Flight Outfitters Celebrates 10 Years!

The Flight Outfitters Story at 10 Years
By: Mark Glassmeyer, Founder and President

Anniversaries offer a moment to remind ourselves why we entered into a relationship or began a journey in the first place. This year Flight Outfitters is celebrating its 10 year anniversary, and it has offered me a moment to reflect not only on the growth of the company but also my relationship with aviation—and why I wanted to start an aviation business in the first place. 

The best place to start any good story is at the beginning.

Growing up around aviation

Like many kids in the ’80s (that is, without social media or cool video games), I primarily grew up playing in the woods and doing all the fun, dirty, and dangerous things boys get themselves into. I enjoyed creating my own adventures. But another aspect of my childhood was that I had a learning disability and often found myself very insecure and lacking confidence in my academic abilities. I found confidence through my freedom to drive certain vehicles like tractors, boats, offroad toys, and if I’m honest, even my mom’s old Cadillac (in the woods). Like the Alan Jackson song says, I felt like the “king of the world when Daddy let me drive.”

Mark Glassmeyer 10 year anniversary blog post

Fast forward to the age of 12, and the first time I got to see Top Gun. I was enamored with the fighter pilot hero, his confidence, and his skill in handling his flying machine. That same year, my grandfather, who was a member of a B-24 Liberator crew in the Pacific Theater of World War II, was having his annual reunion at EAA Airventure Oshkosh. My grandfather invited me to go along to the airshow with him. In addition to spending time with Grandpa and his band of brothers, my other motivation for attending was to see F-14 Tomcats tearing up the sky, just like Maverick and Goose. But upon arriving at the EAA Airventure grounds, instead of seeing a sea of F-14s freshly off a carrier, I was surprised to see a field of small piston airplanes with people camping under the wings (just like it is today). I assumed at the time a learning disability kid probably couldn’t fly an F-14, but just maybe a kid like me could fly one of those piston airplanes one day. The seed was planted.

Mark Glassmeyer 10 year anniversary blog post

Later that year we were having a family dinner at the Sky Galley restaurant at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati. Out the window you could see small planes and business jets taking off as we ate dinner. Having told my family how much I enjoyed Oshkosh and expressing that I wanted to fly someday, my parents thought perhaps flying lessons could be that catalyst to spark more confidence in me. After dinner we walked down to the flight school and my parents inquired about flight lessons for myself and two brothers. (One thing aviation has always been is expensive and my parents always wanted to treat us equally—so if I was going to take flying lessons, Mike and Matt were as well.) This meant we only had the budget to take lessons once a month. If I’m honest, I don’t think we ever really learned to fly during those three years that we took lessons. We did, however, have loads of fun with our instructors, who were great guys and role models. They let us play Top Gun over the radio with each other in the practice area. Whether we were advancing our aviation knowledge or not, it gave me the ability to honestly go to school the next day and say I was learning to fly and that I was “a pilot.” This is how I found my people in aviation, even at a young age. 

Mark Glassmeyer - 10 year anniversary blog pic

Learning business

Upon graduating from college, I took a job as a salesman at a company that my then girlfriend’s (now wife’s) uncle, Jerry Zobrist, and his long time friend and business partner, David Durham, had just purchased. My job was selling luggage carts and luggage components. Thus, it put me in contact with many different kinds of luggage and case manufacturers. Selling components to these companies who were building cases, I learned the case, bag, and luggage manufacturing business somewhat by accident. Always trying to get a little better each day, I thought it would be a wise decision to go back to school at night and get my MBA at the University of Cincinnati. As I continued to learn more about the bag industry, and with a strong desire to put my MBA to work, I approached Dave and Jerry and asked if they would be interested in starting a new bag manufacturing company with me. 

I started to approach smaller companies who had different types of bags in niche industries—think police bags, fire bags, trainer bags, medical device sales bags, and sample cases. I found success here and also found the world of what we today would call functional bags; that is, specific bags for specific jobs or missions, not your run of the mill duffel bag that you can buy at your local sporting goods store. I named the company Norris Products after Norris Lake in Tennessee (private airport code TN44, since you know there’s an aviation angle). This is where our family spent our summers and where I proposed to my wife. Norris had meaning to me, but meant nothing to anyone else, so it really gave me the freedom to pivot into different businesses and product categories. In short, Norris could mean anything, and for a while we tried everything from tool cases to upscale home items, like patio furniture covers. 

Trying to make a go at it, one of the companies I called on was Sporty’s Pilot Shop. I met a young catalog manager named John Zimmerman, who at the time was in charge of their Preferred Living catalog and I tried to sell him patio furniture covers. We quickly realized through the usual salesman banter that, at about the same age and time, we had both taken flying lessons at that same flight school at Lunken Airport. The only difference was that John actually learned to fly back then while I was playing Top Gun with my brothers. During that conversation John said in pretty simple terms, “Well, you know we have a flight school here and you could pick up your flight training at lunch if you really wanted to.” Now, having four kids at home to feed, a mortgage, and everything else life has to offer, I wasn’t sure if it was quite possible. But having been reintroduced to aviation and recalling those aspirations from my childhood, I realized it was just something I would have to find a way to make happen. 

