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Joe "Ron" Bower '63 October 21, 2020 2:26 PM updated: October 21, 2020 3:06 PM

Joe Ronald Bower
DECEMBER 28, 1941 – OCTOBER 12, 2020

Ron Bower took his final flight early on October 12, 2020.

Ron Bower was an international pilot, businessman, family man, and life-long Texan. Ron set two speed records circumnavigating the earth in helicopters, and worked with helicopter buyers and sellers around the world. He piloted aircraft in 37 countries and visited more than 50, always returning with gratitude to the Lone Star State.

Ron Bower was a self-proclaimed terrible student. Somehow, he managed to get into and then through an undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University —overcoming one particularly low semester when he took sixteen hours and passed just three. He recalls with fondness how his dear dad, Robert Bower, said not one word when he saw the grades. His dad’s quiet grace allowed Ron to take full responsibility and adjust course on his own.

From Summer 1959-Spring 1963, Ron was in the R.O.T.C. Army Corps of Cadets, which was then mandatory at A&M. He majored in business administration but spent most of his time studying geometry (at the local pool hall) and statistics (playing poker in the dorm).

On February 7, 1962, during his junior year, Ron went on a blind date with a Baylor University beauty, Peggy Moore. She was an excellent student. Their romance took off. When they met, Peggy had just 14 weeks of college to go before graduating from Baylor. During that 14 weeks, Ron hitch-hiked from College Station to Waco 28 times. Even with all the travel, Ron’s academic standing improved significantly under Peggy’s loving and relentless tutelage.

Deemed a distinguished military student by the next Fall, Ron was selected to be one of 16 to receive complementary flight training during his senior year. He received his private pilot license in early 1963, having soloed in November 1962. Prior to his flight training, Ron had never flown in any type of aircraft.

Ron and Peggy were married on June 7, 1963.

In October of that same year, Ron reported for active duty as an Armor Second Lieutenant at Fort Knox, KY, where he was rated in the top 10% of his Armor school class. In December, Ron was assigned to Fort Hood, TX as a Recon Platoon Leader in an Armor Battalion. He was responsible for 30 enlisted men and a variety of tanks and personnel carriers, and reported directly to the Battalion Commander. Because there was no aviation branch in the Army, Ron didn’t fly again until August of ’64, when he reported to Helicopter Primary Flight School in Mineral Wells, TX, and then Advanced Flight School in Fort Rucker, AL. He was promoted to First Lieutenant in the Spring of ’65.

Ron received orders to Korea in June of ’65, where he flew Hiller observation helicopters on the DMZ (demilitarized zone) border with North Korea. Peggy had just secured a job in Seoul as a house mother in a dorm for military dependents, when Ron was notified by his Battalion Commander that the Army was assembling a new mobile helicopter unit to be sent to Viet Nam. Though given an opportunity to bow out since he was married, Ron chose to carry out his duty to country and do what he had been trained to do. By October, he was an Aircraft Commander and Fire Team Leader of Huey gunships in combat in Viet Nam.

As part of the 1st Infantry Division based at Phu Loi, about 20 miles north of Saigon, Ron lived in a tent and flew fire support missions for 1st Infantry units. His chopper was hit in the tail by enemy fire on multiple occasions, but he had no crashes, injuries or loss of life on board his helicopter or the other three for which he was responsible. Ron was awarded 11 Air Medals for combat.

After his 9 months in combat and 3 years of active service (and having moved with Peggy to 13 different homes), Ron returned to Texas with the federal G.I. Bill and an unconditional acceptance letter to the MBA program at The University of Texas at Austin. His maroon heart endured the sea of burnt orange for 11 months. (UT’s orange Longhorns and A&M’s maroon Aggies used to be The Rivalry among Texas colleges.) Ron studied constantly to get through his MBA expeditiously, and Peggy helped him become a better writer in the evenings. By day, she taught English, History and Typing in a public school to keep the couple in Tex-Mex. Thanks to additional support from the Texas G.I. Bill, Ron paid a grand total of $216.28 for graduate school —including fees, healthcare, parking, athletics and student events! With his MBA in hand, Ron was immediately offered a job at IBM in Austin.

While working for IBM, Ron completed his Army obligation by serving in the National Guard for 3 years, and was promoted to the rank of Captain on February 21st, 1968.

In 1967, IBM hired Ron Bower to sell computers, which were the size of swimming pools back then.

