On August 20, King Air Academy Founder Ron McCalister was killed when his 1984 King Air B200 crashed while trying to depart Rockford, Illinois (RFD). He was the only one on board.
Ron had dreamed of becoming a pilot since his youth and loved to tell the story about just how committed he was to learning how to fly. In an article for King Air magazine in 2015, he said, “I was 18 years old when I got engaged, and I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. I told the girl I got engaged to, ‘Someday I’m going to learn to fly. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but if you have a problem with that tell me now.’” That girl was Donna, and they had been married for 48 years when Ron died.
After purchasing his King Air in 2006, Ron said, “I absolutely fell in love with the airplane. It’s so reliable and it’s just so functional. It’s the best airplane for me and I don’t see ever flying another type.”
Ron came up with the idea for the King Air Academy (KAA) after attending other flight schools throughout his life and being disappointed by the lack of customer service and the wide variance in curriculum and instructors. He started the company in 2014 with Tom Clements and Kevin Carson and called it “a labor of love.” King Air pilots who have taken training at the KAA recall getting a follow-up call from Ron asking how their experience was and if there was anything they could change to improve it. Many looked forward to receiving his call after their next visits.
A few years after launching, the KAA decided to spearhead an event for King Air owners called King Air Gatherings. The idea was to get a group of like-minded, owner-pilots together to share information about their experiences with their King Air. Secondly, they wanted to have an outstanding group of King Air experts give educational, insightful presentations. The Gatherings quickly became a success and many more in the King Air community got to know Ron and how genuine he was. Many say they instantly felt like he was a friend … and that includes me. I got to know Ron and Donna and immediately knew they were all about their family and I felt like they made me part of it.
Ron left behind his loving wife Donna, four adult children, their spouses and 14 grandchildren.
He was 60 years old when he started the King Air Academy and Ron said people were asking why he was launching a new business at that time in his life. His answer, “Because I love aviation, I love flying and it’s been such a part of all aspects of my life. I’m also a salesman and a business guy, and I like the idea of building a legacy business.”
Ron left us with more than the King Air Academy, his legacy business; his passing reminds us to live life as he did … with passion and kindness.