Andy Beck is one of the great DZO’s in the US that you may never have heard of – and that’s just fine with him. Andy is a humble guy who doesn’t think of himself as one worthy of great attention.
In fact, getting Andy to do this interview was a challenge because he really didn’t want the spotlight to be on him at all especially as his wife Lisa plays such a pivotal role in the success of the DZ along with his team of instructors. Said Andy during one of our exchanges, “I’m happy to do this interview, but I wouldn’t be here without the support of Lisa and our incredible team and it’s important to me that those details come through.”
The above statement tells you all you need to know about Andy and what he and Lisa and the team are building in Cushing, Oklahoma – a DZ, passionate about customer service (their reviews are fantastic) and running a plane not commonly seen in the industry – a wickedly fast turbine 206.
Where are you originally from?
I grew up in Pawnee, Oklahoma a rural town of around 2000 people.
How old are you?
What was the year and circumstance that led you to make your first skydive?
In 1999, I made my first skydive at Oklahoma Skydiving Center. It was a Christmas gift for a first jump course. The weather in January in Oklahoma is pretty cold and windy so I actually tried to go 3 times solo before I ended up doing a tandem just so I could jump! I went back the next week and made the solo jump and have been skydiving ever since!
What about that first jump do you remember most?
What I remember the most is just the feeling of being in that moment and totally in awe at the beauty of it all. From that point forward all I could think about is when and how to get there again.
What career did you not pursue in order to become a DZO?
I have had simultaneous careers as a DZO / Instructor and Safety Manager (not at a DZ) at the same time over the last 20 years. We are a busy dropzone in the summer where I have the flexibility to be open more days at the dropzone, but in the winter skydiving is slow so I have always kept working as a safety manager.
What skydiving positions did you hold (and where) before you became a DZO?
My job progression at the dropzone went from: mowing, weedeating, and cleaning for jump credit, teaching the first jump course, Senior Parachute Rigger, IAD Instructor, Tandem Instructor, AFF Instructor, S&TA, Master Parachute Rigger and finally, DZO.
Do you have a family and are they involved at the DZ?
We are a family-owned dropzone and my family actually started at the dropzone. I met my wife Alyssa at the dropzone through her brother who was a jumper friend of mine. Alyssa is not just my wife she is also my business partner and best friend! All three of our kids have grown up at the dropzone. Hailey (22) & Seth (19) have helped around the dropzone throughout their lives at times packing, mowing, etc… Both older kids have skydived, but not really moved forward in the sport yet. Our youngest Ethan, (11) is learning to pack, helps drive the Mule and helps with the mowing and he is determined that he will run the dropzone some day.
What ratings do you hold that helps you run your DZ more efficiently?
AFF, IAD, Tandem, PRO, Senior and Master Parachute rigger. I am a student pilot and should finish my private license soon. I am also working on my A&P while under the mentorship of two exceptional mechanics. I think in a medium-sized dropzone the more you can do to fill in gaps that come up in staffing is critical! I couldn’t keep the dropzone moving forward if I didn’t have the ability to do most tasks, and the understanding of all tasks has helped me more than I can put into words. I know when the team sees me working with them and I am not afraid to get my hands dirty they know I understand their needs.
Tell us about your background? Were there any early indicators that this would end up being your profession?
I grew up 30 minutes from the dropzone, and had no idea it even existed growing up. Skydiving first showed up in my mind with Point Break the original movie. From that point on I was determined to at least try it out!
The biggest challenge of most DZO’s is time! How do you maintain a work-life balance or do you?
Work-life balance is an oxymoron in my opinion. There are times when I have to put all of my efforts into the dropzone to make it work. I know that puts a strain on my family, so I am sure to put extra time and effort into my family every chance I get. I can definitely say that I am constantly working on better balance for my life, so if anyone has any great tips I’d love to hear them!
If not skydiving or BASE jumping, what activities do you enjoy when not running your DZ?
I absolutely do not take skydiving trips anymore. I love to take a few BASE trips each year with my closest friends also. Family time is what I focus on completely when I am not working the business. Whatever my son and wife want to do. My son is into motocross and going to the lake is a favorite family trip too.
Who or what inspires you?
