Turbomeca USA President/CEO Russ Spray is retiring after a 50-plus-year career in helicopters.
“After 53 years in this wonderful world of helicopters, it is with both excitement and a bit of nostalgia that I am announcing effective Oct. 1, 2016 my retirement,” Spray said in a Sept. 20 letter to staff and associates.
Spray’s career began in 1963 after his uncle, a retired pilot for Trans World Airlines, rode in a helicopter and urged him to do the same. Spray paid $5 for a ride in a Hughes 269 operated by Pacific Airmotive at Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, California.
That year, he worked for Pacific Airmotive and got his private pilot’s license, became a ground school instructor and, at 18, received his commercial pilot and certificated flight instructor licenses.
He became a contract instructor for the U.S. Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and Camp Wolters in Mineral Wells, Texas, for 7.5 years.
Spray worke in Iran as flight training commander for Bell Helicopter International-Textron, leading a training squadron there until Americans were evacuated from Iran’s 1979 revolution.
Returning to the U.S., he finished a bachelor’s degree in medical technology from the University of Texas at Arlington and came to run laboratory services for what is now Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
Spray was with Memorial Hermann Life Flight, which was founded in part by the late world-renowned trauma surgeon Dr. James “Red” Duke. It was the second air medical service set up in the U.S.; Spray taught medical technology and helicopter operations there.
Spray spent the next 25 years contributing to the development of the air medical industry in the U.S.
In 2002, he moved on to Rocky Mountain Helicopters. Spray helped restructure and grow it from a company with $3 million in revenue and seven aircraft to one with more than $100 million in annual revenue and 90 aircraft. He helped convert it to a privately held company and later sold much of it to Air Methods.
With his share of that sale’s proceeds, Spray retired as chairman and CEO of Rocky Mountain Holdings.
“Forty-five days into that retirement, I took a call from [Turbomeca CEO] Emeric d’Arcimoles, who asked if I’d be interested in running Turbomeca USA for a year or two and building it into a platform for engine sales and support in the U.S.,” Spray told R&WI today. “Fourteen years later, I’m getting on an airplane for France for Turbomeca’s 2017 budget planning meetings.”
Spray oversaw Turbomeca USA’s re-engining of the U.S. Coast Guard’s of Aerospatiale HH-65 Dolphins, its ramp-up of production of Arriel 1E2 engines for the U.S. Army’s hundreds of UH-72A Lakotas and the selection by Bell Helicopter of its Arrius 2R to power the new 505 Jet Ranger X. Today, in its 35th year, Turbomeca USA (soon to be Safran Helicopter Engines USA) supports more than 2,300 engines operated by about 400 customers across a wide range of missions.