’s north coast to the Lockheed P2V Neptune for forest fire suppression in California, New Mexico, and Florida. He also did a stint with a small operator in Alaska that conducted aerial surveys, and realized that flying for a larger purpose—one having to do with environmental stewardship—was his passion. “I am very interested in the science, in mission-oriented operations,” he explains.

That realization resulted in him buying the small aerial survey operator. “I saw an opportunity that was very closely aligned with my personal interests—the science,” he says.

That was in 2010. He quickly began expanding, adding aircraft and capabilities including a Part 135 operating certificate approved for day and night VFR and IFR. Today, Clearwater Air operates a 690A Commander, a 690B, and a 690C Model 840. The two 690s are equipped with slipper fuel tanks for long-endurance flights, as well as the bubble observation windows and a camera port. The low-altitude, slow-speed surveys are flown with a quarter-to-half flaps extended, not so much to lower stall speed as to lower the deck angle for better visibility for the observers, Harcombe explains.

Clearwater Air’s Commanders are flown by experienced crews. “Our average captain has 10,000 hours pilot-in-command time,” Harcombe says.

Why Twin Commanders? “The high wing for an unrestricted view from abeam forward, two turbine engines for safety, and the ability to fly at slow airspeeds,” Harcombe says. “But the thing that sets the Twin Commander apart from, say, a Twin Otter, is that even though we may be 200 miles offshore, we’re just 45 minutes out. The ability to fly at 115 knots for the surveys and 240 knots to escape imminent bad weather and get back is a wonderful tool to have.”

Reliability is another strong point for the Commanders, Harcombe says. “The dispatch rate is very good. We run a couple of unscheduled down days per hundred days of flying.” With April through October devoted to mission flying, inspections and major maintenance are done over the winter.

The Commanders typically stage out of Nome, Kotzebue, Barrow, and Prudhoe Bay to fly surveys over northern coastal Alaska and the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which comprise the U.S. part of the Arctic Ocean.

Predominantly, the work is collecting data on abundance and/or distribution of marine mammals,” Harcombe says, although some missions can have a more specific objective. “We have done photo identification of individual bowhead whales based on scar patterns,” he adds.

Planning for a mission can begin months in advance, when Clearwater Air personnel confer with scientists to craft logistics and methodology for collecting the desired data. Typically, the mission involves the two Clearwater crewmembers, two observers provided by the contracting federal agency, and a third agency scientist who records the observers’ sightings. The pilots hand-fly the transect lines using a pair of WAAS-capable Garmin GNS 530s.

“If we observe whales exhibiting interesting behaviors, or locate infrequently occurring species, we may spend up to 20 minutes flying circles and getting photos,” Harcombe explains. If the animals are spotted at some distance from the pre-determined course, “we will break track, fly over and acquire them, determine the species, and make a count of the calves present. Then we return to the line and go back on transect.”

This past summer Clearwater had three projects running concurrently including a bowhead whale survey in the Beaufort Sea, monitoring offshore drilling in the Chukchi Sea, and a marine mammal mitigation program associated with commercial offshore drilling.

Given Clearwater’s low-and-slow overwater mission tactics and Alaska’s unpredictable weather, risk is a central concern. “Certainly we have dealt with unexpected situations, although there have not been any real mechanical issues,” Harcombe says. “Generally it’s an unforecast change in the arctic maritime weather. But we have an enormous amount of experience in the cockpit to help us navigate through such problems.”

One important tool that Clearwater has developed to assess and mitigate risk is a Safety Management System (SMS), a term the FAA describes as a “formal, top-down business approach to managing safety risk, which includes a systemic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organizational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures.”

“We developed our SMS internally,” Harcombe says, “and have been very impressed with its results. As a small company we absolutely believe in the strength and purpose of an SMS. We have a very definite top-to-bottom commitment to our system. We believe very strongly in the benefits of it, and the enhanced safety with which we conduct our operations as a function of it. We want to emphasize our strong belief in our SMS, and our guys.”

Harcombe sounds much more like a dispassionate scientist than a stereotypical opinionated frontier Alaska pilot. When asked what changes have taken place in the Arctic environment over his decade of flying, he demurs. “There have been observable changes,” he says, “but I’m hesitant to state those without referencing data.” But he can’t completely mask his wonder at seeing “whales, walruses, polar bears, ice seals and harbor seals” on a daily basis when flying surveys. “It’s a whole different animal than your typical point-to-point mission,” he says, with no hint of irony in his voice.

Jerry Mowbray

Jerry Hammes Mowbray is proud of the fact that he has owned and flown a 1963 680F(P) Commander since 1989 — 24 years. His airplane, one of 47 680Fs built with an optional hydraulically driven pressurization system, can rightly be called a classic. And although he uses it for reliable business transportation for his Reno, Nevada-based law firm, he takes pains to keep it in original configuration (see photo of instrument panel) and pristine condition.

