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 ( 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.

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.