Flight dept flies Gulfstream IV, King Air 350, Airbus AStar, and Robinson R44 out of HOU to manage properties in multiple states.
By Brent Bundy
Phoenix Police Officer-Pilot (ret)
AS350, AW119, Cessna 210/182/172
For most landowners, getting to and around their property involves 4-wheeled transportation. Whether it’s a pickup truck or a side-by-side utility vehicle, even large plots can be accessed without difficulty.
However, when real estate is measured in the hundreds of thousands of acres and is spread across multiple ranches and several states, reaching the locations and roaming the terrain becomes more challenging, and the only option is aviation.
This is the path that Lone Star Land & Cattle Company has taken. With a fleet of airplanes and helicopters, the pilots ensure that every corner of the owner’s lands is reachable by the most efficient method possible.
The need for aviation
With success in the oil and gas industry, and a passion for the outdoors, Lone Star’s owner may be the prototypical Texan. He has been in the oil and gas industry since the mid-1970s, eventually opening his own operation in the early 1980s.
As the business flourished, the company ventured into other ancillary fields, including mineral exploration and real estate. This prosperity allowed expansion of personal real estate holdings.
Ranches across Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and Wisconsin were soon acquired. The current portfolio consists of more than 150,000 acres of mountains, forests, and prairies, which are used for hunting, fishing, raising cattle, and horseback riding. As land assets increased and became more distant from each other, there was a need for a more reliable way of reaching them.
“Lone Star aviation services began several years ago, when our owner was flying commercial and got stuck in Denver,” explains Chief Pilot Robert Munoz.
“That’s when he began using charter flights, but soon found that they weren’t punctual enough for him, so he bought an airplane.” Munoz hails from Chicago.
After high school, he worked as a motorcycle mechanic until his father offered him a job in broadcasting in El Paso TX. “He was the general manager of the 1st-ever Fox-affiliated TV station,” Munoz states. “I started in the engineering department and worked my way up to an account executive position.”
Munoz would work in television for the next 10 years, including a stint with Telemundo in Manhattan NY. While it was a good job, it wasn’t what he longed for. “I knew deep inside that I wanted to fly,” Munoz says.
“When I was 8 years old, I was working with my father at a flea market next to an airport. He must have seen me staring at the planes, so he made me an offer.”
Instead of paying Munoz $25 for a day of work, his father arranged a ride in a Cessna 150. “At one point, I looked at the instructor and his hands were behind his head. I was in control and I was flying. At that moment, I was hooked.” Not long after Munoz arrived in El Paso for the TV job, he refinanced his car for $2500, took the money to a flight school, and told them he wanted to be a pilot.
They obliged, and Munoz had a private pilot license 90 days later. He stayed with Fox for 10 years until tiring of the rat race. He and his wife then bought an assisted living home in Houston, but that left him with no free time. At 30 years old, Munoz could no longer resist the call of aviation.
He drove to CXO (Conroe – North Houston, TX) and met with local FBO General Aviation Services (GAS). He told them he used to be a mechanic and asked if he could help out. “I even told them I didn’t care how much I would get paid, I just wanted to do something in aviation,” Munoz relates. He would do this for 5 years while also earning advanced flight ratings.
Then GAS owners Gary Hudson and Bob Covington told him he needed to get his A&P. Shortly after earning his commercial rating, Munoz found a part-time right-seat position in a King Air C90A for a telephone company.
After a year in the King Air, Munoz accepted a position with an on-demand charter company. “Being a ‘freight dog’ for GTA, based in Dallas, was great experience.
I was flying 400-series Cessnas, and Beech Barons and Bonanzas all over Texas, day and night,” Munoz recalls. He would do this for a year until returning to the phone company full-time, which lasted 2 years until the flight department closed. At the same time, charter operator Wing Aviation opened at CXO, and, as luck would have it, they needed a King Air pilot.
This was fortuitous because Wing Av had just gone in 50/50 on a King Air 200 with Munoz’s future employer. When Lone Star’s owner purchased a Gulfstream IISP, he insisted Munoz fly it, as well.
That arrangement lasted several years until it was decided that Lone Star’s flying needs would be better met if the flight operations were based in-house.
