In the early 1980s, attorney/pilot Kirk Hayes started an airplane sales company with Robert White, who happened to be a fellow IBMer and jocular pilot friend of Ron Bower’s. Once their company was off the ground, Kirk and Robert invited Ron to join them as Vice President of the company and creator of a new helicopter sales and maintenance department. Having stayed at IBM for a full 15 years, Ron “retired” to go take this exciting more-than-full-time job.
Ron built a close team of mechanics, pilots, salespeople and administrators, all focused on buying and selling helicopters. (See photo above of Ron with his friend Sandra Escobar, The Best Executive Assistant In The World Ever. Ron nicknamed Sandra “Radar” because she always knew what he needed before he even started to ask for it. During his trips around the world, Sandra slept at the office many nights so she could be available via satellite phone and email in all time zones.)
While he built his wing of the company, Ron negotiated and managed a 7-year helicopter lease contract with a leading local news channel, and provided pilots (sometimes himself) to reach the news-worthy stories first. He applied his IBM experience by building a database of FAA records (history, owners, contact information) for every Bell 206 in the U.S.A. He used that contact information to start a direct mail newsletter for 206 owners, which put him in the position of being a familiar name to Jet Ranger fans. His first helicopter purchase was from an owner in Florida who had read his first newsletter.
That particular helicopter, that first one purchased, was unique in that it had been approved under Special Federal Air Regulation (SFAR) by the FAA for installation and operation of an instrument flight/autopilot system. Initially, Ron did not have the rare helicopter rating required under the SFAR to fly in IFR conditions. Since he had received fixed wing instrument ratings years earlier, the process was quick. By pursuing that rating for that first helicopter, Ron unwittingly laid the foundation for his later Around The World journey solo in a similarly configured Bell 206.
While navigating the storms of his fledgeling department within the startup company, Ron also began to explore international business opportunities as the age of globalization was dawning. (Though he had worked for International Business Machines for 15 years, IBM had never sent Ron outside the United States!) He learned how exchange rates can turn a good deal into a lousy deal or a great deal. He began to attend a biennial helicopter expo in England, and developed relationships with companies and potential buy/sell customers all over the world. Ron spent significant time abroad, including five months in Paris and one in Australia. He bought and sold dozens of helicopters overseas, and began to brainstorm about how best to market the company internationally.
How about a record-breaking flight Around The World? Though he did conceive of the trip(s) largely for business reasons at first — to help market his company’s services, including his own reliability as a knowledgable pilot/buyer/seller — Ron was delighted to discover and nurture a more significant purpose as the planning process unfolded. While he meticulously prepared for each trip for 8 months, he was surprised to encounter countless people who were enormously inspired by what he was doing. Colleagues, pilots, industry service providers and friends came together behind Ron to make the trips feel much bigger than what he had planned them to be. (See 1994 ATW and 1996 ATW.)
Unfortunately, the company Ron worked so tirelessly to promote (in what many considered to be crazy ways!) ended up being sold multiple times during and after the Around The World trips. Austin’s Robert Mueller Airport, where the company had built its enormous hangar in 1983, closed in 1998. This marked the end Austin Jet International.
Ron’s international relationships continued to bring him customers and advice seekers, so Bower Helicopter picked up the mantle, as shown in the ad below. (Contact information on this ad is no longer valid.)
With the events of September 11, 2001, aircraft sales slowed significantly. Bower Helicopter’s consulting services helped numerous buyers and sellers during this difficult period. Ron officially retired and closed Bower Helicopter in 2011. He then served as an advisor for Hangar Holdings, LLC until 2015.
55 years flying
1994 around the world eastbound & solo
1996 around the world westbound
’59-’68: school, love, war
’82-on: aviation sales
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