By: David Sylvester
Banyan Air Service
It is almost 2 PM Pacific Time as the aircraft turns on final to commence the approach for landing at Seattle Tacoma International in Washington. Moments later, our pilot places the Boeing 737-800 smoothly onto the land of its birth, Boeing Field, being only minutes from Seattle Tacoma International. A glimpse of a mechanic as we’re being pulled to the gate, his breath condensing into the cold air, I wonder to myself, why did I leave Banyan in Fort Lauderdale and 80 degrees?
It is my first trip to Raisbeck Engineering’s dealer seminar, an annual event held by the preeminent manufacturer of King Air Modifications. Ed Bracero is my colleague and we venture into the 44 degree weather to catch a quick shuttle to the hotel. As luck would have it, I have forgotten my jacket, I am mortified but Ed, the seasoned traveler lends me his spare saving the trip. We are at the hotel a short while later and grab a bite to eat, before returning to the hotel to change for the reception at 6PM.
We meet Scott Keefe, Raisbeck Engineering’s Director of Sales when we get downstairs, then into the reception hall, where we meet the rest of the Raisbeck Customer Support team: Tiffany, Bill, Paul, Jill and Donna, (who ends up by the end of the seminar as the quintessential “mother” to us all, and who has a complete handle on everything including making sure no one’s left behind), it’s easy to see how she has worked with James Raisbeck for over a decade. Finally it’s the man himself, James D. Raisbeck, Founder and CEO of Raisbeck. Still spry at 77 years of age, he is unmistakable and can’t be lost within the room with a full head of white hair, his list of aeronautical design achievements longer than two proverbial arms.
After dinner, while meeting the other 15 or so dealers from across the United States, one in particular, George from National Airlines Corporation, who has flown all the way from South Africa, turns out to be a larger than life presence and the soul of the party. There are folks from California, Nebraska, Washington D.C., Port St. Lucie, FL and the Midwest from companies as large Hawker Beechcraft Services and Landmark to small self described Mom and Pop shops, all with the common goal of selling the best King Air Mods in the world. Commuter Air Technology and George from National Airways Corporation in South Africa both received awards for their sales achievements. As the reception starts to wind down, Ed and I are both exhausted as it is now
It’s 6 AM Eastern on Saturday morning, 3 AM Pacific and I am up already. I had forgotten how much I hate being jetlagged. Still, I force my head back onto the pillow for a couple more hours and head downstairs to breakfast. We have a pleasant breakfast with Jeff G
roethe of Aircraft TurbineWorks, who used to work at Banyan, remembering days of old and discussing colleagues in common. We were then joined by Bob Greer, from Steven’s Aviation in Greenville, South Carolina, which leads to us discussing some of the latest trends in maintenance in our respective regions. We’re off to Raisbeck’s headquarters just outside of Boeing Field, a 10-minute drive at most from the hotel.
We spend the day discussing the benefits of the wide range of modifications available to the entire line of King Airs and how to achieve the most efficient packages and sales strategies. Special emphasis was on the latest products, sharp looking but highly efficient swept blade propellers, if any part of a King Air aircraft’s design could be said to look sexy, these propellers would be it. During this time, James Raisbeck is present, interjecting occasionally with bursts of sharp insight and the occasi
onal story; like his modifications’ designs, James’ genius, I now find is his ability to reduce everything to its’ simplest form and elegantly solve it with no superfluous additions. At 77 years old, his mind shows no signs of slowing down, and he later teases us with hints of his latest projects. It is at one of these junctures I finally realize how long James has been around when he shares that he was at Robertson STOL as Chief Engineer and CEO.
10 PM Pacific Time, 1 AM Eastern and we have been up since 4 AM. We make our apologies and turn in for an early start next morning.
Twenty Five years ago, I got my initiation into aviation as an apprentice working on a Cessna 402B out of tiny airstrip in Guyana, not much more than 1900 feet by 75 feet. The Cessna 402B in stock form from the factory didn’t have the best take-off/landi
ng performance, and in the year round 90 degree heat, with any meaningful payload or passengers on the tiny unpaved airstrips that our company operated out of; it constituted a a recipe for disaster. In James Raisbeck’s parlance, it enhanced your chances of a “once in a career occurrence” with little chance of there being a repetition. Still, once the Cessna 402B was fitted with Robertson STOL fowler flaps, safety margins increased all around, as approach and decision speeds all dropped dramatically and made its operation into these difficult strips almost but not quite mundane.
Scott fields all our questions patiently throughout the presentations, in fact encourages us, and we are urged to pepper Davud Kasparov, one of the design engineers, with technical questions, since as James indicated “he hates speaking”. Davud endures and survives really well, a couple more of these sessions and he might even be talkative.
It’s a nice tour around the office at lunch, and Bill Lally sneaks a few of us off to look at the latest Raisbeck Modification that has just finished certification testing, the Lear 60 Aft Locker which adds significant additional baggage capacity to this aircraft.
We close at 3 PM, with James inviting us to visit with him later and view his collection of Antique cars. Back to the hotel and scant hours later we’re off to visit James’ home where he greets us and leads us to his garages. I am blown away by a pristine E-type jaguar and MG, then finally view in person a Jaguar XJ-220, and several other wonderfully preserved vehicles, beautifully restored. James regales with stories of his child hood and career, as we wonder amongst the vehicles.
We finish up and head to Anthony’s, a charming seafood restaurant on the waterfront, where we split into 3 groups at the various tables, Scott Keefe and his charming wife Katie are with us at the table, and the rest of the Raisbeck team take turns rotating between the various tables. Delicious appetizers are served, and as we enjoy a few drinks, conversations run the full gamut from colleges attended to places visited, world affairs, children, sport and accents punctuated by the arrival of delectable seafood entrees for the majority. Our table presided over by Katie is by far the loudest with lots of mirth, and banter back and forth.
As the night comes to a close, James Raisbeck rotates in for a finale, a round of good conversation and jokes. It has been an outstanding and very warm end to a wonderful weekend and my mind wonders ahead to the long trip back home, but I have met new friends and made lots of acquaintances at this seminar that was very graciously hosted by all the Raisbeck Team. Team Raisbeck has all the virtues that I have learned from Don Campion and our own team at Banyan Air Service, an ethos of hard work, exemplary customer service and principled dealings with your customers resulting in companies with over 35 years in being and still growing.
If you ever have the chance to visit the Raisbeck Team in Seattle, ensure that you do so, you’ll never notice the gloomy overcast days that so reminded me of my student days in Scotland due to the warmth of these great hosts, and what’s more, you can be sure their products do work. Finally, when you meet Scott Keefe, be sure to ask him why “5” is the magic number.