Frank Schumpert’s love of aviation is something even he can’t put a finger on.
“It’s perfect relaxation,” said Schumpert, owner and operator of Aircraft Maintenance Services, which recently moved its headquarters to the Jim Hamilton – L.B. Owens Airport in Columbia’s Rosewood community.
“I don’t know what it is – it’s just something every guy here has known they wanted to do since they were this big,” he said, holding out a hand a few feet above the ground.
Schumpert has taken his lifelong passion of hurling through the air in a metal tube and turned it into AMS, a successful aircraft maintenance and repair company that he’s run with his wife, Vicki, and eight mechanics since 1992.
AMS, which services planes for businesses and private owners, took off from Camden’s Woodward Field this summer after growing too large for the area. On July 1, the company touched down at Hamilton-Owens, where Schumpert got his start as a mechanic way back in the early ’80’s.
“There’s a lot of memories here,” said Schumpert, who grew up in Lexington County. “This was my office 22 years ago, and I’m back in it again. I like coming here. It’s a friendly place and it’s kinda like home.”
Two plaques hang on the walls of his small, white office: a commendation of thanks from Rep. Grady A. Brown for finding and returning his wallet – all $1,000 intact (despite his dislike of politicians) – and an award of excellence from the Federal Aviation Administration, given to him by his peers in 1999.
Schumpert is eager to show off pictures of his beloved “War Birds” – World War II fighter planes that few mechanics (including himself) know how to repair – and assert the antiquated beauty of their old-school radial engines.
“I was trained by a World War II guy, but the generations after didn’t have the benefit of that experience from the old World War II crowd,” he said. “I tell you what, the radial engine sound is amazing. It’s kinda like the difference between a two-strike motorcycle and a Harley Davidson – it’s got a sound to it.”
Leaving the office into the hangar, a handful of planes lie dormant, their hoods propped open to reveal an intimidating cluster of metal and wire. A group of men tend to a propeller on a small plane in the back, patching up an oil leak.
“(Schumpert) is the best mechanic this side of the Rockies,” said Douglas Decker of Myrtle Beach, owner of the plane in question.
This isn’t the first time Decker has visited Schumpert, who’s pimped his plane out with an iPad and a high-fidelity Bose headset so he can receive all-important weather data and air traffic updates mid-flight – and listen to Jimmy BuffettBuffet.
“My wife, who I’ll bring up with me sometimes, prefers the classical (tunes),” Decker said.
The majority of Schumpert’s business, however, comes from corporations, not private owners like Decker. According to Schumpert, 46 percent of all businesses in South Carolina depend on general aviation, which is separate from commercial airlines and military airplanes.
“Business is doing great; I have more work scheduled than I can actually do,” he said. “We’re gonna have to add some mechanics.”
One of those mechanics recently added to the team is 20-year-old apprentice Ryan Turiak. Schumpert is training him to become an airframe and powerplant technician – a rigorous, three-to-four-year program that starts at basic algebra and ends at advanced avionics.
“I just walked into the hangar one day and (Schumpert) offered me a job,” Turiak said.
Like Schumpert, Turiak doesn’t know what drew him to a life of flight. Schumpert says he sees a lot of himself in the apprentice.
“It all comes back to a passion of aviation,” Schumpert said. “I tell you what – it’s a blast.”
Schumpert says his key to success is to treat the private owners the same as he would a corporation.
“We’ll give the same service to regular people even if their plane requires a small job,” he said. “We’re geared toward corporate, but we’ll help the little guys, too.”
AMS will even fly out to a customer’s location for repairs – for a price that won’t break the bank, Schumpert says.
“So many airports are in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “If someone gets stranded, we’ll rescue ’em.”