Lone Star takes flight
In 2010, with the flight department up and running, the King Air 200 and Gulfstream IISP were soon replaced with a King Air 350 and Gulfstream IV – both 1991 models.
Not long before, Helicopter Services Inc (HSI) had been acquired by Lone Star. Having decided to establish a flight department, HSI was purchased to oversee flight operations.
“All of us work for HSI,” Munoz explains. “It is one of the many subsidiaries of Lone Star Land & Cattle Company.” In addition to the airplanes, Lone Star has 2 helicopters – a 2013 Robinson R44 II and a 2018 Airbus AStar.
With properties spread across such large expanses, the airplanes are used primarily for transportation to the ranches, while the helicopters are used for movement around the acreage and short trips across town.
“We fly about 300 hours a year on the planes, almost exclusively in the continental USA,” details Munoz. “International flights and last-minute pop-up flights are both rare.” Munoz adds, “Our owner is great to fly for. He is respectful of us and our schedules.
One of the best things about working here is that safety is first and foremost. Our owner respects the decisions we make regarding safety – and we spare no expense in that regard.
We run lean, but we do it right.” Munoz’s appreciation for his boss and his position with Lone Star is evident when he states, “He is a very open-hearted, down-to-earth man. He truly cares about his employees.
For me, this is the pinnacle of aviation jobs.” Without excessive flying, Lone Star can employ fewer personnel. Assisting Munoz on the fixed-wing side of the house is Pilot Bryce Remmert, a Houston native who has always loved aviation.
“I was 23 years old, working a good job as a landscape architect, but I wanted something else,” he recalls. “I had a friend with Continental Airlines, so I asked him how to become a pilot.”
Remmert quit his job and went to CXO. “I interviewed at the flight school and for a line position on the same day,” he remembers. He earned his private license at CXO, then headed off to Dallas to complete his ratings at ATP Flight School.
Remmert then returned to AXH (Houston Southwest, TX), where he worked as a flight instructor for ATP. Things came full circle for Remmert when that operation was relocated to CXO. In 2006, after building enough hours, he took a position with ExpressJet, flying right seat in Embraer 135/145s.
What seemed like an inconsequential event at the time would prove quite fortunate years later. While Remmert was instructing at CXO, he was offered to fly as copilot in a King Air. It just so happens that it was Lone Star’s King Air.
Fast forward to 2011, Lone Star’s flight department is up and running, and Remmert receives a call from Munoz, offering him a position.
“The regional airline flying was tough work, with low pay, long hours – lots of flying. So I accepted the job. That was 10 years ago, and I’m still here.” Remmert is qualified as single-pilot in the King Air and captain in the GIV. “They’re both excellent planes with specific uses.
The King Air is great for getting into small places, while the range and size of the Gulfstream are wonderful.” He echoes Munoz with his praise of their owner. “He’s great to fly for,” says Remmert. “There are very low demands, and schedule changes are rare, plus he doesn’t expect us to work holidays.
He genuinely cares for his employees.” Remmert parallels Munoz in his views regarding safety. “There is nothing we won’t do for the sake of safety,” he notes.
All pilots attend FlightSafety Intl once a year per aircraft they fly. While Remmert enjoyed his time with the airlines, the perks of a Part 91 operation outweigh those of Part 121 for him.
“The schedule and regularity of the regionals were nice,” he adds, “but the places we go and the fun things that we get to do here are much more enjoyable. Short of winning the lottery, this is it for me!”
The 3rd member of the flight operations is Director of Maintenance Charlie Fontaine. Mom was a cropduster pilot, dad was a WWII B-17 crew chief, brother is a pilot, and an uncle is with FAA. With that family tree, it was inevitable that Fontaine wound up in aviation.
While still in high school, he began working at HOU (Hobby, Houston TX) as a mechanic’s assistant. By his 18th birthday, he had earned his A&P certification and moved up to a floor mechanic, and eventually to shop foreman.
At 22 years old, Fontaine took a 1-year hiatus from aviation during which he worked as a truck driver in Michigan, but he was soon back in the aviation world when he accepted the DOM position at Rowan Drilling, where he stayed from 1997 until joining Lone Star in 2010.
