Aviation division flies company executives to visit bases around the world using 2 Gulfstream G650ERs and 2 Bombardier Challenger 350s.
By Brent Bundy
Phoenix Police Officer-Pilot AS350, AW119, Cessna 210/182/172
The story begins with an English candle maker, an Irish soap maker, and a chance meeting. Over 180 years ago, the merging of 2 small businesses would lead to one of the most iconic companies in American history.
When William Procter and James Gamble combined forces in Cincinnati OH, they would form a business that now manufactures in more than 80 countries, sells products across the globe, and is firmly seated in the Fortune 100 list of companies.
In addition to being a leader in many fields, Procter & Gamble (P&G) has always been at the forefront of corporate aviation. Since 1951, before the 1st business jet ever flew, the company has enjoyed the benefits of a flight department. And that foresight continues to this day with a fleet of modern aircraft housed in a state-of-the-art facility operated by a team of top professionals.
From the banks of the Ohio River
In the late 1830s, Procter and Gamble arrived in America, each heading west on the Ohio River. They would both stop in Cincinnati for medical reasons. Procter’s wife had become gravely ill on their journey, and he stayed near her final resting place.
Gamble himself fell ill while traveling with his family, so they paused their trip. By the time Gamble healed, they had put down roots. The destinies of the 2 businessmen would converge when they married daughters of another local shopkeeper, Alexander Norris.
Norris suggested the 2 become partners in the soap and candle industries, and, in 1837, they pooled together $7192.24 and established P&G. The company’s location was ideal for its operation.
They were making candles and soap from the byproducts of pork processing, and Cincinnati was a center of the meatpacking industry. P&G saw early success with sales reaching $1 million by the late 1850s. Business advanced further during the American Civil War when P&G provided its wares to the Union Army.
These 2 events would cement the company in history: the introduction of Ivory soap and the beginning of a profit-sharing program. Ivory soap would establish P&G’s branding leadership in the consumer market, while profit-sharing would encourage retention of workers. Over the next century, P&G introduced a string of products that have become household names: Crisco, Tide, Crest, Charmin, Pampers, Head & Shoulders, and many more.
In 1930, the company became an international corporation with the acquisition of its first overseas subsidiary in England. Before the close of that decade, sales reached $230 million. This era also saw the beginnings of business aviation. Soon after the end of WWII, America had a surplus of airplanes and pilots, along with a new-found application of their services. P&G was an early adapter to this innovative mode of corporate transportation.
DC-3s for P&G
P&G opened its flight department in 1951 at LUK (Lunken, Cincinnati OH), home of the Aeronca Aircraft Corporation and the original Embry-Riddle Company. Operations began with a small building and 2 DC-3s. Soon, the company would take over the shuttered Aeronca factory.
Throughout the 1950s, P&G incorporated a fire protection system in the hangar, purchased a Link flight simulator, added a radio room, acquired a 3rd DC-3, and installed weather radar in all aircraft.
The next few decades saw several transitions for the P&G fleet. During the 1960s, P&G would begin in-house training of pilots and mechanics, and welcomed 3 Gulfstream Is. Soon, 2 of the GIs were sold to make room for a pair of GIIs. In 1970, P&G made its 1st international flight with a GII to Mexico City.
That same year, the company sold the remaining DC-3 and added a 3rd GII. By the end of the 70s, the hangar was filled with 3 Sabreliner 75A/80SCs and 2 Gulfstream IIs. More Gulfstreams joined in 1981 when 2 GIIIs were purchased.
Also, an avionics shop was added. By the 1990s, all Sabreliners were sold and P&G was operating the 2 GIIIs plus 2 new Bombardier Challenger 601s.
The Challengers stayed until the end of the 90s when the fleet evolved to four Gulfstream IVs. Those Gulfstreams would be replaced a couple of times until they settled into their current collection of 2 Challenger 350s and 2 Gulfstream G650ERs, which are housed in P&G’s 100,000 sq ft facility, built new in 2006 complete with a 60,000 sq ft hangar.
Covering the globe
With products sold in more than 180 countries and manufactured in nearly half of them, the P&G flight department faces the daunting task of moving its people to domestic and international locations. Making sure this task runs smoothly is Director of Global Flight Ops Jeff McClean, who is somewhat atypical as the head of a flight department in that he is not a pilot. “I’ve never taken a flight lesson,” he says. But that does not lessen his impressive résumé.
Born into a farming family in rural North Carolina, McClean often worked on equipment with his grandfather. Also, he notes, “My father was an electrician, and he taught me a great deal in that field.
That’s probably what pushed me down the technical path.” McClean was fascinated with military aircraft, which led to him joining the US Navy in 1984.
