Posted 8 days ago ago by jhadmin
Night Flight Concepts (NFC), based out of Waco, Texas, brings night vision training and technology from the military to the civilian masses who need to safely fly when the sun goes down. The company is known for cleverly marketing their night vision products and services under acronyms like L.E.A.S.E (Law Enforcement Air Support Entity) and S.O.A.R. (Special Operations Aviation Resources). With approx. 300 global customers, approx. 1,450 students trained, and approx. 3,500 NVGs inspected and repaired since 2006, another catchy acronym for NFC would be F.L.I.G.H.T. (Forward Looking Industrious Group Has Tenacity).
NFC began as a vision, and early side-hustle, that its co-founder and president, Adam Aldous, had while serving in Iraq as an Army Chinook pilot. (Aldous still hustles; if he doesn’t wake up earlier, his 5-year-old daughter gets him up every morning by 6:00—without fail.) When we caught up with him in early January, he was working on NFC’s 2019 marketing plans, but he graciously found the time to share his fascinating story.
Aldous was born in Glen Falls, New York, but “grew up everywhere.” His father was an Army career combat engineer and consequently Aldous had a traveling childhood and adolescence. “My memories are from Fort Hood, Texas; South Korea, and Germany, then Fort Benning, Georgia, until my father finally retired in St. Louis. I got used to moving as most military families do,” he says. Upon Aldous’ graduation from high school, his father influenced him to join the military. “It turned out to be one of my best life decisions, as I could have followed some of my friends heading in the wrong direction,” he remembers. After Aldous enlisted with the Air Force, he became an F-15 crew chief, stationed at Langley, Virginia. He left the Air Force to attend Valencia Community College in Orlando, FL, where he obtained an associate’s degree. After transferring to the University of Central Florida, he then attempted to re-enter the Air Force to become a fighter pilot, but they weren’t at that time taking pilot applications from individuals who had already been in the military. “So,” he says, “I literally went next door to Army recruiting. They accepted me into the Warrant Officer Flight Training (WOFT) Program and I went to Fort Rucker, Alabama, to become a CH-47 Delta pilot,” he says. From there it was on to tours in South Korea, Hunter Army Airfield (Savannah, Georgia) and two tours in Iraq, with a final tour in Egypt.
It was after a 2005 air assault mission in Iraq that Aldous had the vision of NFC and started acting on it with three Army associates, David Luke, Jeff Epperson, and John Wardle, with the latter two no longer being with the organization. What specifically sparked the idea for NFC was that higher command dictated that Chinooks only fly at night under cover of darkness, as the big aircraft was an easier target during daylight. This completely flipped the percentage from daylight to night flight. Aldous says, “Our night knowledge and skillset grew exponentially. Our thought process was: Man, if we could take all our night knowledge back home to the U.S., that would greatly benefit first responders there.” Aldous recalls those nascent NFC days. “I still remember calling Richard Borkowski at REB Technologies. He was wondering who was this guy calling him from Iraq, but he was very nice and allowed us to keep in touch. I had a lot of downtime in my final tour and I used those hours to research and further develop a business plan for the night vision company some of us had decided to create. I was still on active duty status when we legally formed Night Flight Concepts on 24 October 2006 when I came home to the states on a two-week vacation.”
Upon his discharge in June 2007, Aldous set up NFC’s executive offices in his parents’ garage. Despite the stereotypical small business beginning, big changes in night vision demand and technology were in play that would nourish NFC’s efforts. Still, ‘the little company that could’ had to climb the business learning curve and pursue opportunity. Aldous recalls, “We first worked out of the garage cold-calling companies and trying to make industry contacts. My dad helped build a display for our first trade show. It was beautiful, with recessed lighting and all the works, but it was extremely heavy! We took it in a rented U-Haul truck to ALEA at the Orlando convention center.” U-Hauling his booth was just the first challenge. Next, Aldous needed an emergency vacuum cleaner. “I’ll never forget, it was our first tradeshow and another exhibitor visited our booth to check us out while he was eating a donut. I had to walk away because I was so mad that he was getting crumbs all over our booth’s clean black carpet!” he laughs. NFC may have started their first tradeshow picking up little crumbs, but they concluded it by picking up a big contract from the Broward County (Florida) sheriff’s office. “We modified two of their aircraft in partnership with Richard Borkowski and REBTECH, sold them 12 sets of night vision goggles, and trained about 14 of their personnel. It was a big contract for us.”
From then on, NFC could afford maid service. “That was late 2007, we were in the right place at the right time because night vision technology got accepted by the law enforcement and the HAA (helicopter air ambulance) sectors in the years since then. We never had a bad year, even with the 2008-09 recession occurring.” In 2014, NFC made an executive decision to search for a new partner in the business. Although NFC had several interested organizations, they ultimately partnered with Gordon Jiroux, whose guiding principles aligned very much with theirs. "One important point I can say about Gordon is that he cares about people and puts the interest of others before his own. That goes a long way in a partnership, especially when the business core competency is to serve the ones who serve us."
