Mauna Loa Helicopter School History
Mauna Loa Helicopters’ roots began with a company called Rainbow Pacific Helicopters, a small business that began operating from the Honolulu International Airport in the early nineties. The owners, Marc Senn and Florian Leibermeister, believed that the Robinson R-22 was the best training helicopter available and, in fact, were the Robinson Helicopter dealers for the State of Hawaii. Rainbow Pacific also did tours and charters in the company’s R-44s.
It became evident to both gentlemen that helicopter flight training and conducting aerial tours were separate and distinct businesses, so they looked around and eventually chose Kona airport on the Big Island as a base for their helicopter school and established Mauna Loa Helicopters in 1992. Rainbow Pacific Helicopters remained in Honolulu as a tour and charter company.
In 1996, Illinois native and current University of Hawaii student Ben Fouts, took an intro flight with Rainbow Pacific Helicopters and was sold on the idea of becoming a professional pilot. In 1997, Fouts finished his professional helicopter flight training at Sierra Academy of Aeronautics in Oakland, California. He subsequently became an instructor for Sierra and, in 1999, Marc and Florian invited their former student back to manage Mauna Loa Helicopter School in Kona. Marc and Florian sold the company to a Colorado businessman who kept Fouts on as manager and sold the business to Fouts less than a year later.
More in Ben’s Own Words
“I grew up on a farm in Illinois where we had ag-spraying helicopters operating and the pilot was a friend of my dad’s. After he was done spraying he would take me and my brothers for a little flight. For some reason I never knew that you could fly a helo outside of the military.
“After an introductory flight over Waikiki my life changed and I spent all my college money on flight lessons. I then followed this girl — who is now my wife — to Oakland, California where there was a flight school that had financing available. After getting my ratings, the people who owned the flight school in Hawaii asked me if I was interested in coming back and managing the school.
“There were some pretty lean times in the beginning, waiting for the phone to ring. I ended up bringing my Sony Playstation to work to pass the time between giving lessons to my two students. But I have been blessed from the outset by a lot of higher paying jobs like photo shoots. These helped me pay the bills and over time we slowly grew and kept expanding. In 2003 we opened an office on Kauai and started offering training there, and in 2004 we opened in Honolulu.”
“Now we are moving into scenic tours and charter tours, offering more than flight training. Our biggest advantage here is the terrain as it’s so varied. We have 9 out of 11 climate zones in Hawaii. From a training point of view, we get to expose our students early on to all the variables they are going to see. Right next to the airport in Kona we have an 8,000-foot mountain to train on, plus its 360 days a year of VFR flying. We are pretty lucky.
“The more you fly here the more you appreciate the wonders of nature. You never tire of seeing an active volcano pumping lava into the ocean, or the 2,000-foot high waterfalls. It’s diverse and extreme and eye-popping. The only two climates we don’t have here are the Arctic and the rolling sand desert dunes and who wants that anyway? In Honolulu we have Class B airspace so the students can learn about flying in congested airspace right here.
“Each island has a unique personality. I love the Big Island for its open spaces and the volcano, but my favorite without a doubt is Kauai. It’s just breathtaking, plus it’s a fantastic laid back lifestyle.”
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