Hustling their goods
By Grant McLaren
Professional Pilot Magazine March 1998
Publications relies on corporate aircraft for business growth.
From his command post atop his elliptical, I.M. Pei designed,
black office tower in Beverly Hills Larry Flynt has all the presence, mystique and
elegance of a Capt Nemo or a Dr No. He's created his own world from scratch with enough
antiques in the upper reaches of his office building to fill a French chateau, a stretch
limousine bearing HUSTLER tags and sidepanel images of reclining women waits down in the
garage and a black GII with an elaborate interior is stationed at VNY (Van Nuys CA).
Flynt's created a global publishing empire built on a single skin title that grew out of a
newsletter he created back in the early 70's to hype a string of topless bars. Today, LFP
Inc publishes 32 titles ranging from PC Portables to Sci Fi Universe to Skin and Ink, a
tattooing journal. While you may or may not approve of Flynt's Hustler magazine, it's hard
not to like this charismatic man behind the five-foot deep 200-year old antique desk high
above Wiltshire Blvd.
Flynt began chartering
Aztec and Navajo aircraft back in 1973 piloted by current Aviation Department Manager Phil
Debus. These aircraft were utilized to expand and franchise his popular Ohio-based Hustler
clubs, he soon progressed to chartered Learjets and, in 1977, bought a Westwind 1124
painted in "centerfold pink."
"In 1977, when
Larry was convicted in Cincinnati on pornography and racketeering charges and Hustler was
declared pornographic, sales just took off," recalls Debus. "Larry was in demand
all of a sudden and he wanted his own jet. I convinced him to buy a Westwind and he asked
me to fly it. As I didn't have any experience in jet aircraft I suggested that he hire a
qualified captain and then have that captain hire me."
After flying the Westwind for five months, and racking up 400-hours, Flynt
traded up to a BAC-111 and, following a near fatal shooting in 1978, downsized to a
vintage JetStar (SN 3) acquired from the Elvis Presley estate. Today, Flynt operates a
black GII (SN 13) flown by Debus and First Officer Mona Masonis on a 250 hour schedule out
of Clay Lacy Aviation at VNY. A recent interior refit at Flight Tech in Hillsboro OR
features a one-of-a-kind interior with black sidewalls, a gold headliner and $600 a yard
hand woven carpets.
To the surprise of
many, Flynt's aircraft are not, and never have been, party aircraft according to Debus.
"The only women we carry onboard are company executives, Larry's fiancee Liz Berrios
and wives of company staff."
While Hustler magazines
are not displayed in the cabin of N69HM they're stacked in the hold for distribution to
line service and tower staff who love receiving them according to
are always calling up to ask if this is the publisher's aircraft," says Masonis.
"I put on a sexy voice, tell them yes and it kind of gets them going. They always
invite us up to visit the tower and I'll take them the latest issue of Hustler."
Tower staff can look
forward to more than just Hustler magazines when they spot this black and gold GII on
"Mona has a thing
about promising fresh baked chocolate chip cookies to the controllers and ramp employees
she meets here and around the world," says Debus. "She's been doing this for
about eight years -- usually around Christmas."
wings of God
Don't believe the
Religious Right when they tell you that people like Larry Flynt are bad and that they
themselves are pure.
exists, I told Moral Majority preacher Jerry Falwell when I debated him on the Larry King
show recently, it's him riding around in a private jet paid for out of collection trays
and from the social security checks of pensioners," says Flynt. "People like
Falwell are selling religion and there are people out there who need this to help them get
through their daily lives. The Falwell's of this world are perfectly willing to tell
people how to behave so long as they get paid and paid well."
Flynt is proud of his business aircraft and the use he makes of them as
corporate tools. He doesn't hide the fact that he owns a jet and he's not consumed with
guilt about using such private transport.
usually feel guilty about using their aircraft," observes Flynt. "And, they
don't like to admit that they fly private jets."
According to Debus,
Flynt could have carved-out a good business from evangelism.
"Larry became a
born-again Christian at one point while under the influence of painkillers and he's always
been a very charismatic person. He could have been one of those hellfire and brimstone
ministers and probably would have made a lot of money out of it."
Debus has flown for
Flynt since 1973 with the exception of the years 1982 to 1994 when the boss did not
operate an aircraft and Debus went to fly Gulfstreams for Northrup. Masonis, an
ex-Northrup King Air shuttle pilot, has co-piloted Flynt's GII since being hired on by
Debus in 1995. While the annual flying schedule is fairly light, about 250 hours a year,
operations are global and at times the flight crew is away from base for up to two weeks.
N69HM has made several trips to Europe, a 35 flying hour jaunt to Nairobi, Kenya and
regular runs to the Cayman Islands (1900-nm out of VNY) where LFP International Sales VP
George Zahalan is based.
"A GIIB, with
600-nm additional range, would have been a better airplane for us but Larry had a set
price in mind of what he was going to spend. I ended up finding a 1968 GII in the UK with
10,800 hours on it, about 6500 cycles and some very antique avionics," recalls Debus.
"We've upgraded the avionics considerably and we'd like to put a Stage III hush kit
on the airplane as soon as one becomes available. The anticipated 3.5% performance loss of
a noise suppression kit could be counteracted with the 7% range enhancement of a pair of
Aviation Partners Blended Winglets."