Part of the pilot tribe

Shortly after getting my pilot’s license, I took my grandmother up and talked about how much Grandpa would have loved to experience flying with me. After landing, she took me to the local chili parlor in Cincinnati. As I munched on a cheese coney, she slid my grandfather’s wings across the table to me. I could not hold back the tears; it was one of those moments you can never replace. I was truly part of the pilot tribe at that moment. 

Mark Glassmeyer 10 year anniversary blog post

With every good tribe there must come a good uniform, so I looked for it. What was there in the market that I could now wear to show the world that yes, I was a pilot? In many ways I had renewed that same self confidence I gained by telling my friends I was a pilot back in middle school. While you might be able to walk into school and brag, it’s kind of frowned upon to walk into your office and brag. So I wanted apparel and gear that conveyed what a great group I was associated with. Not being able to find a brand that adequately celebrated who I was now, I did what every good entrepreneur does: I went out and made it. My vision for Flight Outfitters was “Patagonia for pilots.” I wanted an aspirational brand that celebrated the flying lifestyle I loved, that cared about people as much as it cared about products. Flight Outfitters was born. 

Since at my core I was a bag manufacturer, as much as I wanted the complete Patagonia private pilot uniform, I found it wise to start with the products we knew best. So we set out to make the best flight bag for the modern pilot. This was just about the time that ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot, ADS-B, and the digital cockpit was really starting to take root in general aviation. Gone were the days of multiple sectional charts and binders of airplane and airport information. We set out to make a flight bag specifically designed for the items modern pilots were carrying. The first bag we designed was the Lift Flight Bag, which I must admit, originally looked like a glorified bowling ball bag. Asking pilots what they wanted and test flying several different prototypes ultimately led to the Lift bag as it is today. Through focus groups of student pilots and professional pilots alike, that same year we launched the Sling Pack and Flight Level Pro bags (these two products have evolved into what are now our Waypoint Backpack and Lift XL Pro Flight Bag. We had what we thought were the right designs, and our inventory was on the way!

Introducing Flight Outfitters

We attended our first Oshkosh in 2015, having only been in business for a little over eight months, with these three bags, a t-shirt or two, and no inventory to sell. This event was very important to us and we really learned a lot. Not only did we learn that customers liked our bag designs and quality, but we also learned that they did in fact identify with our brand. We had found our tribe of people/customers and it became our goal to continue to provide more and more products for this wonderful community. This focus would ultimately help our brand grow into what it is today.

Mark Glassmeyer 10 year anniversary blog post

In that same year, 2015, we also met Chris Palmer, a pilot from Homer, Alaska. We instantly became friends and I was introduced to the world of bush flying. Flying down the Homer Spit and landing on gravel bars with his group of extraordinary aviators, I finally had that true feeling of being Maverick and Goose. I was enamored with the lifestyle and wanted more and more of it. Alaska also proved to be a great testing ground for products that real aviators had to rely on in the harshest of conditions. These experiences in Alaska really helped fuel our development of our outerwear line, kneeboards, flashlights, and other pilot gear that we sell today. They not only carry the markings of our brand, but also provide real function and help make flying easier for pilots all over the world.

Mark Glassmeyer 10 year anniversary blog post

Our initial tag line was “Reliable gear for real aviators,” but the more we became part of the aviation community, the more we realized that Flight Outfitters is really a celebration of that sense of adventure flying brings to our lives. Realizing this, we fairly quickly changed our tagline to “Pilot Your Own Adventure,” because we feel it captures that spirit of aviation that we as pilots carry with us not only in the cockpit, but in every aspect of our lives. We are proud to be pilots. We love to hang out with other pilots and that is what the brand is really about today: the celebration of our tribe, our people, and the worldwide aviation community. 

Mark Glassmeyer 10 year anniversary blog post

To this day, we still have a close relationship with our very first customer, Jan Greenberg. At that first Oshkosh Jan, who needed a place to put all of his airshow pins, was savvy enough to convince us to sell him one of our samples out of our booth. It was just three of us in a 10’ x 10’ homemade booth. Fast forward to Oshkosh 2023 and Jan was by our side, helping us hand out prizes near our sea of 100+ Adirondack chairs outside Hangar B. 

Today, Flight Outfitters is sold around the world in every country that has general aviation, thanks to our wonderful dealer network and partners—who all value good products and customer service as much as we do. We truly could not have done it without these partners and the greater aviation community. We are honored that so many pilots consider us to be the leading aviation apparel and bag brand, a title we try to live up to each and every day when we show up to work. 

The one thing I think is truly unique about aviation is the community, where your heroes are also your friends. As pilots we are a tribe. We all want to belong and aviation ends up being this weird and fun extended family. Flight Outfitters is there to support the entire family and help you identify yourself as part of the tribe. 

Thank you for your continued support of Flight Outfitters. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years have in store for us all. One thing is for sure: it will be an adventure! 

Blue skies and tailwinds,

Mark Glassmeyer

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