a personal memoir
My dealings with Al Paulson
By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet
(L–R) Kvassay talks with Hustler Jet Chairman Al Paulson and Air Show Pilot Bob Hoover at the Hustler Jet chalet during the 1976 Hannover Air Show in Germany.
Almost everybody in general aviation either met or has at least heard of Al Paulson. He was truly a self made man, advancing from flight engineer on TWA Constellations to the owner of Gulfstream and appearing on Forbes' list of the richest people in America.
I first met Al when he was Learjet distributor on the west coast under the Bill Lear regime. I had only occasional contacts with him at that time, since I was not involved in domestic marketing.
It was through Al Paulson that I also met an aviation icon, another well-known master aviator—Clay Lacy, who in his ample spare time as a United Airlines captain assisted Paulson in selling Learjets. My son Tony now works for Clay Lacy Aviation at VNY.
After the Gates Rubber Company took over Learjet, domestic marketing was handled by the newly created Gates Aviation in Denver CO, and all domestic distributorships were canceled.
All this time Paulson still owned his company at VNY, dealing in spare parts and damaged airplanes. He was also involved in building the prototype Hustler—a combination jet/turboprop push-pull aircraft that never materialized.
Paulson purchased 2 Learjet 24s which had made hard landings with the landing gear strut protruding through the wing panels. The only source of supplies for such panels was the Learjet factory, but Gates Aviation refused to have any dealing with a former distributor like Al.
Al came to me asking if I could help him. I agreed with him that the more damaged Learjets were put back into service, the better for the program. The Sabreliner people carried around a list of all Learjet accidents—there were a few by then—and I felt that if I could point out that this and that aircraft were flying again, this would deflate the competition's arguments.
Since the Gates Aviation people paid very little attention to the Learjet factory, having all recently been self-appointed aircraft salesman, I could get away with almost everything in Wichita, except maybe murder. I sold the needed wing panels to Paulson as an export sale and shipped them to a fictional address in Tijuana, Mexico.
The forwarding agent in LAX was instructed to intercept the shipment and send it to VNY. Soon 2 Learjets were flying again—and the Gates Aviation people probably still did not know that we had a spare parts department in Wichita.
After this, Al and I became fast friends and met frequently.
One evening during the 1982 Hannover Air Show I had dinner with Al. By then he was looking for a place to manufacture his Hustler. He told us—in great confidence—that within days he would sign a contract to buy the recently vacated Aero Commander facilities in Bethany OK.
As you may remember, Aero Commander production had moved to Israel.
The next morning, while I was standing beside the Learjet demonstrator at the show, I was approached by my old friend, Hugh Field, the editor of the British magazine Flight International.
He asked the usual question, "Alex, what news do you have for me?"
I couldn't think of anything new other than what Al had told me the night before. Well, I reasoned, this news will be out soon anyway, so I told Hugh about it. But I felt guilty for revealing something that Al had told me in confidence.
Next morning this news was published in the Flight daily news sheet. The Grumman people at the show read the news, walked over to meet Al and offered him the Gulfstream operation instead. (You may remember that at the time Grumman had some problems with the US Navy on the F14 Tomcat program.)
The rest is history. But I never dared to admit to Al that I violated his confidence and revealed his confidential news to the press.
I never told this story to anyone because I was not proud of it. And then, recently, during a meeting in Las Vegas, I told it to Al's son, Mike Paulson. His reaction was, "Father often wondered how the Grumman people got the word that he was about to buy the Bethany facilities, but he never could figure out the answer." Apparently, he never saw the news sheet at Hannover.
I've heard a few people in aviation claim that they sold the Gulfstream program to Al. Maybe so—but I had a small, if undignified, part in this transaction.
Alex Kvassay sold corporate aircraft for 30 years, earning a reputation as the industry's premier international salesman of his day. Now 85, retired and living in Wichita KS, Kvassay continues to travel for pleasure—recent solo trips have taken him to Libya, North Korea and Cuba.