There are some machines which just exude ‘performance’, that shout ‘speed’ at you, even when they are standing still (try looking at a bright red Ferrari, and you get the feeling). This smart Rockwell Commander 114, G-RCED, does just that! Actually, the streamlined nose, and the scoop on the side of the cowling are reminiscent of the experimental fighter from Curtiss, the XP-37 of 1937. The aircraft shown, G-RCED, has been on both the American and Cayman Islands Registers (as VR-CED), but is now in the capable hands of David and Danielle Pitman of Lymington, Hampshire and is shown parked at Cotswold Airport, Kemble, Gloucestershire. Strangely though, this is one case where the actual speed achieved does not live up to visual expectations.
The Commander, produced by North American Rockwell (later Rockwell International) had a rather bad start; initially, there were two versions of the aircraft, the Model 111 (fixed gear) and the 112 (retractable undercarriage). The 111 didn’t go to production, and the prototype 112 suffered structural failure of the cruciform tail in flight. This crash lead to a redesign, and delayed production until 1972, when a reasonably equipped Commander would set you back about $36,000. The aircraft had much to commend it, a roomy cabin for four full-sized adults, smart styling, and a trailing-link undercarriage which made for very forgiving landings. However, the 112 was underpowered, leading to a lower cruising speed than its contemporaries. Changing the engine for a 210 hp turbocharged Lycoming TO-360-C1A6D on the Commander 112TC helped matters a good deal.
However, it wasn’t until Rockwell re-engined the Commander with a bigger Lycoming, a 260 hp IO-540-T4ASD (in post-1977 models an IO -540-T4B5), that the design lived up to its promise. Sadly, Rockwell stopped building the 114 series in 1979, and the rights to the Commander design were sold to Gulfstream American in 1988. Gulfstream never built a single aircraft and eventually a Middle East consortium bought the rights and, trading under the Commander Aircraft name, established a production line in Bethany, Oklahoma. Aerodynamic fixes, equipment changes and a reworking of the basic design gave rise to a family of aircraft with new designations – 114B/115/115TC. Like many GA companies, this one folded, and a group of Commander owners banded together to produce spare parts and undertake service improvements on existing airframes as the Commander Premier Aircraft Corporation. Even this did not work out, and neither did a 2009 agreement between CPAC and a Montreal-based company, Aero-Base Inc., which had announced plans to re-start Commander production, then – you guessed it – faded from view!
The Commander is a slightly heavy (built to almost military standards), but basically sound design which has suffered in the past from poor development, poor engine choices, and ever-changing corporate ownership. Despite this, and the issuance of several Airworthiness Directives (covering cracks in the main spar, the elevator hinges, and failure of seat mountings for example) Commander owners are loyal and almost fanatical in their support for this elegant and stylish single.