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Kaney Flight Operations


Midwest-based engineering and manufacturing company uses single-pilot-operated Premier IA and Gazelle helicopter to advance its business.

By Phil Rose
Contributing Writer

Kaney is a firm believer in the value of business aviation. He flies the majority of company missions as a single pilot under Part 91, and adheres strictly to safety guidelines developed by NBAA.

Founded in 2006, Kaney Inc is a vertically integrated engineering and manufacturing company headquartered in Rockford IL and with an engineering office in Dayton OH.

The company services primarily the aerospace, defense, and medical industries. Kaney is recognized for its expertise in electrical mechanical motion control and electrical control systems, as well as test equipment and system integration laboratories (which permit extensive ground testing of aircraft systems).

Today, Kaney employs some 110 personnel at its Rockford location and its technical field engineer office in Dayton.

Its business is supported by Kaney Flight Operations (KFO). A 12,000 sq ft hangar at RFD (Rockford IL) is home to KFO’s Raytheon Premier IA and an Aérospatiale SA341F2 Gazelle, both operated under FAR Part 91.

Unusually, KFO also has a Northrop F-5A for research and development (R&D) work, as well as for marketing purposes.


Kaney uses the Gazelle for research and development work for civilian and military helicopter applications. The aircraft, an SA341F2, is a former French Army machine.

Founder & CEO Jeff Kaney grew up on a farm in Forreston IL, a small town northwest of Chicago. “I’ve been an aviation nut my whole life,” he admits. “I was one of those kids who always looked up when airplanes went over and tried to identify them.”

He continues, “When I was a kid, we got our information from magazines. In high school and junior high, that’s how I would learn about new things and new airplanes. These articles would whet my appetite to be a professional pilot. All I ever really wanted to be was a farmer or a pilot, and the farmer thing dropped out years ago.”

Kaney credits his father with introducing him to flying. “He had a Piper PA-28R Arrow when I was growing up,” he recalls. “I earned my license, and by the time I was 19 I was a certified flight instructor.”

In 1989, after studying flight operations and business at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, Kaney joined the US Air Force. There, he attended Officer Training School before going on to Pilot Training and being assigned to a combat unit and serving in various conflicts, including Operation Desert Storm. Kaney attained the rank of captain and stayed in until 1998.

Toward the end of his time in the military, there was a period of overlap. He explains, “I joined the airlines in 1995, while I was in the Air Force Reserve in Milwaukee WI flying Lockheed C-130 Hercules. I ended up as a pilot for a major international airline, flying Boeing 727s and McDonnell Douglas MD-80s.”

Jeff Kaney in the Premier’s left seat. Kaney flies the Premier approximately 150–200 hours annually.

By 2006, Kaney had decided to start an aerospace engineering company. He elaborates. “I finally quit the airlines in 2007, shortly after I started the business. Over time, this transformed into an engineering and manufacturing company, which transformed into what it is today.”

In the early years, Kaney Flight Operations had access to a Citation CJ1 when needed. Only in 2018 did the flight department aspire to its own aircraft – a 2006-model Raytheon Premier IA.

Kaney is enthusiastic about the Premier. “We use it primarily for business,” he says. “I’m able to take a handful of my leaders and engineers to visit customers, to travel to our office in Dayton, or to work on projects to expand the company. And it’s an incredible tool for that.” Also, says Kaney, “In contrast to flying the airlines, we’re going to go out and back the same day the vast majority of the time.”

He lists another benefit. “I tend to take more people,” he says. “If we were going via the airlines, and we had to send people out and have them spend the night in order to get everything done, we might send 1 or 2 essential personnel – but now we’ll have maybe 2 or 3 more people come along, because it’s just a 1-day trip, which means more exposure, more collaboration. So it’s very good. And I don’t bring any customers on board the aircraft.”