Boring old business theory came alive as Ron was confronted with clever reminders of good work ethic (the Roundtoit, the THINK pad, etc.), joke-laced presentations, and genuinely warm working relationships at IBM. The corporate culture there thrived on friendly competition and encouraged creative thinking. Ron’s respect for authority in the military gave him a good rapport with his superiors in the corporate structure, and the camaraderie at A&M positioned him well for rising in a playful way through the ranks of IBM. His military savvy paid off directly when he became the first person ever to sell and install an automatic teller machine (ATM) to Texas’ largest military base at Ft. Hood. He also gave demonstrations and sold large and small computer systems to clients in a range of industries including State Government, education, insurance, and dairy! Ron’s leadership confidence grew with his wide range of projects and frequent IBM promotions.

IBM encouraged having a balanced life. Ron’s wife, Peggy, was included in the many reward trips he earned for exceeding sales benchmarks (and rightly so, since her concise writing skills helped her husband hone his proposals). The couple had two children during the IBM years. Ron was around to coach little league and have time with his kids, and he turned down promotions that required transfers to keep his family on steady ground.

Ron was also able to take off frequently through his years with IBM — he flew helicopters through his National Guard work, and moonlighted as a private flight instructor on the weekends. Ron and two doctor friends shared ownership of a Piper Cherokee 6, a unique partnership which lasted 25 years. Ron trained the docs to fly, and all three families used the plane for vacations. That little plane, which remained in perfect condition and accident-free throughout the quarter century, sold for more than they paid for it!

Ron remained at IBM until 1982, when he jokes that he joined “two other idiots” in an aviation sales and service company.

In the early 1980s, attorney/pilot Kirk Hayes started an airplane sales company with Robert White, who happened to be a fellow IBMer and jocular pilot friend of Ron Bower’s. Once their company was off the ground, Kirk and Robert invited Ron to join them as Vice President of the company and creator of a new helicopter sales and maintenance department. Having stayed at IBM for a full 15 years, Ron “retired” to go take this exciting more-than-full-time job.

Ron built a close team of mechanics, pilots, salespeople and administrators, all focused on buying and selling helicopters.

While he built his wing of the company, Ron negotiated and managed a 7-year helicopter lease contract with a leading local news channel, and provided pilots (sometimes himself) to reach the news-worthy stories first. He applied his IBM experience by building a database of FAA records (history, owners, contact information) for every Bell 206 in the U.S.A. He used that contact information to start a direct mail newsletter for 206 owners, which put him in the position of being a familiar name to Jet Ranger fans. His first helicopter purchase was from an owner in Florida who had read his first newsletter.

That particular helicopter, that first one purchased, was unique in that it had been approved under Special Federal Air Regulation (SFAR) by the FAA for installation and operation of an instrument flight/autopilot system. Initially, Ron did not have the rare helicopter rating required under the SFAR to fly in IFR conditions. Since he had received fixed wing instrument ratings years earlier, the process was quick. By pursuing that rating for that first helicopter, Ron unwittingly laid the foundation for his later Around The World journey solo in a similarly configured Bell 206.

While navigating the storms of his fledgling department within the startup company, Ron also began to explore international business opportunities as the age of globalization was dawning. (Though he had worked for International Business Machines for 15 years, IBM had never sent Ron outside the United States!) He learned how exchange rates can turn a good deal into a lousy deal or a great deal. He began to attend a biennial helicopter expo in England, and developed relationships with companies and potential buy/sell customers all over the world. Ron spent significant time abroad, including five months in Paris and one in Australia. He bought and sold dozens of helicopters overseas, and began to brainstorm about how best to market the company internationally.

How about a record-breaking flight Around The World? Though he did conceive of the trip(s) largely for business reasons at first — to help market his company’s services, including his own reliability as a knowledgeable pilot/buyer/seller — Ron was delighted to discover and nurture a more significant purpose as the planning process unfolded. While he meticulously prepared for each trip for 8 months, he was surprised to encounter countless people who were enormously inspired by what he was doing. Colleagues, pilots, industry service providers and friends came together behind Ron to make the trips feel much bigger than what he had planned them to be.

Unfortunately, the company Ron worked so tirelessly to promote (in what many considered to be crazy ways!) ended up being sold multiple times during and after the Around The World trips. Austin’s Robert Mueller Airport, where the company had built its enormous hangar in 1983, closed in 1998. This marked the end Austin Jet International.

With the events of September 11, 2001, aircraft sales slowed significantly. Bower Helicopter’s consulting services helped numerous buyers and sellers during this difficult period. Ron officially retired and closed Bower Helicopter in 2011. He then served as an advisor for Hangar Holdings, LLC until 2015.

