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Helicopter Man

The many ways can Cal Dorn uses his choppers good

One of Calvin Dorn’s favorite things about owning helicopters is the chance to surprise people with a free ride. He looks for waiters or valets – someone who wouldn’t normally have the money to book a flight. He adds them to his waitlist and when an open seat comes up, he gives them a call and tells them to hop in. He loves sharing the magic of the island with people.

Calvin, people call him Cal, studied forestry in college. He loves the outdoors and wanted to work full-time in the national parks. The trouble is, they only employ people for 180 days a year. When he was hunting for a winter job, he ended up answering an ad for the military.

The Marines taught Cal to fly. He served nine and a half years in active duty. In 1990, he moved to the Hawaiian islands and began doing rescue flights, serving the fire department, and flying tours on Kauai. A couple of years later, he moved to the Big Island. In 1999, Cal and his wife, Stacey, took a risk and bought a troubled helicopter business. He jokes, “Knowing what I know now, I would say, ‘Don’t do it!’” It's a challenging field with tight margins and lots of regulations to comply with, but Cal finds the work rewarding.

He attributes some of their success to the honesty and integrity they brought to the industry. Many of their early competitors would double book and leave clients stranded without a flight. That goes against the core values of the company which spell PARADISE in an acronym: Pride, Aloha, Responsibility, Adaptability, Dependability, Integrity, Safety, and Excellence.

It can be small things that weave these values into their work. Many clients were returning from their flight disoriented. They weren’t sure what they had seen or where they had been. So, before takeoff, they started showing people a topographical map of the island. That small act of hospitality transformed their client’s experience.

Helicopter tours are a wonderful way to build respect and appreciation for the island, but that’s not the only role Paradise Helicopters plays in our community.

Cal and his team all pitch in to serve a wide variety of groups: Emergency Medical Services, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the United States Geological Survey, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Parker Ranch, and more. 

They fight fires, rescue people, pour cement, spray invasive plants, set poles, pull wires, plant trees, save livestock, and ever since the Mauna Loa eruption, fly scientists to the observatory.

Most of these projects are not a lucrative way to use a helicopter. Some projects are done pro bono. But Cal explains how important the work can be, “Every hour you fly, it costs money. Forty-five gallons an hour, the maintenance, and paying your staff. But if we can’t help them, what are people going to do? They want to know they tried looking for their loved ones.”

It’s a unique way to give back. Not everyone has a helicopter they can be generous with. And what has kept him in the business all these years? Cal says, at the end of the hard work, he still thinks, “That was a long day, but it sure was fun.”

ParadiseCopters.com

They fight fires, rescue people, pour cement, spray invasive plants, set poles, pull wires, plant trees, save livestock, and ever since the Mauna Loa eruption, fly scientists to the observatory.

“Every hour you fly, it costs money. Forty-five gallons an hour, the maintenance, and paying your staff. But if we can’t help them, what are people going to do? They want to know they tried looking for their loved ones.”