Mike Schroeder doesn’t take for granted the things in his life he’s been able to enjoy due to his success as a self-made businessman. When referring to his 1982 King Air B100, he said, “It’s an asset that isn’t easily available to everyone, so if I can offer it to make a difference in the world or help someone out, I’m happy to do it.”
Schroeder is semiretired in Sedona, Arizona, and found his way back to the left seat after a decade-long absence. While flying 2,850 hours during his career, which helped grow his business, now his flight hours are devoted to recreation, attending board meetings in Denver and helping nonprofits.
Finding His Own Way
Schroeder wasn’t a fan of school so he knew attending college wasn’t for him. After graduating from high school, he attended an electronics trade school. About the same time, he registered for the draft wanting to fly helicopters. He completed his electronics training in 1968 (he said much that he learned is now very obsolete!) and got a job immediately with Texas Instruments (TI) at the company’s environmental testing facilities in Richardson, Texas. Schroeder said he didn’t get drafted because of the projects he was working on at TI, which included a pioneering terrain-following radar to map the ground directly in front of the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, a high-tech night bomber first used in Vietnam and the IRIS Project for Mars atmosphere exploration.
Although he enjoyed the work he was doing at TI, he left to find higher pay in various sales positions and direct marketing. He eventually ended up working in electronics again, in retail and wholesale distribution. He explains, “In 1979-1980 when big satellite dishes were introduced, I started Consumer Satellite Systems (CSS).” The business, headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, grew into branch sales offices, dealers and warehouses in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Florida and Tennessee. By 1998, the company had grown to 10 distribution facilities all located east of the Mississippi River, serving the estimated 2.2 million households of the satellite dish market. “As technology improved and the satellite antennas became smaller, our business had to adjust and change, so we became a Direct TV distributor with about 5,000 dealers and 400,000 retail customers in the United States, Canada and Mexico. In 1998 we merged with another company that had 12 facilities west of the Mississippi at which time I retired from the business,” Schroeder stated.
Using Aviation as a Business Tool
Having always been a fan of aviation, Schroeder saw the need to learn how to fly in 1986, as his satellite dish business was expanding into other states. “We needed to visit our branch offices and it was taking lot of time out of our schedules,” he said. “For instance, driving from Indianapolis to Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a five-hour drive and about that much time flying commercially.”
Schroeder received his private pilot’s certificate that year in a Cessna 152 and took advantage of the diverse inventory of rental aircraft available to fly at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport (KUMP). “I flew every kind of Piper, Beechcraft piston and Cessna aircraft available and got my twin rating in the Piper Seminole,” he explained. “I know it sounds cliché but flying became a useful business tool. I could leave early morning, fly to three of the branches for meetings and be home that night; there’s no way I could have done that without aviation.”
He went on to get his instrument and commercial rating and in 1993, the airport approached him about purchasing a Beechcraft King Air. They wanted to add the aircraft to their charter fleet and thought the King Air would meet Schroeder’s transportation needs. He purchased a 1974 E90 model and leased it back to the airport for charter. In 1998, he had a friend working for Cessna Aircraft who convinced him to buy a new CitationJet (CJ), so he sold the E90. After putting about 1,000 hours on the CJ, he sold it in 2005 and wouldn’t fly again until 2015.
A Renewed Interest
During those 10 years of not flying, in 2006 Schroeder lost his wife of 26 years to cancer and moved permanently to a house they owned in Sedona, Arizona. He remarried in 2008 and says the reason he got back into aviation was that he had a hangar that was only storing a motor home and he wanted to visit his grown children and grandchildren who were living in different areas of the country.
Schroeder went back to a King Air and bought the 1982 B100 model. The biggest difference for him was the updated avionics – the CJ he flew last had dual BendixKing KLN 90s – and he struggled with the Garmin 430/530s. He ended up replacing the Garmins with dual 750s and upgraded the transponders with ADS-B and a new audio panel. He says he uses the 750s with his iPad® for the extras.
Flying for personal use now, Schroeder flies his B100 on various trips with friends, for board member meetings at EchoStar (whose sister company is Dish Network) and he also donates his time, aircraft and piloting to charity, which he finds rewarding. Schroeder currently flies for LightHawk and Veterans Airlift Command (VAC), two charities he feels a connection with.