Ron's 55 Years of Flying

Since soloing on November 26, 1962, Ron Bower has flown over 9,000 flight hours. He has held every aircraft rating (except blimp and hot air balloon).

Ron has plotted courses for countless flying adventures — as a flight instructor, combat pilot, salesman, purchasing consultant, and dual (east- and west-bound) world record helicopter speed and distance holder. During each flight, he stayed mentally present and calm to adjust in the moment as needed to avoid hazards. This master flyer has maneuvered through enemy fire and mechanical failures safely. In 55 years of flying, Ron’s record has remained clear of any accidents, incidents and violations.

Ron’s team of mechanics customized the avionics and electronics of the Around The World 1994 Bell 206B Jet Ranger. The cockpit was incredibly high tech for 1994, utilizing the latest in GPS technology, the finest avionics, and a mounted laptop computer.

The helicopter was purchased new from the Bell factory in Canada — with a few custom tweaks. Ron visited the factory numerous times as the aircraft was coming down the assembly line [see photo below], and was there to speak with test pilots during every phase. Knowing that engine power and fuel efficiency would be critical components of the trip’s success (and his survival over cold ocean water without floats), Ron raised a red flag when the new engine originally made for the ship by Allison tested at +0% over minimum power. Ron sought out a replacement. Standard Aero, an engine maintenance company, offered a 1975 Jet Ranger engine that had been rebuilt to such perfection that it achieved +15%. The talented detail hawks at Standard Aero installed the better-than-new rebuilt engine at the Bell factory, a first for them. Standard Aero became a sponsor of the trip, loaning Ron the souped-up-hot-rod-retro engine free of charge. As shown below, Ron happily appeared in Standard Aero industry magazine ads after the trip. (To his credit, the then new President of Allison invited Ron to participate in a review of the their manufacturing processes, resulting in improvements in new engine quality.)

One doesn’t just hop into an aircraft and fly around the world. Ron orchestrated months of precise planning and precautionary safety training. PHI, Inc. helped direct Ron to the best emergency pilot training in the country. His health and emergency readiness were tested in every way imaginable during the training. [Pictured below: Ron in the water-tight submersion suit that he wore while flying over long stretches of frigid ocean, and the trainee in a raft in pool of VERY cold water, learning what it would feel like if he crashed in said ocean.] Ron was grateful he did not end up having an emergency during the trip.

During the journey, Ron took part in an ongoing pilot fatigue study conducted by NASA to improve long flight safety. This marked the first time a helicopter pilot was involved in the study. He wore a wrist strap [pictured below] to record his heart rate, pulse, sleep patterns, flight time, etc., which NASA scientists evaluated after his return. Ron notes that the personal monitoring devices of the current day (Apple® Watch, etc.) are much more sleek than this clunky little box on a strap he sported for the duration of his trip.

For the 1994 trip, Ron was totally on his own in terms of maintaining the helicopter. After each day of flying, he performed post-flight inspections — often in the dark

Ron was greeted warmly all over the world, with crowds gathering to wish him well as he took off for his next leg of the journey. Word of his presence seemed to travel fast — especially in the small towns of Russia! He gave out stickers and candy to the crowds, and was sometimes honored by a person of local importance in a makeshift ceremony as he climbed into his helicopter. [Pictured above, a small town mayor gifts Ron a guide book to the area and invites him to come back anytime.]

Ron also met many pilots at the airports, all of whom seemed inspired and excited by the trip. One military pilot in Russia took the wings right off of his uniform and gave them to Ron. Deeply touched by this, Ron took off his own wings and gave them to the officer with tears in his eyes. One of the most precious gifts he received during the trip, this set of wings reminded Ron that we are all more alike than we are different.

Ron was sent off at the beginning of his trip in style by Bell Helicopter [see photo above of Ron, Peggy and Ross Perot, Jr., whose record Ron was on the way to breaking, wishing him well at the Bell send-off party]. He was greeted by a large crowd of family, friends, colleagues and news media upon his successful return. His wife presented him with a dozen yellow Texas roses, a red carpet was rolled out, and Ron got his greatest wish after 23 ten-hour days in a cockpit: an immediate haircut from his favorite barber, Virgil.

He is survived and celebrated by Peggy, his wife of 57 years; his children and their spouses, Shannon, Julie, Sharron and Byron; his grandchildren, Colt and wife Rebekah, Shiloh, Daisy, Gus and Sparky (Little Ron); and his great-grandchild, Barrett.

Outdoor, socially distant services will be held on Ron’s birthday, Monday, December 28, 2020 — details to come.


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