March 17, 2009
It can be difficult for Randall Greene, CEO and president of Safe Flight Instrument Corporation, to walk through an airport and not see his company’s inventions.
“See that vane on the side of the fuselage? That’s ours,” he said, pointing to a piece of equipment on his company’s Cessna Citation 560 while it was parked at Washington, DC’s Dulles International Airport (IAD). “We have something similar on the leading edge of that Beech King Air over there,” he added.
Since 1946, White Plains, NY-based Safe Flight has literally been on the leading edge of designing and producing aviation performance and safety equipment for military, commercial and general aviation aircraft.
Improving the Safety of Aviation
Safe Flight traces its roots to 1937, when a 19-year-old Leonard Greene, Randall’s father, witnessed a crash just as he was about to take a flying lesson at the old U.S. Naval Air Station in Queens, NY, a site that would later become John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
The small plane simply fell out of the sky just before landing, and Leonard Greene wanted to know why. He found that an aerodynamic stall was responsible. Stalls, which occur when an aircraft suddenly loses lift, are not caused by lack of speed, but rather the angle at which the wing cuts through the wind.
Leonard Greene was the inventor who found a way to measure the angle of attack and created a stall-warning system for pilots, said Randall Greene. That stall-warning indicator helped start Safe Flight, and years later the device would be used on nearly two-thirds of aircraft in the world.
The company has grown along with the aircraft industry, constantly expanding its product line from simple, switch-type stall-warning systems for light aircraft to sophisticated speed command, auto-throttle and wind-shear warning units for high-performance jets.
Today, the majority of the world’s aircraft manufacturers are Safe Flight clients, as are more than 50 airlines, hundreds of NBAA Members and business aircraft users, and all the U.S. armed services. The company now designs, develops and produces a variety of equipment to improve the performance and safety of every type of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, all from its 50,000-square-foot plant and office building.
Norman Rosenblum, an employee since 1985 and manager of contracts administration, says he thinks of Safe Flight more as a “think tank for aviation safety” than a manufacturer.
Safe Flight recently developed its Powerline Detection System, which alerts helicopter pilots to the presence of power lines and cables that are difficult to see. The company also has developed an Exceedance Warning System that shakes a helicopter’s collective when the rotors are approaching their maximum torque.
Getting the Most Out of Its Aircraft
Safe Flight’s company-owned aircraft fly at least once a week and serve three purposes. Development flights test and collect certification data for equipment under development. Demonstration flying involves taking customers up to show them how new equipment works. Lastly, Safe Flight uses its aircraft to get staff to important face-to-face meetings with clients.
The company’s flight department works in conjunction with all facets of the organization. Test flights are dispatched based on the engineering requirements of product development. Demonstration flights are scheduled based on sales and marketing requirements, and business travel is assessed based on cost, scheduling and the priority of meetings.
Safe Flight officials say they strive to ensure that their aircraft scheduling, security, maintenance and safety procedures meet the highest standards. Safety briefings and mission objectives are detailed prior to any aircraft being dispatched.
Regarding transporting company employees, Randall Greene says, “The airlines are great for some of what we do, but it often can be faster and cheaper to take our own people directly to where they need to go in our company aircraft. You can get more productivity out of people, there are no overnight costs, and it’s great for them to go on a trip and still be home by 5:00 p.m.”
Greene serves as chief pilot for Safe Flight, and there are three others who take the left seat for the various missions. “We’ve had dozens of aircraft since we started, and I’ve gotten to fly each one,” says Greene.
Safe Flight took ownership of the Cessna Citation V in September 2008, and has had a company aircraft since 1946 because developing avionics is so important to Safe Flight.
Today, the company also operates an Agusta 109A+ and a Beech Baron B55, all based at Westchester County Airport (HPN), which is just a mile away from the Safe Flight plant.
Safe Flight has been a long-standing member of many of general aviation’s alphabet aviation organizations, including NBAA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the Westchester Aviation Maintenance Association and the Flight Safety Foundation.
“There are companies that simply could not manage their operations effectively without their jets and turboprops.“
“Airplanes have been our business, so it only makes sense that we have owned a variety of planes and used them to their fullest extent,” Greene said. “We’ll take an airplane and show a customer our new equipment. For example, this week our Baron was out at Cirrus and Garmin; next Tuesday we’ll demonstrate equipment for Hawker Beechcraft.”
Safe Flight is working with Cessna to develop new avionics equipment, so flying a Citation V enables the company to test products and show them – in flight – to Cessna staff for their feedback.
Previously, the company owned a Dassault Falcon 50, a King Air 200, several Cessna piston-powered and jet aircraft, gliders and helicopters.
Charity Takes a Front Seat
For all the visibility of its safety equipment and avionics, Safe Flight also is known throughout the aviation industry as the driving force behind the Corporate Angel Network (CAN).
“Acquaintances of my father came up with the idea for CAN in the early 1980s, and my father liked it so much that he gave them some money to help get it off the ground – literally! He flew the first flight, then the 1,000th and the 10,000th flight,” Randall Greene said.
Because health insurance covers many medical bills but does not cover the cost of traveling to treatment centers, CAN provides free transportation to cancer patients, bone marrow donors and bone marrow recipients who are ambulatory and not in need of medical support while traveling.
More than 500 corporations provide seats for patients and their family members on more than 200 business aviation flights each month. CAN has organized more than 25,000 flights since 1981 from office space that was donated by Westchester County and located only a few hundred feet from Safe Flight’s headquarters.
“Some corporations are very willing to talk about what they do for CAN, and some are not because they are not participating for notoriety. They’re doing it because it’s such an easy way to make a huge difference for people who really need help,” Greene says.
“Of course, Safe Flight is in constant contact with CAN to see if we can fulfill any of their flight requests while our aircraft is on a trip.”
There is no way to tell how much money CAN has saved cancer patients over the years, but the organization’s two staff members and 50 volunteers say the benefits are measured in more than savings.
Bonnie LeVar, CAN president and Randall Greene’s sister, says the organization has received hundreds of thank-you notes from patients who say the flights are the only way that some people can get the treatment they need. One patient wrote, “I am involved in a government-sponsored breast cancer study that takes place once a month at the University of Arizona. Without your kindness, I would not be able to participate in this study, so I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You really are angels.”
Keeping Lift High for NBAA
NBAA’s Annual Meeting & Convention has become the most important tradeshow to many companies in the aviation industry, including Safe Flight, an NBAA Member Company since 1976.
“First and foremost, it’s a gathering of operators, but maybe just as important, it’s an invaluable venue for manufacturers to show their products,” says Greene. “The regional meetings, forums and the host of other things NBAA does are also of great benefit.
“In short, NBAA is the voice of business aviation. It’s an organization without which we wouldn’t have general aviation – at least not as we know it today,” Greene asserts.
“But between an anti-business aviation sentiment in the media and the public, along with access being threatened at smaller airports, it’s almost like we are looking at the perfect storm against general aviation in this country,” Greene says.
Business aircraft enable companies to efficiently transport their people all across the country and get the most out of their staff, Greene explained. There are companies that simply could not manage their operations effectively without their jets and turboprops, he declared.