They say that adaptation to change and an ability to grow through adversity are the qualities that make people and companies successful. When something has been able to not only survive but thrive for nearly 90 years, it means they’ve checked the adaptation and growth-through-adversity boxes throughout that time. In 1936, the world had not yet entered into war and the United States was starting to feel some relief after years of the Great Depression. This time period shaped many people’s lives. Those who were able to adapt and grow were lean, hardened and didn’t suffer the inessential. Those who were able to adapt together as a team were unbeatable.
Herbert Roscoe Elliott, Jr. was born to parents Herbert Sr. and Ida Mae on July 3, 1915, in a little town on the western border of Iowa called Kingsley. The family later moved to the other side of the state, where Herb graduated from Davenport High School, situated along the Illinois River. He had saved enough while playing in a local band to buy an airplane for $350. Soon enough there was an opportunity to start a business, in aviation no less. Herb founded Elliott Flying Service at Cram Field in Davenport and hired Arlene Stoltenberg, his girlfriend from high school who he had met in 1933, as the bookkeeper. Arlene was also bitten by the aviation bug. She soloed in a Piper Cub in 1936 and was later licensed.
Herb Elliott was a proud military airman, but he was also interested in starting a family. He married Arlene, who was originally from Plainview, Iowa, on May 20, 1939. The team was solidified.
As the United States entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Herb and Arlene repositioned south to Bonham, Texas, close to the Oklahoma border, where Herb served as a civilian flight instructor for the Army Air Corps. He later transitioned to the U.S. Air Force ferrying aircraft all over the world. While living in Texas, their daughter Pamela Sue joined the Elliott team.
After the war, Herb and Arlene, with their new baby Pam, returned to Davenport and resumed business at Cram Field’s grass strip. Arlene joined Elliott Flying Service in 1946 as full-time bookkeeper, receptionist and scheduler. The team expanded and incorporated dealerships in Piper and Beech aircraft, and Elliott became the first independent contractor to offer twin-engine charters from the Quad Cities. In 1947, they became an exclusive dealer of Beechcraft products. During this time, Elliott added aircraft maintenance services to its sales and flight instruction portfolio.
In 1954, Herb and Arlene welcomed their son, Wynn, into the world. Wynn would go on to become instrumental in tremendous growth at Elliott. He would also lead the company into its third era as an independent aviation powerhouse. The company opened a location in Des Moines in 1958, moved its headquarters to Moline, Illinois, in 1961, and debuted its Minneapolis facility in 1972.
Over the years, Herb and Arlene received numerous civic and industry awards. In the mid 1970s, Beechcraft presented the Elliott’s with the first-ever “Team of the Year” award to replace its “Man of the Year” award. The couple is listed in the Beechcraft Hall of Fame and has received the National Air Transportation Association’s Distinguished Service Award. Herb and Arlene were also the first married couple to share induction into the Quad City Area Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame.
In 1974, Arlene was appointed to the Board of Directors of the First Trust & Savings Bank in Davenport. She was the first female board member of any Quad City area bank and served as a member of the board for more than 20 years. She also served as board secretary for the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend in the 1990s.
Arlene chose to focus on promoting general aviation and is widely credited with persuading banks to finance purchases of business aircraft, which enabled a broader range of entrepreneurs to gain access to these powerful business tools. She also served as the primary financial officer for Elliott Aviation for much of her career and treasurer on the Elliott Aviation Board of Directors. In recognition of her more than 60 years in the industry, in 1999, Arlene was inducted into the Women In Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame. The Elliotts’ passion for aviation enabled the company to grow from humble beginnings to nationally recognized prominence as a full-service business aircraft sales and technical services company with facilities and dealerships in the Quad Cities, Des Moines, Iowa, Minneapolis, Minn., and Omaha, Neb.
Wynn assumed the company’s helm in 1993, overseeing its entire network of operations and extensive expansions. And in 1995, Elliott Flying Service changed its name to Elliott Aviation, a decision by Wynn to better position the brand in the ultra-competitive business aviation environment. After all of the changes during the 1990s, Beechcraft became Elliott Aviation’s largest customer. Elliott’s list of STCs and exclusive noise-canceling systems installed on new King Airs positioned the company well to weather all of the changes.
A new aircraft completion center and a paint facility opened in Moline in 2003. The completion center offers turnkey custom interior design services, custom woodworking, cabinetry, avionics installations and modifications, noise reduction installations, and paint.
Then in December 2005, we lost a true aviation pioneer and successful entrepreneur in Herb Elliott. His recognitions and affiliations included receiving two of the National Air Transportation Association’s awards, the Distinguished Service Award and the William A. Ong Memorial Award, as well as induction into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame. His 90 years were dedicated to his family, his community and to the aviation industry he loved. Don Herrman, a former Elliott employee and friend of Herb’s, said, “Herb frequently expressed his belief that the most important word in the dictionary is imagination.”
