Family’s flying business spans four decades
Leonard Felix Jr. averages 400 hours annually flying aircraft about 10 to 20 feet off the ground while dodging power lines at 135 mph.
Felix understands why most people would consider this to be a treacherous way to make a living.
But Felix’s family business near Olathe is not for most people.
“I have yet to have one of those trees try to swerve over and get me,” said Felix, owner of Olathe Spray Service Inc., 60377 Highway 50. “Not that I haven’t taken out a few trees over the years … it wasn’t their fault.”
He is, after all, among a select group of pilots who teach safety courses each year to the National Agricultural Aviation Association.
Felix has logged roughly 28,500 hours behind the controls of helicopters and airplanes.
Felix was born and raised in Olathe. His business is located 2 ½ miles south of the town with roughly 100 acres of farmland and a 3,700-foot runway.
Felix has sprayed seeds, pesticides and fertilizer over farm communities across western Colorado for the past 41 years. Felix’s sons Deven, 40, and Seth, 36, were brought into the fold over recent years to fly the company’s three airplanes and two helicopters.
“They did field work with me when they were children,” Felix said. “When they got older, they helped load pesticides.”
Felix attributes his love of flying to time spent as a youngster in the air with his father, who was also a pilot.
“Basically, this is what I’ve wanted to do since I can remember,” he said.
Enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school, Felix spent three years overseas in Germany, working for Army Intelligence.
When he returned, he heard about an agriculture aviation school offered through the University of Nevada, in Reno, where he earned his commercial pilot ratings in 1969.
Olathe Spray Service opened that same year. Felix’s services soon were in demand outside of his regular farming clients. Agencies fighting wildland fires, including the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, eventually entered into agreements with Felix, enlisting his aircraft to battle fires when called.
While changing federal regulations nixed his work with those agencies, Felix still has standing agreements with Delta, Mesa, Montrose, San Miguel and Ouray counties to assist with everything from fires to search and rescue operations.
“We only did two fires last year, but we’ve done as many as eight in one year,” Felix said.
Felix said his agreements with the respective agencies ensure his costs are covered, but he makes no profit from the work.
“We have the ability to maybe help someone out,” he said. “I think we’ve developed some good respect from communities around here.”
He isn’t about to slow down.
“As long as I can get medical approval from the FAA, I don’t see myself quitting,” Felix said.