Business Takes Flight in Marianna

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During World War II, Jackson County was home to a school that trained military pilots. Now, a Marianna man wants to bring the aviation industry back to the area. Newschannel 7's Hermelinda Vargas reports on his little-known business and his very unique product.

Every year, Mark Richards and his business partner ship about 20 two-seater helicopters known as Safaris. They do so with the help of two local full-time workers and a separate facility in Canada.

"The air frames are welded up in Canada and then shipped down here and then we put the sheet metal on it for the bottoms and stuff," says Mark Richards of Ace Fabrications.

Marianna workers for Ace Fabrications do not just assemble helicopters. They also make some of the parts crucial to the $80,000 safari.

"Some people use it for herding cattle like in Australia. We do have farmers who spray their crops with 'em. A lot of people use them for sort of fence-line patrol and stuff like that on their ranches, but I would say the vast majority of our customers use it strictly as a toy or transportation."

Of course, flying the two-seater isn't as easy as buying it. All new pilots will have to get a helicopter license. In the U.S. and Canada, buyers will also have to follow additional directions: assembly will be rewired for them.

"We actually build it as a kit, ship it to them in a box and then they put it together. We've done all the hard stuff, really critical. They will be doing the less critical things to save themselves some money."

Once completed, Mark Richards says the rewards are in the flying. The Safari helicopter weighs less than a large SUV and can go up to 100 miles per hour. Ace Fabrications set up shop in Marianna three years ago.