Sunday, July 16, 2017

Wysong Enterprises Inc, Blountville, Sullivan County, Tennessee: A pioneer in avionics, helicopter customization

Steve Wysong, president of Wysong Enterprises, checks some wiring on a Eurocopter EC-130's interior. Wysong's business, located beside the Tri-Cities Airport, is one of the few in the country that specializes in helicopter customizations for medical, law enforcement and corporate needs.

The live broadcast of O.J. Simpson evading police in a white Ford Bronco along Los Angeles freeways was viewed by millions across the globe, giving America its first taste of “reality television” in 1994.

But that now-famous slow-speed pursuit may have never been seen by the public if not for one Tri-Cities businessman and his groundbreaking knowledge of electronics.

Steve Wysong, president of Wysong Enterprises, actually installed some of the video equipment used by several of the news helicopters covering the O.J. Simpson chase that June day.

“If you remember the O.J. Simpson drive down the interstate, some of the video cards used by the news helicopters were built in my basement over here in Piney Flats,” Wysong said.

“That night, there were 18 helicopters up there, between all the police helicopters and TV stations. I think there were about seven TV stations and we had (worked on) five of those. So most of that was stuff we had done.”

Since the 1970s, Wysong has operated a niche business, now located beside Tri-Cities Airport, that specializes in helicopter news-gathering equipment, avionics and custom designs.

Born in Ohio, Wysong always had an interest in electronics growing up. In the 1970s, Wysong was attending college in Miami when he got his first job working on the so-called black boxes — used to record flight data on airplanes — and piddling around with the electronics on a few helicopters owned by network television stations.

As technology evolved in the late 1970s, Wysong founded his first business, Wysong Avionics, which lasted less than a decade.

In the late ’80s, Wysong decided to sell his business to Edwards & Associates, which eventually became Bell Helicopter, and joined the company’s avionics shop for a couple of years.

“A lot of times people that succeed in business, they fail the first time and learn from that. So I decided to go try it on my own again. Really what happened, new technology came along for the TV stations with the steerable pods coming out,” Wysong recalled.

At the time, network television executives were sharing Wysong’s name as one of the few people who could install and maintain video technology in helicopters.

Wysong said he gained his knowledge in electronics by using logic — and not being afraid to mess something up.

“I had an instructor one time who said, ‘Don't be afraid to try and work on something. The worst you're going to do is screw it up.’ I would just take the most logical approach to it and try to think it through. That's how you get experience is learning from your mistakes,” Wysong said.

For five years, Wysong traveled the nation with his two kids and wife, making a living equipping helicopters with various electronics and customized equipment.

“When I left Edwards and went on my own, I had a van loaded up and had the wife homeschooling my two kids at the time. She would be building harnesses in the room and drilling circuit boards, and I was out at the airport working on the aircraft,” Wysong said.

“I got to a point, in about 1993, I was tired of being on the road and I told everybody, ‘If you need us to do the work, you need to bring it to us. ... I could have moved anywhere. Everyone was telling me to move to Dallas, because that’s where all the helicopters are, but we just fell in love with the Tri-Cities.”

As technology continued to improve, so did Wysong Enterprises. Eventually it expanded from one small hanger to three adjoining hangers, which included a paint shop.

“The television stations really used to promote the helicopter. Every time one would call me, they wanted more equipment, bigger helicopters and better-looking reporters on board than the other station. Then when (the recession) came around, they just wanted to get a shot the cheapest way they could,” Wysong said.

As demand diminished for news helicopters, Wysong began taking contracts to customize medical, law enforcement and corporate helicopters, which kept his business thriving through the economic downturn.

“When we did all the TV stuff, it was really rewarding to be able to see a major news story and see your work on TV. Now, it’s rewarding to know that we’re building aircraft that are saving lives every day. So it just makes you feel good at what you do. We get to see the fruits of our labor,” Wysong said.

Paul Schreuder, Wysong’s sales manager, said the emergency medical service market is one of the strongest for helicopter customizations right now.

The company is currently renovating one of Wings Air Rescue’s first helicopters, equipping a West Virginia State Police helicopter with electronics and customizing a corporate helicopter.

“We had one guy from up in the Northeast. He owned 50 car dealerships and he took a picture of his Lamborghini and said, ‘Here, this is what I want you to make my helicopter look like.’ So the seats and all were based on the (Lamborghini) with black and red leather,” Wysong said.

Since its beginnings, Wysong included his family in his business operations, but none were more involved than his son, Rodney Wysong.

While growing up, Rodney Wysong moved from one department to another before getting into the sales side of his father’s business and earning the title of vice president.

“He was really good in sales. He knew how to take care of customers really well,” Wysong said. “He oversaw all the sales and customer relations with some of the big companies. He made a good name for the company and for himself.”

A painting in memory of Rodney Wysong, son of Wysong Enterprises President Steve Wysong, hangs inside a corporate office of the Tri-Cities helicopter customization business.

In 2013, Wysong heard some of the worst news a parent can hear: his son was diagnosed with brain cancer.

After three years of traveling the country seeking a cure, Rodney Wysong died in April 2016.

Last year, while Wysong was at a trade show in Charlotte, he was unexpectedly surprised by a painted portrait of his son, presented by Rob Hamilton, president of Med Trans and owner of Wings Air Rescue.

And Rodney Wysong’s impact on the local aviation industry will, quite literally, keep flying high into the sky.

In addition to the portrait, Med Trans emblazoned “Rodney” on the tail end of all four Wings Air Rescue helicopters used in rescue missions around the region.

“It meant everything,” Wysong said about the gesture. “People see Rodney's name on the aircraft, well it was my son who was very involved in these aircraft and getting these things completed.”

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