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Carl F. Brady.

In the late 1940s, nobody knew much about flying helicopters, including civil servants charged with regulating the new "ships." Carl E Brady remembers the Civil Aeronautics Administration flight instructor who was supposed to teach and license him to fly a chopper. The instructor had never flown a helicopter before. He gave Brady a manual.

"He told me to read the book, then tell him how to do it. Then he told me to go fly and come back and tell him how well I did, " Brady recalls.

Brady was drawn to flying at an early age. "I got interested because I was fascinated by anything that flew. That goes back to when I was eight. I was enamored of Lindbergh's trip across the ocean in 1927, " he recalls.

His family's struggle with economic hard times in Depression-era Arkansas didn't dampen Brady's dream. In 1938, he headed west to Yakima, Wash., seeking to improve his fortunes. On the eve of World War 11, he learned to fly and served as a civilian flight instructor for the Army Air Corps Cadets before enlisting in the Army's Ferrying Command.

Like many aviators, Brady has always displayed a mixture of authentic modesty about his talents and exploits and a flair for daring stunts and practical jokes. It was during the war that Brady astonished his parents by buzzing their Springdale, Ark., home five times in a P-40 he was ferrying from Brownsville, Tex., to the East Coast.

By war's end, Brady had flown just about everything the Army could put in the air. Then he met the helicopter, a new kind of flying machine barely known to the general public. As a flyer and aspiring businessman, Brady quickly grasped the potential peacetime applications of helicopter flying and set about convincing the rest of the world with evangelical zeal.

But if the chopper challenge was irresistible, it also offered its share of heartache and struggle. -It was a pretty tough business to start up with helicopters. They were unproven and unlicensed by the CAA until 1947, " Brady remembers.

He joined with two entomologists to form Economy Pest Control in Yakima at the same time Bell I began experimenting with helicopters an Says Brady, "We hocked everything we e together enough money to buy our first helicopter. It cost $29,500. Actually we lease-purchased it; we couldn't afford to buy anything. "

Brady's relationship with Bell marked the beginning of a fruitful decades-long alliance with helicopter manufacturers that saw Brady continually pushing the choppers to new frontiers of performance, utility and application.

Dave Baumeister, president of Era Aviation, notes that Brady was, and is, a perfectionist and an innovator: "Carl adapted to those early helicopters the first skid-type landing gear and the manufacturers then went to that as a general pattern. "

Brady had discovered, in the process of taking on more and more remote assignments, that the wheeled choppers had a disconcerting tendency to roll down mountain slopes. The skids put a stop to that.

Other lessons from Brady's experience found their way into design modifications and pilot manuals. In those early years, Brady pioneered the use of helicopters in herding wild horses and driving wild elk from orchards, where they overbrowsed valuable trees one bad winter, onto a nearby preserve. That story made Life magazine.

Brady hired his ships out to blow snow off telephone lines, re-seed forest lands, fly search and rescue, haul supplies to firefighters and conduct game counts. So commonplace now, such missions constantly made headlines then.

In a lighter vein, Brad saved some of t is best stunts for his new flying career. There was the time he flew and hovered over Oregon farmlands with a sign labeled Bargains' then landed on the roof of a tiny crossroads store that was trying to generate a little more business.

According to Brady, such antics were an essential part of demonstrating what the new-fangled choppers could do. "We got a living doing things like that,' Brady recalls.

Brady still relishes the story about flying the San Francisco Call-Bulletin photographer over Stanford Stadium the day of the Big Game, rushing photographer and film back to the Windy City, then delivering copies of the newspaper back to the stadium for sale, while the game was still in progress.

In 1948, Brady broadened his horizons considerably. After persuading the U. S. Geological Survey that helicopters could make topographic mapping faster and more cost effectively, he became the first person to operate a commercial helicopter in Alaska. That first summer, crews flown by Brady mapped the northern half of Chichagof Island, about 80 miles west of juneau.

"They had spent six years mapping the southern half. We mapped the northern half in 33 days,' Brady recalls.

Says Baumeister, He sold the USGS on doing it that way, He took the lead and told them, This is better than mules. "'

The experiment was so successful that by the 1952 field season, 32 civilian and 20 army choppers were moving survey crews from hilltop to hilltop mapping the vast territory. It was indicative of how competitive the new helicopter industry had already become that only four of those belonged to Economy Helicopters.

But by then, Brady had become driven. Hooked on flying, working long hours and Alaska, Brady sojourned north every summer, leaving the fields of Yakima and his young family to build the Alaska operation. Between 1948 and 195W, the company's gross income grew from 30,000 to $750,000.

By 1956, Brady had established year-round operations at a Merrill Field headquarters, and by 1959 was able to move his family to Alaska.

In the early 1950s, oil exploration became a boon to helicopter charter companies in Alaska. Brady bid on a contract to support the oil search being conducted by Union and Standard Oil of California on the Kenai Peninsula. The hitch was that the companies were looking for an operator with a giant and very expensive Sikorsky S55.

Economy Helicopters didnt have one, nor the capital to buy one. Neither did Rotor Aids, a California-based competitor. The two decided to joint venture, then to merge, giving birth to ERA Helicopters. In 1988, the firm's name was changed to ERA Aviation.

Era continued to mature, pacing the development of the now-state of Alaska. Brady had more than proven his hunch about the versatility of helicopters, but the competition with other operators was keener than ever. Although helicopter charters have a pricey reputation, Brady remembers the struggle to maintain profit margins against the constant erosion of maintenance costs and the need to re-invest to remain competitive.

"Helicopters got more and more sophisticated and expensive.

We grew, we had to make bigger and bigger investments. It was very difficult to make enough money in charters and take care of the needs of the helicopters and buy new equipment, " Brady says.

In 1967, Brady's business reached another crossroads. "We had our choice of staying small, because of lack of capital, or growing if we could get the capital, " he recalls. At the time, Era had 2.5 million in assets, and owed a million dollars. The company was looked over by the likes of Bill Lear, of Learjet fame, General Tire and Fluor Inc. Then, Rowan Drilling Co. (later Rowan Companies) made a "take it or leave it offer"

"They made us what we felt was a good offer at that time, " says Brady. Rowan paid $2.5 million and took over the debts. Payment was $1.2 million cash, 17,143 shares of Rowan stock and a promissory note for 600,000. The Era owners stayed on as officers, with Brady as president.

Era Aviation's Baumeister notes there is sometimes a rhetorical tendency to criticize corporate sellouts or to associate them with salvaging struggling companies. But Era Helicopters was " a viable, ongoing business. Carl made the business work both from a functional point of view and an economic point of view," he says.

What the company was looking for was not a tax write-off or even diversification. It needed an aviation affiliate to support its work in offshore drilling services. Says Baumeister, " It needed the expertise. "

Brady retired, somewhat reluctantly, in 1984. During his 35 years in aviation, he also served an active civic and political career that included stints in the legislature, presidency of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce at the time of the 64 earthquake, and a number of directorships. He continues to manage investments from his office in Resolution Tower, which he owns.

With all his flying credits, the inevitable question is whether Brady is first an aviator or a businessman. Baumeister responds, "I think there was a time when he was a flyer first. But there came a time when the businessman in him came to the fore. Carl was a real entrepreneur. He can see the value of an idea and bring it to fruition. "

Writing in the late 1950s, Daily News reporter Albro Gregory called Brady the "early bird with the whirly-bird." It was a reflection of Brady's own business philosophy: " Get there earlier, stay longer, work harder.'
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Profile
Author:Richardson, Jeffrey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Words:1514
Previous Article:Earthquakes and other economy shakers.
Next Article:Kenneth C. Eichner.
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