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HELITRAK PRESIDENT By Rick Weatherford CHRIS NEHLS H


eliTrak President Chris Nehls starts our interview with words that no writer wants to hear. “I’m afraid this is going to be a hard profile for you, as I’m a boring person.”


Fortunately, the former farm boy from the Illinois corn belt was just letting his small-town Midwest modesty get the best of him. Nehls is a compelling risk-taker who leads a startup that is at the heart of bringing cutting-edge aviation autonomous technology to underserved aviators. After all, many pilots fly Robinson helicopters in the same airspace as those in avionic-laden aircraft. Shouldn’t Robinson pilots, and those who fly other smaller ‘common’ aircraft, also have access to collective pull down and autopilot technology?


Nehls is leading the company that answers that question with a resounding “Yes!” Their mission is to take paradigm-shifting technology to the masses. Dress Nehls in blue jeans and a black turtleneck and he might pass for a rotor-head version of Steve Jobs. After all, HeliTrak’s website says Nehls “walks the line between nerd and businessman.” Although, by comparison, Jobs might be thought the bore, as he didn’t fly precision competitive aerobatics. Nehls does.


16 Nov/Dec 2018 PLANTED SEED GROWS


Nehls wasn’t completely underselling his life’s story; it began with quaint beginnings. But more than corn seeds were planted in the young boy’s formative spring days. A vision also took root, a vision that grew into a life’s passion. Nehls remembers, “My dad had his fixed-wing pilot’s license when I was very young. I was around 5 years old when we happened to fly out of a small grass strip when a Hughes 269 flew in. I was just absolutely captivated. My dad passed away a few years ago, but he used to tell me that I just wouldn’t stop talking about this helicopter. I think it terrified him and my mom that I was going to want to become a helicopter pilot, but since then I’ve been fascinated with helicopters. Growing up, I decided that if I didn’t become a helicopter pilot, then I would become an engineer who was involved with helicopters.”


That fascination took flight and navigated Nehls’ collegiate studies through a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Valparaiso University, which led to a job with a reconnaissance camera company in Chicago, where he also studied towards a master’s degree in electrical engineering. He was closer, but


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