Flight Plan

Though his feet are firmly planted in the office most days, insurance executive Ryan Pettus takes to the skies whenever he can.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…an insurance broker

While 35-year-old Ryan Pettus may not be Superman, he does share at least one similarity with The Man of Steel: an affinity for flight. Piloting a Schweizer 300 helicopter, Pettus spends much of his time off the clock exploring the Hudson Valley from a vantage point most never experience—800 feet above it. 

Since 2004, Pettus has held a Clark Kent-like day job: He works for Hawthorne-based Professional Group Marketing (PGM), selling life- and health-insurance policies—a job, he admits, that could “bore someone to tears.” However, against the advice of several family members, Pettus began to fly helicopters in 2009, earning his pilot’s license one year later. 

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After an aptitude test indicated he would be well suited to flying helicopters, insurance exec Ryan Pettus got his pilot’s license. Today, he enjoys the view from 800 feet in the air.

“When I was a kid, I did a lot of outdoorsy stuff with my father, who was a Marine. When he told me I couldn’t fly because of my glasses, I got pissed,” Pettus says. “As I grew up, it stuck with me. I don’t like when people tell me I can’t do things.” 

Single and bored, Pettus took an aptitude test that produced two results: engineer and helicopter pilot. That was the push he needed to go out and obtain his license, he says, taking instruction from Wings Air in White Plains. 

Under the terms of his current license, Pettus must plan his flight according to Visual Flight Rules (VFR), a set of regulations by which a pilot must be able to see where the aircraft is going and have a visual reference to the ground (meaning Pettus can’t fly in bad weather, fog, or winds more than 15 knots). When Pettus does get time in the air, the view couldn’t be more satisfying. “I never understood why they called it the Hudson Valley until I started flying,” says Pettus. “You’re flying over these mountains, and then they open up into an expansive valley. It’s a nice visual sightline.” 

On a typical flight, Pettus will travel toward the Tappan Zee Bridge, then move either north or south up the Hudson River. In reality, he can fly as far as his gas will take him, as long as he plans out a course before take off and plans for emergency landing. On one occasion, Pettus flew toward East Fishkill, a 40-minute flight from Westchester County Airport, to hover over his mother’s house.

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“She got a kick out of that,” Pettus recalls.

Pettus’ opportunities to take in the county from 800 feet in the air have decreased a bit since getting married and having a baby. (He’s also focusing some of his current downtime on Drink More Good, a Beacon-based company that uses organic ingredients to create healthier soda syrups, which Pettus is a partner of.) But while Pettus’ wife isn’t the biggest fan of his high-flying hobby (“She won’t go near it!” he says of the helicopter), Pettus is confident that quitting is not part of his itinerary.

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