In 1981 Gulfstream acquired Rockwell and took over the Commander production. But the acquisition was the deathblow for the Commander production line as Gulfstream decided to zero in on business jets. After Gulfstream supported the Commander fleet for a few years, the type certificate and 58,000 pieces of production tooling were sold and have since traded owners several times. Since 2008, Twin Commander Aircraft is based in Creedmoor, North Carolina, and is a subsidiary of Firstmark Corporation — a company that specializes in the support of legacy aircraft. With 18 employees, Twin Commander provides technical, engineering and parts support.
And this type of support keeps the aging Commander fleet in the air. With about 1,000 Turbo Commanders built, about 750 are still flying, according to Matt Isley, president of Twin Commander Aircraft. The Twin Commander service centers are even capable of offering a full refurbishment program — the Grand Renaissance — to bring the airplanes back to tip-top shape. More on that later.
Looking at the Commander fuselage, its shape is nearly square. This shape provides a lot of space in the cabin, and the good news is that you don’t need to worry about filling it up. The 690 has a useful load of 4,180 pounds and a fuel capacity of 389 pounds, so the payload is well over 1,500 pounds, enough to fill all the seats and bring lots of luggage.
And speaking of luggage, the 224-square-foot baggage compartment, which has a weight capacity of 600 pounds, provides plenty of space for luggage, golf bags and skis (at least the new, shorter shaped skis). Randy Dunn, founder, owner and winemaker at Dunn Vineyards in Angwin, California, has owned Commanders for well over a decade and regularly flies to the Baja Peninsula in his Commander 690A. He recalls unloading the airplane at his destination one time and being unable to fit the luggage he and his wife brought into the truck that picked them up at the airport.
Dunn frequently lands on dirt strips and believes that “this plane is made for that kind of mission.” The propellers are high off the ground, and the landing gear is beefy and very strong.
The landing gear system is pneumatic, hydraulic and gravity. That might sound complex, but “it’s a very, very simple system,” McCullough said. If the hydraulic gear extension fails, the gear simply drops out by gravity, and once it’s extended a set of bungees holds it in place.
The fuel system is simple too. The fuel tanks feed into one sump, so there’s no fuel management required.
“You just fill it up and burn it,” said McCullough.
And at 300 knots TAS, he says you can expect to burn about 70 to 75 gallons per hour in cruise.
Two Honeywell TPE331 engines convert that fuel to power. The TPE331 is a direct-drive turboprop engine with a track record of high reliability. More than 13,000 of these engines have been delivered to date, and they have accumulated more than 116 million hours of flight time. The Turbo Commander 690 was originally designed with the 717.5-horsepower TPE331-5 engines, which provide a cruise speed right around 270 knots. But the engines can be upgraded to the Dash 10T, which together with the wide-chord Hartzell propeller brings the cruise speed up around 300 knots. Both the Dash 5 and Dash 10T provide good longevity, with a 5,400-hour TBO.
Grand Renaissance is a transformation of the airplane into a like-new Commander, the only difference being that the time on the airframe remains. Only three of the domestic and one international service centers are capable of completing a Renaissance project, which according to McCullough takes about six to nine months to complete. Any Twin Commander can go through the Grand Renaissance program, but generally only Turbo Commander customers will put their airplanes through the program.
McCullough said the manual for the project is about four inches thick, so the upgrades and replacements are too numerous to list. Suffice it to say that the airplane is completely gutted, and the airframe and all the systems undergo a full refurbishment in which many components are replaced.
And once all the pieces of the puzzle are brought together, a custom paint job and interior installation are completed. Final inspections are done by a representative from Twin Commander Aircraft. After a new dataplate is put on and the airplane emerges from the service center, “it’s no longer a Twin Commander, it’s a Grand Renaissance Commander,” said Isley.
Bruce Byerly, vice president of Naples Jet Center and a longtime Commander salesman, says the resale value for Grand Renaissance airplanes remains higher than that of comparable new airplanes when they enter the used market, but Renaissance owners tend to hold onto their airplanes.
“We haven’t seen one done in the past five years that was put back in the resale market,” Byerly said.
However, the service centers assist potential customers in finding airplanes that they can take through the Grand Renaissance program. You can pick up a decent 690A or B for around $450,000 with the -5 engines or an upgraded model for just under $1 million, and “typically between 25 to 40 airplanes are available on the market,” explained Byerly.
“If you’re going to do a Renaissance, it’s also a good time to do the panel,” said Byerly. And most Renaissance customers do. Lately, customers tend to choose Garmin’s G500 or G600 screens in combination with a GNS 430/530 (which now will be replaced with the GTN 650/750). Byerly said Eagle Creek, Naples Jet Center’s affiliate in Indianapolis, Indiana, is working on an STC for Garmin’s G950 glass cockpit.