During his 4-year enlistment, he was assigned to work on F-14 fighter jets. “That’s where I found my passion,” he states. While in the Navy, he earned his A&P certification on his own time. After his service, he worked heavy and line maintenance for Piedmont Airlines, later USAir.
This is also where he had his 1st exposure to management. “I found that I enjoyed leading people, getting them to work as a team to produce results,” he recalls.
After the tragic events of 9/11, McClean left USAir and accepted a position with WYVERN as a consultant. “This allowed me to travel the world and see how flight departments worked, both good and bad,” he says.
After several years with WYVERN, he took a director of maintenance position with software company SAS Institute in Raleigh NC, working on their extensive fleet and adding to his international experience.
McClean joined P&G as DOM in 2014. “Similar to my position at SAS, I wasn’t just doing maintenance – I was involved in the business side of the operation,” he declares. Along the way, he also earned his BA in aviation and an MBA. This experience and education would come to fruition in early 2019, when he was offered the top spot in P&G’s flight department.
“I learned long ago that a flight department is much more than just flying airplanes – it’s its own business, and I need a strong, diverse team around me to be successful. That is what we have here.
Our strongest asset is our people,” states McClean. “This is a global company that requires face-to-face interactions. We contribute to the overall success of P&G, and our people get a great deal of fulfillment from that.”
The team consists of 34 personnel, including pilots, maintenance, and administrative staff. “P&G could not be more supportive. The company recognizes our services as an invaluable business tool,” remarks McClean. “My job is to ensure that we provide safe, secure, cost-effective, flexible travel to get people where they need to be, and to make sure my team has the tools to accomplish that.”
P&G recognizes future needs. The company keeps an eye out for potential pilots with a 1-week summer program and a 3-month internship. Although participants would not be eligible for pilot positions afterward due to PIC flight hour requirements, P&G will periodically check up on program graduates as they progress through their careers.
Proof of the effectiveness of the P&G outlook for future employees is former summer program attendee, Chief Pilot Todd Hillsgrove. Growing up in Pittsfield NH, Hillsgrove had no background in aviation. “I worked near the Concord airport after high school and thought flying looked interesting,” he remembers. However, after a $20 “discovery flight,” Hillsgrove was hooked.
“Not only did I really enjoy it, but that was the 1st time I ever had any direction in my life,” he adds. At 19 years old, Hillsgrove secured a $3000 loan and began flight lessons. By 1992, he had earned his aeronautical sciences degree from Embry-Riddle’s Daytona campus.
During his junior year, he was accepted to P&G’s summer program. “That was what turned me to corporate aviation,” he says. “I don’t have enough words to describe what P&G did for me. From that point on, I focused on this company.” After 11 years and a short stint out of aviation, Hillsgrove’s aspirations came true when he was hired by P&G in 2002.
By 2013, he had progressed through the ranks and earned the chief pilot spot. He now oversees 15 pilots and is clear about the role they play with P&G. “It doesn’t matter your title, you can make an impact. P&G empowers all of us to make a difference,” he proclaims. When new pilots are hired, they advance several steps from FOs to master captain, which requires significant skill and experience.
After 1 year as captains, they can be considered for international qualification. “One of our goals is flexibility. To obtain that, we eventually want all pilots rated in both aircraft and internationally,” Hillsgrove declares. Working alongside Hillsgrove is Captain and Assistant Chief Pilot George Whitehead.
As a college student, Whitehead’s roommate introduced him to the Air Force ROTC. After graduation, he joined the US Navy as a commissioned officer. He would spend the next 20 years there, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander.
Along the way, he would fly a variety of helicopters and airplanes, as well as instruct in T-34s. After his service, Whitehead flew for Comair for 3 years before meeting Hillsgrove at the local ice rink and was told P&G was hiring.
In 2006, he joined the team. With Whitehead’s extensive background in safety and training, he was offered the safety pilot position, which he held for 4 years. Whitehead became assistant chief pilot in 2014. “In this role, I support Todd (Hillsgrove) and Jeff (McClean) and act as a sounding board. I help maintain communications with other flight departments and incorporate what is best for us,” he explains.
Although busy with other duties, he still tries to accumulate around 250 hours per year of flight time, as do most of the line pilots. Regarding the working environment at P&G, he reflects to his military days. “Our team here is very much like a family, like my squadrons in the Navy. This is a great company with great facilities, aircraft, and people,” he says.
All P&G pilots work an itinerary planned well in advance, with very few pop-up flights. Hillsgrove explains, “Our schedule is as predictable as can be in this industry. P&G truly cares about its people. Just look at me. They saw a young kid and took a chance. They made a difference in my life and have entrusted me to do the same for others.” Hillsgrove still flies assignments, in addition to managing the pilots, scheduling, and assisting with hiring.