"Flight level WHAT?"
enjoyed the transition from King Air shuttle driving to global
Gulfstream operations at flight levels unheard of in her former
from King Air to Gulfstream was like learning to fly all over again,"
recalls Masonis. "The speed is exhilarating and it's a lot of fun. In
shuttle work I was flying all day on short hops. Here, we're dealing
with 4.5 to 6 hour flights and with much more variety in destinations."
operation is a small, efficient one-aircraft flight department staffed
only by Debus, Masonis and the part time assistance of Maintenance
Tracker Chett Brubaker. Debus reports to Executive VP Tom Candy at LFP
Inc and takes advantage of the support facilities at Clay Lacy Aviation
for aircraft handling, cleaning, inspections and avionics work.
practical to run a two-person 250 to 300 hour a year Gulfstream
operation like ours as long as you're got good maintenance talent
available," observes Debus. "We're able to operate a cost efficient
flight department with $1200 - $1400 an hour DOCs (including reserves)
and an annual budget (including depreciation) of just a little over $1.5
Debus go through FlightSafety recurrent training every six months and
have both completed international operations courses.
crew takes a lot of ribbing from fellow pilots when it's discovered that
they fly for Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine.
"Guys give me
funny looks when I say I fly for Hustler magazine," says Masonis. "First
of all they don't believe me and then, after I've convinced them, they
really begin to wonder."
envious of my position," adds Debus. "There's a perception that this is
some kind of perverted jet but it's not -- it's a business tool and it's
used that way."
benefits of this job are plenty of advance notice before trips and
frequent RONs in such topical locales as Aruba and the Caymans. Another
recent perk has been an insight into the movie business. During the
filming of The People Versus Larry Flynt late last year Debus and
Masonis visited film sets, flew 40 touch-and-gos for the cameras and
spent two weeks in Aruba with Flynt, Woody Harrelson and Director Milos
Forman while film strategy was discussed. Flynt often chooses
out-of-the-ordinary destinations and hotels.
We were in
Shannon, Ireland recently -- Larry was looking at buying a castle,"
recalls Debus. "We were all staying in the castle which became tough on
Larry's bodyguard as there were no elevators and Larry had to be
continually bounced up and down long staircases."
passenger loads on N69HM include Larry, fiancee Liz Berrios, a bodyguard
and, occasionally, Flynt's lawyer Alan Isaacman. On international
missions the crew prefers handling services of Universal Weather &
Aviation and they make use of their AVCard whenever possible.
Pilot purchasing power
"When we go to
the top of the steps, what's to the right is Larry's and to the left is
mine," says Debus. "Larry cringes every time we spend money but he puts
no restrictions on us in terms of safety and needed equipment."
Debus comes up
with recommendations, prices and estimates and "As long as I can explain
to Larry the justification for the new mod or piece of equipment he's OK
with it," adds Debus. In fact, it was Debus who negotiated the purchase
of the GII and who selected the completion center for the recent
Flynt gives his
aviation manager the autonomy to run the flight department pretty much
at his discretion.
"I'm in the
publishing business which is not unlike the movie or TV business in that
it's a creative process," says Flynt. "My philosophy is simple -- I
assemble the creative talent and give them the autonomy and space to
perform in. I'm not in there meddling every day as long as they are
making me money. The same thing applies to Phil -- he's an experienced
pilot who knows the business. The airplane is his ballpark not mine -- I
leave it up to him to look after the airplane and to fly it safely."
has outfitted N69HM with state-of-the-art equipment intended to last the
flight department into the next century -- dual Universal UNS-IC FMSs, a
Honeywell Lasernav II and a Litton KLN90.
Corporate aviation benefits
aviation allows Larry Flynt to manage his global business empire and to
do more than he could have otherwise accomplished.
"A business jet
is important to me for two reasons," says Flynt. "It's a benefit in
terms of my time and convenience and also because of my condition.
Traveling commercially is a real hassle when you're in a wheelchair."
A 16-city tour
earlier this year to promote his autobiography and movie was only
practical with the help of a corporate aircraft.
"I was booked
solid for media in every city I went to. I'd finish a book signing event
in Cincinnati one afternoon and then have to be in New York for a talk
show that evening. Without the plane I would just not have been able to
do such an extensive tour."
flying and cookies
With its new
black and gold interior, backed-up with a modern suite of avionics,
Flynt's Gulfstream will likely be serving its owner for many years to
"We've had brief
discussions about buying a GIV but they were very brief," says Debus.
"It's a matter of cost and for right now this airplane does what he
needs it to do. We'll probably be doing a little more international
flying in future as we publish more overseas editions and, of course,
Larry is always looking for talent."
Debus would like
to upgrade to a satellite phone when lower price technology becomes
available and a future investment in a Stage III hush kit (about $1.2
million) and Aviation Partners winglets (about $450,000) would be
cost-justified in extending the economic life of the flying asset.
As for Flynt,
he'll continue to grow his publishing empire.
brought out a snowboarding and a skateboarding magazine," says Flynt.
"The adult magazine market in this country is rather saturated now --
the only thing that's really profitable is going into fetish areas.
However, we hope to publish Hustler in Brazil and the Chech republic
this year and we're taking a hard look at the Russian market."
does not hesitate in recommending corporate aviation to fellow CEOs.
"I don't see how
I could advise anyone not to buy a business jet if they can afford it
because the convenience it allows you alone is worth it. If you can
afford a corporate aircraft, and you want one, then you should do it.
Your productivity will increase more than you can imagine."
We can look
forward to seeing the Flynt GII along the airways for some time to come
together with its magazine and chocolate chip cookie bearing crew.
"I've said to my
people that no matter how bad things get the last thing to go will be my
airplane," says Flynt.