GREENWOOD — What happens when an entrepreneur gets bored in retirement?
For Cross Hill's Bob Butler, the solution is to develop an aviation training facility that's the first of its kind in America.
A lifelong aviator, Butler has partnered with Vacaville, Calif.-based Icon to run the company's only owner-operated flight school out of a customized hangar built on his Lake Greenwood property.
"There are some other schools out there, but they're doing it inside a fixed-base operation. Nothing compares to this. This thing here is going to be something they're probably going to want to emulate at other construction facilities," Butler said of his "Garage Mahal."
Butler recently had an exclusive open house to unveil the site along with his Icon A5, a carbon fiber amphibious light-sport aircraft designed for private use.
With retractable TVs, blackout screens and Icon-branded panels on every wall, the hangar is a testament to Butler's confidence in the company. Butler, who founded Greenwood Fabricating and Plating, has lived on Lake Greenwood since the late 1980s.
"I want this to be like a campus. The company touts that 'flying the Icon A5 can be fun,' and I want it to be that learning how to fly it can be fun," Butler said.
Future construction plans include building an on-site residence for trainees to stay in. There's also a chipping and putting green and swimming area near Butler's dock.
Butler met contractor Corey Moore, an acclaimed builder from Florida, and immediately gave him full control over the project.
"This was a labor of love," Moore said. "I told him I was going to build it like it was my own house."
Icon was launched in 2006 by Kirk Hawkins and Streen Strand. Hawkins graduated from Clemson University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering before obtaining a master's degree from Stanford University in 1995.
The A5 is Icon's first model — and its design fits the company's own vision statement.
"The FAA's dramatic 2004 regulation changes that created the Light Sport Aircraft category have redefined the possibilities for aviation and allowed Icon to 'reinvent flying' by focusing on the consumer experience," its website states. "Icon's intent is to democratize aviation the same way that great brands like Apple, BMW, Ducati, or Oakley democratize their products: by fusing outstanding engineering with world-class consumer product design."
Currently, the A5 is available only in the United States, with plans to enter Canada, Asian and European markets.
Icon 2019 units cost $389,000, with a mandatory $5,000 refundable deposit, according to its website. Delivery takes about six months.
In addition to setting up his "Boundless Aviation" flight school, Butler established Visionary Flight Rentals LLC, which will operate out of the Greenwood Airport.
"I thought, this is just like 'Field of Dreams' with Kevin Costner. Build it and they will come," Butler said. "That was my philosophy."
Butler learned of Icon through an aviation magazine in 2015, and flew to Tampa in 2017 for an industry show where Icon set up a temporary training facility. That's where the seed was planted for his concept.
After visiting Icon's corporate headquarters — and creating a PowerPoint to sell them on Lake Greenwood — Butler made similar presentations at the airport to drum up local interest.
Hope Edge, Icon's regional marketing director, said the company's partnership with Butler was an ideal fit.
"The great thing about having a local flight training center is it gives local buyers an opportunity to do local flying," she said. "We definitely have a lot of interest."
Butler said his years-long affiliation with Icon made the heavy investment worthwhile.
"I feel like I'm part of the family," he said.