It isn’t often that an aviation-industry company can pull off such a coup as we at Guardian Jet feel we have by hiring our newest Vice President of West Coast Operations, Russ Piggott.
Russ is the consummate aviation careerist, with a love of aviation that goes well beyond the status quo.
This month, we thought we’d sit down with Russ and ask him a few questions to shed some light on what—even at his relatively young age—has already been a stellar career in aviation.
Q: What do you think was the most rewarding aspect of your career in the U.S. Air Force?
A: Well, first I want to say that I have been so fortunate in my life and Air Force career. I grew up around airplanes through my family, and all I wanted to do from a young age was fly in the Air Force.
My dad, mom, sister and brother are all pilots. My dad flew airshows in a Pitts Special, and then later in a Russian-built Sukhoi SU-29. But it was going to airshows and seeing the Air Force demonstration pilots that really fueled my desire to become a fighter pilot.
Those experiences also helped shape my goal to become an airshow demonstration pilot, in order to give back to people and inspire them to fly. So, in 2007 and 2008, I was fortunate to be selected as the F-16 Viper West Demonstration pilot.
I flew at 30 different airshows each year and represented the Air Force with a team of 10 maintenance professionals and six safety pilots. We flew in front of millions of people. On airshow weekends in between flying, we reached out to local schools, met with groups in the community, and communicated with local news and radio media.
My time on the demo team was one of the busiest and exhausting schedules I have ever kept, but it was so incredibly rewarding. I mentally put myself back in the crowd as a young kid on many occasions, and recalled what it was like watching the Air Force jets fly. I had to pinch myself because, here I was, finally doing it. Oh, and talk about rewards: I got to fly upside down in an F-16 at 300 feet!
Q: In your “collection,” of aircraft, you’ve got a fighter jet, a Glasair experimental aircraft and an aerobatic plane, and you’ve flown 30 different types of aircraft. What is your favorite and why?
A: That’s one of the toughest questions to answer, because it really depends on a number of factors.
Flying fighter aircraft is incredibly intense, and the sheer power, performance and capability are awe-inspiring. But it’s a lot of work!
There is no relaxing in a fighter, because you have a mission to accomplish and you have to be perfect. Flying airshows in the F-16, upside-down and at low altitude, in front of millions of people, was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. Flying in an F-15 with three other wingmen at 50,000 feet, Mach 1.6 and targeting enemy aircraft before they even know I’m there is pretty darn powerful!
When my wife, Jennifer, and I go flying together in any light aircraft, she has often commented that as soon as we lift off, she can see my whole demeanor change, as if nothing in the world matters and I’m free.
Whether it’s a Piper Cub or a Sukhoi, it just feels so gratifying to get up in the air. But to answer your question, here are my top five aircraft that I’ve flown outside of my military career:
- Lancair Legacy – It’s a 245-knot time machine!
- Sukhoi SU-26/SU-29 – The absolute best aerobatic aircraft!
- Beech 18 – A timeless beauty that flies great (and you can take your friends).
- Bonanza V-35B – It’s the Cadillac of the skies, with that distinct V-tail.
- P-51 Mustang – The fighter that helped win the war in Europe.
Q: Now that you’ve joined Guardian Jet, what excites you most about working with the team, and representing the brokerage firm throughout the west coast?
A: When I left the active-duty Air Force in 2009, I had just come off of being the demo pilot, where I was selling the Air Force story around the world.
Along with my passion for aviation, I’ve always had an interest in business, so I wanted to get into the business side of aviation.
I had an amazing opportunity at another consulting firm, where I became well versed in business aviation at a very high level, but, as I started a family, my wife and I realized that we had to get back to California.
After doing so, and being introduced to Guardian Jet, I found that I was drawn to the company because of the fundamentals it’s built upon.
It’s extremely important for me to be part of an organization that has a high degree of integrity, a positive reputation and provides world-class products and services.
As I’ve learned, the Guardian Jet business model is built upon five pillars that are broader and much more inclusive than simply buying and selling airplanes, as most brokers are.
When I discovered that Guardian Jet uses its consulting products and services as a basis to earn the right to buy and sell its clients’ aircraft, I knew it was going to be a perfect fit for me.
Now I get to live where my wife and I want to raise our family, and, at the same time, I’m able to share my passion for business aviation as a member of a very capable company built upon sound fundamentals. It’s a perfect match.
As icing on the cake, I still fly the F-15C Eagle several days per month in the California Air National Guard, so, as I said before, I’m extremely fortunate!
Q: What aviation organizations have you been a part of? And how do you give back to the aviation community?
A: I like to give back to the aviation community by helping people and sharing my passion for the industry and its way of life.
Whether it happens to be a young kid who’s interested in learning to fly or a recent college graduate looking to get into business aviation, I really like taking the time to teach them what it has to offer, and how my life has benefited by being involved in aviation.
Sometimes that means that I’ll just take someone up flying in my Glasair to share the joy of flight with them. “Hey, you want to go flying?”
I’ve helped a lot of my friends buy airplanes or figure out how to get back into flying after a long hiatus, and there’s always a lot of smiling involved.
There’s one common thread that most people in the aviation industry have, and that is some type of deep emotional draw toward airplanes. That’s what makes aviation so special.
Within business aviation, everyone—from buyers of corporate jets to the guys and gals fueling them at an FBO—has some draw toward airplanes, so it’s very unique. It’s an industry that makes it easy for me to share my passion about aviation with others on a personal and professional level.
Q: When you’re not buying and selling aircraft for Guardian Jet, how do you spend your free time?
A: I’m currently in that phase of life where I need to dedicate a lot of time to my family, and I like it that way. We have a four-year-old little girl, and she’s got me completely wrapped around her finger. My wife is due to have a boy in June, so we are very excited about that, and it will obviously take up a lot of my free time!
Between family and my Air National Guard commitments, it’s tough to find much free time. But I’ve loved flying with my daughter in our Glasair since she was five months old. She adores flying with daddy.
I also love the water, and though I don’t get to go very often, I’d say that surfing is one of my most favorite hobbies. I also fly radio-controlled slope gliders, which are a lot of fun.
And, more at ground level, just being outside hiking, mountain biking, or having a picnic with my family is fun. That’s what is so great about California—the weather is terrific and there’s so much to do.
Q: How did you get your call sign?
A: Every fighter pilot has a call sign, and it can often be a long story how he or she got it.
I got my name, “Spicoli,” based on Sean Penn’s character from the 80s movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
In a nutshell, when I was a young fighter pilot, I stood out as a “California guy” who liked surfing, was always wearing shorts and flip-flops and said “dude” a lot. I also raced off-road motorcycles, so, at the time, I actually owned a van to transport my bike in.
One late Friday afternoon, while I was finishing what had been a series of eye-gouging squadron meetings, I ordered a few pizzas for the squadron. So anyone who has seen the movie knows that Jeff Spicoli was a surfer from California who drove a van and brought a pizza into class.
So ”Spicoli” just stuck. When I’m not wearing a suit and tie or a flight suit, you can bet that I’m probably in shorts and flip-flops!
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Well, I would just like to say again what a privilege it has been to live and breathe aviation, and to have had such an exciting career thus far flying some of the world’s finest aircraft.
And now, with this opportunity working for such a “class” organization as Guardian Jet, I truly feel like I’m on top of the world.
Welcome to the team, Russ!