President and owner, Silver State Helicopters
Former police officer Jerry Airola can't get enough of the whirlybirds. He took some helicopter lessons in 1996 and got hooked. Three years later, he and some friends chipped in for a Robinson R22 helicopter. By 2002, Airola had bought out his pals and justified the purchase of a second chopper to his wife by saying he would find a way to build a business around it.
Today his North Las Vegas company, Silver State Helicopters, owns a fleet of 230 helicopters used for aerial tours, flight training, and corporate charters. The company, with 542 employees in 14 states, also contracts with law enforcement and firefighters--who need aerial support for desert drug busts, forest fires, and tricky rescues--and its employees do some Hollywood stunt work. "For one film, I got to knock a guy off a motorcycle with the helicopter," Airola says. "That was fun."
Silver State Helicopters, with sales of $40.7 million in 2005, ranked No. 12 on the 2006 Inc. 500 list. In November, Airola made an unsuccessful run for sheriff of Clark County. Now, he's back chasing his usual goal: doubling his annual revenue.
Nikon Coolpix 4600, $180
"I like to take photos when I fly. I have some great shots of Yosemite and the Hoover Dam."
Ruger (NYSE:RGR).357 magnum
"When my grandfather was sheriff in California, Ruger made him this commemorative gun. It has wear marks, not from shooting, but from playing with it at his desk."
AvMap EKP IV GPS, $1,500
"I won't fly without one. It tells you everything about airports: what types of fuel they sell, where the airstrips are, and how long until you get there."
2006 Ford (NYSE:F) GT, $153,000
"I collect cars, and this is my current favorite. Ford only made the GT for two years. I chose the colors because I'm a Raiders fan."
…and What I Covet
AgustaWestland AW139, about $10 million
"I would love to have this as my own private helicopter. It's the ultimate, with state-of-the-art equipment such as heated blades, so it can fly in almost any weather condition."