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."

Earl Lunceford

When Earl Lunceford had his medical device businesses, he traveled the country in the company airplane—a Lear 35A. Along with owning and operating the company, Lunceford flew the Lear. So it was no surprise that when he sold the business, he went looking for a personal airplane that he and his wife could use to range far and wide from their Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, home.

He considered a single-pilot Cessna Citation, but quickly concluded that it was too expensive to operate for personal use. He surveyed the field of promised very light jets (VLJs), but didn’t particularly like what he saw. “Too many limitations,” he says. “The way I see VLJs, they have a fuselage the size of a Beech Baron with the price tag of a nice Lear 35. You can’t fill them with fuel and carry people, or vice versa. They didn’t appear to meet my needs.”

He turned his attention to turboprops—Beech King Airs and Piper Cheyennes, as well as Twin Commanders. Although he had no previous experience with Twin Commanders, he ended up buying a 690B, one of the last ones manufactured before production shifted to the JetProp series.

Lunceford is the third owner. The previous owner had it from 1979 to 2006, and took meticulous care of it, according to Aero Air’s Ken Molczan. Molczan certainly is familiar with Lunceford’s new ride—he picked it up from the factory in 1978 when it was built, and has maintained it ever since for each of the three owners.

Lunceford’s airplane served as the prototype for Twin Commander’s new Fuel Quantity Indicating System (see story above), and now Lunceford is enjoying the benefits. “It’s working quite well,” he says. “The quantity displayed is accurate, and the cockpit presentation is real nice.”

Aero Air also installed a new panel and avionics suite for Lunceford, including a Garmin 530 and 430 with an Avidyne multifunction display, TCAS, and XM Satellite-delivered Nexrad weather radar.

As this was being written Lunceford had been flying the Twin Commander for a few weeks, mostly on transition training flights with Aero Air as he prepared to attend FlightSafety International’s Twin Commander pilot initial course. But even with that limited exposure, he is convinced he made the right choice. “The Commander does everything I need it to,” he says. “It’s single pilot, it’s fast, and it gets in and out of short strips. It’s a fantastic all-around airplane.”

John S. Swift

You don’t have to know John S. Swift very long before you come to the conclusion that the name fits the man. John Swift is a savvy businessman that’s always two steps ahead. It’s the way he likes to fly, too.

Swift owns and operates John S. Swift Co., Inc., a very successful binding and offset printing company founded in 1912 by his grandfather. The company offers a comprehensive array of printing services at four plants in four states. And Swift is expanding. The means for pursuing his empire-building goal is a 695B Commander 1000.

Swift has owned and operated a multitude of different aircraft and without a doubt, the 1000 is his favorite by far. He had been operating King Airs, then began to take an interest in Twin Commanders. He was intrigued by the performance numbers he was reading about, and decided to visit Eagle Creek Aviation Services in Indianapolis for a demo. It didn’t take long — “I saw 305 knots” — for him to become a convert, even in favor over the light jet market.

“You kind of get bitten by the Commander bug, and then it won’t let you go,” he says. “I love the way it looks, the low profile, and the way it flies. It’s a pilot’s airplane. Totally unique. When those engines start to sing, hold on because there is nothing else like it.”

Chick Gregg

Chick Gregg

Chick Gregg likes airplanes. He has owned and flown several including a Bonanza, Baron, and Piper Navajo Chieftain. But with the pressures of his central Florida land-development and home-building business mounting, he put flying aside and sold the Navajo. That was 15 years ago.

Fast-forward more than a dozen years. The company, owned by Gegg and four partners, was now building hundreds of new homes annually. They were successful. It was time to enjoy life. So, they sold the business to a public company. Gregg pursued his passion for road racing. He also bought another Navajo, a Colemill Panther conversion. Gregg had arranged with Richard Hardoon, an Embry-Riddle graduate and former Navy A6 pilot who had a growing aircraft sales and management company at Sanford, Florida, to manage and fly the Navajo. Then Gregg bought a vacation home in Colorado, a decision that prompted a reassessment of the Navajo’s mission. “We needed something faster and higher-flying to get out there,” Gregg says. They surveyed the field for candidates, but there was never any doubt about where the search would lead.

Hardoon had experience in a Twin Commander and was a believer in the TPE331’s performance, reliability, and economy. Gregg had shared a hangar with a Commander owner, and knew of the marque’s reputation. They began looking at several examples, and eventually found N20MA, a 690B (s/n 514) with the Dash 10T engine conversion. The owner flew it to Lakeland, Florida, where National Flight Services did a pre-buy inspection (and now services the airplane). Soon Gregg was a Commander owner.

The Navajo had spent months in the shop to bring it up to Gregg’s standards. He didn’t want to go through the same process with his next airplane. “I wanted something I could start flying pretty quickly,” he says. N20MA came with nice paint and interior, a Garmin 530/430 combination, and a Honeywell KMD-850 multifunction display.

Gregg and Hardoon compete for the title of ultimate gadgeteer, so the Commander has since benefited from a few technological enhancements. The two Garmin navigators were traded for new WAAS-approved models, and cockpit additions include a Garmin 496, GPS roll steering (turn anticipation), and a tablet PC with electronic charts.

They’ve made half-a-dozen trips to Colorado, and although the nearly 1,400-nmi flight requires a fuel stop, it still goes quickly thanks to TPE331 power. “With the Dash 10s it’s fast — one of fastest out there, and it’s pretty economical to operate,” Gregg says. Hardoon says he regularly sees 305 to 315 knots true airspeed at Flight Level 270 and fuel consumption ranging from 515 to about 550 pph, depending on ambient temperature.

The Dash 10T’s power reserve has proved beneficial in situations other than in cruise flight. On one trip out west they landed at 9,927-foot-high Leadville, the highest airport in North America. “The Commander did just fine,” Hardoon shrugs.

Gregg has since brought in a partner, and together they are expanding the fleet. Their first partners’ purchase is a Citation III. It will assume the Colorado mission while the Commander will range throughout the eastern United States.

Gregg, who rides up front in the Commander, plans to reactivate his certificate, and he’s looking forward to flying the Commander. “With that big wing it’s a good, safe, all-around dependable airplane,” he says.

“Aircraft that have been upgraded are very solid,” Byerly says. “Buyers want an aircraft that has been taken care of and upgraded.” As an example he cites a 14,000-hour 690B that had undergone a Grand Renaissance conversion in 2000, had mid-time Dash 10T engines, and featured numerous cockpit and cabin upgrades. The airplane sold recently for just under $1 million.

“It’s difficult because of the relatively small quantities involved in the manufacture of aircraft parts, yet the rigorous quality control that must be exercised,” Matheson says. “But, as the trim flex cable example demonstrates, we’ve been successful.”