Sue Stull inspires me. She came out to skydive a few years ago and is a quadruple amputee from sepsis. The entire experience from talking to her on the phone, meeting her and her family, jumping with her and her family was amazing. She is such an overcomer and continues to spread the word on sepsis and supports others with limb loss in ways I am just in awe of. Nothing can stop Sue!
What failure in your life set you up for later success?
Largest failure was my first marriage. What absolutely was the worst situation and experience of my life gave me my first skydive and two amazing kids. I met Alyssa because of that gift, and that gift gave me the opportunity to find true joy in my life!
What is one of the best investments you’ve ever made (time, money, energy)?
NEVER stop learning. Instructor courses, videos, books, blogs, you name it LISTEN. As soon as I complete a goal, idea, or trip I am looking for what’s next.
What has been one of your most difficult days as a DZO?
My worst day as a DZO is when a serious accident happens. In the following hours, there are all kinds of misinformation, accusations, internet trolls, media calls, and unfortunately competitor marketing at the expense of the injured jumper. That is the absolute worst thing I have seen in this industry, and that type of behavior doesn’t help anyone.
What has been one of your most rewarding days?
I love helping people succeed in reaching their dreams and goals. When we have a student get their A license, first wingsuit, first BASE jump, you name it. I get the best feeling of satisfaction at the DZ when I hear how their experiences have made a difference in their life. Most people rate skydiving as one of the top experiences of their lives, I take that responsibility seriously and we have continuously made business decisions with that in mind.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
WEATHER! I grew up in a farming community and family and I when I went to school I swore I would never have another job that relied on the weather to make a living…… “Well, what’s the weather look like this weekend?” If I was paid to talk about the weather for a living, let’s just say I wouldn’t need to worry about retirement funds.
What has been your most expensive repair?
$15-20K wing damage on the Cessna 182 that I received when I first purchased the dropzone. Remember what I said about what a DZO needs to know about airplanes??? Hard lesson, but that is when I started to work with my current mechanic/mentor on my planes. You ABSOLUTELY have to understand aircraft maintenance.
What keeps you from getting burnt out?
I have felt like I was burning out several times over the years for different reasons, but when I actually think of not doing it I can’t really see my life any other way. I also have kept learning new parts of the sport to keep it interesting, BASE, Wingsuits, Pilot training, Rigger, A&P apprentice, canopy piloting, paragliding, etc… Once I started focusing on helping others achieve their goals it changed my perspective from what can I accomplish to what can I help others accomplish and there is no end to that list!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a DZO?
Find a mentor! I have a mentor in a former DZO and friend Mike Palmer that I absolutely couldn’t have made it without his help. If you are going to do it with your family make sure they are committed to the idea too. It would have been impossible without my wife’s support and help the entire way. They will spend a lot of their life at the DZ. Surround yourself with a team of the best instructors, pilots, mechanics, staff, that you can find, you will need it.
Being an entrepreneur is about taking risks… what is the riskiest thing you’ve done to date to make things happen?
I went from a 182 dropzone to a turbine dropzone two years ago and it has been the ride of a lifetime for sure. Not only did we want to grow, but we built the first non-prototype PT6 Cessna 206 conversion which was a true project and learning experience in the process. We are now the authorized installation center for Turbine Conversions for the PT6 Cessna 206 conversion and have other aircraft that we are converting right now!
What piece of equipment under $1000 would you recommend every DZO have/use?
iPhone and ipad. I MUST be able to communicate with customers and I can’t imagine running the business without them!
Most commonly used app on your phone that helps you run your business?
XOLA for reservations is what we use the most. Smartwaiver, Facebook, Google my Business, Instagram, Twitter, Canva, FOREFLIGHT for weather…… There are so many that I use…
Name a DZO you respect and why:
Mike Palmer hands down. He taught me: skydiving, rigging, working on A&P, mentorship on the dropzone. He was the dropzone owner when I started skydiving in 1999. I was able to get him back into BASE a couple of years ago after a 30-year break or so and one of my dreams was to make a BASE jump with him and we made it happen!
How many skydives do you have?
I have 11,960 jumps as of today. Most of my skydives are tandems or AFF instructor jumps. My favorite is tandems where you can share the entire first jump with them. The things people say and do never cease to amaze me for sure. I have 11,000+ Cessna 182 skydives alone before we built the turbine. I just had my 47th cutaway a couple of weeks ago. Out of my 47 cutaways, I have packed 40 or more of the reserves!
