Now that I have determined I simply cannot live without owning my own airplane, which one is the right choice? I narrowed my selection immediately by deciding that I must have two turbine engines. Nothing against the TBM, Pilatus and Meridian, or you fine piston folks. I just love the hum and theoretical safety of two kerosene-burning, turbofan propulsion systems and the dual everything that comes with them. Another wish list item for me is an integrated avionics system. Flying the Garmin G1000, G3000 and the Collins Pro Line 21 platforms has spoiled me. Call me lazy if you like, but I am blown away with the capabilities of these systems, particularly their vertical navigation (VNAV) abilities.
With that bias in mind, I set out to see what kind of turboprop I could find under 1 million dollars.
My first thought…the Twin Commander.
I have always been intrigued with the Twin Commander. It’s built like a tank, very fast (up to 300 knots) and has a reputation as a “pilot’s airplane.” It has reliable, but noisy, Garrett engines. I looked online for available models, and subscribed to “Twin Commander,” the leading newsletter. I visited a training facility with a motion simulator and spent an hour with an instructor. They referred me to a local guru, Barry Lane. I called him. “Barry, could you tell me a little about the Commander 840,” I said. “I can do better than that, he replied. Let’s go fly one.”
Barry took me under his wing and spent most of the day with me including a demo flight. As we taxied out to Addison’s (KADS) Runway 33, it was obvious that Barry was a master at his craft. We headed north as he extolled the virtues of the venerable Commander. He shut down an engine to demonstrate how docile the 840 could be. I was impressed. Best of all, the only thing I had to pay for was lunch. That was awesome. Pilots are a special group. Ask us anything about our airplanes, and we will invite total strangers to share our passion. That’s pretty cool.
I traveled to Phoenix to look at an airplane that fit my price point. Tucked in the back of the hangar, it hadn’t been flown in a while. Built in the early 1980s, it had more than 5,000 hours on the Hobbs meter. Reading its maintenance history was a little like traveling back in time. It had lots of dials, levers and switches. Lots of them.
During a walkaround, I saw some dents and dings, each with its own story. “That’s normal for Commanders, the broker said. These airplanes are tough old birds. Aerial firefighters love them.”The cockpit was a conglomeration of the old and the new. The Garmin G600 and 750 brought navigation and communications up to date. But there were little things that increased the overall workload. For instance, the de-ice boots must be manually cycled for each use. No automatic setting. More workload. Most importantly to me, there was no VNAV integration available from the FMS to the autopilot. Flying the Commander is like playing the piano. You must use your hands and feet at the same time.
I can’t play the piano.
In the end, I decided that Commanders are too much of a challenge for me.
I decided to look at the King Air.
Stay tuned and fly safe.