Pictorial of my beloved 1953 Aero Commander 520
that I owned between 2011 and 2014. She started out as N527P, but became N20VE. I flew that plane all over America and to Canada too, put 350hrs on her. I was only VFR back then, and so was plane. Great memories, great adventures and a great, solid beginners twin.First encounter:
When I first laid eyes on her a cold winter evening in Port Huron, MI. It was probably Jan 2011. I'd won her on an online Ebay bid. I was the sole bidder and didn't even have my multi engine rating yet. But it was love at first sight.
Here Jim Metzger is filling her up the night before our long VFR ferry back to California.
Stopped for fuel in Idaho. I remember how my credit card wouldn't work to pay for fuel, and the FBO owner just said "No worries, just mail me a check for $500 when you get back home". Rare, these days.
Here Jim is flying her somewhere over Nebraska. We stayed low for most of the ferry. It was very cold at times, but the weather was fine.
Crossing the Rockies on our way to Utah.
Refuel at Spanish fork.
The single point refuel in the Commanders is very good system except for when you're in a hurry. Takes some time for all the fuel to transfer to all the tanks.Getting ready to be a daily driver:
When we finally got her back to California, she spent a few months up at Morris's place to get her fixed up.
The old wood panel was pretty beat up. Later exchanged it for a one-piece aluminum panel.
Engine fixes at Morris.
More engine fixes.
Here's a lunch break in a training flight Jim Metzger and I had somewhere in Oregon. Even though Jim is not a CFI's, the instructor I had before wasn't up to the task, so it was much better just getting Jim to do it. He's spent his life flying them.First trip to Chicago:
First long trip set out on was from California to Chicago.
I had put the new registration on myself temporarily until I could get vinyl letters cut. The FAA had a fit about this. When you're new to aircraft ownership it's not always easy to know how things should be done legally. FAA mandates that the letters have to be a certain size and width.
After some really bad weather and getting low on fuel, I had to admit defeat and land at an almost unused dirt strip in Medicine Bow, WY. I was surrounded by thunderstorms, and was more or less trapped. Surface was rough, strip short and the elevation was over 5000ft, so I was worried I wasn't going to get out of there the next day. But it was fine - she was off in less than half. 520's are great short field performers.
The day after, and with less than 1hr left to Chicago the left engine starts running really rough…
…but I decide to continue to destination as it improves slightly. Chewed a valve and crunched both oil and scraper rings and spit them out the valve hole. You can see the damage the rings did to spark plugs and piston.
The rings getting chewed and the metal in the sump has made the oil shine like metallic paint. I find a mechanic on a Sunday that takes a look at it and pretty much condemns it.
Jugs have to be pulled.
This is how I left her.
We made it to Chicago, just about. I thought the problem was a malfunctioning magneto, as it improved (as the valve got thrown overboard). Had I known how bad it was, i would probably have landed somewhere else and not continued for an extra hour to Chicago.
A month later, and after a lot of consultation and convincing of the Chicago mechanics, the plane is repaired with new cylinders and I avoided a full overhaul. Trip back home was uneventful.
Refueling in St Johns, Arizona. Always a good spot for some cheap avgas.Trip to New Orleans:
Next trip a few months later was to New Orleans.
Somewhere over the vast New Mexico desert. I chose a more southern route this time due to weather.
Just north of the Mexico border, as I recall.
The old GO-435's were always leaking a bit of oil on the cowling. Looked worse than it was, normally. They were getting close to TBO.
After some terrible weather I managed to land at a small airport in Texas. I was glad I'd brought my foldable bike, so I could cycle down to the nearest gas station and get some snacks. I was going to sleep int he plane that night and aim for an early start.
My bed for the night. I could lay almost stretch out on the floor of the 520 if I moved the front seat fully forward.
Another break for weather to pass in Texas. The perils of VFR touring is that you have to be prepared to wait when it gets too nasty. In hindsight, I probably pushed myself a little too hard on this trip and flew in weather I should probably not have flown in. All good experience, but I wouldn't do that again. And with my IFR rating that came years after this, now I don't have to.
Thankfully - return trip had pretty good weather. Here is a cool shot of my nacelle at altitude over Arizona somewhere.
Stopped in Sedona to have a look at this old 520 that had been sitting on the ramp for 10 years. The airport were going to scrap it a few weeks later, so these are probably the last pictures anyone took of N2600B before she got cut up.Trip to Johnson Creek, Idaho for the Backcountry fly-in:
Next trip was to the Backcountry Forum Fly-in at Johnson Creek, ID. Here my mechanics in Los Angeles are getting the old girl ready.
For a bush fly-in where you camp under the wing, you need essentials.
Arrived at Johnson Creek. I was the only twin there during the whole fly-in, and the old 520 got a lot of attention.
Tucked away for the evening. The 520 is ideal for these kind of high altitude mountain airstrips with her geared engines, short takeoff and big low pressure wheels. I don't know of many other twins you can take as easily into strips like these.