In 2008, Elliott Aviation completed its new $8 million facility at Des Moines International Airport. The year also marked the 50th-anniversary celebration of Elliott Aviation’s existence in Des Moines. 2008 also saw the start of Elliott Aviation’s industry-leading Garmin G1000 retrofit program in the King Air with their first installation in a C90. Garmin G1000 retrofits began in the King Air 200 series in 2009.
Elliott Aviation’s co-founder, Arlene Elliott, passed away, surrounded by family in Naples, Florida, at the age of 91 in 2010. Wynn said, “My mom was a loving wife and a wonderful mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. But more than that, she was truly an aviation pioneer and one of the first great women in the industry.”
The next decade was filled with incredible activity. In 2011, the company opened its accessory shop to overhaul and repair landing gear and other aircraft accessories. Wynn also brought in industry veteran Greg Sahr to oversee sales, marketing and business development. Elliott became an authorized service center for the Embraer Phenom 100 and 300. In 2012, Elliott Aviation began installing Garmin G1000 retrofits in King Air 300/350 and celebrated its 50th G1000 retrofit. 2014 saw a focus on the sales side as the aircraft sales division of the company, which had been operating under the name Elliott Aviation, was renamed Elliott Jets to better reflect the types of aircraft the company was selling. Elliott’s relationship with Garmin has only strengthened throughout the years. In 2019, the company installed its first Garmin G5000 in a Citation Excel, which started an industry-leading program in the Citation Excel/XLS.
Greg Sahr would go on to do a lot more within the company. Prior to joining Elliott, he had built his career in the avionics world, starting out as an installer at ElectroSonics. Sahr would move up to hold several leadership positions within the company before it was acquired by Garrett Aviation. He would then hone his sales skills at Garrett in the maintenance and avionics businesses before it was sold to the Carlyle Group ,which was then rebranded to Landmark Aviation. He then moved into a sales leadership role within Landmark, where he quickly rebuilt and led his Central U.S. sales team to become the top region in only 18 months. Landmark was later acquired by StandardAero, which only gave Sahr more opportunities for success, expanding his sales leadership role to cover the entire Western U.S. and continued to be recognized as leading the top sales teams once again.
At Elliott Aviation, Greg Sahr rebuilt and restructured the tech sales and marketing team, increasing maintenance, repair and overhaul sales. He oversaw the sales launches of Elliott’s accessory and landing gear overhaul shop, aftermarket avionics initiatives and led sales for the company’s G1000 King Air retrofit program.
In May of 2013, Wynn Elliott named Sahr president of Elliott Aviation, focusing on strengthening Elliott Aviation’s brand, enhancing the customer experience, increasing efficiencies, solidifying industry partnerships and developing new business opportunities.
In 2017, Elliott aviation expanded its engineering and product development team, which was the beginning of an effort and vision of capitalizing on an identified gap in LED lighting products in the industry. Today, this has become an additional division of Elliott Aviation with a nationwide established dealer network doing business as Prizm Aircraft Products.
2020 was another exciting year. Elliott Aviation was purchased by Summit Park, a private equity company out of Charlotte, NC. Wynn Elliott retained a minority share of the company throughout the process. Greg Sahr then took over for Wynn Elliott as CEO of the company.
In January 2021, Elliott grew even more by adding a fourth MRO facility, acquiring Atlanta’s The Maintenance Group. The Maintenance Group has been successfully operating at the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK) in Atlanta, GA, for over 25 years. The acquisition of TMG adds Gulfstream, Falcon and Challenger airframe service capabilities to Elliott Aviation’s portfolio of qualifications. The Maintenance Group is equipped to handle major airframe inspections, structural repairs and modifications, wing corrosion repair, DAR import/export airworthiness approvals, STC installation & certification projects, and pre-purchase inspections. It also adds more than 40,000 additional square feet to Elliott Aviation’s nationwide footprint.
“Elliott Aviation has been on a mission to expand our MRO footprint to a southeast-based maintenance location and increase our capabilities to new airframes for nearly a year,” said Greg Sahr at the time. “We are happy to welcome a highly-talented group of experienced maintenance technicians in a geography that will help us expand our overall maintenance capabilities. We’ve built our 85-year-old brand on providing unmatched quality, uncompromising integrity, and unbeatable service, and we’re looking forward to providing this same level of great service to both our customers and employees in Atlanta.” In December 2021, Elliott Aviation of Atlanta was officially launched.
The transition from a little grass strip in eastern Iowa to one of the world’s most prestigious MRO, avionics, and aircraft sales organizations has taken almost 90 years. As we can see, the ideals held dear to Herb and Arlene are still alive and well in Greg Sahr and the rest of his team at Elliott.