Rockwell Commander 112 and 114, Spacious, Comfortable
By: Norm Goyer
Our family was “up to its ears in alligators” during the aviation boom in the mid-1970s. We were operating four High Desert airports serving as FBOs which included aircraft sales, flight instructions, fuel sales, aircraft repair shop, and tie-downs and hangars for rent. Our prime aircraft for our very active flight schools were Pipers and Cessnas. We also had a VA and FAA Approved Flight School. Another good profit center was the excellent rental business due to the new Piper Arrows and Cessna 182s on our line. Then we hit a snag.
This foreign registered Commander shows off the graceful lines of its design.
A new FBO on the field took on Grumman American and purchased a Sierra 200-hp retractable and then an off-field instructor bought a Rockwell 112. We suddenly had competition for our rental business. The Sierra was not much of a threat, as it was a little slow and ungainly-looking, compared to our sleek little Arrows. But the high-sitting, wide-cabined Commander 112A was a very appealing aircraft. It was much larger than the Arrow, and looked like it was doing 200 mph sitting on the ground. The pilots loved the trailing-arm landing-gear suspension as it made their lousy landings look good. Some of the larger TFTF (Too Fat To Flare) pilots, really liked the big cockpit. The Rockwell Commanders did have a cruciform tail (horizontal stabilizer mounted halfway up the vertical stabilizer.) I have never really trusted cruciform or “T” tail aircraft, and most pilots were also aware that Rockwell had lost their first prototype when the cruciform tail failed. Of course the problem was solved in production aircraft and it never happened again. The biggest PR problem the Commander 112 had was its 200-hp Lycoming; really not enough power for its 2880 pounds takeoff weight , which translated to a rather slow 135 knot maximum cruising speed. Our smaller and more economical Arrows were faster. It was evident that Commander had some problems to solve, with their beautiful, but just a tad slow 112A.
This Commander 112A had a 200-hp Lycoming four-cylinder engine.
In 1974, Commander introduced their 112TC (turbo charged) aircraft. This new model had its wing tips extended for a bit more wing area. The turbo helped performance at higher altitudes and on hot days. The added wing-area allowed an increase in takeoff weight. But the 112A still needed a larger engine. In 1976, Commander finally accepted the fact that their airplane was underpowered, and the only solution that would satisfy potential buyers was a significantly larger engine. In 1976, in addition to the 112A and 112B plus the turbo-charged 112TC, Commander brought out the plane they should have been building right along, the Commander 114A Gran Turismo with a new Lycoming six-cylinder IO-540 swinging a three-blade constant-speed propeller. This 260-hp engine pushed the 114A to a higher maximum cruise speed of 157 knots, and a long-range suggested cruise speed of 137 knots. Translation: the 114 needed larger fuel tanks to allow a greater cruise speed at longer distances. The maximum range with reserves was only 730 nautical miles. The performance of the 114 wasn’t really all that bad; it was just that other aircraft such as the Mooney and even older Piper Comanches were faster with a much smaller engine, and less fuel consumed. Note: there have been various performance figures for all aircraft published over the years which vary widely in top-speed, cruise-speed and range capability. From past experience in writing about aircraft for over 30 years, we found that factory released performance figures could be off as much as 15%. No; they were not fabricating these numbers, they simply used absolutely maximum advantages in aircraft, weather, and pilot ability to obtain their published performance figures. This practice was widespread in all companies. For the past 20 years or so, aircraft reviewers have used real-time GPS results: When compared, the discrepancies became obvious.
The cockpit and cabin of all Commanders are well laid out and are roomy enough for four large persons.
For many people, the Commander’s slow reputation did not interfere with their decision to own a 112A or 114, for, indeed, this was a very nice aircraft with a proud heritage. The original designers were not looking for barn-burning speed; they were looking for an aircraft which small families could take on trips in comfort. They wanted a plane that would be easy to land, so they designed the extremely forgiving trailing-arm-suspension retractable-landing-gear system. When production ceased in 1979, along with that of many other aircraft, Rockwell sold the rights to Gulfstream America, along with other designs that Rockwell owned. Gulfstream did not restart production on the single-engine aircraft because all they wanted were the rights to the twin-engine Turbo Commander. In 1988, Gulfstream sold the Commander 114 rights to Commander Aircraft, owned by Randall Greene. Green was going to build new Commander 114Bs and produce parts for Commander owners. This company was able to produce about 200 114Bs and 114TCs before closing down. In 2005, Commander Premier Aircraft Corporation was formed by 50 Commander owners to supply parts for existing aircraft. At that time, production was moved to a new home in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The new company planned to build new versions certified as Commander 115, 115TC and 115AT. We are not sure whether or not any have been delivered as yet, or if the company is no longer in business.
This photo of a landing Commander shows the cruciform-tail and the trailing-arm-suspension landing gear.
Norm Notes: I believe that the majority of aircraft owners buy the fastest aircraft they can afford. To be thought of as being slow, whether accurate or not, is the kiss of death for an aircraft, other than a trainer. People become pilots to go fast, period. Compare the speeds of the new breed of composite aircraft such as the Cirrus and Cessna/Columbia 400, and you can readily see why many aircraft are no longer competitive. Americans like to go fast, through life, in their driving and in their flying.