“I had been doing some contract work with Lone Star for about a year before signing on full time,” Fontaine recalls. At Lone Star, Fontaine is the sole airplane mechanic.
With only unscheduled issues being addressed in-house, the workload is not overwhelming. “All scheduled and major maintenance, we send the aircraft out. The GIV goes to Gulfstream BAF (Westfield MA) or West Star ALN (East Alton IL). Both of them are excellent to work with,” he states. The King Air is serviced locally when needed.
While having such a small flight department has its challenges, Fontaine prefers it this way. “We have great dynamics in this team and get along very well,” he assures. “We couldn’t ask for better support. If something is broken, it gets fixed. And if something needs upgrading, it gets upgraded.”
Helicopters complete the fleet
HSI was purchased in 2008, and within a few years, all aviation services were brought in-house. HSI General Manager Mike Crossland runs the operation. His aviation career began when he joined the US Army to become an AH-64 Apache helicopter mechanic.
After his 4-year enlistment, he stayed in Germany, where he had been based, to continue as a contract mechanic. When that contract ended, he worked for Precision Airmotive in Everett WA before accepting a job at Geneva Aviation to work on Airbus AStars.
In 1996, Crossland moved to Las Vegas to work as DOM for Maverick Helicopters. He spent 2 years there before doing contract work around Vegas. This was followed by a position with a helicopter refurbishment company. He then jumped back into the contracting world.
Next, he would work for Precision Helicopters in Oregon, then as a DOM for 2 small operators in Montana, a production manager in Canada, and finally conducting seismic work around the country. This last foray would last 4 years until he was called by HSI in 2011.
“We are a Part 145 repair station and a certified Robinson sales and service center. However,” he explains, “it’s important to make sure that the Lone Star helicopters are ready to go at all times. Our owner knows this business. It’s great having him backing us.
He knows that safety is the number one priority, and he takes no shortcuts.” Flying the Lone Star helicopters is Pilot Jack Fairley. The North Carolina native moved around before settling into his current position. He earned a criminal justice degree and then worked in construction.
“I didn’t like the long-term outlook for a career in construction, plus I always thought helicopters looked fun,” he recalls. In January of 2013, after saving money for 5 years, he quit his job and moved to Florida to begin helicopter training. His instruction and 1st flying gig were both with BoatPix.
“After obtaining your private rating, you build your commercial time flying with an instructor, taking photographs of boats. People can then go to the website and purchase the pictures,” he says. “In 16 months, I had my CFI rating with 300 hours, and I began working for the company.”
Fairley stayed with BoatPix until he took a position with a tour operator in Miami. This lasted 5 months until a former student of his purchased a helicopter and hired Fairley to fly charter and tours in West Palm Beach. Eighteen months later, he was off to Saint Kitts, flying an R66 around the Caribbean. That job only lasted a few months.
Fairley then found himself back in West Palm Beach, instructing in Robinson helicopters and building hours in AStars. A friend of a friend then reached out and told Fairley that Lone Star needed a pilot. In October 2018, he moved to Houston and hasn’t looked back.
Having been around the helicopter industry for several years, Fairley has seen the good and the bad. “Working here with Lone Star is the best.
There is never a question about investing money on safety,” he says. “There is also no pressure to fly.
We have amazing maintenance with never a delay in getting something done.” He also enjoys the variety of flying. “We use the helicopters for short transports around the city and the ranches, wildlife surveys, aerial hunting, etc. It’s just a great mix of flying that never gets boring.”
Lone Star future
Lone Star Land & Cattle Company has been flying both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft for more than a decade, providing their owner with access to his multiple businesses and vast landholdings across Texas and neighboring states.
The solid foundations of an established, successful operation with a dedication to safety ensures that this aviation team will be ready for whatever endeavor may come their way.
Brent Bundy served as a police officer with the Phoenix Police Dept for 29 years. He flew with the PHX Air Support Unit for 19 years, and is a helicopter pilot with nearly 4000 hrs of flight time. He has flown Airbus AS350B3s for the helicopter side of Phoenix PD’s air unit, and Cessna 172, 182s and 210s for the fixed-wing side.