He got acquainted with LightHawk when the organization had a function in Sedona. He learned that it focuses on conservation efforts throughout North America and focuses especially on landscapes and wildlife. “If there are opportunities to get two parties with different opinions on the environment or a piece of land up in an airplane to see it from a different view, maybe they can start a conversation and find items both sides can agree on,” Schroeder commented. The volunteer pilots also help transport wildlife that may be in danger or need relocated. A recent LightHawk flight moved California Condors from Idaho to California.
“LightHawk sends out the regional flights needed about 3-4 weeks ahead of time with complete detail on who is requesting the flight and the purpose, as well as a predetermined flight plan with optional dates that would work, which gives some flexibility to fit the pilot’s schedule,” he said.
Schroeder explained that VAC is usually date-specific because there is a need from a veteran to get to a doctor’s appointment or rehabilitation, or bringing family members together, which is very important. These flights allow them the freedom of not having to take a commercial flight and all the hassles that come with it.
“Many times, the flights will include more than one pilot and airplane,” Schroeder explained. “Recently there was a vet and his family who were going to visit his parents. The flight originated in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with a destination to Glendale, Arizona. One pilot flew the family from Oklahoma City to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and I flew to Santa Rosa to transfer them to my airplane and flew them to Glendale.”
Schroeder estimates that 15 percent of his current flight time is dedicated to helping the nonprofits. “I would encourage any pilot to find an organization they could help; it’s another reason to get up in the air and do what we love … and you’re making a difference in the meantime.”
Whether using his King Air as a business tool or helping others, Schroeder says that either way flying is a very rewarding experience.
LightHawk is a non-partisan conservation organization that uses aviation to make a significant difference in important conservation initiatives. It partners with leading conservation groups to tackle the environment’s most critical issues, landscapes and wildlife.
The organization was founded by bush pilot Michael Stewart in 1979 and began with a single mission to assist activists in stopping the proposed building of a coal-fired power plant on the edge of the Grand Canyon which they felt would ruin the views of the national park. Today, it has more than 280 volunteer pilots whose flights “foster dialogue and build consensus, promote informed decision-making, and increase the efficiency and effectiveness” of the organization’s conservation partners’ work
A Need for King Airs
LightHawk said it would love to have more King Airs for their missions in conservation, as well as transporting endangered species. On conservation flights, the aircraft “would be helpful when flying decision makers (senators, cabinet members, investors) over proposed conservation projects or developments. The view from the air really paints a full picture of how the landscape will be impacted and can better shape their decisions.”
A volunteer pilot willing to fly their King Air for transporting endangered species would allow more animals to be moved in one airplane and streamline the transportation process. Oftentimes, there is only room for one animal crate in aircraft, due to its size. LightHawk has transported endangered Mexican Wolves and California Condors, and ferried river otters, red pandas and cougar cubs.
LightHawk requires that volunteer pilots have 1,000 or more PIC (pilot in command) hours. Those interested can fill out a pilot application at www.lighthawk.org/get-involved/volunteer.
The Veterans Airlift Command (VAC) is a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots, which provides free air transportation for medical and other compassionate purposes to post-9/11 combat-wounded soldiers and their families.
Decorated Veteran Fricke started VAC, a long-envisioned dream, in 2006 after retiring. The wounded have a better chance to heal when their spirits are lifted by family, a lesson he learned the hard way: he spent most of six months in the hospital with 700 miles separating him from family after he was injured in 1968 while serving in the Vietnam War.
King Airs are some of the most popular aircraft for VAC missions because they offer passengers comfortable flights – non-stop routes, flying above weather and plenty of cabin room for family members, service dogs or medical equipment.
VAC envisions a need for flights to be ongoing. Some are no longer in hospital settings but require travel for medical care, and some are still seeking treatment for injuries sustained as long as 10 years ago. Many of the soldiers need specialized treatment that can’t be found at their local VA hospital.
Visit veteransairlift.org to find out more on being a volunteer pilot, donating money or to request transportation for a wounded warrior.
Note: Information used for VAC was taken from an earlier article featured in this magazine.