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Herzog flight department ensures seamless operations across the company’s divisions

By Rafael Henríquez
Managing Editor

St Joseph

On the ramp at STJ (St Joseph MO) with Boeing Stearman Model 75 (PT-13D), Bombardier Challenger 605, Robinson R22, and Bell 407 are (L–R) Dir of Maintenance Paul Paxton, Dir of Aviation Cliff Barnhill, and Helicopter Pilot & Av Ground Support Mgr Tanner Barnhill.

Herzog has made significant contributions to North American infrastructure and transportation industries. It was established in 1969 by William E “Bill” Herzog as the Herzog Contracting Corporation in St Joseph MO. Stan Herzog took over when his father passed, and served as chairman and CEO until his passing in 2019. Under new leadership, Herzog remains a privately held company to this day.

Dir of Aviation Cliff Barnhill emphasizes safety in the running of Herzog’s flight department. Here he is pictured in the flight deck of the company’s Challenger 605, and on the ramp in front of the hangar.

Since its inception, Herzog has experienced remarkable growth and has evolved into a diversified and highly respected construction and engineering firm.

By 1971, the company had started regional paving operations. A year later, in order to offset overhead during the cold season, Herzog ventured into the railroad construction and rehabilitation field. This would eventually become a key factor in the company’s growth and sustainability.

Today, Herzog specializes in both light and heavy rail projects, including inner-city rail systems. Its work includes the completion of the Tri-Rail system in south Florida, and the construction of roads and airports in Caribbean islands. But it doesn’t end there.

Herzog operates through 6 divisions, each of them providing engineering solutions for the diverse activities in which the company is involved.

These are Herzog Contracting, Herzog Transit Services, Herzog Services, Herzog Railroad Services, Herzog Technologies, and Green Group. However, while Herzog’s growth and success are evident in its expansion, it has surely had the help of a quiet contributor – business aviation.

The Bombardier Challenger 605 is powered by 2 GE CF34-3B engines.

The Herzog flight department

Aiming to save time for company executives and get them as close as possible to where they need to be in order to secure contracts, Herzog relies on an inhouse flight department that currently operates a mixed fleet out of STJ (St Joseph MO), with a Bombardier Challenger 605 and 3 helicopters – a Bell 407, a Robinson R44, and an R22.

But Herzog has used business aviation for more than 40 years, starting with a King Air 200, and moving up to an IAI Westwind before switching to Bombardier products.

At the helm of the flight department is Dir of Aviation Clif Barnhill. He is a seasoned ATP and helo pilot who likes stability, and has been flying with Herzog for more than 25 years. “I’ve been in the business for about 35 years,” he relates. “Before I joined Herzog, I worked with another Part 91 operator for 10 years.”

Barnhill grew up in the area, and his only 2 jobs as a corporate pilot have been within 50 miles of each other. He continues, “I knew another pilot/friend who was familiar with the Herzog organization. The company was looking for co-captains, so I applied, was hired, and I’m still here 25 years later.”

The Bell 407 features a Garmin G1000H glass cockpit for precise flight. Designed for low operating and maintenance costs, it can carry up to 7 passengers.

Herzog operated the Westwind when Barnhill joined the flight department. “We kept that aircraft for a couple of years after I came on board,” he adds. “Then we moved into Bombardier Challenger products, initially with a 600 model, then upgraded to a 601, and finally acquired the 605 that we have been operating for about 3 years.”

Barnhill continues, “We also have a Boeing Stearman Model 75. It was Bill Herzog’s plane. He was an aviation buff who really loved airplanes.”

For now, the Herzog flight department is a 1-bizjet operation, but this may change in the near future. When the new CEO took over in 2019, he started to renew the aviation department. In fact, the Challenger 605 was purchased at the beginning of his tenure, and the idea is to add another bizjet to the fleet by Q2 2024.

Flight operations

The Herzog flight department operates mainly within the US. Common domestic destinations include Boston, California, Dallas, South Florida, and Washington DC. While the company doesn’t have contracts with any FBO, the flight department visits preferred ground service providers at some airports, such as National Jets at FLL (Intl, Fort Lauderdale FL).

The Robinson R44 and R22 helicopters have proved to be reliable and versatile workhorses for Herzog in a variety of applications.

“For fuel when traveling, we like to use suppliers recommended by the Corporate Aircraft Association (CAA) as much as we can,” Barnhill says.

Herzog used to engage in international flight operations in Europe, South America, and Russia. But these days, about 90% of the company’s flying is to domestic destinations. Barnhill notes, “We still do some international flying to Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico.”

On the rotary-wing side, the Bell 407 is the VIP rig that transports company executives mainly to and from local business activities. “The 407 is flown locally for the most part,” Barnhill says. “I usually fly the executives around here for meetings that take place within a couple of hundred miles.

We have been to Lincoln, Omaha, St Louis, and Jefferson City for occasional meetings and parts runs.”

The Robinson R44 and R22 helicopters are used mainly for supporting operations in south Texas. In addition to the regular missions, whenever a little extra help has been needed, Herzog helicopters have served the community by surveying damages caused by floods in the area.

