Wichita businessmen, friends share ownership of King Air 200
A regular reader of King Air magazine, Tim Buchanan always enjoys the columns written by Edward H. Phillips. “I find them very interesting and full of great historical facts and people,” Buchanan said. “I appreciate having this globally distributed magazine tell the history of my hometown.”
Buchanan reached out to the magazine after reading the September 2016 column, “They wanted wings,” Phillips’ account of Truman and Newman Wadlow. The identical twin brothers from Wichita, Kansas, learned to fly as teenagers in the late 1920s with the help of Walter Beech.
“Truman and Newman were my great uncles. Their brother Clyde is my grandfather, and father of my mother,” Buchanan wrote. “I lived with my grandparents for several years growing up. We lived by the Ken Mar shopping center, which was built at the site of the Ken Mar airport, I believe. I grew up hearing stories of Truman and Newman, and your article is especially meaningful to me.”
Buchanan didn’t quite follow in his great uncles’ footsteps but aviation has always been a part of his life as a resident of Wichita, the Air Capital of the World, a designation that dates back to 1928 and continues to pay homage to the city’s aviation heritage and the presence of manufacturers and suppliers.
Buchanan, 62, is a partner in a 1976 Beechcraft King Air 200 with Ron Ryan, 78, who has a place in Wichita’s aviation history as the founder of Ryan Aviation Corp., which eventually became Ryan International Airlines.
Here’s the story of how these two friends and businessmen came to be partners in a King Air.
Ryan grew up in Iowa and started his career as a tool and die maker. He moved to Kansas City for a job with Western Electric and eventually was promoted into engineering. The company asked him to go to night school to earn an engineering degree. After earning 21 credit hours and not enjoying the classes, he met the chief pilot for TWA who encouraged him to learn to fly. “Six months later I had my private, commercial, instrument and multi-engine ratings,” Ryan said.
His first job was flying about 200 hours a month in a Beechcraft Queen Air, Cessna 195 and Piper Cherokee Six aircraft for Skyway Aviation in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He moved back to Kansas City to become a full-time flight instructor for Midwest Corporate Aviation, which then became a Learjet dealer. “I got a job flying the Learjet after landing a Cessna 310 with the gear half up and half down with the owner of the company on board,” Ryan stated. “He said he was going to give me a million dollars if I didn’t hurt him. I didn’t hurt him or the airplane. I got a steak dinner out of it and a job flying co-pilot on their Lear.”
Ryan traveled to Wichita regularly for maintenance on the Learjet and on one trip friends connected him with Jack DeBoer, a real estate developer looking for a full-time pilot. Ryan moved to Wichita in 1968 and flew for DeBoer until 1973; during that time DeBoer was considered the second largest multi-family developer in the U.S., building more than 16,000 apartments across 25 states. In 1974, Ryan started flying for George Ablah, another legendary Wichita developer, and the two formed Ryan Aviation Corp., which started as a charter flight operation and cargo carrier.
“George and I built it up into an airline, and when I got into the passenger business in 1982 we set up a strategy to either sell it or take it public. As fate would have it, we had a couple different entities wanting to buy it so we sold it in 1986,” Ryan said. “Two years later, I bought the airline back for pennies on the dollar as they had destroyed almost everything but still had the air carrier certificate. My wife Renae and I, plus a lot of other knowledgeable, hard workers, built Ryan International Airlines back to a place where we sold it again in 2004. At that time, we had 2,500 employees with 60 large planes, two of them DC-10s each able to carry 389 passengers flying three times a week to Hawaii. The company was doing over $300 million a year is sales.”
After the sale, the Ryans moved to Florida. They moved back to Wichita in 2008 to help raise their granddaughter. “She was 10 years old then and she’s about to graduate from high school,” Ryan said. “We didn’t want to raise her in North Miami Beach; Wichita is about as good a place as there is.”
The Ryans are “retired” but still have a healthy number of business and philanthropic interests. They are the primary investor in 11 Meineke Car Care Centers in Kansas and Oklahoma that are run by family members. They are investors in several green energy businesses and, “We have a company called Agriboard where we are building a plant that makes a building product out of compressed straw,” he said.
For nearly the entire time he operated the airline business, Ryan owned two Learjets and a King Air. “When you have 60 airplanes out there flying, you have a lot of need,” he said. “We used both the Learjets and the King Air a lot. If we’d have an airplane break down somewhere, we’d fly people and parts out to rescue the airplane. If you’ve got a DC-10 that breaks down, you’ve got 389 passengers and you need to do something quickly.”
He sold the Learjet when he sold the airline and continues to own and fly a King Air. Over the past 30 years, he said, he’s owned five models – from a Queen Air to a Model 90 to three different 200s.
“I’ve always liked and flown Learjets but they require two pilots and I like the fact that I can have a nice, safe, easy to fly airplane that burns 90 gallons an hour, carries 10 people, goes five and a half hours at over 300 miles per hour and can be flown single-pilot if you choose,” Ryan said.
He purchased his current 1976 King Air 200 about five years ago, and flies 100 hours a year, which is why he invited Buchanan to buy half of the airplane.
Buchanan’s uncle was a recreational pilot and gave him his first flight as a kid. His father worked on the assembly line at Cessna Aircraft Company for 28 years. While aviation has always been a part of his life, the 62-year-old was in his 50s when he learned to fly. “I loved planes and I had always dreamed of getting my pilot’s license,” he said. “I soloed in 1989 for the first time but then life just got too busy with other priorities.”
As a home builder and developer in the 1980s, Buchanan was inspired by mission trips he went on with First Church of the Nazarene. Seeing the life-changing effects of helping build schools and churches in places like Haiti and Honduras made him want to have that same sense of fulfillment with his work at home. He focused his efforts on senior housing and is considered among the pioneers of the assisted living concept and helping create a new option of residential housing and care for seniors we find today versus the clinical environments found in years prior.
