CEOs Who Fly

Don Lamont

For business trips, a leisurely lunch, or a distraction from their packed schedules, CEOs share their love of flying.

It’s not hard to find a business executive who owns an aircraft and flies. Why? Distraction. Fun. Business. The appeal of a sanctuary away from texts, emails, phone calls and meetings. The ability to see from the air what you can’t see from the ground. Even if they started flying for business reasons, the CEOs we interviewed for this story also fly recreationally. And they love inviting others to fly along with them. “We don’t have to do barrel rolls,” one CEO we interviewed, said, offering us a ride in his Russian aerobatic plane.

Don Lamont
Business: CEO, D.A. Lamont Public Adjusters
What he flies: Husky bush plane and a Bravo 36 Bonanza, both single-engine and owned in partnership with Fort Worth CPA Chuck Lambert.
Where he flies: Likes to use the bush plane for aerial and infrared photography in his job as an insurance adjuster and for long-haul leisure trips. Fave: Alaska.

Don Lamont started flying in 1999 after his wife died and a friend, an American Airlines pilot, took him out for a jaunt in a private plane. “He told me I needed a distraction,” Lamont, 57, says. “He took me up, and I was hooked.”

Today, he flies for business and fun. His insurance adjustment company, D.A. Lamont Public Adjusters, that specializes in large commercial claims and hail damage, is licensed in 18 states. Lamont will fly for aerial and infrared photography, the latter to detect leaks in big buildings.

In August, he flew his Bravo 36 Bonanza to South Carolina for a job, saving what he estimates was 11 hours by flying privately. During the spring and summer hail season, he estimates he flies twice a week. “We represent a lot of school districts and cities,” he says. “Flying an airplane allows me to fly into small cities and multiple cities in one day. I can go to Abilene for one meeting, Amarillo for another meeting, and be home at night.”

Lamont also likes to fly on long-haul leisure trips. He’s an avid bush pilot. Alaska (five days, 30 hours of flying) is his favorite trip in the Husky. He likes to fly where there are no airports, just gravel bars, mountain tops and glaciers, and where he has to land on something other than a paved strip. This summer, he and his family flew the Bonanza to the Florida Keys for a lobster dive. Last year, they flew to Napa, California. The family likes to fly to its ranch near Albany. And Lamont’s wife Ronda – he remarried – is learning how to fly. “I probably fly six to eight hours a month for recreation.”

Emil Bragdon
Business: Owner and CEO, Reservoir bar and grill, The Whiskey Garden, Shot:30, Fort Worth’s West 7th district
New stuff coming: Preparing to announce three new concepts, all slated for real estate he owns in the West 7th area: West Side Pawn, restaurant, interactive games and video game bar; and two other concepts he hasn΄t developed yet.
What Bragdon flies: Single-engine Cessna 172. Also owns a twin-engine Beechcraft B30 Duke and a twin-engine Piper PA30 Twin Comanche, and has both for sale.
Where he likes to fly: Other cities to check out restaurants and bars. "Anywhere I can make the excuse to go up."

Emil Bragdon, 41, was looking for a diversion from the three nightclubs he owned. He tried guitar but didn’t like it. He’d already stopped watching TV and hasn’t owned one since 2007. “There’s people who watch four, five hours of TV a day,” he says. “It’s a waste of time. You sit in front of a screen, and you get nothing from it.”

Somebody suggested flying, so Bragdon went up in a small plane. “I got so sick the first time out,” he says. "It was the dead of summer, it was over 100 degrees out, the flight instructor was doing all kinds of aggressive maneuvers and turns." But he stuck with it and obtained his license in late 2010, several months after he started. “Everything’s calm,” he says. “No texts, no calls.” Flying appeals to his multitasking side. “It’s constant multitasking.”

Bragdon acquired a hangar at Hicks Airfield and built himself a loft apartment overlooking the “living room” floor where he keeps his Cessna 172 and a collection of cars, including a 1981 DeLorean, 1996 Hummer H1, a Finnish-made 2012 Fisker Karma luxury electric car, and a 1969 Chevy Camaro. He likes to hop in his plane and take off for places where he can check out restaurants and bar concepts he’d like to try in Fort Worth. His chef is a regular passenger on food-tasting runs. Nashville, Denver, and Chicago are among the cities Bragdon likes to scout.

“I fly for fun; I fly for my own business knowledge,” he says. “There’s so much unique food across the U.S., and there’s so much that’s not here.”

Bragdon’s first fear was of crashing, so he made sure he mastered the physics of flight. “I understand what it’s about.”

Then he loaded up on the latest technology. The Cessna has a traffic collision avoidance system, two GPS units, and a $20,000 ballistic parachute system that Bragdon recently flew the airplane to Minnesota to have installed. A pilot who encounters an emergency with no ability to land safely can trigger the system by pulling a lever.   “The chute shoots out the rear window and brings the aircraft down, level,” Bragdon says.

Carol Beaird and Jay Pratt
Business: RV Central, Hicks Airfield, north Tarrant County
What they do: Build kit Van’s aircraft
What Beaird and Pratt fly: Van’s RV-8, Cessna 180, homebuilt experimental super cub, all single-engine
Where they like to fly: Camping. Fave is an airplane park in Johnson Creek, Idaho

Jay Pratt’s obsession with flying started 40 years ago. “My dad was a World War II pilot,” Pratt, 70, says. “He built model airplanes. My earliest memories were my father’s balsa wood windup airplanes.”

