Kim Lorenzen, 66, of Saratoga, former owner of Saratoga Aviation, like most pilots has a lot of flying stories to tell. Without a doubt, he has plenty of stories like those told by other pilots at airports or bars near airports.
But for Lorenzen, there are stories he shares with pilots that have been flying into Saratoga for the last three decades while he owned Saratoga Aviation and acted as manager for Shively Field.
“There was the wolf,” his wife reminded him during an interview with the Saratoga Sun.
Sometime back in the 1980s, a couple who used the airport kept a pet wolf. While they were busy dealing with their airplane one day, the wolf became stressed and tore the carpet up in the room. It then escaped the hangar and, reportedly, headed over to the grocery store and began causally wandering the aisles either looking for its owners, or perhaps a snack.
Any airman who has been around long enough had stories like these, and for Lorenzen, they seem to be a be an indelible part his three-decade career supporting aviation in Saratoga and the Valley. But when asked what his favorite part of the job was he says one thing: working with his family and children.
Lorenzen and his wife Peggy moved to Saratoga from Hannibal, Missouri where his family was in the motel business. While Hannibal is most famous as the hometown of the great American writer Mark Twain, Lorenzen calls Everly, Iowa, his hometown. Everly is a town in northwestern Iowa near the Minnesota border, where every road on the map seems to run perfectly east-west or north-south.
He attended Iowa State University in Ames, where he graduated with a degree in animal science in 1973 before going to work for Smithfield, a meat processing company. Later, after Peggy graduated from Iowa State, the couple moved to Missouri where the family had gotten into the motel business.
When asked how he went from animal sciences to aviation, Lorenzen says aviation was just something he was interested in. “I started taking lessons in high school,” he says, adding he continued to have an interest in flying throughout college but was difficult to do in college because of prohibitive costs.
Later, he says, he earned his commercial pilots’ license with multi–engine rating. For him, aviation was something he enjoyed, but he said unlike many other young people with interest in flying, he didn’t see a career, sweeping aside romantic notions of being an Alaskan Bush pilot or other such life.
It was only after his family decided to quit the motel business in Hannibal, as happenstance would have it, Lorenzen, his wife and their young children would come to Saratoga and help shape aviation and build an aviation legacy in the Valley.
“My parents wanted to retire and we decided we didn’t want to stay in the motel business,” Lorenzen says. “This business out here came up for sale so we came out here and looked at it and just jumped into it.”
The Lorenzens moved to Saratoga and took over Saratoga Aviation in the spring of 1981. Even then, Lorenzen said he knew Saratoga was a special place. “Back then, there was a lot of general aviation going on, but Saratoga always had a lot of jets.”
General aviation (GA) refers to private flying not done for compensation, and in the latter half of the 20th century, it was a booming industry. After World War II, there were surplus military planes to be had for cheap and many people who learned to fly in the war bought them and used them for private flight. Companies such as Cessna, Piper, Beechcraft and others surged from producing a handful of planes each year to making thousands which wound up in the hands of many private pilots. Aviation fuel was cheap.
Some who were bold enough to make such predictions said one day, private plane ownership would be as common and affordable as car ownership. Across the country, there were private pilots who enjoyed flying as a hobby or to quickly and cheaply travel for work or leisure.
To serve this burgeoning population of pilots and their small, mostly piston-engined aircraft, Fixed Base Operators or FBOs, popped up at airports around the nation. These FBOs, like Saratoga Aviation, sold fuel, services, tie downs and rented hangar space, planes and even cars to pilots.
With the aprons at most smaller airports dotted with small, piston powered aircraft, many FBOs at small town airports saw the private small plane owner as their bread-and-butter customer. Jets and turbine-powered aircraft were a rarity at a lot of FBOs, and were more common at executive airports that catered to businesses with enough money to have private jets.
In 1981, the year Lorenzen took over Saratoga Aviation, there were 193,368 piston-powered GA aircraft registered in the United States according to figures published by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). In 2011, the most recent year for which the AOPA publishes figures, there were only 155,180.
In 1981, there were 328,562 licensed private pilots and 179,912 student pilots in the United States according to AOPA; by 2011 there were only 195,650 private pilots and 115,000 student pilots.
Despite the bold predictions decades ago any middle-class household could, and possibly would, own an aircraft as easily as it could own a car or two, it never came to pass. Maintenance costs, insurance, hangar space and other expenses associated with flying have risen over the years. And a dramatic increase in aviation fuel used for piston aircraft have made aviation less of a middle-class person’s pursuit and more a hobby of the wealthy.
