Year of the Water Dog
Michael Jackson’s Thriller album sits atop the charts. Argentina has invaded the Falkland Islands. Leonid Breznjev, Princess Grace, and John Belushi die. Prince William is born. The Vietnam Memorial is erected. The world is in the midst of the worst financial crisis since World War II. DeLorean Motor Company goes bankrupt, and Canadair struggles to not follow suit. It is 1982.
A great drama is in the offing, one that will change the world’s perception of business aircraft and give rise to an iconic machine, the descendants of which will shape entire segments of the Air Transport Industry. That machine is Canadair’s fledgling Challenger.
A Call to Action
From its beginnings as a Bill Lear concept, to the troubled CL-600, to the game-changing CL-601, to the prolific CL-604 and subsequent 605, 650, Global Express, and CRJ series aircraft, the Challenger has exemplified design brilliance, marketing savvy, technical agility, and robust reliability. I know this because I am an inveterate aviator and a man of some years and experience. My associates, Michael Sowa and Kenneth Murray, know it because they were there in 1982, young men building and honing their business aviation skills in the crucible economic crisis—each plying his determination to the Challenger’s rise, refinement, and renown.
The business of bringing a new aircraft to market is complex and grueling. The stakes are high, the competition is fierce, and the danger of bankruptcy looms in perpetuity. Few men can manage it; fewer still can repeat it, and the likelihood of a three-peat approaches impossibility—yet the individuals that Canadair brought on to hoist the Challenger from obscurity and skepticism to prominence and profitability were the selfsame gents who’d overseen the launches of Dassault’s Falcon and Cessna’s Citation. These were men whose understanding of airplanes, people, preparation, and success had been forged in air-combat, military test flight, and squadron maintenance. They, in turn, hired men whose minds and hearts and principles reflected their own: an aerie of former, Air Force One flightcrew members to serve as the first generation of Challenger demo-pilots, a pilot and former IBM manager named Michael Sowa to serve as the Challenger program’s Manager of Sales Administration, and Ken Murray, an A&P versed in the black-magic of advanced electrical and avionics systems. Together, these professionals took in hand and rolled the proverbial dice on which the fortunes and futures of thousands of investors, executives, engineers, and workers would ride.
And what a roll it was! By the turn of the 21st Century, five-hundred Challengers had been built and delivered. By 2015, that number had surpassed one-thousand. To date the worldwide population of Challengers numbers 1,162 aircraft.
Notwithstanding its capability, comfort, charisma, or market share, the Challenger’s greatest attribute may be the inherent flexibility built into its DNA. From the onset, the Challenger platform was engineered to accommodate modification. In 1991, Bombardier (having acquired Canadair in 1986) stretched the platform a full twenty-feet into the CRJ-100. In 1996, an artful reshuffle of the original 600 series yielded the stunning and storied Global Express.
By dint of cleverness, foresight, experience, intuition, and hard work, a remarkable group of individuals saw to it that the airplane called Challenger would long reign as champion among large-cabin business jets.
Having amassed invaluable technical know-how, industry connections, and keen appreciations for the indispensability of uncompromising customer service, Mike Sowa and Ken Murray left Bombardier to pursue opportunities elsewhere along the aviation frontier. For Mike, it was a series of vice-presidencies at respected organizations such as Flight Services Group and Northwest Aircraft Capital Corp; a stint at Galaxy Aerospace, where he helped bring the super mid-sized Galaxy to the American market; and finally the start up and management of JetStream Aviation, a Part 135 operation comprising assorted Learjets, Hawkers, Gulfstream, a herd of pilots, and a full time maintenance division. Ken’s skills and sensibilities took him down an altogether different road. In 1994, Murray started his own aviation consultancy. The broad experience he’d gained at Canadair rendered him particularly adept at aircraft pre-purchase inspections, refurbishments, and new aircraft completions. Fortune 500 companies and small, private concerns alike entrusted Ken with the acquisition, vetting, and fitting-out of Beech King Airs, Boeing 757s, and damn near everything between.
Mike’s and Ken’s career paths re-converged in 2004, when Sowa brought his expertise in Part 135 management to an aviation concern with which Ken’s consultancy had worked closely for some time. Over the next two years, Sowa and Murray recognized in each other the qualities and know-how upon which a successful business partnership could be based. In 2006, the pair founded Waypoint Partners, LLC on the premise that relentlessly superior customer service would earn them clientele, reputation, and success. Dedication to that ethos saw the young company through the 2008 global financial crisis—the worst economic downturn since the early 1980s and the second instance in which Mike and Ken would defy the odds and get a promising concept off the ground. Subsequent years and a growing clientele took Sowa and Murray across the wide world. From the Middle East to the Arctic, from Europe to Oceana, from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia and across the whole of North America, the Waypoint team has traveled for purpose of providing the first-person, hands-on service essential to safe aircraft operations and successful business outcomes.
It’s been forty-years since Mike and Ken met amidst the excitement and exigency of the inchoate Challenger program. Sixteen years have passed since the founding of Waypoint Partners, LLC. Such intervals speak to the depth of the two men’s experience, the durability of their work ethic, and their dedication to both the advancement of their clients’ interests and the wellbeing of the aviation industry. It is my privilege to work with Messrs. Sowa and Murray, and my pleasure to call them friends.