At first take, it might sound like Chris Miller is still in the honeymoon phase when he says of the Beechcraft King Air F90 that he acquired in 2017, “It’s currently our only airplane and it’s going to be our only airplane. We absolutely love it.”
It is, after all, his first King Air. But when you find out more about Miller’s path to this point, it sounds like a level-headed statement. This is the airplane he knew he wanted before he even became a pilot, and while other aircraft better fit his needs until now, the King Air matches his family’s current lifestyle – one that doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon.
Miller and his wife Jennifer are raising five daughters between the ages of 4 and 12 in San Diego while running a family office that invests in commercial real estate and private equity. Until a few years ago, Miller was traveling frequently between homes and business interests in California and Florida. They still have homes in both states, but the trips are less often and the work schedule less demanding.
Miller grew his career and cap-ital beginning with multi-family apartments in Texas in the 1990s. The financial crisis in 2007-2008 was devastating to the housing industry and he came out of that storm with a single self-storage property in Jacksonville, Florida.
“We humbly made every mistake in the world and then we figured the business out,” he said. “We were at a moment in time with the talent to scale that company from one property to one of the largest self-storage companies in the world.”
iStorage was founded in 2008 and in 2016 sold its 66-facility portfolio in 24 markets across 12 states for $630 million.
“I’ve worked since I was 14 years old and after we sold that company, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my family,” he said. “I can help raise these girls, be a good husband and I’m living a good, balanced life instead of working all the time.”
The winding path to his dream airplane
Miller grew up in Fallbrook, an area north of San Diego known for its avocado groves that some say make it the “Avocado Capital of the World.” He enjoyed watching airplanes take off and land from the local airport but it wasn’t until he went to college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas that he got a chance to be around airplanes and meet people who could afford to own them.
He called moving from Fallbrook to Dallas to attend SMU, a private college, an eye-opening experience. It was at the Addison Airport just north of downtown Dallas that he says he fell in love with the King Air – for its rugged look and the comfort, speed and power that pilots boasted about.
The real push into aviation, though, came from an experience flying with his wife’s cousin, Bill Borgsmiller, who founded the ACI Jet facility at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport about midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“Jen and I were just married and we had come to San Diego,” Miller remembers. “Billy flew down to Carlsbad in a client’s Citation II and he told us to come to the airport and go to dinner with him. He said, in the Citation we could either fly down to Cabo San Lucas in an hour or an hour and a half or we can fly up to San Francisco or over to Phoenix. Both of our mouths hit the floor. So, 20 years ago we went to Roy’s restaurant in Pebble Beach. I got to sit in the front and as soon as I experienced that, I told my wife that I have to learn to fly. We immediately got our pilot’s licenses back in Texas, then I got my instrument rating and we started flying from there.”
They became pilots in 2003 and in 2005 they purchased their first aircraft, a 2005 Cirrus SR22. The Millers put nearly 500 hours on the airplane, including cross-country flights, before selling it in 2007.
“From that point, my wife and I had five little girls over the next 10 years, so I put my head down in business and started working really hard,” Miller said. “Over those years, we leased a lot of different airplanes: a Beechcraft Baron, a Beechcraft Bonanza and a Turbo Commander. We started working our way up and bought our first turbine-engine aircraft when I was 40, which was five years ago.
“Our first true turbine was a Citation 501, and I’ll never forget making that purchase. Then after we recapitalized one of our companies, we bought a Gulfstream 100. Next, we bought the Lear 60 and, finally, we bought the King Air, the airplane I always wanted.”
Queen of Kings
At the height of expanding iStorage into 12 states, the jets fit Miller’s travel needs, which included frequent trips between San Diego and Tampa. Now, when needed, he flies to Florida on commercial airlines. The King Air is ideal for most of their missions that take them throughout California, surrounding states and down to Mexico.
On the business side, the Millers use the King Air for meetings related to real estate acquisition and companies in which they invest. Personal use includes taking the family to outdoor destinations from Northern California down into Mexico and over to Arizona.
“We absolutely love the airplane because it has great power, it’s the smaller fuselage but it has the big engines,” Miller said. “For our lifestyle, we love to go down to Mexico and we love to go to the mountains. We go to the Sierras and Lake Tahoe, and we also go down to Gonzaga Bay in Mexico and land on a dirt strip. We really travel all around the region and we can throw all five kids in, fill it with bags, fill it with fuel and we can go and land anywhere we want.”
Miller competes in the sport of desert racing, driving the No. 40 Trophy Truck in Southern California Off Road Enthusiasts (SCORE) events such as the San Felipe 250, Baja 500 and Baja 1000. He often uses the King Air to get to remote race locations.
“We blew a transmission and a third member on a truck we were racing down in Mexico, so we ran the King Air back up to San Diego and picked up a transmission and flew it back down really quick,” he said. “That was very convenient.”
Miller flies the King Air along with a second pilot, often his chief pilot Richard Hardoon. The two met eight years ago when Hardoon was managing several aircraft in Florida as well as flying. Miller leased the Twin Commander 690B-10 from him and “we flew it all over the U.S.,” Hardoon said.
A former U.S. Navy and airline pilot, Hardoon is now based in California along with the King Air at Gillespie Field Airport, northeast of downtown San Diego. He flies and manages the King Air, which Miller uses about 150 hours annually. Hardoon has about 22,000 hours and first got to know the Beechcraft product line while working at Hangar One in Florida in the 1980s while attending Embry-Riddle.
“We found LL-163 with low time, and it had every available airframe mod completed already: engine inlets, strakes, exhaust stacks and wing lockers,” Hardoon said. “Chris tasked me with the rest of the refurbishment job. We took it to Stevens Aviation in Nashville, who installed a new instrument panel with Dual Garmin G600s and Dual GTN-750s and a new interior. We then took it to Aerosmith Aviation in Longview, Texas, for a new paint scheme.”
The Raisbeck wing lockers have provided plenty of room for hauling surfboards, mountain bikes and skis along with luggage, and the other Raisbeck modifications have delivered the projected performance efficiencies. Those mods along with upgraded avionics have made the 1981 King Air F90 an amazing platform, both pilots said.
“Just this week we were returning from Cabo San Lucas, and the weather at Brown Field in San Diego was low-IFR,” Hardoon said. “We set up for the LPV approach to Runway 8L and the autopilot and Garmin 750s shot the LPV approach with ease. It’s rare having to use the LPV feature in real world conditions for us in So Cal, but it worked great.”
“Another valuable modification is Airtext,” Miller said. “It’s an affordable option for electronic messaging while onboard, and it has bridged the communication gap that would exist for an hour and a half to three hours depending on his mission.”
He can’t think of anything else he’d want to add to this King Air.
“I say this, impartially of course, but it’s an absolutely stunning airplane,” Miller said. “It’s probably the queen of the fleet of F90s.”
“God has blessed us very much with letting us enjoy such a wonderful piece of machinery. We’re thankful to Beechcraft and all the vendors who support the King Air and make it such a great airplane.”