In Saratoga though, the airport has thrived over the years. While many FBOs ran into difficulties as general aviation numbers dropped off, aviation in Saratoga expanded, with the airport growing and offering more services to pilots and the aviation community.
Lorenzen says this is due primarily to jets and turbine aircraft, as well as the abundance of upscale guest ranches and recreation opportunities in the Valley. Lorenzen says ranches like the A-Bar-A and now Brush Creek Ranch, and the expensive jet aircraft that fly into town have buoyed the airport and the town while others struggle.
“We’ve been lucky as far as our business, we sell 20 times more jet fuel than high octane (the fuel used by piston-powered planes),” Lorenzen says. “Our sales volumes of jet have gone up yearly.”
Saratoga’s special status as a big jet destination has helped clear the way for airport improvements, he says. Because the FAA, the state and others recognize the unique traffic of Shively field, grants for improvements have been easier to get.
Lorenzen is proud of work he did at the airport and at his former business. Over the years, new things were added at the airport. It got an instrument approach pattern to allow aircraft to be guided in to the airport in more difficult weather. Over the years, Saratoga Aviation adapted to the shifting market, transitioning from charters and GA aircraft rental to catering to jets.
It was all part of the evolution of the business and the airport, and reflected the realities of the market for non-commercial aviation in the Valley.
And it wasn’t easy to let go, Lorenzen says, saying even though the business is sold and now named Saratoga Jet Center by its new owners as a nod to the airports biggest customer base, he has an almost parental feeling about the business he and his family worked 36 years to build.
The business the Lorenzens built also helped build Saratoga into what it is today, and will likely continue to shape the town’s trajectory for years into the future–another fact Lorenzen is proud of. “The aeronautics commission ranks the airport as one of the top GA airports in the state in terms of economic benefits,” he says. “In one of the surveys they did, we came right behind Jackson Hole in terms of per person economic impact.”
His wife Peggy added not everyone was so convinced of the importance of the airport to the town’s economy. Once, she said, she was in a now-closed business in town where the owner was complaining about the airport and how there is no benefit to having it. Peggy informed the business owner the person who had just left the store after purchasing an expensive piece of art was a high-ranking executive at Hughes Aircraft who had flown into the airport to visit town.
Lorenzen misses his business, saying he likes to talk with the current owners and help when he can. But, he feels the business is in good hands and the future looks bright for aviation in Saratoga, as well as the economic growth that comes with it.
“The new owners know what they’re doing and will do a great job,” Lorenzen says. Because of increased traffic at places like Brush Creek Ranch, Lorenzen suspects there will be plenty of business at the airport in the future, and much of it will be high-end aircraft. The new owners, he says, have already begun making their own mark on the business.
It’s a business he says he was proud have built, and looks forward to seeing it grow now he has retired.
For Lorenzen and his wife though, it’s the relationships they built with customers that are meaningful on a personal level. “We made some good friends with our customers,” Lorenzen said, adding he and his family had many people over at their house and got used to seeing them time and again during their travels.
Most importantly, it was a business that allowed the family to spend time together and make a living for themselves while helping build an airport and a community.
During Conquistadors, when aviation executives fly into a local guest ranch, the Lorenzen children came back to help at the family business, even making a vacation of the event, Lorenzen says.
Of course, there are the flying stories. Lorenzen’s office at the airport was once used by an airline executive and a team of hostage negotiators during a hijacking of a U.S. airliner overseas. The executive had been at a local guest ranch when the hijacking happened, and the airline dispatched the team to Saratoga aboard a Boeing 727.
The executive and hostage negotiators sat in Lorenzen’s office on the phone negotiating for the release of the hostages. “Then a few minutes later, we’d hear on CNN or whatever it was exactly what we had just heard coming from the office,” Peggy says.
Another time, pop music icon Katy Perry passed though Saratoga Aviation and the Saratoga airport. Lorenzen stood mere feet from Perry without realizing who she was. Finally, one of his grown children whispered to Lorenzen who the woman was.
As proud as Lorenzen is about his time running Saratoga Aviation and the role he and his business played in driving Saratoga’s economy, his favorite part of his career as owner of Saratoga aviation was being able to spend time with his children at work, both when they were young and as adults.
It wasn’t always easy though, Lorenzen says. There were plenty of stresses that went with the job and sometimes made life difficult. “I tell people that running an airport is why my hair went gray, not because of raising children,” he jokes.
In a business where having a wolf chew up the carpet in your building is a thing, it’s good to see Lorenzen and his wife Peggy carry their senses of humor into retirement.
Original article can be found here: http://www.saratogasun.com