Craig and Jen Bowen (above)
by Linda L. Esterson, photography by Nikola Tzenov
Craig Bowen Takes His Business Up in the Air
Craig Bowen Sr. turned to his wife, Jen Bowen, one evening in 2014 and told her he wanted to become a helicopter pilot.
“I told him he was crazy,” she says. “We barely had enough time to eat together as a family, with four kids and a construction business!” (The business is Tricon Construction.)
They laughed at the idea, but then the conversation grew serious. As Jen processed the information, Craig shared that he already had a discovery flight planned for the weekend. Once in the air, with his hands on the controls, he was hooked.
“I signed up right then and there for a lesson the next day,” he recalls.
Craig, then 44, earned a private helicopter pilot’s license and a commercial pilot license. Before long, he bought his first helicopter, which proved helpful in transporting himself and members of his staff to meetings and construction jobs out of state. He kept the turbine-powered MD 500 helicopter at Carroll County Airport, not far from his home in Westminster.
A business of honor
Realizing the need to separate the flying from the construction business, Craig opened his flying business, In the Air Services (ITA) in 2016, with a nod to his late father-in-law, Fred Stewart. “Anytime he would leave us, he would say, ‘I’ll see you here, there or in the air.’”
His parting comment, always accompanied by a handshake, referred to “on earth and heaven or in between on our way to heaven,” Jen says. “In the Air just seemed perfect for a helicopter business, and the fact that we can honor him that way is a great feeling.”
That December, tragedy struck. Craig and Jen’s daughter, Alyssa, passed away following an automobile accident on Route 140. Alyssa was 20 and a junior volleyball and basketball player at Lancaster Bible College. Like her parents, she loved to fly. “Because of that, it really spawned my desire to have a helipad in Carroll County, and I wanted to have it FAA-approved and charted so we could name the helipad officially after Alyssa,” Craig says.
A 5-acre parcel became available in Taneytown, and it happened to have zoning that permitted a helipad. After Craig moved quickly to build one, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the Alyssa Taylor Heliport, at GPS location MD26, in 2018.
“I did that in her honor, so that it’s a lifelong memory that is always going to come up in the charts,” Craig says.
“It’s amazing that when any aircraft goes over or very close to the helipad that her name would come up on their GPS system,” Jen adds. “When you’ve lost someone like Alyssa it’s so important for their memory to be carried on, and this is an amazing and really unique way that we are able to do that.”
Craig moved Tricon Construction and In the Air Services to the existing office building on the Taneytown site. There he runs both companies — from separate offices in the same building — and rents additional space to several tenants. Construction company equipment is located on the property and also on a nearby farm owned by Craig Bowen Jr., who serves as vice president/project manager of the company. Jen handles the financial recordkeeping for both businesses, including the leasing of the helicopter from ITA to Tricon for employee travel.
In January, Craig hired Joe Stambaugh, a longtime friend with 30 years of pilot experience. With Stambaugh onboard full time, the company secured authorization to run tours and get more people up in the air.
Today, ITA offers discovery flight services, similar to Craig’s first foray into the field, with one-on-one briefings and a 30-minute flight. There are also training packages, survey flights, photo/video flights, and disaster relief services. The U.S. Navy has contracted ITA to provide test pilot training at Patuxent River twice a year.
The company also offers sightseeing tours within 15-30 minutes of the helipad, with a maximum of three passengers permitted, depending on total weight. There’s also an add-on Antrim dinner package and a discounted overnight stay with continental breakfast available. Bookings are accessible through the In the Air website, itaheliservices.com.
Other personal services include flights for anniversary celebrations, proposals and birthday parties.
Planning for the future
Now 53, Craig has more plans on the horizon. He’s working on securing FAA approval for a new hangar, as the current hangar requires moving the helicopter up a ramp prior to takeoff.
He’s also expanding Up in the Air’s offerings. He will host the company’s first summer camp for teens 14-18 in mid-August. He aims to share the principles of helicopters and flying with the next generation. Registration for the three-day camp is open at a price of $525 per student.
He’s interested in becoming a certified flight instructor and, within five to 10 years, turning the construction company over to his son. In retirement, he will focus on the flying, and spend more time up in the air. A goal, he says, would be to acquire a second helicopter and grow his work doing surveys, tours, photo flights and expand the work he does for the Navy at Pax River. He also hopes to work with organizations like the Make a Wish Foundation to share the experience with children in life-changing situations who may not have the opportunity.
“When you’re flying, your mind’s 100% focused on flying. You’re zoned into the aircraft and your mind’s all about flying. I enjoy the freedom of it, the views, and being able to experience that with other people and being able to experience that with my family,” he says.
Craig also relishes in the beauty of the scenery and shares that with his passengers. There’s no photo, he says, that can compare to the experience of seeing it firsthand.
Nearly 10 years after earning his pilot’s license, Craig still enjoys flying, even if it’s a basis for his livelihood.
“I still feel a sense of excitement every time I lift off, especially when I’m flying a first-time flyer and can share in their sense of amazement,” he says. “It’s my passion. It’s what I love to do in my free time. Being able to transfer that into a business and do what you love … If you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life.”
He’s not saying he doesn’t love his construction business, but he’d rather be up in the air.