Mowbray’s connection with Commanders goes back further than the 680F(P). His first airplane was a single-engine Commander 112TCA that he bought in 1985 and flew until buying the 680F(P).

To understand why Mowbray has an affection for Commanders, you have to go back even further, to 1953, the year he was born. That was when his grandfather, Romy Hammes, bought a 520 Commander, the first of two Commanders he would own. Mowbray remembers flying in the 520 when he was a young boy.

Jerry Hammes Mowbray with the 680F(P) that he has owned and flown since 1989. His grandfather, Romy Hammes, bought a 520 Commander in 1953, and then a 560 in 1961. Romy Hammes was a successful car dealer and entrepreneur from Kankakee, Illinois. Hammes recognized early on the advantages of business aviation, and bought a new Beech Bonanza in 1947, the year the distinctive V-tailed single was introduced to the market. Four years later he traded the ’47 Bonanza for a new one.

As his business interests grew in size, scope, and geographic spread, his need for reliable long-range travel grew. When Ted Smith certified the Aero Commander 520 as the first purpose-built multiengine business aircraft, Hammes took notice. In 1953 Hammes went to Aero Design & Engineering Co. in Bethany, Oklahoma, and bought a new 520, s/n 78, from the factory.

Hammes was not a pilot. He hired a former barnstormer, Lawrence Schilling, to fly the first Bonanza, and Schilling continued to fly for Hammes for as long as he operated airplanes.

Mowbray’s uncle, Jerry Hammes, who is the son of Romy Hammes, recalls that the 520 was “such a state-of-the-art airplane, a real head turner, that at every airport they went to, people would come up to look at the airplane. Even the mechanics would come out of their shops to look.”

Schilling kept meticulous records of all the passengers who flew on N4172B. The log for October 24, 1953 includes the signatures of seven passengers, including those of a young Senator and his wife, John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, who were visiting Kennedy’s sister in Wisconsin.

Also aboard that day was The Reverend John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C, the President of Notre Dame University. Romy Hammes was a devoted Catholic and supporter of Notre Dame. His generosity, which has been sustained by Jerry Hammes, is reflected in the Hammes name on several buildings at the University.

Mowbray prefers the original, functional look for the instrument panel in 1963 Commander. In late October 1960 Hammes lent his airplane and pilot to another Kennedy — Rose, John Kennedy’s mother. She spent several days flying around the Midwest in the 520 campaigning for her son, who was seeking the presidency. John Kennedy sent a note of thanks to Hammes.

In 1961 Hammes traded the 520 for a new 560F.

Jerry Hammes has complied a fascinating online account of the family’s history (www.jerryhammes.com). It includes photos, documents, and descriptions of the Bonanzas and Commanders, the family’s travels, and notable passengers.


Mark Dziuban

Try as he might, Mark Dziuban couldn’t help but end up a printer. “Both my grandfathers owned small print shops, and my father was a printer,” he says. “I did everything in my power to stay out of printing, but it was in my blood.” In the early Eighties, when the economy was down, Dziuban’s father got him a job — at a print shop, of course. The ink worked its way under Dziuban’s skin. Permanently. He stayed in the business, and in 1994 he and a partner founded American Litho to focus on direct mail and specialty catalog publishing. The company now employs 500 people, and continues to grow.

Printing is not the only passion that flows through Dziuban’s veins. He’s also a pilot and aircraft owner. Not just any aircraft, however — Dziuban flies a 695B Model 1000 Twin Commander that has the distinction of being the last one manufactured.

Dziuban has been in love with flying for as long as he can remember. He started taking lessons when he entered the workforce and began earning an income, but things changed when he got engaged. “The flying lessons ended,” he says.

About 18 years later he resumed his flight instruction, earning a Private certificate in 2000. The first airplane he bought was a Piper Cherokee Six. A Cirrus SR20 soon followed, then a Cessna 310R, and finally a Cessna 414. “I loved flying in a pressurized cabin,” he says. “Loved it!”

Before After The step up to pressurization changed Dziuban’s perspective. Long cross-country flights were more comfortable, and with the ability to overfly lower weather, more practical and less stressful. Soon, Dziuban began eyeing the next step up in capability and safety — turbine power.

He had long admired the performance and looks of Twin Commanders, but his partner in the step-up airplane, a non-pilot, was not so enthralled. They compromised on a King Air F90, which they bought in March 2008. Dziuban continued to operate the 414 while the King Air got a fresh interior and overhauled engines.

