5 questions with Monte LaMar

08/07/2014 12:00 AM

08/06/2014 6:03 PM

Monte LaMar and his wife, Leeann, opened Skydive Gypsy Moths at Stearman Field in Benton in September.

LaMar got interested in skydiving in Wichita during the 1980s.

Every Fourth of July, a skydiving team would jump into Cessna Stadium, where the stands were filled with people there for an annual fireworks show.

“I was there and said, ‘Man, that looks like fun,’ ” LaMar said.

So he and about 10 friends drove to Udall to make tandem jumps. He was hooked.

Today, he has made more than 7,000 jumps.

For about 18 years, he served as president of the Boeing employees’ skydiving club and jumped for scores of charity events.

“It was a lot of fun, and they (Boeing) got a lot of attention for it,” LaMar said.

He also has been part of a skydiving group at Cook Field near Derby and Rose Hill.

When his job with Spirit AeroSystems took him to Tulsa, he served as the safety and training adviser for an active drop zone in Skiatook, Okla.

(He serves in that role at the drop zone at Benton as well.)

Wanting to get back to the Wichita area, he and his wife moved back in September, and he took a job as a contract engineer with Bombardier Learjet.

In June, he was caught up in the layoffs there.

LaMar was born in California and spent many of his childhood years in American Samoa and Puerto Rico.

When he and his brother got older, his parents decided to move to Oakley, Kan., his parents’ hometown.

“That was a big change for us,” he said.

After high school, LaMar attended two years of drafting school and was hired by Boeing Wichita in 1985 as a drafter designer.

He’s also taken engineering classes at Wichita State University, Friends University and Butler Community College.

Eventually, he joined Spirit AeroSystems.

He and his wife live at the Benton airport in a condo-hangar.

Q. So far, you’ve grown the business mainly by word of mouth, but you’re getting a lot of attention from your location at the active Benton airport. How so?

A. We land across the runway from this restaurant, the Stearman Field Bar & Grill. This place is packed every day. When they hear we’re in the air and we’re coming down in a parachute, everybody gets up from the tables and goes out to the gate. They’re all applauding us. Out here it’s almost a demo every day. When we come walking back across, somebody always says, “How do I do that?”

Q. My dad always said, why jump out of a perfectly good airplane. How safe is jumping?

A. I get that remark almost daily. In my job, I have yet to find a “perfectly good” airplane – there’s always something going on with an airplane. I ride motorcycles. … Motorcycles are probably 50 times more dangerous than jumping out of an airplane. Skydiving has become incredibly safe, if you take your time and do things right. … The gear and the training and everything about it and the discipline compared to the old days (is much higher). We did some crazy things in the old days that we do not do anymore. It’s very careful and monitored.

Q. You said safety is your first goal. How do you stay safe around the planes that take off and land at Benton?

A. Safety is always first – with the airplane and the equipment and the training and flying. We follow United States Parachute Association … rules very strictly. We follow the FAA’s rules very closely. Everything is by the book, especially on a busy airport like this. … Radio communications; we’re talking with the ATC (air traffic control). We know by radar where every airplane is in the pattern and when airplanes are coming in from different locations. The biggest thing is communication.

Q. What do you love most about your job?

A. My thrill is running off my students’ adrenalin. I get adrenalin no matter what. It never gets old. Every jump is exciting and challenging. It takes a lot of work to turn points and formations and free fall. I thoroughly enjoy working with students. … It’s just fun.

Q. What’s your biggest challenge as a new business owner?

A. I wanted the local pilots from this airport comfortable with the operation and pilots from other areas comfortable with flying into it. (That’s why we’re) trying to build it up slowly, so everybody could get a feel for it. Normally, in some drop zones when you start doing it, there’s a lot of bad communication that gets going. … You have to (build) it slowly to make sure everybody understands it and then it’s OK. … We live here. We want to get along with everybody.

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