Today’s Wichita Aero Club presentation delivered just what our group of aviation enthusiasts needed. Textron Aviation CEO Ron Draper charmed and cajoled the capacity crowd at Rolling Hills Country Club. He made his intention known upfront, saying, “No one’s leaving today until at least one person buys an airplane.”

Draper had us laughing early and often. And listening closely.

He started with how he came to Wichita in the first place. Draper said he interviewed with 20 companies after leaving the U.S. Army as a Blackhawk pilot and company commander. His love of aviation led him to choose Cessna. His tearful wife said at the time: “Just promise me we won’t retire in Kansas.” Life being what it is, they fell in love with the Air Capital and have no intentions of leaving. Yay, Wichita. I love it when that happens.

Big Changes for Legacy Brands

Draper talked the crowd through Textron’s product lineup, which he proudly touted as the industry’s largest, and the company’s contribution to the state as one of its largest exporters. For a professed “airplane guy,” Draper likes marketing, too. He shared several examples of what his team’s done to instill confidence in flying again after emerging from a global shutdown. You can view their A Different Sky Awaits campaign here. He said they used the pandemic’s downtime to work on continued product development, revitalizing the corporate culture and inspiring team members.

Photo courtesy of Ricardo Reitmeyer, Visual Media Group

Leisure travel revved up first with people, still unsure about commercial travel, turning to charter, then buying used aircraft, then new. Textron actually had a good fourth quarter in 2020, he said. He used that to segue into highlights of Textron’s lineup: the new flagship Citation Longitude, CJ4 upgrades, King Air 360 and 260 enhancements, almost-certified Skycourier and the latest addition to the Beechcraft family: the clean-sheet, Denali single-engine turboprop. The prototype should fly later this year. He lamented that they’re a couple of years away to entry to service as customer interest is high. He spoke, too, of Textron’s growing support for the military, particularly the T-6 trainer and AT-6 light attack aircraft.

Eyes lit up when he showed us the highly coveted, retro-styled 75th anniversary option for the Bonanza G36. It’s inspired by former founder and CEO Olive Ann Beech and her signature blue (adopted on the personal advice of Oleg Cassini). The plane delivers in 2022, a fitting tribute to a glass-ceiling-busting woman. Over her 50-year career, she helped grow the company from 10 to 10,000 employees. We can never hear enough stories about that woman.

Photo courtesy of Ricardo Reitmeyer, Visual Media Group

A Skyway to Recovery

Draper came with numerous charts and graphs that helped him make his case that flight activity is rebounding and aircraft utilization is up. New entrants to the market, historically about 10%, he said is now double. Programs such as WSU Tech’s new flight school are helping to grow our pool of skilled labor. Supply chain concerns and an aging workforce continue to be headwinds to overcome. Listening to Draper, though, I felt anything but defeated. Smart minds are on it. We can do this.