J. Wickham “Wick” Zimmerman has been flying for more than 30 years. His childhood dream was to get his pilot’s license and move to the beach to fly a banner plane up and down the shore all day advertising drink specials and beer. Unfortunately, that dream got put on hold when he realized the costs involved with getting your license and having a plane.
Fortunately for Wick, a successful career as a structural engineer in the construction business has allowed him to realize his dream of getting his license and owning a plane. He eventually started his own company, Outside the Lines, which designs and builds water features, rockwork and themed environments for entertainment spaces including retail entertainment, zoos, aquariums, resorts, museums and corporate venues. Many of his clients and job sites are not close to major airports, which was a driving reason behind getting a private plane. For example, visiting a facility in Boise, ID used to be a minimum of one day each way and an overnight stay for any trips flying on commercial jets. Being able to fly privately and without being locked into a schedule, turns the journey into a one-day trip. This makes it more efficient to have face-to-face meetings and discuss and view plans and models, while not losing time sitting in airports waiting for connections.
Getting started as a pilot had more challenges than just money. Wick claims his first flight instructor tried to fire him a few times. He started his training at Hayesfield in Ellicott City, MD (which has since closed). The instructor was incredibly knowledgeable and very patient, but originally only wanted to do one lesson per week. Wick was more interested in getting his license as quickly as possible and didn’t want bad weather on his “one day” to throw him even farther behind. However, he also wanted to learn how to fly and not just learn what he needed to know to pass a test and he felt this instructor was the best person to help him do that. Finally, they negotiated a schedule that worked for both of them and Wick got his license in about a year.
Wick got his first plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza A36, shortly after getting his license. He flew the Bonanza for approximately 12 years before moving up into a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron. His appreciation for the quality of Beechcraft planes started with a Beechcraft V-tail at the airfield where he learned to fly. Ultimately the A36 won him over because compared to the V-tail it has a little more room and a better center of gravity (CG) envelope, which gave Wick more flexibility when loading the plane.
His current plane, a Cessna Citation CJ1 (CE-525), is his first Cessna and his first jet. As you would expect from an engineer, Wick did quite a bit of research before buying the plane and ultimately settled on the CJ1 due in large part to the quality of construction, longevity of the production of the model and because it was certified for single-pilot operation. He was impressed that the 525 was designed to Part 25 standards, which are the standards used for transport category airplanes, while certified to Part 23, which governs smaller aircraft. He and his wife, Allison, have been flying their CJ1 for about six years.
On average, the Zimmermans fly between 150-200 hours per year, though they are expecting a slightly busier year this year. Most of those flights are for business. Their company is headquartered in Anaheim, CA with an office in Dallas so they do a lot of flights between the two cities. They also travel to Boise and Salt Lake City regularly and make a trip to the East Coast every few months for work and family visits. Working on up to 20 projects or more at time like Wick’s team does means efficiency is important. That is why having a private jet that gives them the flexibility to be where they need to be when they need to be there, and not being at the mercy of commercial jet timetables, is so important.
Wick’s engineering background and track record of problem solving for his clients fits well with his pilot sensibilities. The math and science that go into constructing a functioning fountain that shoots water 150 feet into the air and is choreographed to music or mimics the movement of a person follow the same rules that are involved in the aerodynamics of flight – movement and gravity and resistance. That is combined with the beauty of the final product – whether it is a spectacular light and water show or a natural-looking home for a family of penguins. It is easy to compare that creative vision to the majestic beauty you see looking out of an airplane as you come over a mountain or watch the sunset from the sky.
While Wick is the official pilot, he is encouraging Allison to consider getting her license. She did take a brief course at last fall’s Citation Jet Pilot (CJP) convention and is considering more lessons. However, Wick said there is a big benefit to having her on the radio – the controllers always like her better and are generally nicer to her than they are to him.
Wick said they made a change to their CJ1 in August 2019 that has had a big impact on their flights. They added Tamarack Aerospace’s Active Winglets. He was familiar with the science behind winglets and had flown a Beechcraft Duke and King Air planes with passive winglets, though ultimately didn’t buy those planes. He liked that the Active Winglets didn’t require any structural modifications, unlike the passive winglets. The fuel savings he has seen has been most apparent on his frequent trips to Dallas. Typically, they use 150 lbs. less fuel each way to make the trip and while they could typically do the trip from California to Dallas without stopping, on the return flight it was always a 50/50 chance of whether they would have to refuel because of the headwinds. Because the Active Winglets give the plane a significantly better climb rate, they get to a higher altitude faster and burn less fuel. This means they can do the return flight without stopping, unless there are really dramatic headwinds. It used to be they were limited to doing three-hour flight with appropriate reserves and now a four-hour flight is no problem. Plus, they can do the East Coast to West Coast trips with one fuel stop instead of two.
While having fewer stops is a benefit for everyone, it is particularly important when you are carrying valuable cargo like a rescue animal. Wick and Allison work with volunteer groups Pilots N Paws and Doobert to help transfer rescue animals to new homes. Their passengers have included a 133-lb. mastiff, a pair of wolf dogs and an elderly pit bull mix. Wick said it seems like the animals can sense they are on their “freedom missions” to a better life. Though apparently it is still helpful to have a bag full of hot dog pieces to keep a mastiff occupied and out of the co-pilot seat.
Wick said what he loves most about flying is the ultimate sensation of freedom. “Even though we fly in a very regulated and controlled world, there is nothing like it that I have experienced,” he explained. “Though, the convenience of flying one’s self is certainly a close runner-up.”
Wick and Allison look forward to many more years of flying. Their Cessna has been to Italy with a previous owner and one of their dream trips is to fly it there again, going over Greenland and Iceland for a fuel stop. Though, it might be awhile before things slow down enough to make that trip. And maybe one day he’ll still get to fly a banner plane.