Larry Turley first decided he wanted to be a pilot when he was a teenager, working the line for an FBO in Augusta, Georgia, and the Master's Golf Tournament came to town.
"Arnold Palmer and the other pros landed their jets and pulled out gas credit cards," Turley remembers with a laugh. "I'd never seen that before."
Turley's first attempt at learning to fly, however, was less than successful. Turley stands a full 6 feet 4 inches tall, and his first couple of lessons were in a J-3 Cub. "I had big feet, and my instructor had a big butt, and I couldn't move the rudder pedals," he recalls.
So the flying idea got put on the back burner … for almost 20 years, as it turned out. Instead of pursuing flying, Turley learned to ride motorcycles and went on to become an emergency room physician. But over time, being an ER physician began to dampen his once-ardent love of motorcycles.
"You'd have to have blinders on not to see the mashed up bodies coming in from motorcycle accidents," he says. "It took some of the fun out of it when the orthopedic guy I worked with started calling them 'donorcycles.' But then one day, a guy I knew came in, all broken up from a crash. I walked with him up to surgery and came down and said, 'I don't want to do this anymore.'" Yet giving up motorcycles "opened up a void" in Turley's life — a void he finally filled with airplanes.
"I still had to worry about safety a lot in takeoff and landing," he says, "but once you were in the air, it was just magical … sunrise, sunset and pretty much any time in between."
By that time, Turley had also started a winery business, Turley Wine Cellars, which offered another reason to fly.
"With a plane, you could do in a day what would be impossible without, and it was fun," Turley says.
After a brief stint with a Piper Arrow, Turley bought a 1963 Beechcraft Debonair with friend and fellow winery owner Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena. They flew the Debonair for about 11 years before upgrading to a C10T Silver Eagle, (a turbine-powered Cessna 210).
In truth, Turley had wanted to buy a Pilatus PC-12 ever since he started reading about them in the mid-1990s. But the $3 million-plus price tag for the Pilatus was daunting, even if he could use it for business. The C10T was a more manageable compromise of speed, performance and price.
In 2005, however, Turley and his winemaker/general manager, Ehren Jordan, began looking at the option of buying a PC-12 and then putting it on FAR Part 135 charter to help defray the costs. The Turley family was living in France that year, and Turley hopped over to Switzerland to see the Pilatus factory for himself. What he saw convinced him.
"I saw them turn this huge chunk of aluminum into a one-piece spar," he says. "It's a phenomenal airplane. Very strong. And then the pilots flew me through the Alps, to show me what it could do. Emphasis on through. The Swiss are not conservative flyers. But it was amazing, what that plane could do. And you know, with that trailing link gear, you hardly know you've touched down."
So when the Turleys returned home to St. Helena, California, they brought a new PC-12 with them.