Cessna CEO Talks About His Aviation Roots (Part One of
Jack Pelton, CEO of Cessna, is a happy guy. And he's surrounded
by happy people who work with him to build a remarkable line of
airplanes unparalleled in the industry. There are companies that
build a full line of business jets. And there are companies that
build a full line of piston singles, from trainers to sophisticated
Cessna does both, and additionally makes the unique and remarkable
And no company has Jack Pelton. Bruce Keller, a Cessna rep and
one of the company's larger-than-life characters, has a bunch of
Jack Pelton stories. And everyone who proudly wears a Cessna shirt
or flies a Cessna seems to have a Jack Pelton story. Today's crop
of manufacturing CEO's are, of course, a personable bunch. But
Pelton is surrounded by a phalanx of people who work every day
with, and generally, truly, like the guy.
The word is, he loves to fly. In this crowd, that counts for
As we settle down to start the interview with Pelton and Cessna
PR flack Jessica Myers, we're briefly interrupted by... a fan. He
works for Rolls-Royce in Indiana, and he asks politely to have his
photo taken with The Man. Pelton is gracious, genuinely friendly,
and poses, smiling, with the gentleman. In a way, that says as much
about Pelton as anything he said in the following interview. He's
generally interested in the people around him.
So... let's talk to Jack Pelton, shall we?
Bruce Keller told us, last year you flew in in the 182? From
Jack Pelton: Yep, the G1000 [equipped 182],
before it was certified.
Aero-News: That's a pretty neat thing to do.
You're the CEO, you could take a Citation. Why the 182?
Jack Pelton: I've been in general aviation my
entire life, ever since I was a kid. My Dad had a 140, so I grew up
flying in the right seat of a small airplane, and I just [emphasis
in his voice] really enjoy flying.
Not only have I been able to make a career out of it, but it's also
a hobby and a passion for me. So that's all... my whole life has
been around airplanes.
Aero-News: You and your wife are life members
JP: Yes, we are.
Aero-News: How long have you been life members,
or members in general?
JP: We became life members, I think it was last
year? But I've been a life member... (thinking)
Aero-News: That's a good deal, life membership,
if you're planning to live more than a few years.
JP: It sure is. But I've been an EAA member...
hmmmmmmmmm... since I've been about 16.
Aero-News: No kidding.
JP: Out in California.
Aero-News: What did you learn to fly, and
JP: I learned to fly right out of high school,
and it was in a Cessna 140, my Dad's airplane.
Aero-News: Did he teach you, or did -
JP: No, he was not an instructor. I learned to
fly from... actually...
Stansbury was his last name and his brother was the head of the
AOPA, I think it's his twin brother. I don't know if he's even
still alive, but it was many years ago.
We had a momentary interruption when another Cessna 172 owner
stopped by, and promised to "stop by later today." Pelton was just
as pleasant to him as he is to all his company's legions of owners
and pilots. Of course, this 172 owner was Phil Boyer, but my point
is the affability that Boyer gets, we all get.
JP[back to reminiscing about his first
instructor]: Many, many years ago.
Aero-News: Since then you've flown just about everything then?
[Pelton made a face, indicating he was about to disagree] Well, up
to what Cessna builds?
JP: Yeah, if anybody would let me fly it, I'd fly it.
Aero-News: Do you still fly for pleasure as
JP: Yes, I do.
Aero-News: And what do you fly when you're
flying for recreation?
JP: [Laughs easily, and hesitates]
Aero-News: That's OK. I got Alan & Dale
Klapmeier to tell me about his Brand X experiences, so now it's
JP: [Laughs again then suddenly gets serious,
What are they flying?
Aero-News: Alan has just bought a Chipmunk in
Aero-News: ... and brought it back, and he has
wonderful stories about European bureaucracy.
JP: I fly a Citabria frequently, and I'm
restoring an Aeronca L3.
Aero-News: Oh really! That's a rare plane?
[your humble writer was confusing the L3 with another Aeronca].
There were only...
JP: No, no, no, no. There were in the... they
Aero-News: What, fifty of them?
JP: I don't know, it was in the hundreds. It
was an observation airplane... similar to a J3 Cub...
Aero-News: Oh, OK, I'm sorry. I had that
JP: Yeah, 65 horsepower. Low and slow!
Aero-News: Basically a militarized Champ, isn't
Aero-News: How long have you been working on
JP: Ooh. Year and a half?
JP: And there's no official end date.
Aero-News: You're ninety percent done with
ninety percent to go?
JP[laughing]: Yeah. It's a project.
Aero-News: Have you ever considered doing a
JP: No, I haven't... I... [shrugs] Certainly,
time constraints would be the biggest issue. Certainly, there are a
lot of very interesting homebuilts that are out there.
Aero-News: Now, how does your wife feel about
flying? Does she fly with you?
JP: Yes, she does.
Aero-News: Is she a pilot?
JP: She's not a pilot, but she's an aviation
enthusiast. As a matter of fact, she was kind of upset she wasn't
at Sun-n-Fun. But she had another obligation, somewhere she had to
She loves to go to the Saturday morning pancake breakfast with
the local EAA Park City.
Aero-News: I guess that becomes a social event,
Aero-News: You get to know people... are there
a lot of [Cessna] employees in that?
JP: Quite a few. We have a very active flying
club at work. It's one of the things that makes Cessna special,
that we have a single engine flying club with very good rates,
which attracts an awful lot of people to Cessna.
Aero-News: It's like a benefit?
JP: In a way, it is. Half the going rate!
That seemed like a good place to wrap up the part of the
interview that talked about Jack Pelton, the man, and it may give a
little insight into why the Cessna CEO is so well-regarded by the
troops in his trenches, and indeed, by his peers and other industry
We spoke some more about Cessna products, why piston twins
haven't come back, why my Dad's beloved T210N isn't back in
production (and Pelton has a suggestion to those with 210 envy) and
what's holding Cessna back from new piston designs as innovative
as, to name one, the Citation Mustang very light jet.
But I hope you have a better idea of what makes Jack Pelton
He just loves to fly.
To be continued...