AOPA Pilot Magazine
October 2005 Volume 48 / Number 10
AOPA 2005 Sweepstakes: Show-Stopper
The Commander turned heads in Oshkosh
Take an extremely well-equipped, thoughtfully modified Rockwell Commander 112A, dress it up with a coat of artfully applied paint in an eye-catching scheme, and install a tastefully appointed leather interior — then add seven sunny days and thousands of AOPA members. The result is a lovefest that's spiced up by the certainty that one lucky pilot will soon be flying the object of everyone's affection. Everyone, it seems, loves the Commander Countdown airplane.
The 2005 AOPA sweepstakes has taken an average airplane and transformed it. The result of this yearlong process is a solid, roomy, four-place airplane with outstanding visibility; it's an airplane that's so stable it flies like it's on rails and it looks so good that the winner will have to get used to heads turning as it taxis by. Looks are important, but bragging rights revolve around performance. So AOPA stepped up the performance quotient by coupling an RCM turbonormalizing system to the smooth-running powerplant combination of a Lycoming remanufactured engine and a Hartzell three-blade Top Prop.
The trip to Oshkosh
The RCM turbonormalizing system's maximum manifold pressure is limited to 28 inches — approximately the same maximum full-throttle manifold pressure that all normally aspirated engines produce at sea level — so the turbo doesn't add power but it does provide a strong push when climbing to, and flying at, higher altitudes. This is because the engine is able to produce sea-level power up to 16,500 feet. The added power on demand provides the pilot with safety margins and operating options that expand the airplane's utility.
The sweepstakes Commander now can fly high into airspace that's relatively traffic free because it's above cruising altitudes for most general aviation airplanes and below efficient cruising altitudes for turbine-powered airplanes. High-flying capabilities make for safer flying. The pilot of the Commander will be able to file flight plans over all but the highest mountains in the continental United States, and will always have the option to climb up into altitudes that deliver a restful, smooth, cool ride. As everyone knows, motoring along for even an hour in hot, lumpy summertime air can be tiring and uncomfortable.
This advantage was put to good use on the third of the big cross-countries flown from Master Aircraft Painters in Wickenburg, Arizona, to EAA AirVenture 2005 at Oshkosh in late July.
Leg one — Wednesday, July 20 — was planned from Wickenburg to the Winslow VOR, then direct to Pueblo Memorial Airport in Colorado. This routing crosses some of the highest mountains in the country — without the ability to fly high, a more southerly routing would have been the only eastbound option and would have added hours to the trip.
After landing at Pueblo — where ramp temperatures were blast-furnace hot at 106 degrees Fahrenheit — to get a sack lunch and a load of fuel (100LL at $3.29 a gallon) from Flower Aviation, the Commander continued its northeast trek toward Oshkosh. Four hours later — after another WSI InFlight-aided safety end run around a line of afternoon thunderstorms across the direct routing — the Commander's Michelin tires kissed the pavement on Runway 5 at Des Moines International Airport. Eight hours in the saddle are enough for one day — off to a motel for the night.
A line of thunderstorms awoke Des Moines as it rolled through at 4 the next morning. This line then went on to track steadily toward Oshkosh and, stoked by a dose of afternoon heat energy, passed over Oshkosh as a cluster of mesoscale cells at 3 the next afternoon. A midafternoon takeoff avoided the storms and the Commander taxied up to its place of honor in front of the big yellow AOPA tent at 5:30 p.m. Central time on Thursday. Little did the AOPA Pilot staff suspect how much the Commander Countdown sweepstakes had stirred the passions of AOPA members — by the second day of the weeklong airshow the word had spread and AOPA members couldn't wait to speak up.
'Keep these folks a little farther away from my airplane'
John Trautschold, AOPA 578431, of Chicago, owns a 1963 Piper Cherokee 180. "It [the Cherokee] is one of the airplanes in Pussy Galore's Flying Circus in the James Bond movie Goldfinger," said Trautschold. He's looking for a faster airplane he can fly to visit his kids. "Maybe I'll win. I'll deal with the taxes if I win," he said with a smile as he posed for his picture in front of the Commander.
When a Pilot editor volunteered to click the shutter of Ron Jarvis' camera so he would have a picture to show off at his home airport in Anderson, Indiana, Jarvis answered, "No, thanks, I'll get one when you bring it home." Home to Jarvis meant his hangar. Jarvis, AOPA 966436, had flown the three-hour flight into Oshkosh early Sunday morning and planned to fly home Wednesday evening after the end of the daily airshow.
