CHC SS 730 x 110- HW-01

Pilot Profile – Chuck Surack, The Sweet Life

Chuck Surack cover image

Chuck Surack may be part of the business end of Helimotion by providing backing and direction from a 50,000 feet perspective, but there is much more to Surack than meets the eye. Aviation was a late-blooming passion for Surack, who gained his private pilot certificate in 2007 at the age of 49.

For anyone that plays a musical instrument or has a passion for studio recording of any type, you may not know the name Chuck Surack, but if you have shopped online for a musical instrument or any sound equipment. There is a fair chance that you may know the brand that Surack started in 1979, selling recording time from a mobile studio, located in the back of a VW bus.

Chuck Surack (pictured here taking off from Heli Expo 2014 in Anaheim, CA) started his aviation career late in life, but built it into multiple successful aviation businesses.
Chuck Surack (pictured here taking off from Heli Expo 2014 in Anaheim, CA) started his aviation career late in life, but built it into multiple successful aviation businesses. Photo by Adam Johnson

Sweetwater sound was born from Surack’s desire to stop his hectic life as a touring musician. His company started as a mobile studio, has now blossomed into one of the largest musical instrument and sound equipment sellers in the world. Listing over three million customers. The business, says Surack, still operates with the same principals he started with back in 1979. Surack’s desire to take care of people and do the right thing still resonates through his business empire and every one of the 1100 staff that work for him.

Sweetwater Sound was one of the first companies to embrace the digital age. In 1995, Sweetwater launched a website that allowed customers to shop online for instruments and sound equipment, which unheard of at the time. Well before the dawn of digital sales giants Amazon and Ebay became a household name.

Chuck Surack started what would become Sweetwater Sound, a global online musical instrument retailer from the back of his car over twenty years ago. Photo by Sweetwater Sound.
Chuck Surack started what would become Sweetwater Sound, a global online musical instrument retailer from the back of his car over twenty years ago. Photo by Sweetwater Sound.

Those who wanted quality sound equipment, however, were given the opportunity to buy equipment personally selected by Surack’s team for its quality. Something they are still respected for today. One of Surack’s other legacies that will continue long after he is gone is his customer philosophy. Surack has built his company’s reputation on personal service from the start. “When a client calls Sweetwater to get advice on a product or to make a purchase. That sales representative that they talk to the first time, is the same person assigned to them from start to finish, every time they want to make a purchase from us” said Surack.

The Sweetwater Sound representative will keep track of everything they buy, the brand of equipment they prefer. Right down to the strength of guitar pick that they like. Each sales person should know which products work well with each other or upgrades that are compatible with each client’s specific equipment and needs. This mindset that has built Sweetwater into what it is today.

Surack’s father was a chemical engineer and airplane pilot during his career. Igniting a lifelong passion for aviation in Surack that has spurned into not one, but three aviation businesses in addition to his primary business and the eleven other companies he owns.

Obtaining his first helicopter rating in 2007 at the age of 49 [incidentally with the same instructor as the publisher of this magazine –Ed.] Surack took to the aviation world like he does everything else – with passion and determination to success. Purchasing his first personal helicopter, an Enstrom 480B turbine model in late 2007.Which according to Surack “was great at the beginning for three people, but wasn’t a long term solution for more passengers in the end.” The need for more passenger space led to the purchase of his first Airbus Helicopters EC130 and his first foray into owning an aviation business, Indiana Helicopters which operated the EC130 and later an EC120 now based in Goshen, Indiana on its 135 certificate.

Surack learned in the aviation business that mistakes can sometimes be costly. Surack speaks very openly and honest about his one and only incident in his aviation career that resulted in the loss of his first EC130. Flying the helicopter from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis with a full load of passengers on board, Surack learned how inaccurate weather forecasts could be. Initially, Surack’s forecast information was showing low cloud approaching from the north. Which with the systems projected speed, and their flight path for the trip heading directly south appeared to be no factor. Unfortunately for Surack and his passengers, the weather was changing rapidly and picking up speed. The system moved faster than predicted, quickly putting the destination in Indianapolis IFR conditions while a mere fourteen miles from their destination. Surack decided to land at the nearest airport, situated in Noblesville, just outside the City of Indianapolis.

Surack made the decision to “land and live,” but after making the turn northeast towards Noblesville regional airport, Surack was met by cloud descending from the north as well.Rather than pressing on into potentialI IMC conditions, Surack made the decision to land immediately, settling on landing in a cornfield just short of houses located in the neighborhood adjacent to the Noblesville golf course.

The landing was “fine until it was not” as one skid sank deep into the wet cornfield, made soft by days of rain in the area before the flight. Attempts to pull the skid free failed as the helicopter sank into the mud while Surack tried to put the helicopter down evenly. The uneven angle, causing the EC130 to roll onto its side.

With no injuries to anyone aboard other than Surack kicking himself for not being able to prevent the situation, he looks back on the incident as a valuable learning tool that he shares with his flight instructors at one of his other businesses, flight school Sweet Aviation based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Surack was involved in a precautionary landing gone wrong as weather closed in around him. As the helicopter landed in a wet field, one skid sunk into the mud, toppling the helicopter and resulting in a fire that destroyed the helicopter, but resulted in no injuries to anyone onboard. Photo courtesy WRTV6 Indianapolis.
Surack was involved in a precautionary landing gone wrong as weather closed in around him. As the helicopter landed in a wet field, one skid sunk into the mud, toppling the helicopter and resulting in a fire that destroyed the helicopter, but resulted in no injuries to anyone aboard. Photo courtesy WRTV6 Indianapolis.

Surack’s school has an Enstrom 280 FX and F28F used for primary flight training for clients in the Fort Wayne area. Surack also owns an additional EC130T2 that featured on the show floor of the Airbus Helicopters booth in Anaheim, California at the 2014 Heli-Expo show. This helicopter is flown by Surack personally and kept at his property in Fort Wayne.

Surack in addition to founding Sweetwater Sound, Indiana Helicopters, Sweet Aviation, car dealership,  “Sweet Cars” and owning Helimotion (see cover story) is also a tireless philanthropist. Giving of his time, helping others discover the arts and volunteering in his community. Serving over the years in many board capacities in over a dozen organizations including the Boy Scouts Advisory Board and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra board to name a few.

Surack, (pictured with former Indiana Governor, now Vice President of the United States Mike Pence) is a tireless philanthropist who donates his time to numerous charities in Fort Wayne and other surrounding areas in Indiana where he lives. Photo courtesy of Chuck Surack.
Surack, (pictured with former Indiana Governor, now Vice President of the United States Mike Pence) is a tireless philanthropist who donates his time to numerous charities in Fort Wayne and other surrounding areas in Indiana where he lives. Photo courtesy of Chuck Surack.

Surack’s tireless efforts to serve his community over the years have not gone unnoticed. Receiving many awards covering both his business success and his philanthropic efforts. Including honorary doctorates from Indiana University and the University of St. Francis and the Governors Arts Award. Just a few of the long list of accolades for this businessman turned pilot and aviation magnate in northern Indiana, who continues to give back and ensures that his staff does the right thing by his customers in the music and aviation industries.

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