Maria Plunket


Go ahead, admit it: You don’t just like your airplane, as in “I like the car I drive.” No, it goes much deeper than that. You can develop a genuine relationship with an airplane, as in “It is my trusted companion that sees me through good times and bad.” Twin Commanders are like that—familiarity with one breeds respect. Some might even say affection. Just ask Maria Plunket.

Plunket, a professional pilot based in Renton, Washington, has been flying the same 690B Twin Commander for 15 years. “It’s a silly thing to say, but it becomes your friend,” she says. “It’s reliable, always there for you. It takes you through thick and thin. It does everything you ask from it and more. Sometimes it still surprises me with its dependability and what it can do.

It’s rock solid. I can count on it.” Plunket admits to “always bragging” about her trusted companion. “I don’t have to worry about a thing,” she says. “It’s very simple to fly. Everything in the cockpit is so well thought out. Everything is right where it should be. It makes it so simple. I don’t worry about the weather, I don’t worry about the wind, I don’t worry about moderate ice. It handles all of those things. It handles runway conditions as well. I’ve taken it into compact snow and ice, and with the combination of braking and reverse thrust I know it’s going to be fine.”

Plunket’s aviation career began in 1990 when she earned her Instructor’s certificate and began teaching at Tacoma Narrows Airport. One of her students bought a 685 Commander, and hired her to fly it. When he sold the Commander, she followed the airplane to its new owner. Meanwhile, the first owner, along with two partners, bought a 690B, and Plunket began flying it as well. Moving from the piston-powered 685 to the 690B turboprop “was an easy transition,” she says. “You just get to go a lot faster.”

In the next few years Plunket added a Shrike Commander, a Lear 24F, and several other Lear models to the stable of airplanes she regularly flew for owners. In 2005 she had her first child, a daughter, and resolved to cut back on multi-day trips and stay closer to home. These days she focuses primarily on Commander flying, including the 690B that is still owned by two of the three partners who bought it in 1995.

“That airplane has very rarely left the ground without me in 15 years,” she said. “When I had my daughter I took six months off. It was a big deal to find another pilot, and it was very strange to watch it take off with someone else flying it.”

For the first five years she flew it with TPE331-5 power. In 2000 the engines came up for overhaul, and the owners opted to upgrade to Dash 10Ts with Hartzell wide-chord props. The panel also was upgraded with a Garmin 530 and 430 and an Avidyne multifunction display. Although fuel flow increased about 9 percent with the Dash 10Ts, time to climb is considerably faster and cruise speed jumped 13 percent, meaning that on the same trip length you get there faster on less fuel. “We certainly benefit hugely with the Dash 10Ts because of the time that we save,” Plunket says. “We are very happy with them. To be able to fly down to Southern California in 3 hours and 15 minutes, and if winds are right get home in same time frame, is just great.”

Along with flying it, Plunket manages the Commander for the owners. “It’s easy to manage, too,” she says. “No secrets or gotchas. Just things to watch out for, like replacing the batteries every couple of years. But it’s easy to stay on top of and manage.”

As the owners’ businesses and families expand, a larger, longer-range airplane may be in their future, according to Plunket. But she says she would “strongly urge them to keep the Commander” for the shorter flights they do now. “The boss has said many, many times it’s such a great business tool. He can fly to a business meeting for a face to face, and get back in time to spend the afternoon at the office.

“Personally, I feel it’s just such a privilege flying the airplane,” she adds. “If I had the wherewithal to buy an airplane it would be a Turbo Commander. It’s just so reliable. For what it can do and the price you pay to buy it and run it, it just seems to be unbeatable. It’s been a fun, fun airplane.”

David Tennenbaum

By way of introduction, I have been a pilot for 28 years (multiengine ATP, Commercial privileges ASEL) and my wife Jann holds a Private Pilot certificate. I had a Cessna 172 for about 13 years, and it basically enabled my relationship with Jann (who was working as a photojournalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, while I worked in a similar capacity for AP in Boston). After a brief hiatus, we moved to an A-36 Bonanza, then a 58 Baron. I fly occasionally for work, mostly for personal use, and fly about 150 hours a year. I am the founder and CEO of a software company employing 35, and have a Master’s and Bachelor’s from MIT. Flying has been an important part of our lives together, and learning about aircraft systems, weather, and flying are passions for me.

We took the Baron to Seattle, the Grand Canyon, Tortola in the Caribbean, and did a trip up the west coast of Greenland and over to Iceland that was likely the most fun flying I have ever done. We want to do some long trips (Alaska, Europe) and so started looking to step up about five years ago. As part of that we were involved in the Eclipse debacle, but we were determined not to let that be a defining moment about flying for us, so we went on to look at the usual suspects: Cheyennes, King Airs, Mu-2’s, Citations and CJs.