Dziuban stayed current in both the 414 and F90. In late 2011 the partners decided to put the King Air up for sale, and Dziuban’s 414 as well. Remarkably, both sold within a few weeks, and both went to Mexico.

Dziuban couldn’t be without an airplane for very long, however. He travels to the west coast frequently for business and pleasure, and for him and his wife to go by commercial air carrier with their dogs and bikes was difficult at best. Before buying the King Air, Dziuban had been looking at Commanders and had been in touch with Eagle Creek Aviation Services in Indianapolis. He decided to pay a return visit.

“I spent the afternoon poking around inside airplanes in the shop,” he said. “I spoke to the mechanics — great guys! No one had any negatives on the airplane. I asked about any Achilles heels. Everyone said there were none. When I went back home there was no doubt that I would buy a Commander.”

Bruce Byerly, co-owner of Naples Jet Center, had acquired the 695B from its English corporate owner at about the same time Dziuban went looking for a Commander, and a deal was constructed.

The airplane came from England in its original equipped configuration with Collins EFIS and Collins analog radios. Dziuban had Naples Jet Center fast-forward the panel to contemporary standards with a Garmin G600 Primary Flight Display/Multifunction Display and GTN 750 and 650 GPS/NAV/COM/MFD. What was once the most contemporary Commander flying had once again achieved that distinction.

And, as a highly useful bonus, the panel makeover provided Dziuban with an astounding 454 additional pounds in useful load.

“I’m so happy with it,” Dziuban said after his initial experience in the Commander. “It’s reliable, and the numbers are right to the book — almost 300 knots on 75 gallons per hour.

“The biggest thing was getting accustomed to the climb rate,” he adds. “I just couldn’t believe how it climbs. It’s a lot faster in climb than the King Air. And, above Flight Level 180 the King Air got sluggish. With the shorter wing it was hard to fly at altitudes above the low twenties. I’ve been flying at Flight Level 270/280 in the Commander.

“The F90 had no external baggage,” Dziuban says. “It was a hassle to lug bags through the cabin, and the passengers probably didn’t like looking at a cargo net with bags. It had great ramp appeal, but it had a tough cockpit to wiggle into. The pedestal with the FMS was in the way, and visibility from the cockpit was not good; the wing and engines were in the way. In the Commander it’s like sitting in a jet in terms of visibility.

“It’s very stable on instruments — I often hand-fly my approaches. It’s such a solid platform. The more I fly it the more I find out about it. The direct-drive engines are a lot different than the free turbines in the King Air. When you push the Commander throttles forward it’s a treat.

“My wife and I are cyclists,” he adds. “We can put the bikes in the airplane along with our gear and two Golden Retrievers. And, it makes seeing the kids on a weekend a lot more convenient.”

Support has been another strongpoint for Dziuban. “Eagle Creek and Naples Jet have a great, great bunch of guys,” he says. “Throughout the organizations the people have been welcoming, knowledgeable, and accommodating.

“I’m thrilled to death with everything I’ve experienced so far. I’ve been loving flying the airplane. I seriously believe I’m flying the best airplane in the sky right now.”

Those were Dziuban’s comments not long after taking possession of the 695B. Here is what he had to say months later:

“The airplane is everything I had hoped. It remains a pleasure to fly. I feel that the speed, combined with the efficiency of the engines and the gross weight of 11,800 pounds suits my mission most ideally.

“I have become quite proficient with the G600 and the GTN750/650. Those, coupled with the handling characteristics of the plane — which are very predictable — provide me with the confidence to shoot low approaches.

“If asked which airplane I plan on upgrading to in the future, well, I’m already there.”

Catherine Martin

It’s late February, a bit northwest of Caribou, Maine, and a lone Commander 1000 JetProp, wearing the livery of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), lopes along at 110 knots just 500 feet above the trees. No, they’re not searching for a downed aircraft or lost hiker. This NOAA Commander is using sophisticated instrumentation to measure the water content of snow packs. And it’s the perfect airplane for the mission.

“We are conducting Snow Surveys for the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center, under the National Weather Service,” explained LCDR Catherine Martin, pilot for the agency’s airborne snow survey program. “We are measuring water content in the snow pack to help create spring flood and water supply forecasts.”

Using sophisticated Airborne Gamma Radiation equipment, the NOAA Commanders—they also operate a Shrike—fly above snow-covered regions in the U.S., southern Canada, and Alaska to measure both the water contained in the snow and the saturation level of surrounding ground moisture. The information is then relayed back to the National Weather Service and NWS River Forecast Center. When the spring thaws come, they can get a head start on spotting areas that may be prone to flooding.

NOAA started doing aerial snow surveys in 1978, and has been using Twin Commanders since the early 1980s when they put their first Shrike Commander into operation.

