by Jeremy Schoolfield
Jack Morey describes his brother Will Morey’s passion for flying this way: “He’d fly a plane just to get across the street if he could.” The elder Morey is a pilot of 37 years who thinks it’s “pretty cool to take off with low visibility, fly in those conditions, and then break out of the clouds with the runway right at the end of your nose. It’s not magic, but there’s a piece that feels magical.”
He is not alone in this regard.
Funworld interviewed several pilots in the attractions industry to glean what they love about flying, and they all came back with some variation on the word “freedom,” be it literal or metaphorical. In Morey’s example above, there is the freedom of relying on one’s own skills and experience to achieve success.
“There is an element of danger, and that appeals to many of the risk takers in the industry,” says Pete Owens, public relations manager for Dollywood in Tennessee and a pilot of three years. “They are in control of the plane and their own destiny.”
“It has a relationship to entrepreneurship to some degree,” agrees Bob Rippy, president of Jungle Rapids in Wilmington, North Carolina, and pilot of 12 years. “A lot of people in our industry are entrepreneurs, and flying is an entrepreneurial task—it’s you, by yourself, against the elements. That’s what entrepreneurs do every day, going to work and fighting the battle.”
The Freedom of Flexibility
There is also a practical, logistical side to the freedom of aviation these pilots say helps their businesses. Morey, the president and CEO of Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey, calls it a “time management resource” because he can visit a larger number of diverse attractions across the United States than he ever would have time for flying commercial.
For example, when researching the Piers’ next roller coaster his team went up in the company’s six-seat Beachcraft Baron—dubbed “Boardwalk One”—and visited four parks in less than two days. Rather than dealing with the hassles of driving an hour or more to a major urban airport, Morey can go from pier to planeside in about 15 minutes, file a flight plan, and off into the wild blue yonder he goes. Many of the places he visits have regional airports nearby, so it’s typically just another 15 minutes from touchdown to the park. He can then alter his schedule at a moment’s notice; a colleague at one park may say, “You really should go see this …” and Morey can literally pick up and go. His days of waiting in long queues for tickets, security, and rental cars have largely been behind him for some time.
And, what’s more, he and his team are the perfect guests: “We can get in, take a look around, have lunch, and then be out of their hair. It’s fantastic. Not that you can’t do it any other way, but the practical convenience and effectiveness of using aviation like this helps us immeasurably.”
The Joy of It All
Finally, freedom can mean the pure joy of soaring into the air like a bird, with the world laid out beneath you. Do not underestimate the draw of this sensation on these pilots.
“There is nothing quite like flying over the countryside and exploring small-town airports,” says Jim Seay, president of Premier Rides in Baltimore, Maryland, and a pilot of 10 years. “My home base is right on the Chesapeake Bay, and it is quite spectacular flying over the Bay and seeing its wildlife from above. I can go from the hustle and bustle of Baltimore and within 45 minutes fly to an island on the Chesapeake where watermen still have 17th century Elizabethan accents and are so isolated from the ‘real world’ that it is incredibly refreshing.”
“I can go fly my Stearman for an hour and a half, and I’ll feel like I’ve been on a 10-day vacation. It’s that rejuvenating,” says Chris Maier, CEO of Land of Make Believe in Hope, New Jersey, referring to his classic two-seater biplane. “Flying expands your horizons physically. You get a macro view—it puts everything in perspective.”
Morey participates in aerobatics competitions, putting his Pitts Special S2-C biplane through the demanding paces of precise dives, rolls, loops, hammer-heads, and other maneuvers. “I can’t get on a coaster and not think about flying that Pitts Special—I might as well put a joystick in my hand,” he says.
He agrees there’s nothing quite like seeing an amusement park from hundreds or thousands of feet above. “It’s interesting the perspective you can get of a place from an airplane—seeing the dynamic of the facility, how traffic works, that type of thing,” Morey says, then jokes: “These days, with Google Maps and everything, I guess it’s not quite the advantage I had before!”
Senior Editor Jeremy Schoolfield gets where these guys are coming from. Though he’ll never be an aviator, he has been inverted in a WWII trainer and jumped out of an airplane at 13,000 feet. Contact him at jschoolfield@IAAPA.org.
Aviation’s Applications to Business
These pilots say there are many crossovers between aviation and running a business—particularly in the attractions industry. For example, safety is the number-one priority in both realms.
“We’re not making screwdrivers; we’re taking human beings on these attractions,” says Will Morey of Morey’s Piers, who frequently references aviation in employee training and safety processes at his attraction. “Both demand a high level of care, concern, and precision. In flying, it’s not good enough to want to fly safely; you have to be knowledgable and then execute on that knowledge. That’s similar to our industry.”
Flying forces you to think several steps ahead, strategizing just as you do with your own company, says Chris Maier of Land of Make Believe: “You can never be complacent.”
“It’s a system that’s very rigid and regulated; you can lose your license if you break any rules,” adds Jungle Rapids’ Bob Rippy. “I also compare flying to golf: Every shot’s a little different in golf, and every flight has different challenges to it.”
Advice for Prospective Pilots
If you’re reading this article and have even an inkling that you may want to follow these pilots’ paths into the sky, Will Morey says you owe it to yourself to at least investigate your options.
“The first step is finding a reputable flight school, and then just go give it a try. Take a flight or two,” he says. “It is a time commitment, but it’s well worth the effort.”
