Necessity is the mother of invention. Just ask Greg Turton, an Atlanta businessman who owns a Cirrus.
Often spending 30 minutes or more waiting to take off in the crowded Atlanta airspace, he realized he needed air conditioning, but at $25,000 to $30,000, it was just too expensive. “I wouldn’t pay that much for it,” he said. “But I realized if I had this problem, everybody has it.”
From that moment, a new business was born when Turton founded Arctic Air, which produces portable air conditioners for GA aircraft. In the last year and a half, he’s sold “thousands” of the units — he won’t say just how many — to pilots in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and England.
“Things have really taken off,” he said.
Sales got a boost recently when Sporty’s began selling the air conditioners. Turton also is getting ready to set up a dealer program.
It all began about a year and a half ago when Turton got the idea for a portable air conditioner that would run on 12 volts. The concept sprang to life after he had shoulder surgery. At the hospital, a device was attached to his shoulder that pumped cold water over the wound. Turton thought that he could use something similar for his portable air conditioner.
After eight prototypes, Turton devised a working unit that uses ice and water pumped over specially made coils, all contained in a Rubbermaid cooler. A fan blows the cold air into the cockpit, cooling it down in minutes.
The air conditioner made its debut at last year’s Sun ‘n Fun, where Turton was surprised by the level of interest. He also got lots of ideas from pilots to improve the unit, he said. “It’s looking better and better,” he said.
Turton markets the portable air conditioners as “a $500 solution to a $25,000 problem.”
The air conditioners come in different sizes. The smallest holds 24 quarts of ice, the middle-sized unit holds 34 quarts, and the large unit holds 48 quarts of ice. The amount of ice is directly proportionate to how long the unit will produce cold air. The largest unit will last for up to six hours, Turton noted.
All the units use a fan from the telecommunications industry that does not interfere with the radios, according to Turton. “The fan is very strong and produces 190 cubic feet of air per minute,” he said. “At this rate it turns over the air in many cockpits in about one to two minutes.”
The units can be installed and removed within 30 seconds. “At times you may need to remove the unit so the plane will remain within its weight limit,” he said. “These units give you that option.”
The units are also maintenance free, Turton added. “You just have to add ice, water and plug it in,” he said.
Prices for the portable air conditioners range from $475 to $575.
Most of his customers are owners of certified aircraft — “a lot of Cirrus and Bonanza owners,” he said — as well as owners of twins and small jets. Mechanics have purchased the portable air conditioners to cool planes they are working on on the ramp. Others use the units to pre-cool their planes or to supplement their built-in air conditioners on the ground.
From building them himself, Turton now has employees who manufacture the units, as well as handle ordering and shipping.
Meanwhile, he’s busy refining the company’s next big thing: A real air conditioner.
“One thing I found is that a lot of pilots don’t want to have to put ice in the cooler,” he said. “They want a real air conditioner that they can start with a switch, but they don’t want to pay $25,000.”
He’ll debut the prototype for that air conditioner at this month’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, as well as start taking orders for the $5,000 unit.
GOT YOUR OWN CAN’T-MISS IDEA?
Turton has some advice for other pilots who have an idea for a product for the aviation industry.
“Be patient,” he said. “Things take time — more time than I expected.”
Also make sure there is a need for the product. “A lot of pilots are gadget people,” he said.
Be prepared to back up your product. “I offer 100% satisfaction guaranteed,” he said. “If someone tries it and doesn’t like it, I’ll be glad to refund their money.”
He’s only had to do it twice. Once was an RV owner who found that the unit didn’t fit in the compartent he had planned to put it in. The other was a pilot who didn’t realize he’d have to put ice in the cooler.
“Mostly it’s been very rewarding,” Turton said. “People will come up and say ‘I have one of those and it works great,'” he said. “A lot of people are skeptical at first, but then find it works a lot better than they thought it would.”
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