Weather was amazing during the whole weekend. It was a great trip.
Lazy day, just dozing under the high wing shade. Nothing is better or more relaxing...
…watching the clouds go by.
Great food brought by fellow pilots and airplane owners. My Swedish meatballs went down a storm with the attendants, but my Libanese lentil salad (left on plate) was frowned upon although it's one of my favorites.
Evening departure from Johnson Creek.
On my way back over the arid Utah desert having a snack.
Utah desert.Random pics:
Another annual. Unceremoniously groped in the a**.
Taxiing at Big Bear. Fuel is always really cheap up there. For some reason, because they have to truck it up over the mountain to get it there.
Polishing spinners is endless and thankless job.
Random sunset shot.
Random tire change shot.
Parked up at Twentynine Palms in the desert.
At home base, KEMT, getting some soap on.
Random dusk shot. With my Jag XJS.
Refueling at the decidedly modernist fuel station at Corona. I often flew in there because they had cheap fuel and you could go to Aircraft Spruce just up the road. Rwy is pretty short, so not all twins could get in comfortably on a hot day. But never a problem for the 520.Trip to Nashville:
Second time I had to leave her behind was when I had an oil pressure problem in Wichita Falls, TX on my way to Nashville, TN.
Pressure would drop randomly in flight. Turned out to be some carbon deposits on the oil pressure relief valve.
Finally made it to Nashville after mechanic fixed the oil pressure relief valve in time for my work.Panel upgrade:
Speaking of panels, here's the old one…
…and here's after! Came out very good.
What I loved the most about new panel were the new UMA lights around the steam gauges. Made everything so visible and easy to read at night.Other randomness:
I also swapped my old crazed side windows for new ones. What a difference!
Remember that old 520 N2600B they were going to scrap at Sedona? Well, months later I contacted the scrap yard and flew over and picked up some spares. Full set of flaps and cowling sides.
That time when I lost all hydraulic pressure but thankfully was off the rwy already. Busted line. Ken had to come out an fix it on the ramp.
Night flying LA.
In all her beauty at Camarillo Airport on the executive ramp. I hope they didn't mind the black puddles of oil we left behind….Trip to Vancouver:
Forest fires in Oregon on our way up to Vancouver. This is somewhere north of Klamath Falls.
Had to dodge a few thunderstorms on the way up.
Stopped the night at Jim Metzgers field at Grove Airport, 1W1. In the background, you can sadly see his beautiful 680E that he later crashed and almost died in in Sept of 2015.
Those pesky 767's delaying my departure at Vancouver International after clearing customs.
CYVR ATC was very helpful and guided me up the river VFR to a smaller airport where I wouldn't be fleeced alive for ramp charges.
Here we're crossing the border to the US coming back from Vancouver a few days later, heading for Boeing Field, Seattle to clear customs. Beautiful evening.
Seattle in the distance.
Make it to Hillsboro that night and on the way catch some pretty good tailwinds. 177kts GS for the old 520 was good.
Aero Air, a big Twin Commander Service Center at Hillsboro graciously allowed me to sleep in their pilots lounge. Good guys. Next day early I takeoff as a low mist covers the landscape. It's beautiful and smooth.
VFR over the top of low clouds. That's when it's extra nice to be in a twin. Mt Shasta in the background.
Me trying to look smoldering and smug. Flying is amazing.Trip to Bacon Strip in Mojave desert:
Another time we fly to the tiny Bacon dirt strip in the Mojave desert. You just land on the salt bed or road there and taxi up to a little hut.
Pork belly. Landing was a little nervous as you couldn't really tell from above how the surface was going to be. But it was pretty smooth.
So serene and silent in the desert when the engines shut down.
A little snub nose beauty in my eyes.
Met some random guys on ATV's that drove up. They were pretty impressed I'd landed a "big plane" there in the middle of nowhere.
Big low pressure tires really help when on rough surfaces. Commander got it right with those on all their models.
Beautiful evening departure from the desert.
Some kind of factory by Apple Valley that looks like it's straight out of Mad Max.The end:
Finally, after many years of great flying, I felt I needed an aircraft that was a little more all weather capable and a little faster. A Russian gentleman named Sergei bought my plane with the intention of bringing it back to Siberia, where it would be ideally suited to the lack of Avgas they have. In May 2014 Sergei and Viktor and another chap came and picked her up for her long journey back to Siberia. Over 8000nm was flown up via Alaska and the Bering Sea, not without troubles.
She now lives in Siberia, near Vladivostok.
Winters are a little harsher there than in sunny California. I hope it's not too much of a shock to her system. I hear from Sergei once in awhile and she seems to be doing OK. I hope they have many more years of good flying.And that's it.
Great airplane that took me safely where I needed to go, most of the time. A gentle plane to fly and very forgiving. It was like a big Cessna. I miss here sometimes, but I'm glad to say I'm soon back in a Turbo Commander. Although not entirely as good a bush plane as the 520 was, at least it shares some of those capabilities.