F5Kaney has been passionate about flying his entire life. He recalls, “My first airplane was a Piper Super Cub, which I bought in 1996. And then in early ’99 I got into warbird flying with an L-39.” Kaney has flown jet warbirds on the airshow circuit for many years, starting with the Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros and progressing through a Mikoyan MiG-17 and, more recently, the Northrop F-5. The F-5 served originally with the Royal Norwegian Air Force, and was acquired from a private owner in the US. Jeff Kaney has flown it at shows for company promotional and marketing purposes. “We also do some military and civilian contracting with it, either as a chase aircraft or for R&D,” says Kaney, “but when we do that I don’t fly it.”

Kaney uses the Premier on missions throughout North America, for an average of 150–200 hrs per year. The type’s 1200-nm range makes it suitable for all the company’s missions, although, as Kaney notes, west coast trips typically require a stop en route. “We fly frequently between RFD and DAY (Dayton OH),” he notes, “but we fly everywhere throughout the continental US – and also, very rarely, to Canada or Mexico.”

Jeff Kaney is an enthusiastic user of the AC Air Technology TrackTech remote-control aircraft tug for maneuvering the Premier IA on the ramp.

He continues, “The Premier’s a very comfortable airplane, and it’s extremely fast. It climbs to altitude quickly, and it gets over the weather very well. Also, it has high wing loading, which gives a much better ride than the Citation.”

Introducing rotary-wing ops

Last year, with more than 10,000 hrs fixed-wing time, Jeff Kaney gained his helicopter rating. “It was a quite a learning experience,” he admits, “but it was important for me personally to understand how vertical lift works, how it operates, and how it can work in the National Airspace System.

“We have our actuator products and electrical boxes on helicopters,” notes Kaney, “and we’re doing a lot of business inventing helicopter products.” He adds that the company is heavily involved with Advanced Aerial Mobility – a concept that aims to integrate transformational aircraft designs and flight technologies into current and future airspace operations.

Having attained his rotary-wing rating, Jeff Kaney bought an Aérospatiale Gazelle last year for R&D use for civilian and military applications – the latter primarily for the Dept of Defense. “We put 80 hours on the machine in the first 7 months, because we were training,” he notes. “Going forward, we’ll probably put 60 hours a year on it.”

Kaney’s Gazelle was built in 1975 and had been imported some years ago by a private individual. He recalls, “I chose it because it was turbine-powered, and it was licensed as experimental/exhibition. That allows us to conduct more product research on it, as opposed to taking a certified helicopter, trying to put it into use for experimental research, and then recertifying it at the end.”

Serving as Jeff Kaney’s personal assistant and office manager, Julie Saunders has been with Kaney since 2017.(R) Kaney Property Manager Greg Steele provides flight department support in the form of general aircraft care and assorted hangar duties.

A single-pilot operation

Kaney describes KFO as a low-tempo operation, with trips planned well in advance. In nearly all cases, he flies the missions single-pilot. Kaney’s wife Nancy is a 20,000-hr airline pilot and is rated in both the Premier I and the helicopter.

“Nancy assists with the flying duties,” says Kaney, “especially if it’s a complicated mission, but the majority of the time I do the flights single-pilot.”

As a single pilot, Kaney adheres to personal minimums, and follows the NBAA single-pilot risk management (SRM) guide – a resource guide developed by NBAA to aid single-pilot operators of light business aircraft in risk management. “It’s a great tool,” says Kaney, “and I’m a true believer in it. Taking stock of yourself is very important.”

Jeff Kaney’s strict adherence to RM guidelines is the exact counterpart to the safety management system (SMS) established by most flight departments.

“I take safety extremely seriously,” says Kaney. “Because I feel responsibility for all the people, and for my family and myself, I never want to put them in jeopardy. Safety is first and foremost in my mind, not only with how we keep up the airplane, but with the way that I’ve got to pay attention to myself, while following the NBAA SRM.”

