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and not be used to its full potential. Instead we offer a training service turnkey solution. We can create training scenarios tailored to a client’s mission profile. We take our system directly to pilots. Training with the device just once or twice a year in routine training is not enough. At least quarterly training is best, with our device in a pilot’s aircraft utilizing our training models. Our system has all the ‘brains’ built into it. The tailored training scenarios are built and based on real accidents, so you don’t need our people constantly sitting with you in your helicopter. We provide the training materials and equipment.” Of course, AT Systems personnel are available if needed.


TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH


You may well wonder how Phillips grew to make it his mission to transform aviation training. On the surface, his life story is not really unusual, but that makes it increasingly inspirational. It gives hope that out of the ordinary, we can attempt to make an extraordinary difference.


Phillips grew up in Oklahoma and began working at the age of 16 for the trucking company his father founded. While he was changing oil and washing trucks, the teen longed for a higher view. “I wanted to fly my whole life,” he says. “When I was a kid, I wanted to fly airplanes, and especially jets after going with my dad to see the movie Top Gun. I’ll be embarrassed if you print that.” (Sorry, you’ll have to be embarrassed with most males who grew up in the ‘80s. There’s enough cheese for all.) The aspiring aviator matured and was in high school when tragedy suddenly struck. His sister and her husband, who both worked for the family trucking company, were murdered by a disgruntled former employee. “After that, I gave up on my dream of flying and worked for my dad to help him manage the business until he sold it in 1999.”


Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Phillips saw a National Guard helicopter commercial. It seemed to offer him a way to lift his current life situation. He called the recruiter and soon he was in the Oklahoma National Guard serving as a crew chief while the Guard decided if he was worth investing in for flight school. “I always tell guys that being an Army crew chief is the greatest enlisted job you can ever have. I really enjoyed it,” he says. And yes, Phillips proved his worth. “The Guard decided I was worth investing in and they sent me to Warrant Officer Candidate School in 2006, followed by flight school.” After that coveted training, Phillips returned to Oklahoma and was deployed as a medevac pilot. Then he bolstered his credentials by completing the instructor pilot course, instrument examiner course, and tactical operations officer course. One Army course he particularly liked was a fixed-wing transition course. “I flew the C-12 and it was a great experience. I enjoyed it. If you are truly a pilot at heart, I believe you want to fly everything at least once, but there’s no question that my heart is really with helicopters. I love flying in general, but helicopters are more exciting and so much more versatile. They are in first place, both in my mind and emotions,” he concludes.


With all his course credentials, Phillips gained full-time employment in the National Guard. That income helps support him and his family during AT Systems’ startup. “Anytime you try to start a small


16 Sept/Oct 2020


Tyson and Kelley Phillips with their youngest son, Trent, at a Christmas service in 2019.


business it consumes your time — nights, weekends, everything. It’s a labor of love for sure, but getting to build something from square one is such a unique opportunity. It’s frustrating, it’s exciting, it’s fun, and all the words of emotion you can come up with as we’ve tried to improve our product design and market it. It’s been an exciting journey,” he says.


In fact, the current pandemic has made the journey a little too exciting by throwing curveballs at the young company. “Our core civil markets have taken significant hits from COVID. But we seem to be coming out of that and getting back to what’s called the new normal. So, we’re getting close to finalizing contracts with a few people,” says Phillips.


One contract that increases AT Systems’ credibility is the company’s research and development agreement with the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory. Such collaboration is an enormous emotional lift for an entrepreneur trying to lift his newborn company to new heights, but Phillips guards against optimism — and pessimism. “I’ve found that if I don’t get too high on positive developments, the lows don’t get too low when there is a setback,” he explains. “My lowest points in starting our business have been frustration at delays in getting our system out there because I believe it will save lives. My passion is to save lives. Either by luck or by the grace of God, I believe we have a system that will save lives. We’re pilots in our business and we still find ourselves going through bad visibility conditions. It’s still very real to us and not just something we remember going through. Our device and past experience provides a great opportunity for us to benefit someone else’s life.”


Yes, it does.


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