Like any relationship, co-ownership of an airplane can be a great partnership when there’s good communication and a healthy amount of respect between all parties.
Two Wyoming families have formed what they describe as a near-perfect relationship through a 1981 Beechcraft King Air 200 thanks to a pilot who brought them together four years ago and keeps them happy and flying.
Mark Mathews grew up in Riverton, a town of about 10,000 people in the central part of the state where four rivers meet. The city is nicknamed Rendezvous City for its cultural history as a gathering spot for fur trading rendezvous.
Mathews returned to his hometown in November 2011 to become a corporate pilot for the Bebout family. Eli Bebout, who turns 73 this month, is a veteran politician who has served in the state Legislature for more than three decades and Nick Bebout, 68, will always be a star after a standout career at left tackle for the University of Wyoming that led to an eight-season career in the NFL. Their families go back a few generations and they each have four children.
Mathews had stayed in touch with one of his closest childhood friends while he was accumulating 5,000 hours that include time as a flight instructor, flying eight years in Alaska for two Part 135 operations and most recently flying Beechcraft 1900 aircraft for Great Lakes Airlines for four years out of the regional airline’s Denver hub.
With his buddy back in town, Sam Linden saw a lot more of Mathews and noticed how the Bebouts were using their King Air 200. When he heard that the brothers were interested in bringing a partner in on the aircraft, it was perfect timing as Sam and his father Mike Linden had recently started a new business providing equipment rentals and services for oil and gas operations from South Texas to Colorado to North Dakota and in between.
“Sam bought into an airplane that was right here where he needed it to be in Riverton, with a pilot who was already there,” Mathews said. “It was just a sweet deal for him to get into that caliber of an airplane.”
It was a win for the Bebout family, too.
“It was a great deal for the Bebouts because they got someone who is financially stable, who uses the airplane, and who is respectful and courteous,” Mathews said. “It’s almost like we are a big family that gets along great. It saves everyone money, and I’m being utilized by two different companies instead of one. It’s perfect all the way around.”
The Bebouts’ father and as many as seven other relatives served in World War II, including one uncle who was an ace gunner and another who was involved in the Army Air Force’s dangerous airlift operation over India taking supplies to Chinese forces fighting Japan. It was a younger uncle, Mike Svilar, who would become the family’s first pilot, though.
That got the brothers interested in aviation at an early age. Eli attended the Air Force Academy in 1964 and finished school at the University of Wyoming with an engineering degree. Nick starred at Wyoming from 1970-1972, then was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the sixth round of the 1973 NFL draft. He played in Atlanta until the Seattle Seahawks selected him in the 1976 expansion draft. He stayed with the Seahawks through the 1979 season, then went to the Minnesota Vikings in 1980, the final of his eight professional seasons.
The brothers knew they wanted to live and raise families in Wyoming, but there weren’t many jobs so they decided to start their own company in 1976. In those days, Nick said, offensive linemen often had jobs outside the football season. Nick had worked on some rigs owned by other people in college so he was familiar with the industry and Eli had worked for Shell Oil after college.
“In Wyoming, oil, gas and minerals were where the action was,” Eli said. “We’ve been in and out of different companies dealing with oil and gas and mineral development since 1976.”
The Bebouts’ core operations have been across three businesses since the early 1980s: Nucor Drilling, Nucor Oil and Gas and Nucor Inc., a construction company. They also have farm and ranch operations.
“The oil and gas industry is a volatile industry, so we have concentrated on diversifying to protect ourselves,” Eli said. “When the oil and gas business is struggling because of outside pressures of pricing and other things, we developed the construction arm of the business to mitigate the subsidence for underground abandoned coal mines. The key for us has been our diversification and the use of an airplane plays a huge role in allowing us to do what we do.”
The brothers both became licensed pilots in 1977, laughing as they retold the often-told tale of Nick wedging his NFL-conditioned 6-foot-7, 300-pound frame into a Cessna 152 for his checkride.
Their first aircraft was a Cessna 182 that was soon replaced with a factory-new 1980 Cessna T210N Centurion Turbo.
“My brother is 6-foot-7, I’m 6-foot-4 and all my uncles and my dad are large individuals,” Eli said. “We were in the 182 with two of our uncles and trying to fly to Denver and it would never level off. We decided we needed a 210 so we traded in the 182 in 1980.”
Aircraft was part of their business plan from the start, allowing them to fly to remote locations with no commercial airline service to check on drilling rigs throughout the Rockies.
“We shuttled parts and sometimes people,” Nick said. “It was a real tool for us.”
They still own and fly the T210N and through the years they added an Aero Commander 690 and an Aviat Husky. They traded the Aero Commander in for the King Air in 2007.
The brothers each have close to 3,000 hours but rely on Mathews to fly the King Air and he often flies the T210N as well. Between business and personal flights, they fly about 150 hours in the King Air each year, another 100 hours in the T210N and “fewer hours in the Husky mostly looking for the cows on the winter range,” according to Eli.
Typical flights in the King Air are 60 to 90 minutes with six on board, though they take it as far as San Antonio on a regular basis. In recent years the Bebouts have spent time in Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah working real estate transactions as well as buying and selling at equipment auctions.
Like his politics, Eli said, he’s conservative when it comes to operating the airplane and likes to maximize the personnel on board. He occasionally uses the King Air to travel to the state capitol in Cheyenne, at his own expense.