He co-founded Sterling House Corporation in Wichita in 1990 with one location and took it public in 1995, then merged with a Wisconsin-based group in 1997. When Buchanan left the business in 1999, it had grown to more than 400 locations in 35 states.
Even while he wasn’t a licensed pilot, Buchanan was using airplanes to grow his business. While building the Sterling House portfolio in the 1990s, the company owned a half share of a Citation II to regularly take management to properties from Florida to Indiana and throughout the Midwest. After the merger with the Wisconsin company in 1997, Buchanan and other managers based in Wichita flew on the Citation every Monday for a year to spend the week in the Milwaukee office, flying back to Wichita every Thursday.
After a non-compete period, Buchanan got back into assisted living in 2001 by acquiring a property in Florida and creating Legend Senior Living. Today the privately held Wichita-based company owns and operates 35 residences representing more than 2,380 units of independent living, assisted living, memory care and nursing residences in Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Colorado and Texas.
In 2005, four years after Buchanan launched Legend Senior Living, he decided to finally make time to learn to fly. He got his license in 2006 and purchased a 2002 Cessna T206 Stationair that same year. He has flown it about 400 hours and his son Matthew, who is director of finance at Legend, also started flying. They both fly the 206 to properties in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado, and also use it for personal travel to homes in Missouri and Colorado.
“We started doing more work out of Colorado and had more and more buildings down in Florida,” said Buchanan, who is owner and CEO of Legend. “Ron Ryan is a good friend, we go to church together and he’s just a good guy to ask about anything aviation related. I asked him advice one day on finding a plane to partner in and he said he didn’t use his plane enough. He was interested in partnering in his King Air and hiring a pilot to manage the partnership.”
In 2013, Buchanan bought half of the 1976 King Air 200 that Ryan had owned for just a couple of years.
“If you are going to share a boat or an airplane, you want to have a good partner. Tim’s a very good partner,” Ryan said.
Buchanan added: “It’s worked out extremely well. We are great friends first of all, and we really don’t have any scheduling issues with use of the plane.”
Over the years, Buchanan said, he’d been on demo flights in King Airs and he knew Ryan had acquired a quality airframe that had been well cared for. Importantly, the Beechcraft matches one of Legend Senior Living’s company values: stewardship.
“We don’t own a Citation X and we don’t own a brand-new King Air,” Buchanan said. “We own a very high-quality aircraft and I can justify the cost of this transportation and see great value in it. This King Air is a great, multi-purpose aircraft that provides economical transportation for what we do: regional trips or multi-hop trips where you might want to visit several cities in a day.”
Ryan said Raisbeck modifications that the previous owner installed have made this his favorite of the five King Airs he has owned.
“It has the Raisbeck wing lockers, the four-bladed props, the strakes and all, and I’m guessing I get another 10 to 15 knots out of it,” Ryan said. “A friend of mine invited us to go to Indianapolis a couple of years ago, because he had a couple of cars in the race there. He had a King Air 350 and I had my 200. We were all loading up at the same time at Jabara Airport. I taxied out ahead of him and took off ahead of him. When I landed, they were unloading their airplane. I looked at my pilot and said, ‘For another $2 million we could have been here at the same time they were.’ Between Wichita and Indianapolis, it wasn’t more than a difference of 15 minutes.”
The King Air is based at Jabara Airport in northeast Wichita and a full-time pilot, JD Ratz, manages the schedule and maintenance, which is done by Jabara Midwest Corporate Jet and Bevan Rabell at Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. Ratz flies single-pilot when Buchanan is using the aircraft and he flies right seat when Ryan is using the plane.
Ryan, who said he stopped logging his flight hours around 30,000, including 7,000 in Learjets and 4,000 to 5,000 in King Airs, said he might consider a Blackhawk engine upgrade down the road but doesn’t have any modifications planned. “It has two GPS’ in it, and that’s all we’ve really needed. We don’t have a glass cockpit but I don’t know that I want or need one,” he said.
The Ryans use the airplane for business trips to Oklahoma, Texas and Florida, as well as some personal travel. “The King Air is a fun, easy, simple and extremely safe airplane to fly,” Ryan said. “We just went to Kansas City in December to see the Chiefs play and there was a lot of weather. I was able to go up to 22,000 feet and get over it. We had a nice flight up and back, although we had a 90-knot tailwind so it was a little slower coming home.”
Buchanan uses the King Air about 130 hours a year, most often for business trips to Florida, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma. While it’s a long haul to Florida, the King Air is the perfect vehicle for hopping from city to city to visit Legend’s 11 properties across the state.
“We can hit all of our assets down there in a very short trip that would be impossible without this kind of an airplane,” he said. “We’ll take three or four home office employees from different disciplines – sales, operations, clinical – and we’ll fly down to meet the regional team, then take two or three of them with us to the properties. We can have team meetings along the way, and talk over business with the directors at each location.”
The King Air is an integral part of Legend’s growth plans. “We can take opportunities that we would probably not otherwise take,” Buchanan said. “For example, we are going into Ohio now and other states in that direction. We’re in the care business and what we do requires a lot of attention. We don’t want to have properties in places we can’t get to.
“We’ve doubled the company in size in the last five years,” he continued. “We added three to five new buildings a year plus acquisitions but we’ll never have 400 buildings. We’re hands-on: we like to know the customers and we like to know our associates. There’s a scale at which that is lost and the minute we feel that way we’ll stop growing. I joke that I could never go on Undercover Boss because I can’t go in to any of my properties without being recognized. You couldn’t disguise me enough. That’s really important to me and to a large degree the airplane makes it possible.”