Carol Beaird’s started 12 years ago when she came to help Pratt and he took her on a flying date after awhile. “The first few dates, I took her up to see if she was going to get airsick,” he jokes. “That’s a prerequisite to being a girlfriend.” Beaird, 69, obtained her pilot’s license nine years ago after first deciding she needed to know rudimentary skills in case Pratt ever became incapacitated behind the yoke.

They’re still a couple today, although “we’ve never been married,” Pratt says. They fly “every chance we get,” says Beaird, who loves the freedom and looking over topographical features from the air. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

The two live in an apartment inside the hangar their business is in at Hicks Airfield, a small airport north of Saginaw.

They like to go camping by plane, removing a rear row of seats from the Cessna or super cub so they can stow their gear. Their favorite: an airplane park in Johnson Creek, Idaho, which offers amenities like hot showers and firewood. It takes about 10 hours to reach in the Cessna, and more than 15 in the super cub. Like many other private pilots, they also flew to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, this summer for an annual fly and drive-in that draws about 100,000 campers annually. The couple’s first trip to Oshkosh together, “I wouldn’t let go of Jay’s hand,” Beaird says. “I said, ‘What is all of this?’”

Pratt considers all of their couple’s flying to be for business. “I can argue that every breath we take flying is all business,” Pratt says. “We see customers everywhere we go.”

Art Clapp
Business: CEO, NuvoThera, Fort Worth life sciences company
What it does: Is developing and about to bring to market a topical therapy called Prosoria for treatment of psoriasis
What Clapp flies: Single-engine Russian plane built in 2000 to train Russian pilots in aerobatics
Where he likes to fly: Florida; Houston; air shows in Texas and surrounding states; cities like Stephenville, New Braunfels and Lake Texoma, which have restaurants at the airport or nearby

Art Clapp, like many other pilots, got the thirst growing up between two airports in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. One was the international airport, and the other general aviation. “I rode my bike to the airport and washed planes,” Clapp, 58, recalls.

Clapp flew solo on his birthday at age 16, got his license at 17, and was an “airport rat,” hanging around pilots who hung around the picnic tables. Clapp aspired to be a commercial pilot but ultimately went down the path of pharmaceuticals. At one point, he was working for Galderma when the company transferred him to Paris, where Clapp lived for five years.

“I’d just bought an airplane,” an RV-4 sport plane, Clapp says. “I asked them to help me get the plane over there. They said, sure. It flew 200 miles per hour. It was like a magic carpet. I would see things I could only see in my history books.”

In his time off, Clapp flew all over Europe – France, England, Italy, Spain, Germany – often taking off right after work. He even flew to Morocco. “I’d get off work at 6 or 7, go to the airport, gas up, and I would fly the Normandy Coast, and it didn’t get dark until 11,” Clapp says. “I’d land at the airport and get a ride into town. I’d fly just for ice cream or crepes.”

Better yet, Clapp often landed on many of the World War II-era grass strips that still dotted the landscape. “I never had to call for  a taxi,” Clapp says. “People would just give me a ride into town and take me around. Sometimes, they’d take me to their home to meet their family.” Often, the families had members who lived during  the war and welcomed an American into their homes. On other occasions, Clapp was invited to converse with children who were learning English. Always, Clapp flew back to his European home with small-town spoils. “I could leave with local cheeses or local wine or local beer.”

When he returned to the United States in 2004, Clapp sold his plane to the same man he bought it from. Leaving the airport with cash in his pocket from the sale, Clapp spotted the aerobatic plane and bought it. Clapp later retired from Galderma and formed his own pharma company.

With the January launch of Prosoria nearing, Clapp’s excursions are fewer. Still, when he goes up, he always makes sure to do a few rolls. “My work is getting in the way of my flying,” he jokes.

Monica Graham
Business: Licensed Roanoke psychotherapist, maintains a private practice for adult patients and works with Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, counseling children removed from their homes by Child Protective Services
What Graham flies: Cessna 150
Where she likes to fly: Flies to conferences and for fun. Recently flew to San Antonio and Kansas. Likes to fly to airports like Stephenville that have restaurants close by.

Monica Graham wants to help change a persistent stat among pilots: Fewer than 7 percent in the United States are women. She uses her plane and fuel to help young women obtain their private pilots licenses.

She’s chair of the Fort Worth Chapter of The Ninety-Nines, the organization of women pilots co-founded by Amelia Earhart that advances aviation through educational programs, scholarships, and mutual support. The chapter has 57 members, but only a few own aircraft. Graham also is starting a nonprofit called Girls With Attitude and Boys 2, that will give economically challenged youth free pilot ground school, flight and leadership training, and exercises in building self-esteem.

Graham became a pilot four years ago, catching the bug from her husband, also a pilot. They live in a two-story home at Northwest Regional Airport in Roanoke, with six hangars attached, including two they own. Graham flies a Cessna 150, and her husband an RV-7.

They fly twice a week, Graham estimates, mostly on weekends and usually for fun. Recent treks include San Antonio; Kansas, for a Ninety-Nines international conference; and Oshkosh, a five-hour flight in the RV-7. as co-pilot with her husband.

She got hooked on the freedom she felt by flying: “The tranquility of being in the air and looking down on everything you don’t see from the ground,” she says. “It’s just a whole different world. And you don’t have to put up with traffic.”