“The Commanders are the perfect airplane to meet the mission profile we fly,” LCDR Martin said. “They have excellent slow-speed handling qualities and their high wing is very beneficial flying close to the ground. We always fly VFR with our eyes outside. The visibility is great.

“We take a lot of photos during a mission,” she said. “The copilot will take pictures of anything of hydrological importance whether it’s a river, snow build-up, an ice jam or whatever may be of interest to the researchers. The high wing and large windows are great for that.”


LCDR Martin said that the Commanders fit NOAA’s profile so well that the agency upgraded their older 690A to a 695A JetProp 1000 in 2005.

“It was built in 1984 and has 7,000 hours on it now, but it was the newest and greatest at the time,” she said. “When we took ownership we did a complete upgrade. We stripped it down and refurbished it to our needs.

“When we redid November Forty-Five Romeo Foxtrot, the Meggitt EFIS was the newest and best system going into the Commanders at the time. Because we fly so low, we were looking to provide our pilots with the greatest situational information available in the flight station (cockpit),” LCDR Martin said. “The Meggitt system delivered that for us. We also have dual Garmin 530s and a Honeywell MFD.”

She pointed out that the Commander also has electronic engine displays, which makes easier than the standard electromechanical gauges.

“Situational awareness is critical at the altitudes and speed we routinely operate at,” she said. The NOAA Commanders fly so low and slow that the crews routinely turn off the aircraft TAWS, so knowing what’s outside and ahead is critical. LCDR Martin also explained that the crew’s situational awareness and overall mission accuracy is aided by the use of FalconView mapping software.

“We have a separate monitor mounted between the pilot’s and copilot’s seats for the FalconView. We can display our flight lines and then visually follow them on the terrain below. We can verify valleys, roads, rivers—landmarks like that,” she said. “We are flying low and VFR so we are out the window all the time. The MFD is just to make sure we’re turning on the right landmark. The copilot operates the survey equipment so they know when to start and stop the lines based on the moving map.”

Along with the opportunity to upgrade the flight station, the move up to the 695A JetProp 1000 also gave the NOAA flight crews the added safety benefit of the Dash 10 engines. “It certainly doesn’t lack for power,” LCDR Martin said.


LCDR Martin, who also flies a NOAA WP-3D Orion, has been flying the Commanders since 2002. With more than 2,000 hours in type she has plenty of reasons to love Commanders. “It’s a great airplane. I feel very comfortable flying at 500 feet AGL because of the stability and performance,” she said. “You don’t want to be down low and question the climb performance of the aircraft in the event you lose an engine. I know this airplane climbs and performs very well on one engine.”

Fortunately, LCDR Martin’s experience with single-engine operations has been limited to recurrent training exercises. She has not had to shut down an engine on the JetProp during any mission.

As you would expect, the JetProp’s cruise speed is another attraction. “It’s fast. A lot of the times our missions are dictated by recent weather. We can be in New England and need to get to Minnesota because of heavy snowfall. The Commander gets us there quickly,” she said. “It also can take us above the majority of the winter weather. It performs great at flight levels.”

She also said she loves the flight station in 45RF. “We have 11 displays—all the information I need is right there in front of me. There’s noting missing from our flight station display. The Meggitt system also gives us solid backup display capability. If one screen were to fail, you can get everything on the next screen.”

As the agency’s Commander instructor pilot, LCDR Martin also likes the aircraft’s predictability and flight characteristics. “I do all training for our Commander pilots. This season I’m flying with a new copilot and we’ve been doing his first flights in the northeast,” she said. “Most of our new pilots come up from flying piston twins and this is their first experience with a turboprop. Overall the Commander is an easy airplane to transition to. It’s very stable, but it’s a very complex airplane. System training takes time.”


While the Commander 1000 looks like it will continue to serve NOAA’s snow survey mission for many winters to come, its annual “summer vacation” is about to be dramatically reduced. This summer the JetProp is scheduled to take part in another NOAA survey mission for the National Geodetic Survey.

“The GRAV-D (it stands for Gravity for the Redefinition of the American Vertical Datum; you just have to love government acronyms) survey will create a new, more accurate sea-level height reference for the U.S.,” LCDR Martin explained. “This summer we’re going to be doing the Great Lakes region.”

The purpose of the GRAV-D project is to model and monitor Earth’s geoids (a surface of the gravity field, very closely related to global mean sea level) to serve as a redefined zero reference point for surface heights throughout the U.S. Accurate heights are very critical to many scientific programs.

LCDR Martin said that while this is another NOAA survey mission, it will be preformed at an altitude that is more familiar to Turbo Commanders and their owners. “We’ll be doing these flights at 20,000 feet. That’s a great altitude for the Commander, both fuel consumption and performance wise,” she said. “The flight levels are where the Commander is at its best.”