Robinson R22

The Herzog fleet keeps busy flying executives and customers. In total, the Challenger averages between 300 and 325 hours per year. The Bell 407 logs around 75 hours annually. And the Robinsons register approximately 125 hours.

A single-pilot flight department

Barnhill is the company’s only full-time pilot due to location challenges and competition with the airlines. “Being a flight department based in the Midwest has always been a little bit of a contention with pilots,” he explains. “There’s not a lot of pilots here locally. The Covid-19 pandemic also had an effect on pilot availability. But our biggest hurdle has been competing with the airlines.”

The solution Barnhill found to all of this was to use contract pilots. “I have a list of 6–8 guys who I hire,” he says. “I have one regular contract pilot who I have on retainer. His name is Mark Gibson, and averages 15–20 days per month. But when I’m not using him, I hire other people from my list of pilots who are on rotation.”

Aircraft maintenance

Dir of Maintenance Paul Paxton has 30 years of experience in aircraft maintenance. He performs line maintenance and inspections on the Challenger 605 and Bell 407.

Herzog handles most aircraft maintenance needs inhouse. Dir of Maintenance Paul Paxton is the man in charge of keeping the fleet in top condition.

He has been with the company for 10 years, but his extensive 30-year career started at Duncan Aviation, where he specialized in heavy maintenance on Bombardier, Dassault Falcon, and Gulfstream aircraft. “I got out of college as a machinist and a welder in the early 90s,” he relates.

“I joined Duncan Aviation and started to work on jet engines with them. Then I earned my A&P and began my career as an aircraft mechanic.”

Paxton highlights the significance of personal connections in the aviation industry when he points out that he came to Herzog influenced by his long-standing friendship with Barnhill.

“While at Duncan Aviation, I had been helping Herzog with their planes for years.

From time to time, we would come to their home base to assist them,” he remembers. “Clif (Barnhill) told me they were in need of a maintenance director, but it took him a little bit to convince me to come work with him. In the end, Herzog has been the right fit for me.”

bellDuties around the hangar for Paxton include budgeting and light maintenance. He performs all line maintenance, while heavy maintenance is provided by a handful of trusted MROs, such as SVT Aviation and Logic Aviation for the helicopters.

“Of course, we also work with Bell,” he adds. “We lean on them for technical advice, and we’ve taken the 407 to its service center in Piney Flats TN.”

For aircraft on ground (AOG) situations with the Challenger, solutions may vary, depending on which maintenance provider is closer or whether Herzog has used their services before. Typically, the company will choose to work with Duncan Aviation or Bombardier.

“They have a good presence in most of the areas we go to,” says Paxton. “We have also used Constant Aviation. They’ve done a good job for us as well.”

Paxton handles avionics maintenance to a degree, but when he needs support, he contacts the manufacturer directly. In addition to Bombardier and Duncan Aviation, he receives the best technical advice from Collins Aerospace and Garmin. Occasionally, he’ll require technicians from manufacturers to address issues with proprietary software.

Aviation Ground Support Manager Tanner Barnhill is also a helicopter pilot. In addition to flying, his duties include managing the hangar facility and overseeing daily operations.

Support on the ground

The flight department’s strength is multiplied at its headquarters by Aviation Ground Support Manager Tanner Barnhill. He is Clif’s oldest son and is also a pilot. He started flying around 15 years ago during college, and obtained his helicopter license while working for Herzog.

When he’s not on a mission flying guests in the helicopters, Tanner keeps busy overseeing the facility, taking care of administrative work, and making sure the fuel tank stays full. “We have a 12,000-gallon tank right next to our hangar,” he says.

“We use a local Jet-A distributor based in Gower MO. Whenever we need more fuel, I’ll call them and they’ll send a truck right away.” Avgas for the Robinson helos is sourced from Express Flight, the FBO next door at STJ.

Tanner also handles aircraft scheduling, for which he uses Airplane Manager. “When the team is on the road, I coordinate with FBOs to arrange ground transportation,” he adds. “I’m usually calling ahead to make sure they have what they need when they arrive at their destination.

For the future

Acknowledging that retirement is approaching, Cliff Barnhill has a particular mission to accomplish – finding a suitable successor for himself in his role at Herzog. That’s why he engages regularly with schools, participating in field days and talking to students who show an interest in aviation. The company has also been open to organizing helicopter rides for interested children.

Bell 407, Robinson R22, and Challenger 605 in Herzog’s hangar at STJ.

After retirement, Barnhill aims to stay involved in the aviation industry, sharing his experience and knowledge, and potentially inspiring the next generation of pilots.

However, Barnhill’s substitute may be sitting right next to him. His son Tanner is content with his role at Herzog and appreciates his growth in the flight department.

And while he enjoys his position as a helicopter pilot, he’s open to future opportunities flying business jets, as well as maybe succeeding his father when he retires as director of aviation at Herzog.

Herzog’s growth and success can be attributed to its commitment to safety, innovation, and client satisfaction. The company’s ability to adapt to the changing needs of the construction industry and its dedication to delivering high-quality projects have positioned it as a leader in the field.

Whether in rail, transit, highway, or aviation projects, Herzog continues to contribute to the development of critical infrastructure that facilitates economic growth and improves the quality of life for communities across the US.