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MEDP Spark - Flying with Precision

Jun 20, 2019

MEDP Spark, Volume 4, Issue 6 ~ June 2019

Precision's building on Three Mile Lane - Photo by Precision
Precision's building on Three Mile Lane - Photo by Precision

If you’ve lived in McMinnville for any significant amount of time, chances are you have driven past a building with an F-15 Fighter Jet in front of it on Three Mile Lane. Built in 2007 to house Del Smith’s growing helicopter company, the impressive building was built sparing no expense, with a large fireplace, beautiful hardwoods and floor to ceiling windows. Perhaps the first time you passed by you registered the plane but didn’t give it much thought. After legal disputes tied to Del Smith’s passing and Evergreen Aviation’s bankruptcy in 2013, the grounds had not been maintained to their previous standard and the building seemed to fade into the background. It’s time to look again. In November of 2018, Precision purchased the building and moved its headquarters to the grandiose space. Once again, the walls are buzzing with activity. Precision is taking on some of the world’s challenges, but even beyond that, they are offering impactful solutions.

With many facets to the business, perhaps you’ve heard of Precision as a company who gives helicopter tours to wineries. Or maybe you know of them for offering airplane and helicopter flight training in nearby Newberg. Maybe you even know that they maintain their own aircraft while also offering maintenance services for other aircraft in the area. Yes, the company does all these things. But, they also do more. A lot more.

a helicopter hangs from Precision's ceiling

Moving into their new space located at 3800 NE Three Mile Lane in late 2018, the company has already made the building feel like their own. Walking through the front doors your eyes are immediately drawn upwards as you find yourself standing directly under a helicopter, hanging deliberately from the ceiling. This is not just any helicopter, it’s a piece of history. It was one of Del Smith’s first helicopters when he started Evergreen Helicopters in 1960. Though Precision began owning and operating helicopters at their inception, and it is still one of their concentrations today, the prominence of the Evergreen Helicopter is meaningful and holds significance for Precision.

The current successes of Precision today come from key team members and leaders who started their professional careers with Evergreen and specifically under the tutelage of Del Smith. David Rath, CEO of the Precision companies, and Matt Parker, President of the unmanned division, worked within this facility when they were employed by Evergreen. When at Evergreen, these two along with other Evergreen staff, many of whom are with Precision today, took on daily challenges that somedays felt insurmountable, but as a team, they excelled. Evergreen Helicopters would later be sold later to another Oregon helicopter business, Erickson Aircrane, but neither David or Matt would forget the passion and drive instilled within them. Both David and Matt moved on to other careers but utilized the lessons they learned when retracing their routes and helping create what Precision is today.

The Precision team gathers on the first Friday of every month to laugh, eat, and drink
The Precision team gathers on the first Friday of every month to laugh, eat, and drink - photo by Precision

Originally established in 1983, husband and wife Dennis and Nancy Sturdevant started Precision Helicopters with Dennis overseeing flight instruction and repair work and Nancy managing the books. In 1990, the company purchased the Chehalem Airpark in Newberg and expanded over the course of the next 20 years. In 2011, shortly after the passing of Dennis, David Rath was injected into the company and Precision rebranded and re-established with partners that could continue Dennis’ legacy. Though the helicopter industry is where both Matt and David met and is still a passion and expanding business at Precision, the company has now expanded to include operating and maintaining other aircraft including more planes and advanced unmanned aerial systems.

Though your initial impulse will be to look up at the helicopter and allow your eye to follow the wood wrapped columns into the hanger, it won’t be long before the hum of activity catches your attention. When we arrived, meetings were in full swing in both conference rooms while side meetings seemed to be ever-present as people gathered around laptops, deep in discussion. One thing you will quickly learn when spending time at Precision: employees are ingrained in their work and powered on with a deep sense of purpose. The more you learn about the company, the more you understand why.

Matt Parker, President of Precision Integrated Programs, talks about Precision’s helicopters in the company’s hangar.
Matt Parker, President of Precision Integrated Programs, talks about Precision’s helicopters in the company’s hangar.

We had the pleasure of meeting with Matt Parker, President of Precision Integrated Programs, the unmanned division of the company, who speaks passionately about Precision’s systems, accomplishments, and plans for the future. Matt is the type of person who only invests himself in things he considers worth doing. A former United States Marine and employee of Evergreen Helicopters, he said moving the company’s operations to McMinnville felt like coming home. The majority of the employees within the unmanned unit are veterans as well and all are working towards doing something that matters.

Today, the company is organized into four branches: manned operations, flight training, unmanned operations, and aviation maintenance. Working all over the world, the four branches each serve a different purpose. In the operations branch, Precision has pilots flying their aircraft for a variety of unique purposes. From photo and video shoots, to wine tours, to hauling Christmas trees, and fighting wildland forest fires the helicopters are flown by pilots who are trained to work in any environment. Matt tells us about pilots who have taken clients “heliskiing”, a sport where people ski or snowboard down an off-trail slope only reachable by helicopter. The operations division is also responsible for air footage seen on the BBC’s Blue Planet, and for helping fight wildfires throughout the United States. In fact, the Chief Pilot at Precision, Ty Burlingham, flew a Precision medium sized Helicopter that was the most active Helicopter last year during the 2018 Fire Season flying over 500 hours.

“Same book, new chapter! #pc12 #pilatuspc12” - Precision’s Facebook
“Same book, new chapter! #pc12 #pilatuspc12” - Precision’s Facebook

Continuing what the Sturdevant’s started over 36 years ago with their flight school and maintenance branch, Precision has also invested in operations of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in their branch called Precision Integrated Programs. According to the company’s website, “We focus our efforts in direct support of unmanned programs for commercial interests, wildlife and environmental preservation, humanitarian and disaster relief/emergency response organizations, and USG national defense, intelligence, and Homeland Security entities.”

What does that all look like in practice? As President of this branch, Matt knows the capabilities and versatility UAVs provide. He tells us that Precision was the first company to use UAVs to pinpoint the exact locations of wildfires in a forest to help firefighters know where to fight the flames. The company has used UAVs to help protect the environment, from monitoring polar bears in the arctic, to finding out who was poaching sea turtles and killing sharks for their fins in Costa Rica. Talking to Matt, it becomes clear that Precision is not only looking at and talking about these problems, but they are providing the solutions.

“Persistent ISR. Precision Integrated operators fly the Stalker UAV Overseas and here at Home daily.” - Precision’s Instagram
“Persistent ISR. Precision Integrated operators fly the Stalker UAV Overseas and here at Home daily.” - Precision’s Instagram

UAVs take many forms and are constructed in a way to allow for diverse terrains, temperatures and to capture different types of images. The UAVs used to fight wildfires needed to be able to see through the smoke to pinpoint the exact location of the fire. The UAVs used in Costa Rica had no sophisticated takeoff or landing ability - rather, they needed to be thrown in the air for takeoff, much like a remote-controlled paper airplane. As UAVs become more sophisticated and new technology takes off, more uses for UAVs are being explored and Precision Integrated Programs is leading the way in utilizing these machines to the fullest.

The companies have grown significantly in the last five years in both revenue and employment. In the last year alone, Precision went from 50 employees in September 2018, to 90 employees in June 2019, with significant growth plans in the future. We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Precision to McMinnville and celebrating all they’re doing both in our community and in the world.

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MEDP's monthly newsletter, The MEDP Spark, received a Silver Award from the International Economic Development Council in 2017.

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