Come Fly With Me
Forget the traditional methods for proposing marriage -- the bended knee, the skywriting, the Jumbotron query at the local ballpark. Ravi Ravichandran, the founder of Comnet International, had something different in mind. Using his business as a front ("Honey, I'm going to see the investors"), Ravichandran in 1995 took helicopter-flying lessons in secret for months and finally earned his license in the summer of 1996. Later that year, when he felt comfortable with his flight skills, he invited the unsuspecting object of his affection to ride out to the airfield one day on the pretext that he had a coupon for a helicopter flight around Chicago.
Ravichandran first accompanied his girlfriend as a passenger in the chopper to make everything seem normal. But then without warning he and the flight instructor did a quick switch, and he took over the controls. As his girlfriend begged him to stop, he begged her to be his wife. He swears that he threatened to crash the helicopter if she didn't comply. Romantic, no?
Ravichandran says that helicopters have fascinated him since childhood but he couldn't afford to pilot one until his business was off the ground, too. Nowadays he's married (she did say yes), and though his wife doesn't fly, he sometimes gives helicopter rides to rush-hour-traffic reporters or construction monitors -- all for rates below the typical $200 an hour. Sometimes he'll just fly by himself. "If I'm bored, flying is what I really love to do," he says.
Ravichandran has wowed a few of his customers with helicopter stunts of another kind. After being named Chicago's Small Business Person of the Year in 1999, he invited a handful of customers to the awards luncheon. He then chartered a seven-seat helicopter to land outside his headquarters and ferry his customers in style to the event. (He wasn't piloting; he's certified to fly only small helicopters.) This time, no one complained.
The Inc Life
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