We did a lot of research and each had issues—parts, low speed, a very demanding wing, REALLY big fuel burns, high purchase expense. I do a pretty thorough research job, and for most of these candidates I got POHs, studied the specs, talked to owners, etc. We were looking for something turbine powered with long range and, preferably, with avionics sufficient for Eurocontrol and Atlantic crossings, so HF was a plus.

REACHING OUT I reached out to aviation people I respect, and Al Bishop, a Part 135 operator in the Boston area advised me to check out the Commanders. He said that for my mission lengths and the speed, range, and fuel efficiency requirements, there was no finer flying aircraft. He put me in touch with Dr. Mike Alper, also in the Boston area, and Dr. Alper was kind enough to take Jann and I for a flight in his gorgeous Commander 1000. He has also done more than 20 crossings to Europe, and that was just the kind of flying we wanted to do.

What appealed to us? We are both visual people and when we fly to someplace new and interesting, we like to see it from the air. The view from a Commander is just plain superb—no huge engine nacelles to look around. The Honeywell engines are an elegant, reliable design, and in the world of turbines are very efficient and have very long TBOs. Single-engine performance is excellent, as is range with the large tanks available in the 840/980/900/1000 Jetprops. Short-field performance is excellent, too.

Next I touched base with Twin Commander Aircraft, and they were kind enough to send me a stack of back issues of Flight Levels. I also got in touch with Bruce Byerly of Naples Jet Center, and on a trip south in our Baron Jann and I stopped in at Naples and saw a few aircraft. We then attended the 2009 Twin Commander University where we learned a lot, met a bunch of owners, and saw many fine aircraft.

A few months later Bruce advised me that a Boston-based 980 impeccably set up by Mitch Sayare had come on the market, and it had long-range tanks, HF, and excellent maintenance records. After a thorough pre-buy inspection at Naples Jet Center, N218MS was ours. We added a Garmin 330D ES transponder to satisfy Eurocontrol exemption requirements, upgraded the Garmin 530 to a 530W (WAAS certified), and added a 406 mHz ELT.

So far we’ve taken the Commander to a 3000-foot, very narrow strip on the smallest of the Cayman Islands, multiple trips to Canada and Washington, and are planning trips to Jamaica and Europe.

JUST AS WE HOPED What do we love about it?

It has a great wing. Nice honest handling, crisp responsiveness for such a large aircraft, excellent low-speed handling and high-speed, high-altitude performance. Climb performance is excellent (we usually fly in the high 20s just under RVSM territory). Being able to easily move about the cabin (versus the Baron) is a big plus for Jann, and the back seat is (I’m told) a terrific place to enjoy the flight. Everyone who has had a ride in it loves the aircraft. The view outside is terrific, just as we hoped.

Of course the winds are stronger up high, and that can work for you and against you. On a trip back to Boston from KOPF we saw 421 knots groundspeed; not bad for 500 pph. Standing up the throttles for takeoff is fun, too, as the acceleration pushes you back in the seat.

We love the industrial strength systems, particularly the anti- and deice. The heated baggage compartment is so large it rivals the entire cabin of our original 172. We have been very impressed with the network of Service Centers. Having had “teething issues” work done at the Naples Jet Center, Mid-Continent Airmotive, and Northeast Air in Portland, Maine, we have uniformly run into experienced, knowledgeable individuals with real respect and affection for the aircraft. Similarly, my experience with instructors has been very good, and the Boston area aircraft owners are a great group as well. The Commander community is a real asset for the aircraft.

There have been some surprises. There are a lot of new, more capable and more complex systems than in our Baron. (Part of what I enjoy is learning how engineers solve various needs in the aircraft.) Holding power on landings, and making TINY adjustments to the power when landing were different as well. I’m on the 9th revision of my checklist, and I finally have memorized all 46 overhead switches. There is somewhat more bureaucracy compared to the Baron (the International Registry of Mobile Assets, and Eurocontrol requirements for Mode S Enhanced to name two). And with the more than 52-foot-long wingspan on the 980, a bigger hangar was needed.

So let’s see how the 980 stacks up against a jet. It has much better short field performance, it’s almost as fast, it has much better fuel economy and load, and no bad surprises of any kind. Plus there’s the great, roomy cabin and a great support community. What’s not to like?

We love the plane. It is truly going to be our magic carpet for our next phase of flying.

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.”