Ah, yes … time. Bob Rippy spent three months of intensive training in Florida to obtain his pilot’s license; the process can take a year or more for a part-timer.
As for aircraft, Morey says there are a number of relatively affordable options in the market. He stresses the importance of owning a plane, however, over simply renting aircraft from time to time: “You want your eyes on the maintenance of the airplane and know it inside out.” He says it’s feasible to share ownership of a plane with one or two other people, as well.
If you’d like further advice or want to hear a first-person perspective on aviation, Morey says, “Call one of these pilots; any of us would be glad to speak to you.”
John Arie Sr.
CEO/Owner, Fun Spot
Years flying: 24 years
Types of planes flown:
Cessna 172, Cessna 210, Cessna 400 Corvallis
How/why he got into aviation: “I had a boyhood dream to
fly and soar like the birds
(or Superman). Finally, with business success, I could afford to.”
What he loves about flying: “The challenge, the freedom, the accomplishment, and the fun of it all! Also, it allows me to check out amusements throughout the U.S. that would be almost impossible logistically otherwise and legally write it off as a business expense.”
CEO, Land of Make Believe,
Hope, New Jersey
Years flying: 34
Types of planes flown:
Boeing Stearman PT-17,
North American AT6
How/why he got into aviation: “When I was 3 years old, my mother took me to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and put me on her shoulders so I could poke my head into the Spirit of St. Louis. The smell of that airplane—the fabric and the oil—I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve had a fascination with bi-wing open-cockpit airplanes ever since.”
What he loves about flying: “The best way to describe flying a Stearman is ‘freedom.’ The plane is an extension of your body, and the wings are extensions of your arms. You fly low and can smell everything. It’s one of the most exhilarating experiences.”
President, BSR Group,
Daytona Beach, Florida
Years flying: 29 years
Types of planes flown: Piper Arrow PA28R, Beech Baron 58P, Piper Navajo PA31, Cessna 152 & 172, Piper Seminole, North American T6 Texas, French Cap10
How/why he got into aviation: “My father was a corporate pilot most of his career, so I was always around airplanes and airports.”
What he loves about flying: “There is a great sense of freedom and accomplishment in flying. The ability to go where and when you want as long as the weather cooperates is very satisfying. There are a number of skills you need to master, and there is always room for improvement and retraining; flying skills are very perishable. I am also a flight Instructor and a FAASTeam representative (volunteer safety consular). As in our industry, flying is all about safety, good judgment, following procedures, and recurrent training.”
President, Uremet Corp., Santa Ana, California
Years flying: 25
Types of planes flown: World War ll trainers,
Stearman BT-13, Ryan22
How/why he got into aviation: “Born that way.”
What he loves about flying: “There are so many aspects
of flying—the thrill of flight, the challenge of navigation.
I also love the physics and mechanics of aircraft,
and I am currently rebuilding my 1941 Stearman from the frame up.”
President/CEO, Morey’s Piers, Wildwood, New Jersey
Years flying: 37
Types of planes flown:
Aviat Husky, Beachcraft Baron 58, Beech A36 Bonanza, Cessna Conquest 1, Grob 103, Mooney Ovation, Pitts Special S2-C
How/why he got into aviation: “It comes back in a memory as if it was yesterday. My parents chartered a Beach Baron to fly out to Cedar Point. I watched them take off when they left and land when they got back; two days later I was taking lessons. Something struck a chord.”
What he loves about flying: “The freedom … There’s a sense of adventure and exploration.”
Public Relations Manager, Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Years flying: 3
Types of planes flown: 1966 Piper Cherokee PA-28-180
How/why he got into aviation: “I actually began flying as an anniversary gift. My wife was looking for something unique to give me for our 20th wedding anniversary and lessons were it.”
What he loves about flying:
“I love the freedom and the beauty of it. The world looks so different from a small plane—it is beautiful! Additionally, I really like the technical part of aviation. It is demanding but it is one of the only things I do that allows my mind to be so focused on one thing that it relaxes me.”
President, Jungle Rapids, Wilmington, North Carolina
Years flying: 12
Types of planes flown: Bonanza, Cessna 172, Diamond 40
How/why he got into aviation: “It was always something in the back of my mind I wanted to do from the time I was a little boy. In the Boy Scouts to get your aviation merit badge you had to fly in a small airplane; I flew in a Super Cub. One of my roommates in college was a pilot in Vietnam, and we flew some. So one day I woke up at 49 years old and thought, ‘If you’re going to do this, you better do it now.’”
What he loves about flying: “Every flight is a challenge. Weather, landing, and every airport is always different. It keeps you in a high mental state when you’re flying, and no two flights are the same. You have to use all your senses.”
President, Premier Rides, Baltimore, Maryland
Years flying: 10
Types of planes flown:
Piper Archer II
How/why he got into aviation: “I have, since childhood, been fascinated with flying and always wanted to fly. Once
I owned my own company I realized what a benefit it would be to be able to fly to
my customers, especially
after the challenges created by 9/11 for air travel.”
What he loves about flying: “When you own a business you can almost never get away from the challenges of work; that situation is magnified today due a 24-hour
global operation and the advancements in communication. But when you fly,
you have to be singularly focused on safe flight operations, while other
issues fade away. Flying is
an amazing stress reliever.”