The prospering company soon enacted another part of Aldous’ NFC vision: unfailingly serve others. “Anything and everything we do in our company has to benefit our customers. At the end of the day, we hope it benefits Night flight Concepts, but only if it benefits the people that we serve,” he says. “Many of our customers themselves, such as HAA and law enforcement serve their communities. Countless times they’ll need one of our services, but just don’t have the money. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve just done free training exercises or have done free goggle inspections, or have given away online CBT, or laser glasses because an organization is experiencing a lot of laser strikes. We’ve also give away scholarships to the Whirly-Girls (a non-profit that promotes females in rotorcraft aviation) for NVG flight training. We donate to many charities, not just in money but also in time.”
With all that in mind, it’s not surprising that Aldous describes his leadership style as that of a “servant leader.” He says, “It’s not about me or Night Flight Concepts; it’s about who and how we serve … service is one of my core values. Whatever I do I want to be able to help someone else out, be it our country, other people, or organizations that we work for. I think service has been one of the keys to our success—putting the customer or other person first.” He finds personal fulfillment in seeing how his company helps first responders in turn serve their communities. “Two snapshots of how my vision helped someone do their job is first, the Massachusetts State Police apprehending the Boston Marathon bomber.” NFC trained that police unit about two weeks before the terrorist bombing event.” They were able to fly and do their job at night with night-vision goggles,” Aldous says. In the next snapshot example he gives, the training happened even closer to the event, which was the Ferguson, Missouri, protests and riots that roiled for weeks over the police shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. “We completed the St. Louis Metro Air Support Unit training on Thursday and on Friday that event began. They were able to be an eye in the sky, utilizing night-vision goggles. They weren’t flying with goggles prior to that, but after we served them, they were able to manage the situation from the air under cover of darkness.” Aldous concludes with contentment, “Those are two examples where we were indirectly involved and made an impact through providing training and products to first responders and I can humbly say that we are proud to serve those who serve us.”
One doesn’t arrive at career contentment without having mentors on the journey. Sometimes, executives are hesitant to spotlight specific mentors for fear of leaving someone in the dark. Aldous is more than ready to turn the light on those who helped him. “I can put my finger on three mentors. Number one is my father, Roger Aldous. He really instilled in me honesty and the value of a full, hard day’s work. Being honest with your customers and employees and setting a good example by working a full, hard day is really what it’s about.” The second role model that Aldous names is a gentleman, Jim Scala (aka ‘Jimmy the Blade.’) “He was our standardization instructor pilot and I flew regularly with him in Iraq. He put me through my extensive pilot-in-command evaluation and stood for everything that’s good and great about aviation. His attention to detail, his standardization, his demeanor when things got stressful, rubbed off on me.” The third honoree is Rob Bannon, Aldous’ last commander in Savannah. “His enthusiasm about the mission of aviation. His ability to simplify very complex missions into clear concepts and in-state objectives taught me how to not to get distracted and lost in distracting details.” So far Aldous is three for three, and he caps off his list with a bonus story that exemplifies how Bannon refused to let minutia hide the objective. “In Iraq, we got the call to go north on a mission,” he begins. “We all spent two days planning everything out and everyone caught up in the details of what seemed a complex mission. We all were drawing out our plans and questioning one another. Rob, got frustrated with this and interrupted us, ‘Now, stop it! The concept of the operation is to get in your (freakin’) helicopters and fly north. When you see Baghdad, you made it!’ Actually, that was the simplicity of the mission that we lost focus of—to haul stuff to the Baghdad airport. His ability to instill his concept of an operation into us and our ability to execute that based on the commander’s in-state objectives is something that’s stuck with me.”
One thing that has not stuck with Aldous is his golf game. “I used to love to play a round of golf. I think in 2018, I played maybe two rounds, which is horrible! Actually, I made a resolution for this year to play 10 rounds of golf—at least,” he laughs, as if he will ever find the time to walk the greens. As the president of a growing company, even finding time for family is difficult. He and his wife have two young daughters, Emma and Adelynne that he “loves spending time with.” So much so that every three months the busy dad takes a week off to spend consistent quality time with his family. He adds that he also must take the occasional hour for himself, which is most enjoyed indulging his hobby of woodworking in his workshop. But even there, family is not far from mind. “I’m finishing up a toy chest for my daughter,” he happily announces.
Still other things besides family are on his brain. He frequently ponders where the aviation industry is heading and what challenges lie head. A concern about the impending rotorcraft pilot shortage which has been creeping up on the industry for years. “The airlines are taking many helicopter pilots and if you’re a pilot not totally committed to rotorcraft, you’ve got to explore that option,” he says. When constant questioning thoughts about his company grow into intrusions, Aldous remembers how a friendly advisor helped him keep NFC’s challenges in perspective. Aldous recalls that his advisor said, “‘Adam, you have to keep it all in perspective. Look, you started a company from scratch in an infantile night-vision sector and now have sent out hundreds of invoices. Each one of those invoices represents a service your company provided. Now, think about what those services and sales allowed each customer to do. Isn’t that advancing your goals and vision of helping other people?”
Aldous concludes, “When we started, a minority of first responders were using night vision technology. Now maybe more than 90% of them are using it.”
But don’t you worry, Adam Aldous and company are working to serve that remaining percentage still in the dark.