Working for a Legend

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Some people are lucky. They find a job/career they absolutely love. The luckiest are those who find it early in life. I think those who are the next luckiest are the ones who find that job they love after years and years of drudging away in jobs that just get them by. I count myself in the last group.

“Our” first 747-400 (N740CK)

My dad and my brother were always talking airplanes, so I grew up with an appreciation for aviation. Of course, the love of my life – my husband, Jim – has been in aviation his whole career. In 2008, I started working at Kalitta Air and began my own career in aviation. Better late than never! One of the main reasons I enjoy my job so much is that the owner of the company is a hands-on individual who surrounds himself with people who would walk through fire for him. Why? Because we all love him – that’s why. We know that Connie Kalitta is a stand-up guy who appreciates his people. We aren’t numbers to him – we’re people. That would be enough. There’s more to Connie Kalitta, though. He’s a bona fide legend.

Me with Connie “The Bounty Hunter” Kalitta

To give you some background, I’m going to paraphrase – and downright steal – from both the Kalitta Air and Kalitta Motorsports websites. Why reinvent the wheel when one already goes zero to 300 in less than 4 seconds? (I want to especially thank the exceedingly talented Todd Myers for writing such fabulous prose.)

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Connie with Jeff Arend (after a win)

Connie “the Bounty Hunter” Kalitta has been an icon in the world of professional drag racing for over 50 years as a team owner. Kalitta, who has been involved in the sport as a driver, tuner, and as an owner, has dedicated an amazing amount of time and resources to building one of the most successful teams in the history of auto racing. Kalitta Motorsports has won five world championships. The first came in 1977 when he served as crew chief for Shirley Muldowney. He earned the next two, 1979 and 1982, when he drove to IHRA championships. The last two came as team owner of Kalitta Motorsports when his late son Scott drove to the NHRA titles in 1994 and 1995.

 

Connie’s experience in the airline industry goes back to 1967 when he began transporting parts for the automotive business with a twin engine Cessna 310 (purchased with his race winnings) that he piloted himself. Over the years, Kalitta grew from a one airplane operation into American International Airways, Inc. (AIA), that used B747, L1011, DC8, B727, DC9, Twin Beech and Learjet aircraft in worldwide airfreight, air ambulance and charter passenger operations. AIA supported the Desert Shield/Desert Storm operations with award-winning efforts.

Kalitta Air is Born

In 1997, AIA merged with Kitty Hawk, Inc. and Connie resigned from the company and the Board of Directors to pursue other interests. When Kitty Hawk International (the former AIA) ceased operations and filed Chapter 11, Connie fought to purchase the Aircraft Certificate and resurrect the airline. Kalitta Air received its DOT and FAA authority to begin operations in November 2000 and immediately began revenue service.

 

Connie quickly obtained the necessary approvals from the government and secured contracts with the USPS and the DOD. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when airports were closed and all flights were grounded, there was one plane in the sky that night that was not an F-16 fighter. It was a Kalitta Air 747 hauling relief supplies from the West coast to aid disaster workers. In 2003 Kalitta was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation for support of the Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom Operations and Kalitta continues to support the USPS with scheduled flights delivering mail and packages to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

To sum up how Connie feels about his two worlds…”I do what I love, and I love what I do, I’m very blessed.”

 

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Connie & me at the Employee Appreciation event

This is the man I work for. Unlike so many who have large businesses, Connie is here, on-site, almost every day. He’ll always wave and smile when you see him walking through the hangar. Up close, he’s quick to say hello. I’ve never felt as appreciated nor known where I fit in the grand scheme of things as much as I do at Kalitta Air. When the man at the top is quick to show his appreciation with luncheons and family picnics, you know you are valued. Connie has been very generous. When things are going very well for the airline, paychecks have been known to reflect that fact. No wonder virtually every employee reveres the man. We know where we stand with him and he knows we’ll work our hardest and best for him.

Patron Funny Car

A great example of how Kalitta Air shows its appreciation is the party that was thrown in our hangar on October 12. They were racing the weekend that had been set-aside for the Kalitta picnic, so they cancelled it and brought the party to us. There were door prizes (including large, flat-screen televisions, Ipads, Ipod docking stations, and apparel from all the companies). Kalitta Motorsports also brought over one of the Funny Cars.

Jim & me with Patron Funny Car

Lest I make Connie sound like an angel, let me point out right away that he is a hard-nosed business man. He knows every inch of his aircraft (which he could also pilot in a pinch) and has his finger firmly on the pulse of his businesses. He has an expectation that things will be done right. If something isn’t done up to his standards, he’ll let you know – in no uncertain terms – and in the strongest possible language. No, Connie is no angel; but he’s one hell of a boss.

 

That is what it’s like to work for THIS legend!

 

This is the Patron show car. It was formerly (and could easily once again be) ready for the track.

Here’s a photo taken with Doug Kalitta. Doug drives the Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster. Doug has earned 31 wins over his 12-year career.

Kalitta Charters (returning a hero)

Doug is Connie’s nephew. He also owns Kalitta Charters (a charter airline service). “Charters” does executive charters, air ambulance and cargo services. They carry anything from organs for transplant to Kentucky Derby horses. Kalitta Charters is honored to be the sole company that has a contract with the government to fly the remains of soldiers to their final resting places

 

Up Next: Why We Call it “Fall”

 

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Looking forward to “seeing” you here on Colmel’s Blog!

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