Turbine Pilot: Flying in the wild, wild west

The airplane is a necessary business tool

March 1, 2010

Lessing Stern’s initial introduction to flying came as a child when he traveled on airplanes his parents owned for business.

The corporate aircraft included a Gulfstream G1 turboprop and later Sabreliner and Citation jets that moved them about the country from their home in Colorado. The family’s corporate pilot for 30 years also became Stern’s flying mentor.

But Stern, now 47, chairman and chief executive officer at Royal Street Corp. (owner of Utah’s Deer Valley Ski Resort) was drawn to the adventure of flying more than transportation. He is rated in helicopters and seaplanes and flies an Aviat Husky to backcountry strips. He also flies a Cirrus SR22, a Citation Mustang, and has type ratings in three Cessna jets.

“Initially, flying for me was personal,” he said. “It was something I pursued as a personal interest, a hobby.”

Stern’s parents chose to live in remote, out-of-the-way places, and an airplane was a necessary business tool for them.

“For many years we lived in a tiny town in Colorado that grew up to be Aspen,” Stern said. “Now, they live in Friday Harbor, Washington, and flying between there and my home [in Park City, Utah], is one of my most frequent trips.”

Stern’s first turbine airplane was a Piper Cheyenne I that he said was better suited to the high elevations in the Mountain West than piston twins.

“The Cheyenne provided a lot more margin than the piston twins I had flown, and the transition wasn’t terribly difficult,” he said. He later piloted a Cheyenne II, two King Air models, a Cessna 210 “Silver Eagle” turbine conversion, and a Piper Malibu on business and personal trips.

His family’s business also owned a Citation, and Stern said owning two aircraft for corporate travel didn’t make sense. So they sold the Citation and the Malibu and bought a Mustang.

“The Mustang is less expensive for the company to operate,” he said, “and I can also use it for some personal travel.”

Stern said he enjoys the challenge of flying aircraft that cover the broadest possible range of the general aviation landscape.

“The Mustang, Cirrus, and Husky are at opposite ends of the flying spectrum,” he said, “but they’re complementary. Stick and rudder skills make you sharper no matter what aircraft you’re flying. And I get as much pleasure out of flying the Husky or the Cirrus as I do from the jet. They’re all challenging in their own way, and they’re all fun.”

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Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman | AOPA Pilot Editor at Large, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.