By David Dennis
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Charlie Sisk built his first rifle in high school shop class in Madisonville, Kentucky. He still has it. That was the first in a long line of rifles that Charlie put together. Between then and now, he mined coal, farmed and drove trucks. Today, Charlie is the President and Chief Pilot for Sisk Rifles in Dayton, Texas.
Charlie arrived in Texas in 1988. His plan was to drive trucks and get his rifle business going on the side. His plan worked. His bolt-action rifles are in demand worldwide. “A Sisk rifle is a niche product. My complete rifles start at $6,500 and go up. It’s not something that everyone will buy. The bulk of my business is people who go around the world hunting dangerous game,” Sisk explained.
Charlie didn’t start flying until eight years ago. He credits his 1957 Cessna 182 as the reason for his success in business and his interest in advancing general aviation. “If you take my airplane away from me, I’m going out of business. I can’t sustain my business like it is without that airplane. Take the tractor away from a farmer and he isn’t a farmer anymore. He can’t work. It’s the same with me,” he said. His airplane is based at the Cleveland Municipal Airport (KRNV).
Charlie credits Steve Hadley of the National Business Aviation Association, John White, Director of Corporate Aviation for Valero and President of Texans for General Aviation (T4GA), and Shelly Lesikar deZevallos, T4GA Vice President, for fostering his interest in general aviation advocacy.
“Texans for General Aviation is a group of people who will go out, grab the bull by the horns, do something and do it now. They have the connections to make things happen. It’s a very good group of people to work with,” he noted.
Since he began flying, Charlie has become very involved with T4GA and serves on the board of directors. His concerns about the future of general aviation are issues that T4GA is addressing with legislators and leaders in Texas. He feels strongly about proposed fees for air traffic control usage. He said, “If user fees come along, a lot of people will quit using air traffic control. I’ll be the first to do it. I’ll just go out and fly. That’s dangerous, but that’s the way it’s going to be. If you had to pay a fee every time you went to the grocery store, you wouldn’t do it. You’d figure a way around it. User fees are just a bad idea.”
Getting new people involved in flying is another big issue for Charlie. “If you look at pilots, they are my age or older. There aren’t as many new ones coming in as old ones going out. We have to address that,” he observed. “I’ve read that sixty-to-seventy percent of the people who begin flight training never finish. Why? Nobody can answer that question for me. If you can drive a car, you can fly an airplane like mine. We’ve got to get more people involved. The washout rate has got to change.”
What’s next for Sisk Rifles? Charlie has developed a new gunstock he calls the STAR – Sisk Tactical Adaptive Rifle. His market is the military, law enforcement and tactical shooters. Again, he credits his plane for the STAR’s development. “Being able to fly around and visit with other gun builders, outdoor writers and competitive shooters, machinists and engineers allowed me to come up with my new rifle stock. I could have done that in a car. I would have had it done by the time I was 70, maybe,” he said.
Charlie believes in customer service and general aviation, in that order. “My plane gives me a huge edge over my competitors. I don’t know of any other gun makers that have their own airplane. They certainly don’t use it like I do. I wouldn’t say it’s an unfair advantage, but I can do things they can’t. I could scale my business back and drive everywhere, but that’s just not how we do things here in Texas.”
You can view Charlie Sisk’s custom rifles at www.siskguns.com.
For more information on Texans for General Aviation, visit their website at http://www.texansforgeneralaviation.org/.