You are an active BASE jumper – how many BASE jumps do you have and how did you get into that part of the sport?
So far I have 1,075 base jumps and most of my jumps are from antenna’s at night the old school way. We make a group trip to the bridge each year to get new jumpers into the sport from our crew. I learned from another previous DZO and mentor Jack Reeves. I love the mentorship way of learning for BASE and skydiving. As new jumpers start at the dropzone and progress some are interested in BASE and when they have the right skill & mindset for BASE we mentor and train them for their first BASE jumps!
List your canopy progression from jump 1 through the present day:
List all of your personal equipment:
Main Parachute: Velocity 120, Spectre 150, Spectre 150
Reserve: PD 160, PD 143, PD143
Container: Mirage G2, G3, G4
Audible: Protrack, Solo
Helmet: Bonehead, Cookie
Shoes: Asics or Teva’s
What has been the best skydive you’ve ever been on and why?
Taking my children on their first skydive has topped my list as the best experience. They have all grown up around the sport, so when it was time for that first jump it was amazing to share that experience with them.
Of all the skydiving destinations you’ve been to, which one would you most like to return?
I really don’t skydive and travel, but my favorite BASE destination so far is Switzerland! It is absolutely an amazing place to visit even if you are not a jumper, but to hike and jump there is a surreal experience.
What’s the closest call (scariest situation) you’ve had happen in your skydiving career and what did you learn from it?
Early on I was on an aircraft that made an emergency landing right after take off and I have to admit I didn’t have my seatbelt on at the time. That was the last time I didn’t wear a seatbelt. There was also one time when I wish I hadn’t worn my seat belt.
What’s the most common error or mistake you most often see with skydivers today?
Waiting ’til the last minute to gear up, or hurrying around to get to the plane. Many gear mistakes start when people make last minute changes or when they are in a hurry. GEAR CHECKS people!!!!
What’s your skydiving pet peeve?
Sky god-like jumpers! When jumpers won’t get on a load because some of the jumpers aren’t (good enough) to skydive with them….. Manifest has orders that I will fill any open slots on any load for many years and I enjoy skydiving with new jumpers and really experienced jumpers alike.
If you could change one thing in our sport, what would you change?
Injuries. I absolutely hate it when someone gets injured. Fortunately, we have very few tandem and student injuries.
Favorite jump aircraft (other than your own?)
AN-2 world-war 2 European Biplane. I have never been in a plane that large that is made from wood and fabric!
Who has been a positive influence to you in the skydiving industry?
Bram Clement with Skydive Ratings. Bram did my AFF course and I will never forget much of what he shared with the class. One thing that stands out and I always hear in my mind is “did you hinder the students learning? … you have to let the student learn.” Almost all of my instructors here at the dropzone have trained with Bram and I know he cares about what he does and has made a positive influence in the sport.
We hear lots of things about your aircraft! Tell us about your aircraft and what makes it so unique.
The Pratt Whitney PT6 Cessna 206 aircraft is the perfect solution to the medium size dropzone that wants to increase capacity, speed, altitude, and move into the turbine marketplace. It gives the customers a better experience due to shorter climb times and higher jump altitudes. Did I mention that the maintenance is a dream compared to running 3 piston Cessna 182’s?
What gear do you jump at OSC?
Tandem Container System: Micro Sigma
Tandem Parachutes: Precision 330 or A2 330
Jumpsuits: All types
Student Goggles: Flexvison
AFF Student Rigs: Mirage RTS Student specific containers, all different reserves, Skymaster or Aerodyne SOLO student specific canopies only.
A manufacturer or skydiving-based company that delivers the best customer service to you is:
Aerodyne has been hands down the easiest to work with for me.
What makes your DZ unique from many others?
The fun family-friendly environment. We are big enough to offer lots of jump opportunities but small enough to still have the cool small DZ family vibe. We make sure to help the entire family participate in the event. Many times one person comes to jump, but they bring kids, grandkids etc. Alyssa is famous for giving Kawasaki Mule rides with kids to watch the plane take off with their parent, or helping families identify which parachute is grandma’s. We let groups use our pavilion, grill, or fridge so they can bring food or drinks to their birthday, anniversary, or 18th birthday celebration. Our landing area is right by the observer area so it is easy for everyone to enjoy the event. Many times once they see how much fun it is and how friendly we are the end up wanting to jump too!