Pilot staff members heard comments much like these throughout the week. The Commander looks like an airplane that would be good to own. Mock warnings and offerings were continuously offered with tongue-in-cheek comments such as, "Please keep these folks a little farther away from my airplane" and "I'll make it easy on AOPA — just give me the keys now and I'll take it with me when I leave." After White Knight and SpaceShipOne, the sweepstakes Commander may have been the most photographed airplane at Oshkosh.
Tom and his Timeless Tri-Pacer
Tom Donnelly, AOPA 1235678, of Salome, Arizona, stopped by to say he had just bought the Timeless Tri-Pacer. The Timeless Tri-Pacer was the 1998 AOPA sweepstakes airplane and another popular choice. "The Tri-Pacer always fascinated me," said Donnelly. "I built a Revel plastic model of the Tri-Pacer when I was a kid. I decided that the TP in the Tri-Pacer N number — N198TP — means 'Tom's Piper,'" announced Donnelly proudly.
Ed Gillespie, AOPA 823351, of Columbus, Ohio, was a Rockwell test pilot and one of the group of "five or six North American pilots and engineers that the human factors people talked to" during the design phase of the Commanders. "I was a dealer in 1972 when a 112 cost $35,000," said Gillespie. "I flew that 112 for more than 1,000 hours. It was a great airplane and I wish I still had it." Gillespie went on, "I'm very proud to say that I had something to do with it." Commanders evoke strong emotions.
The father-and-son duo of Art and Sean Barchie, AOPA 1094193 and 4882497, of Conroe, Texas, stopped to check out the Commander. Sean flew from Conroe in a Cessna 152. He's 18, got his private pilot certificate last year, and is in the second year of the mechanical engineering program at the University of Houston. Art, who flies for Continental Airlines, met up with Sean after coming to town on an airliner. Neither had ever flown a Commander but Sean said of his first AirVenture: "This is amazing — it's unbelievable coming up here." We can safely assume that part of his amazement was linked to the sweepstakes Commander.
"If I win this, I'll be here next year with my new airplane," said Paul Rodriguez, AOPA 4697031, of Cape Coral, Florida. "From the time I was a little kid this was always my favorite-looking airplane," Rodriguez said. A private pilot with a couple hundred hours, Rodriguez said he would use the Commander for day trips "down to the [Florida] Keys." After inspecting the Commander, he emphasized his interest by saying, "This one I'd keep." The Commander wows everyone from low-time pilots such as Sean Barchie and Paul Rodriguez to old-timers like Blaine Loudin, AOPA 592131.
"I soloed in 1943 and used to fly the A-N quadrants," said Commander owner Loudin, referring to the radio range approaches pilots flew prior to the advent of VORs. Loudin bought his Commander 112TCA in 1995. "I'd sell it if I won this one," he said. Loudin lives in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and flew into Waukegan, Illinois, before driving up to Oshkosh. Loudin is one of the 60 people who joined together to buy the assets of Commander Aircraft at a bankruptcy auction in June. Plans are moving ahead to resurrect the company (see "A New Company Forms," page 114) under the name of the Commander Premier Aircraft Corp. (CPAC).
A bad boy
"This one's a bad boy," said AOPA member Rob Seidl, AOPA 4082119, of Green Bay, Wisconsin. So bad it's good, obviously. Seidl started flying in 2001, now holds a commercial pilot certificate with instrument and multiengine ratings, owns a Cessna 150, and flies part-time copilot for a Part 135 operation in a Piper Chieftain.
"The Waco wasn't my thing, but I'd find a way to keep this one," said Seidl.
A few AOPA members expressed concern about the tax consequences of winning — even when the prize is as sweet as the Commander. Recognizing that AOPA can't pay the taxes, most were philosophical. Others knew that it would be relatively easy to borrow against the airplane to pay the taxes. The tax liability can be likened to receiving a $10 airplane in exchange for a $3 obligation — most AOPA members seem to understand this equation and are prepared to deal with it. In any case, the tax liability can't be avoided — if AOPA covered the taxes, the pilot would owe taxes on that money, plus the value of the airplane. And so on.
Rob Robideau, AOPA 4644462, and his wife, Grace, from Rockford, Illinois, are willing to win the Commander. Rob has a private pilot certificate and flies rental Cessnas and Pipers. "I'd have to find a partner to afford it, but winning would be awesome," said Rob.
The winner of the Commander will have to take on a big task — learning to safely and efficiently operate the turbonormalized engine, and getting up to speed on twenty-first-century avionics such as the Chelton FlightLogic Synthetic Vision EFIS (electronic flight information system), as well as getting used to flying with the traffic advisory features of Ryan's TCAD 9900BX and the in-cabin weather information from WSI's NOWrad datalink weather information system. It'll be a tough job, but somebody's going to get to do it.
