My Job: Race-Team Pilot
Joe Gibbs Racing currently employs 6 full-time pilots, 1 full-time flight attendant and 5 part-time flight attendants to operate two company planes and one company jet. JGR Director of Aviation, Ivan Beach, is in charge of managing the entire aviation department- quite a feat for a man who was originally told he would never fly a plane. Ivan shares with us his unique perspective into the mind of a pilot as well as things and lessons he has learned along the way.
Tell us about your background and how you got into aviation?
I’ve always wanted to fly since I was really young. When I went through college I went through ROTC and I wanted to fly helicopters. I went to Fort Campbell and took the physical, which I promptly flunked because I had a deviated septum. So I took my commission in armor and went to Germany as a tank officer. While I was over there someone said they needed first lieutenants to go to flight school. I took the physical again and the flight surgeon did not look up my nose at all and I’ve been flying ever since. Moral of the story is the first time something doesn’t work out, don’t let it deter you from going after what you really want. I will have you know that I did have my nose fixed before I left the army.
I went through a year of army flight training and got my wings and went to Fort Bragg in 1973. I served 6 ½ years in the army and when I got out I moved to Charlotte. After I moved to Charlotte, I tried to go into sales but missed flying so bad I couldn’t stand it, so I used my G.I. Bill benefits to go down to Rock Hill, SC to get all my airplane ratings. I got my first job flying cargo in single-engine airplanes and was paid $600 a month. I also applied to the North Carolina Guard to get in the National Guard Aviation Program and was on flight status with the Guard for 28 years. I kept working on getting better jobs and in 1978 I was hired by Pinehurst Airlines to fly cargo in DC3s- a World War II vintage airplane. That airline went bankrupt in 1982 and I got a job flying for Piedmont Airlines in 1985 and I flew for Piedmont and US Airways for 22 years. Four years ago I retired and took this job. So I started in the army flying military helicopters and kept my career in the Guard flying jets and helicopters while also flying commercial airlines. That was a lot of fun because I was able to fly two completely different types of aircraft.
Can you describe what it is about flying that you love to this day?
I love flying because of the challenges it poses- no two flights are exactly the same. It is a lot of fun to learn to fly different aircraft and different types of aircraft. My office that I prefer is in the cockpit because you are up at 31,000 feet looking out the window, and you get to travel, you get to go to very interesting places. I had a blast flying internationally for commercial airlines. I flew transatlantic and went to Rome, Paris, Madrid, Gatwick, Manchester, etc. We would fly all night and when we finally landed I would go to sleep for a few hours then make myself get up and spend the rest of the day sightseeing. Plus, the process of international flying was really interesting to me- all the flight planning, the fuel planning and the technical part to me was really fascinating.
Part of flying is the technical aspect because it is far more than just knowing the mechanical part of the airplane- you have to be able to manage the whole flight. You’ve got to understand how the air traffic control system works, you have to really know a lot about weather and be able to look at the sky and the clouds and weather reports and know what it means and how it is going to affect the flight.
What qualities make a great pilot?
The most important quality for any employee is ethics- ethical behavior. That comes first because if they don’t have basic, decent, good character, I don’t care about all the rest. The flying and technical part you can teach someone if they have reasonable intelligence. I tell everyone here in the department that I am proof that the most average human being can be taught to fly, but character is first because if they don’t have good character they are not going to make a good employee.
What is different about working for Joe Gibbs Racing compared to a commercial airline?
It is a completely different type of operation. For one thing it is a much smaller company, but I would say the biggest difference is flying airplanes is not the business for Joe Gibbs Racing. The business here is racing cars and that is the number one focus. The aviation department is in a support role to support the primary mission of the company. We like to view it as the people who fly with us on our airplanes to the racetrack are our customers. A commercial airline like US Airways is in the business of flying airplanes, but here our business is to racecars.
The reason JGR has a flight department is that we can do it more efficiently than the airlines can or a charter operator can because we leave on the schedule that management gives us. It is a completely different kind of flying.
Do you go to all the races?
No. We don’t want to be at the race because our job is not at the racetrack and if the pilots and flight crew went to the race we would be tired. For example, when we fly back from California we fly all night long so I want the flight crew at the hotel resting.
What do you think the average person doesn’t know a pilot?
Most people don’t know that just about all pilots have type-A personalities and are perfectionists- they expect total perfection from themselves. And if you are not always striving to make the flight go perfectly then it probably isn’t the right profession for you. Everything can be routine for your whole career but in a nanosecond all that can change.