Making sure all the pieces of the travel puzzle come together is Scheduling Manager John Hampton. After 6 years as an Air Force navigator, Hampton spent 30 years with the Ford Motor Company flight department until the company closed its flight department in 2008. He joined P&G in 2009. Along with 2 additional schedulers, Hampton receives travel requests, builds the trips, arranges the logistics, and coordinates with the pilots.
Domestic trips are generally planned 30 days in advance, while international missions can be scheduled 3 months prior. His group also works with maintenance to ensure aircraft readiness, track progress, and complete post-flight paperwork. “This is a world-class organization with incredibly talented people at every level. It’s an honor to work here,” Hampton states.
Like the leader of the flight department, Director of Maintenance Bradley Hennis has a long history in the mechanical side of aviation. A friend’s father who worked at Piedmont Airlines introduced Hennis to aviation. “Growing up on the tobacco farms, as soon as I saw those planes, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Hennis recalls. After high school, Hennis worked for RJ Reynolds’ flight department while earning his A&P.
When RJR moved to Atlanta, Hennis accepted a position with US Airways, which he held for 15 years. His next 10 years were with Lowe’s flight department, where he would rise to the level of chief of maintenance and aviation administrator. “I saw a lot of growth with Lowe’s, eventually being placed in charge of everything except the pilots. It was great experience,” he says.
Hennis’ time at Lowe’s was followed by 4 years with Coca-Cola in Charlotte NC. In October 2019, the life-long North Carolina native finally left his home state when he accepted the DOM position with P&G.
“I’ve only been here a month, but the team has been very welcoming, both professionally and personally,” Hennis states. He now oversees an experienced crew of 6 technicians, a maintenance supervisor, chief inspector, and 3 facility operations personnel.
Hennis and his team perform most routine inspections, non-routine repairs, and service letters on site. Paint and major inspections are handled by manufacturer service centers. His team is quite busy, with the planes flying approximately 2000 hours per year. The Gulfstreams tackle the international routes, and the Challengers handle the domestic flights.
Even with a bachelor’s degree in business, additional studies from The Darden Business School, numerous ratings, and impending NBAA CAM certification, Hennis continues to push himself and his team. “P&G has an incredible commitment to what we do. The facility, tooling, and aircraft, but mostly, the people.
There is education offered at many levels, including developing the next generation of aviation leaders,” he relates. “This flight department truly works as ‘one department.’ It is made up of many roles working in an open, collaborative culture to achieve a common goal.”
Further testimony to P&G’s mentoring of future team members is Chief Inspector David Melk. After a 4-year enlistment in the US Air Force as a C-130 crew chief, Melk attended Cincinnati Tech College to earn his A&P.
While there, he was accepted to a P&G summer co-op program, which led to a full-time position in 1993. Starting as a line service tech, he worked his way to chief inspector.
He now oversees quality control, parts receiving, flight permits, tool calibration, and more. For record-keeping, CAMP is utilized on the Gulfstreams and Flightdocs for the Bombardiers.
Melk recognizes his good fortune to not only work here, but also see the appreciation of the P&G executive teams. “We know they absolutely count on us. We are driven to always make their requests happen and we’re proud of what we do,” Melk proclaims.
Community commitment P&G has a long history of supporting not only its employees, but also the communities where its people live and work.
A shining example of this dedication is the company’s involvement in the Corporate Angel Network (CAN). CAN matches the transportation needs of cancer patients with corporate flights that have available seats.
P&G’s flight department has been involved with CAN since 1989 and has conducted 184 flights for those in need.
The importance of this service came full circle when they were able to fly a patient across the country for medical treatment. This patient was a former P&G pilot who himself had been involved with the CAN program for many years.
Continuing the legacy
For over 180 years, Procter & Gamble has been a part of the culture, throughout the US and every corner of the globe. Since the dawn of business aviation, they have used aircraft to stretch the company’s reach and expand its influence.
Management’s unwavering support over the past 7 decades has created one of the finest aviation units in the industry.
With a proactive eye toward the future, P&G’s aviation unit is well established to continue as an example for others, and Pro Pilot is proud to present it as the flight department of the year.
Brent Bundy has been a police officer with the Phoenix Police Dept for 28 years. He has served in the PHX Air Support Unit for 18 years and is a helicopter rescue pilot with nearly 4000 hours of flight time. Bundy currently flies Airbus AS350B3s for the helicopter side of Phoenix PD’s air unit and Cessna 172, 182s and 210s for the fixed-wing side.