It's annual — and autopilot — time
After AirVenture, the Commander was flown for 5.4 hours to Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City for its annual inspection. Yes, even an airplane that's undergone extensive refurbishment for the past 10 months needs an annual. Oklahoma City was chosen as the site for the annual primarily because that's where Mark Standrich is located. Standrich worked for nearly five years as the lead mechanic for Commander Aircraft and he knows Commanders. A week and a half into the annual, Standrich said that the sweepstakes airplane is in very good shape.
A second consideration was location — Standrich's operation is only 140 nautical miles from Chelton Aviation in Denton, Texas. One of Chelton's AP-3C digital autopilots was scheduled to be installed immediately after the annual.
The AP-3C is a fully TSOed two-servo autopilot built for reliability and ease of operation. Each AP-3C autopilot uses digital signals from the GPS for roll, pitch, and steering commands. Pitch control is maintained through a single pitch-trim servo.
Lateral and pitch control data for the autopilot are obtained through ARINC 429 roll-steering and pitch-steering outputs from the flight management system in the Chelton FlightLogic EFIS — which uses the Crossbow AHRS system to detect pitch and roll deviations at 100 times a second. Chelton's proprietary stabilization algorithms crunch the deviations to closely match each airplane's flight dynamics. The result is a simple, reliable autopilot with features such as altitude preselect, altitude hold, roll steering, and full glide-slope and GPS approach coupling.
The completion of the autopilot installation will mark the end of the extensive list of modifications, retrofits, and upgrades for the Commander. Make plans now to be among the AOPA members to see this sparkling airplane during AOPA Expo 2005, which takes place in Tampa from November 3 through 5.
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A New Company Forms
June 27, 2005, marked a new day for Commander Aircraft. That's the day a bankruptcy court awarded the dormant company's assets — including the type certificate, tooling, jigs, and parts inventory — to a group of 60 investors calling themselves the Commander Premier Aircraft Corp. (CPAC).
Many of these investors are Commander airplane owners, which makes the company "unique in the start-up companies I've been involved in," said Joel Hartstone, president and chief executive officer of the new company. "I don't believe there has ever been an airplane company where almost every investor owns a demonstrator airplane — it's very exciting to be part of this," he said.
The first order of business is to move the company from its present site at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City, which will not be as hard as it sounds since more than 35 interested communities already have contacted CPAC. Claudia Horn, CPAC chief financial officer, said that the company plans to start production in 2006. For more information, visit the Web site (www.commanderpremier.com).�— SWE
Fly the Commander
Take this unique 112A around the patch — on your personal computer
"Make sure you take good care of my airplane" is the comment most often made at airshows by AOPA members inspecting the 2005 AOPA Commander Countdown Sweepstakes airplane. (Don't worry; we are.)
As you are well aware, early next year one lucky person will win the state-of-the-art, glass-cockpit Commander 112A. But you can now fly the Commander, in the comfort of your home, on a personal computer.
Unveiled at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2005, the "virtual Commander" duplicates nearly every detail of the sweepstakes airplane, including the Chelton FlightLogic glass-panel display and autopilot. Although it does not replicate every feature of this sophisticated panel, functions in the Microsoft Flight Simulator add-on are accessed in the same way a pilot would operate the equipment in the airplane. It also sports the Commander's unique paint job and custom interior.
AOPA members were impressed when they saw the virtual Commander at its Oshkosh debut.
"Wow, this is so cool!"
"I've never seen anything like this before."
"When Phil brings me the airplane in February, I'll be ready to fly it!"
The software is available free to AOPA members. At the time this issue went to press, several thousand members had downloaded the application, and a handful of pilots reported joining — or rejoining — the organization just for the opportunity to fly the sweepstakes airplane.
The application was developed by Flight1 Software (www.flight1.com) in partnership with AOPA. Flight1 produces a variety of supplemental aircraft and other add-ons to Microsoft's popular Flight Simulator program, including a highly realistic Cessna 172R (see "Pilot Products," May Pilot). You can fly the Commander on a Windows-based personal computer running Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 and Windows XP; it is not compatible with earlier versions of Flight Simulator. The recommended PC configuration is a Pentium 4 or similar processor, 512 MB of RAM (1 GB is better), and an Nvidia-based Geforce 4 video card. A control yoke or joystick (rudder pedals are optional) and a high-speed Internet connection (to download the software) are also required.
For more information, to view a video of the virtual Commander in flight, or to download the Commander Countdown software and fly this unique airplane with your existing copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, see AOPA Online (www.aopa.org/sweeps/fly/). — Michael P. Collins