Tuesday, September 27, 2016 – Rotor & Wing International
Turbomeca USA President/CEO Russ Spray is retiring after a 50-plus-year career in helicopters, including 23 spent building the U.S. air medical service industry and 14 at the helm of the engine maker’s Grand Prairie, Texas-based operation.
“After 53 years in this wonderful world of helicopters, it is with both excitement and a bit of nostalgia that I am announcing effective Oct. 1, 2016 my retirement,” Spray said in a Sept. 20 letter to employees and associates. “It has been a great pleasure to have had the honor to provide leadership to such a great organization as [Turbomeca USA] and to have worked with such a talented, impassioned and dedicated group of employees over these past 14 years.”
He said he would be succeeded by Thierry Derrien, who most recently served as President/CEO of Safran Electronics and Defense Systems. Turbomeca is a Safran unit.
Spray’s career began in 1963 after his uncle, a retired pilot for Trans World Airlines, took a ride in a helicopter and urged him to do the same. Spray paid $5 for a ride in a Hughes 269 operated by Pacific Airmotive at Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, California. Spray said he was hooked.
That year, at 17, he went to work for Pacific Airmotive. He got his private pilot’s license, became a ground school instructor and, at 18, applied for and received his commercial pilot and certificated flight instructor licenses. Early in his career, Spray flew under contract for Walt Disney Productions, Warner Bros., KNBC-TV and the Associated Press.
He became a contract instructor for the U.S. Army, training helicopter pilots at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and Camp Wolters in Mineral Wells, Texas, for 7.5 years.
Spray went to Iran to work as flight training commander for Bell Helicopter International-Textron, leading a training squadron there until Americans were evacuated from that country’s 1979 revolution.
Returning to the U.S., he finished a bachelor’s degree in medical technology from the University of Texas at Arlington and came to run laboratory services for what is now Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
Spray got involved with Memorial Hermann Life Flight, the air medical service in Houston founded in part by the world-renowned trauma surgeon Dr. James “Red” Duke (who died Aug. 25, 2015). That was the second air medical service set up in the U.S.; Spray taught medical technology and helicopter operations there.
Spray spent the next 25 years contributing to the development of the air medical industry in the U.S., working on areas that including regulations development and operations standardization.
In 2002, he went to work for Rocky Mountain Helicopters (which had flown the Aerospatiale Alouette that Memorial Hermann Life Flight had used to start its air medical service). Spray helped restructure Rocky Mountain and grow it from a company with $3 million in revenue and seven aircraft to one with more than $100 million in annual revenue and 90 aircraft. He helped convert Rocky Mountain to a privately held company and later sold much of it to Air Methods Corp.
With his share of that sale’s proceeds, Spray retired as chairman and CEO of Rocky Mountain Holdings.
“Forty-five days into that retirement, I took a call from [Turbomeca CEO] Emeric d’Arcimoles, who asked if I’d be interested in running Turbomeca USA for a year or two and building it into a platform for engine sales and support in the U.S.,” Spray told R&WI today. “Fourteen years later, I’m getting on an airplane for France for Turbomeca’s 2017 budget planning meetings.”
Spray oversaw Turbomeca USA’s re-engining of the U.S. Coast Guard’s of Aerospatiale HH-65 Dolphins, its ramp-up of production of Arriel 1E2 engines for the U.S. Army’s hundreds of UH-72A Lakotas and the selection by Bell Helicopter of its Arrius 2R to power the new 505 Jet Ranger X. Today, in its 35th year, Turbomeca USA (soon to be Safran Helicopter Engines USA) supports more than 2,300 engines operated by about 400 customers across a wide range of missions.
Spray said he has no immediate plans for retirement beyond attending his granddaughter’s upcoming wedding.