He first started serving in the House of Representatives in 1987 and has been in the Senate since 2007. He’s the only person in Wyoming history to have had stints as Senate president and speaker of the house during his career.
“Once in a while during the legislative session when we’re working really hard and we all need a break but there are blizzards and difficult road conditions, I’ll take seven or eight members of the legislature on the King Air with me and drop them off on the way home so everyone can go home for the weekend,” he said. “Then we pick them up on the way back.”
The Linden family also has a history in the Riverton area and great entrepreneurial success in the oil business. Mike Linden and son Sam sold one of the oil field service companies they had built together, and the new corporate owner asked Sam to run the business for them for about five years. In that role, Sam bounced from Houston to North Dakota to every hot oil spot in the country, chartering a Cessna 421 several times a month.
In 2013, Sam resigned to start his own company with his father as a partner. Fluid Pro provides solids control services and equipment rentals mostly in Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, Montana and Texas. The company rents and operates the equipment needed to operate a drilling rig’s backyard: Power generation, dewatering, fluid recovery and total solids control, which involves recycling drilling fluids, separating the dirt from the fluid and returning the fluid back to the crews for drilling.
“I knew right away that as fast as we were growing that a plane was going to be needed,” Sam said. The first year he was traveling frequently via charter as he opened satellite yards and shops where he could ship equipment and store spares. Because there were no charter operators out of Riverton, though, he didn’t have the quick response time he often needed for unplanned trips.
He’d flown frequently in a King Air 350 with a vendor who fabricated equipment for Fluid Pro, and he’d flown in the Bebouts’ King Air 200. When the chance to co-own the aircraft popped up about nine months into his endeavor, he knew it was a great solution.
He flew 90 hours the first year and has settled in at about 70 to 80 hours a year since then. He also bought in on the T210N for frequent trips to Denver when weather isn’t a concern.
The King Air 200 is the perfect size for crew changes that the Lindens have once a month and it also handles movement of materials when needed.
“Last week we landed at San Antonio and backed in a pickup truck to unload a lot of fabricated iron stuff that we build along with huge pump parts,” Sam said. “If we’re going, we might as well take it with us.”
Whereas the Bebouts usually have their trips scheduled well in advance, Sam said only one of every 10 of his trips are planned; the others pop up the night before or the day of in emergency situations.
“Customers will get in a jam drilling their oil or gas wells, if we can be there as fast as we can, they’ll give us the job instead of someone else,” he said. “A lot of time it’s just me getting there before the equipment so I can have a plan when the equipment shows up.”
He estimates the company has grown an extra 20% because of the use of business aviation, but more important to him, it’s helped him manage being a single dad.
“It’s helped us grow because it’s got me more places and allowed us to be a bigger, stronger company,” he said. “And, it’s by far made me a better dad. I’m single and I have my little girl 50% of the time. Having the King Air has solved any problem of me not being home because I can be in Texas during the day and back home with her that night.”
The nature of the oil and gas industry could put a strain on the partnership, but the owners and pilot have communicated well and managed to avoid that.
“Eli is great. If there’s any way to make it work, he does. And the same with me. He’s had a few trips come up and I already had the plane booked. We just make it work. We figure it out. We might jump on together and split costs, or we have an agreement that if Eli’s got the plane and I need it, I pay to get it home to get me and I pay to get it back, and vice versa. Whatever we can do to help each other, it works,” he said.
The King Air
Mathews works for Fremont Airways LLC, the company the Bebouts and Lindens have to manage the King Air 200 and Cessna T210N. In addition to his pilot duties, Mathews schedules the aircraft, handles catering on board if needed, rental vehicles at the destination and setting up hotel rooms.
Even though the Bebouts aren’t flying the King Air, Mathews said he appreciates their pilot backgrounds and respect for weather conditions. All three owners have confidence in Mathews’ ability to handle Wyoming’s snowstorms, icy runways or strong crosswinds given his experience handling the weather and terrain challenges of Alaska.
They feel like they own a new King Air 250 because they have “not glass, but good, up-to-date avionics, the Blackhawk engine upgrade, most of the Raisbeck modifications and we just redid the interior.”
By far, Eli said, the engine upgrade has made the biggest difference.
“Wow. The brand-new -52 engines took it up to 305 KTAS and it just rocks and rolls,” he said.
Mathews said he’s pleased they decided to take advantage of incentives to replace rather than rebuild the engines about four years ago.
“We were able to get the -52 engines with the higher limit on the temperature gauge for the same price as the -61s,” he said. “I’ve been really happy with the power of the -52s in getting off the ground and holding a really good climb angle up to cruise.”
As for the partnership, even a complete interior refurbishment in 2018 went off without a hitch, Mathews said.
It helped that Sam, a single 39-year-old oil field hand, was fine with taking the lead from Lorraine Bebout, Eli’s wife and an artist who had a concept in mind as she picked out materials and colors. Centennial Aircraft Interiors near Denver completed the work, replacing carpet, headliner, seat coverings and installing a new table system in the club seating area. Lorraine designed and sewed decorative pillows for the cabin.
“I would still approve everything with Sam because he’s part owner and it’s his investment, too,” Mathews said. “He was happy with everything during the process and he is still extremely happy with how it turned out. It went very well, as has everything else. It’s a beautiful relationship.”