About the Owner - Ron Carroll
Blue Ridge Helicopters: Where Experience Makes the Difference
By Leslie Johnston
Ron Carroll was introduced to helicopters as he and his fellow infantrymen were transported onto the front lines in the jungles of Vietnam. Chances are Ron Carroll never dreamed that he would one day not only fly and own his own helicopters, but train new generations of helicopter pilots.
Whether training student pilots or ferrying passengers, when you’re in the air, experience counts. Few Georgia helicopter training companies can match the 40 years combined experience of Blue Ridge Helicopters’ team of pilots. This Lawrenceville-based full-service company is owned by Ron Carroll, whose experience with helicopters goes back two decades.
An Atlanta native, Carroll spent his early career in the printing industry, initially in production and later in management with companies such as Foote and Davies and Dittler Brothers. “During the last five years of my printing career, I began taking flying lessons,” Carroll says. In December 1984, he received his private pilot’s rating.
“The following spring, I read a Flying Magazine article about helicopter flight controls. I had been drafted into the Army in 1966 and went to Vietnam, where I served in the infantry. I rode back and forth from the field in helicopters and had always been intrigued by them.” Carroll served in the United States Army from 1966 until 1968, driving armored personnel carriers. He was wounded twice and awarded the Purple Heart twice, attaining the rank of staff sergeant E6 with a good conduct medal.
“When I read that article, my interest was piqued. I had recently completed my fixed wing flight training and was eager for more knowledge,” he says, “so I took a helicopter discovery flight. I loved it. I then started flying helicopters on a regular basis with Prestige Helicopters.”
Through Prestige, he received his commercial helicopter pilot’s license in May 1986, and with a partner, purchased a Robinson helicopter. A year later, Carroll received his flight instructor’s certificate. “We had a helicopter, and I was now a certified flight instructor,” he says. “A month later, I incorporated as Blue Ridge Helicopters and soon I had three Robinson R-22s flying out of Gainesville.”
Only a year later, as fate would have it, “I received a call from Prestige’s owners who wanted to know if I was interested in purchasing the company,” Carroll says. The purchase was completed in October 1988; it was a company that he would own and operate for 10 years. “Prestige was an R-22 dealership for Robinson,” he says, “so we moved away from the Gainesville area, putting the emphasis on Prestige at Peachtree DeKalb, while Blue Ridge was more or less on the back burner.” During his ownership of Prestige, Carroll operated nine aircraft out of three airports in the Atlanta area.
Two years after selling Prestige to Mike Russell, who was one of his former students, he returned to flying again, “originally on a part-time basis, then full-time, as a flight instructor.” In 2003, he decided to revive his original entrepreneurial venture, Blue Ridge Helicopters, this time at Gwinnett County Airport/Briscoe Field. “Since then, the story of Blue Ridge has continued uninterrupted,” he explains.
It was a busy year for Carroll. “During 2003, I added several ratings. I’ve always been airplane-capable, and I’ve had commercial
and flight instructor helicopter ratings,” he says. “Then I added an instrument helicopter rating and added an instrument flight and instrument ground instructor rating.
I also added my A&P rating. My additional flight instructor rating allowed me to become a Gold Seal helicopter flight instructor.” Gold Seal CFI certification is the seal of approval that the FAA offers exceptional instructors. Carroll also added a Robinson service center, making Blue Ridge Helicopters a factory authorized service center for Robinson R-22s and R-44s. “I’ve been working on them for 20 years, and know them pretty well,” he says.
Today, Blue Ridge Helicopters offers new and used helicopter sales, flight instruction and aerial photography amongst other flight services, such as business charters, helicopter rides for events, helicopter tours, pipeline/powerline inspection flights, even flights to scatter the ashes of cremated loved ones and aircraft maintenance.
“For flight training, we offer discounts on the aircraft through the purchase of block time,” Carroll says. Blue Ridge Helicopters is also authorized through the TSA to train foreign students as well, and the company will soon be Sallie Mae approved for student loans.
Blue Ridge Helicopters’ facilities now include 800-square-feet of office space inside the Landmark Aviation FBO, two 60-foot-by-60-foot hangars (7,200-square-feet) for storage, as well as a maintenance facility. The company’s fleet is made up of three Robinson R-44 Ravens, one Raven I and two Raven IIs, and one R-22 Beta II. “We offer all ratings,” he says, “from recreational pilot to ATP with instrument, we have a complete line of Robinson spare parts and we’re a full-service maintenance facility.” Maintenance includes 100-hour aircraft inspections, annual inspections and all general maintenance and aircraft repair.
The company’s three instructor/pilots, Carroll, his son, Daron M.
“Matt” Carroll and Dudley Wright have logged a combined 40 years of flying experience. Matt Carroll, who has about 9,000 hours, flies for Rescue Air One and is manager of the Falcon Field operation at Peachtree City for Rescue Air One, and flies part-time for Blue Ridge. “Between Matt, Dudley, and I, we have roughly 20,000 hours of flight time,” the elder Carroll says. “All three of us are CFII helicopter flight instructors (regular instructors and instrument instructors), and all three of us are airplane-category rated as well. We have a lot of experience here.”
Blue Ridge Helicopters is a 135 — air taxi — operation,” Carroll says, “and we’re hoping to become a Robinson dealership.” If past success is an indication of future performance, Blue Ridge Helicopters — and Ron Carroll, a Jackson County resident who is also a Mason and who has transformed himself from printer to soldier to pilot and businessman — are poised for the next exciting decade.