Kaney adds, “Another thing that I do concerns the pre-departure briefing. One of my best practices is that I carry a handheld radio with me, and I often get the clearance before I even enter the cockpit. If I have my clearance and don’t feel the pressure to go, I can review all the taxi charts, the specific departure procedure and weather before I even step out to the airplane. It’s important to take my time and not feel hurried. As a single-pilot operator, the handheld radio is an essential safety tool for me.”

Raytheon Premier IA

Scheduling and maintenance

Office Manager Julie Saunders has been with the company since 2017. She assists with trip scheduling, travel coordination, and assorted other flight department duties, while Jeff Kaney takes care of flight planning and weight-and-balance calculations himself. KFO uses FlightAware for flight planning.

Greg Steele joined the company in 2007 and serves as Kaney’s property manager. In his role with KFO, Steele supports the flight department with hangar duties, aircraft fueling, and general aircraft care.

Chronos Aviation at RFD handles all maintenance for KFO. “They’re my maintenance department,” says Kaney. “I have their director of maintenance on my cellphone. I call, and he answers the phone. They perform my maintenance – and, since they’re on the other end of the airport, it works out well.”

Aftermarket support

The last of nearly 300 Premier I/IAs rolled off what was then the Hawker Beechcraft production line in 2012. Most are still flying. Kaney observes, “I think that the majority of them are operated by owner pilots putting 150–200 hrs a year on them, like myself. So, even though it’s an older airplane, they’re not piling up 600 hrs a year. They’re going to be around for quite a while.

Jeff Kaney started Kaney Inc in a hangar at RFD. Today, the company headquarters is a 55,000 sq ft building just off airport property.

“And Textron has been really active in this market. There have been some delays on items from suppliers, but not specifically Textron. They’ve pledged to support the Premier, and they’ve been great.

“Almost as important, Collins has pledged to continue to support the Pro Line 21 avionics suite, including with ADS-B In and Out and the new RNAV approaches. CPDLC (controller–pilot data link communications) is going to be available, and they have an option for SVS (synthetic vision system) now. Collins has said it’s going to ‘future-proof’ the Pro Line 21 for us, and for everyone else.”

Kaney says, “I’m on an annual subscription with Collins, which covers everything. The few times I’ve had an issue, it’s been taken care of by the next day. I’ve never had to cancel a trip because of an avionics issue.”

He continues, “To me, Pro Line 21 is part of the value of the airplane. I think the fact that Collins is committed to supporting it, and Textron is committed to supporting the airplane – and the fact that they’ve followed through with those claims – means it’ll keep the value of that airframe very high.”

Kaney describes the Premier’s Williams FJ44 turbofans as flawless. He notes, “I’m on Williams Intl TAP (Total Assurance Plus) Blue – the former Elite program – and it’s been great. Response from the guys at Williams has been excellent.”

workerThe Gazelle was produced in large numbers by Aérospatiale/Westland (later Eurocopter) until the mid-1990s. “Airbus Helicopters no longer supports the Gazelle with parts supply,” says Kaney, “but there are people in Europe who have lots of Gazelle parts.

Airbus supports the machine with data and drawings, and so on, but it’s all part of the fun of having a antique experimental/exhibition aircraft. There are tons of parts out there, so parts availability hasn’t been a problem.” Kaney reports zero problems with the Gazelle’s Turbomeca Astazou IIIA engine.

Final words

Kaney’s company is in expansion mode, but he has no immediate plans to step up from the Premier. As he puts it, “The cost of going up to something like a Citation CJ4 or an Embraer Phenom 300 – which would be a logical next step – far exceeds the cost of the few times I must stop for fuel. It’s not cost effective, and it just doesn’t make sense for us today.”

Summing up, Jeff Kaney says: “A single-pilot operation like ours is unusual, and the business aircraft is such a great tool. What’s unique about the Kaney aerospace company is that we’re constantly inventing new science and coming up with new products for both the military and the commercial side. For us, having a business aircraft is absolutely essential.”

PhilPhil Rose is a Virginia-based aviation writer and editor. He is the former managing editor of Professional Pilot magazine, and also works as a photographer and musician.