A Love For Lift: Dynamic Aviation’s Karl Stoltzfus

By IAN MUNRO
Daily News-Record  12/12/20
 
Around the age of 10, Karl Stoltzfus would go to the attic of his family’s Coatesville, Pa., home with a scale model tucked under his arm.
Once in the attic, he would take the Beechcraft Model 18 twin-propeller airplane and do loops and swoops with the miniature.
Little did he know at that time, even 70 years later, he would be slicing through the skies in a true Beechcraft Model 18.
“He flew a Beech 18 on his 80th birthday, and he probably sold 30 Beech 18’s over 50 years,” said Michael Stoltzfus, one of Karl’s sons.
A full- size plane had been bought by Karl’s father in 1936 and sat outside in the backyard between flights, according to Michael. The family bug for flying had bit Karl young and never let go.
“Dad always, through to the end, had a deep, powerful passion for aviation,” said Michael Stoltzfus.
Karl Stoltzus, with his brother Ken, founded the company that would become a Shenandoah Valley powerhouse — Dynamic Aviation.
Karl Stoltzfus died on Nov. 27 at the age of 80.
Today, Dynamic Aviation is a globally recognized aviation-solution firm that employs 750 people worldwide and is undergoing an expansion, adding 207 more jobs locally.
“He worked very hard in surrounding himself with folks who had a deep interest and deep desire to serve the customer and use aircraft to solve very complicated problems,” said Michael Stoltzfus, president and CEO of Dynamic Aviation.
Karl Stoltzfus’ friends also said he had a deep connection with religion and was selfless in offering his skills and flying ability to others.
John Sloop, now-retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, grew close with Karl through a men’s small prayer group and knew him for 30 years.
On one occasion, Sloop’s daughter, Kristen Sloop Ramsey, who was pregnant at the time, had come to visit family in Harrisonburg from her home in Lexington, Ky.
But she began spotting and the doctor recommended she not travel back to Kentucky by car.
“I mentioned that in our prayer group and Karl said ‘Well, I want to fly Kristen home,’” Sloop said. And so Karl took Kristen and her husband back home to Kentucky by air.
In the early 1990s, Sloop and Stoltzfus went with a tour group to Israel to walk where Jesus walked with about 30 other people.
At one point, Stoltzfus had to leave the group for business, according to Sloop.
“He wouldn’t quite tell me what the business was. I don’t think it was crop-dusting,” Sloop said with a laugh.
And the next time the tour group saw Stoltzfus, they were in a bus on the way to the Red Sea. He was waiting for them in “the middle of nowhere” at a crossroads and accompanied by an Israeli soldier equipped with a submachine gun, according to Sloop.
“It was just the strangest thing to see Karl out in the middle of the desert,” Sloop said with a laugh. The bus stopped, Stoltzfus got on and the tour continued.
Another lifelong friend Stoltzfus made was Steve Wingfield.
“In a large part, I’m who I am today because of him,” Wingfield said.
Stoltzfus and Wingfield met as students at Eastern Mennonite University and were part of the same gospel team that would regularly travel on weekends for events like youth retreats.
But the crew would always come back exhausted as the journeys were long.
“We were traveling in a van and were going to New York and Ohio and would come back early Monday morning, so we were getting beat up pretty bad every other weekend,” Wingfield said.
One day, Stoltzfus and his brother, Ken, approached Wingfield with an offer.
“I have an airplane. I’ll fly you to where you need to go and fly you back, but never ask me to speak anything,” Stoltzfus told him, according to Wingfield.
But little by little, Stoltzfus would become more involved with speaking and leading prayers, Wingfield said. He even went on to be the master of ceremonies at a Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast.
The first prayer-group flight Stoltzfus piloted was to a part of the country that would become the Rust Belt, Wingfield said, who couldn’t remember the exact location.
“It was fabulous, but the fabulous part is we’d leave Sunday morning and be back for class Monday morning without being drowsy. It was a great gift and I’ll be indebted to him for all my life,” Wingfield said.
Wingfield and Stoltzfus even became neighbors of 35 years.
“We had the privilege of being brothers in Christ and walking through life together,” Wingfield said. “He loved people and gave himself away to people.”
And that ability to form true relationships also made Stoltzfus a strong businessman, Michael Stoltzfus said.
“He could connect at heart level,” Michael Stoltzfus said.
In one such deal, Karl Stoltzfus purchased 124 Beechcraft King Air 90 aircraft from the military. On top of the successful acquisition, Karl made lifelong friends in the process, according to Michael Stoltzfus.
“We considered it at the time the deal of the century. It repositioned us [as a company] to become who we are today,” he said.
Michael Stoltzfus said his father’s ability to be relational, even in high stakes business deals, was also something he will be remembered for.
“In so many ways, he’ll be remembered for his ability to love people in the moment,” Michael Stoltzfus said.