Richland Aviation has a long and storied history in Sidney, Montana. The Petrik family has called Sidney home for more than 50 years. We’ve raised our families here, gone to school here; we work and play in this small eastern Montana community.
This community has supported several generations of our family, and we believe that the best way that we can give back is to continue being good neighbors by supporting the people and causes that make small town living such a unique and rewarding experience. We believe that hard work, honesty and a sense of place are essential to our particular brand of Montana hospitality.
Phil began his aviation career the way that many young boys do. Afternoons, after school, he would find himself hanging over the fence of the Sidney airport watching the planes land on the runway then take off into the blue on their way to the next leg of their journey.
His parents, Paul and Helen Petrik, saw his passion for aviation and supported it avidly. Phil began building a Smith miniplane in their garage, before he was even old enough to obtain his pilot’s license. As a teenager, he obtained employment at the Sidney airport, and began looking for his opportunity to join the league of pilots in the Richland valley. He trained for and obtained his pilot’s license when he turned 16 years old.
In 1963, a family friend and crop dusting pilot, John Burns saw Phil hanging around the airport and told him, “Hey Phil, come over here I need your help.” That simple interaction soon evolved into a mentoring relationship between John and Phil. Each summer Phil worked for Burns “flagging the field” so John could see which areas he had already sprayed. He would also drive the water truck and wash planes for Burns Flying Service.
Phil would sometimes remember his first summer working for John. He had been promised a flying lesson as part of his payment. At the end of the summer, John told him, “OK climb on into the J-3.” With John at the stick, he took off, circled once around the patch and then landed back where they had started. The lesson was short, much to Phil’s disappointment.
Phil remembered John’s no-nonsense approach and felt that it had contributed to his success as a military pilot. John had flown C-47’s over the Himalayan Mountains from bases in eastern India into western China for the United States’ Air Transport Command. This demanding route was commonly known as “The Hump” and was infamous for it’s severe turbulence and crosswinds in excess of 100mph. The cool head that served Burns well as a military pilot quickly became known in his civilian career.
After Phil finished high school, Senator Mike Mansfield recommended Phil for the United States Air Force Academy. When he learned that vision requirements would keep him from flying fighters, he decided that wasn’t the route for him. He briefly attended the University of Minnesota and Montana State University, but the desire to fly brought him back to Sidney permanently.
Phil began his aviation career doing aerobatics at air shows, providing flight instruction and picking up any aviation work he could. When Phil’s mentor, John Burns, died in an airshow on Mother’s Day in 1971, Burns’ wife approached Phil and inquired whether he would purchase the business, because “John was impressed with his work ethic and his passion for flight.”
Phil purchased Burns Flying Service in 1971 and renamed it Richland Aviation, expanding into agriculture spraying and air charter. Always one for a challenge Phil became an FAA pilot examiner and later earned his A&P aircraft mechanic’s license.
The same year that Phil opened Richland Aviation, he also married Amy Daniels. Together they would welcome two children, Allison and Michael into the world. The Petrik family lived at the Sidney Airport and as the children grew out of their big wheels, they graduated to pumping gas. Later in life Phil married Patty O’Toole and together they had two more children, Kale and Kallie, both of whom call Sidney, MT home.
Phil’s leisure time was spent honing his aviation skills and craft. Phil earned his Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license and would later become an FAA Pilot Examiner. Throughout his lifetime, he continued to build and restore airplanes, especially his North American T-28A Trojan and eventually his cherished P-51D Mustang, “Blood Brother”. One of his favorite accomplishments was to earn his formation flying certificate in his North American T-28. “I’ve never worked so hard at flying and been yelled at so much”, he related.
Phil performed the final checkout exam when his son, Mike earned his private pilot’s license. Mike remembers that his dad never pushed his own love of aviation on his children, but by exposing them to it allowed them to develop their own passion. “To be successful in aviation, you really have to want it yourself”, says Mike. “He made aviation accessible, without pushing it. Maybe he was kinda’ sneaky about it. When we were old enough he would say ‘Why don’t you grab Mark or Lauren over there and have them give you a lesson?’”
Mike and Sarah’s own children have developed a passion for aviation as well. “Maybe you’re born with it in your blood” they muse.
Over the next 40 years, Phil would build Richland Aviation into a full-service fixed base operation that offered maintenance, fueling, pilot service, charter and flight instruction. His reputation for honest, straight-forward dealings were well known throughout the region, and became the hallmark of the business. Throughout his career he would log well over 30,000 hours in the cockpit and became a pioneer in several areas of aviation. His love for flying was constantly evident, and he was trusted and respected by his colleagues.
In 1998, Phil’s oldest son, Mike, joined the family business full-time while continuing to learn the ropes alongside his father. Together they continued the tradition of providing first rate customer service backed by a wealth of knowledge that can only be obtained by a lifetime of working in the aviation community. In 2011, Mike purchased the business from his father, after they had worked side-by-side for more than 16 years.
Phil passed away in 2014, but his legacy lives on in all he did to foster the aviation community in Sidney, Montana. The family business that he began continues to thrive because of the foundation that he laid for his son Mike and his family.
The Petrik family continues to stay true to the same principles and values that have guided Richland Aviation from it’s conception through today. The family tradition and passion for flying that began with Phil Petrik was passed down to his son Mike; who has in turn continued that same tradition with his own family. Mike’s wife, Sarah is integral to the daily operations of the company welcoming guests and attending to their needs and assisting with the business’ management. Their 2 sons, Skylar and Ethan, can also be found around Richland Aviation performing line service duties and helping guests.
Mike is a commercial pilot who has logged more than 2,700 hours behind the stick. He holds his Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) license, Inspection Authorization (IA) certification and was honored in 2005 as the State of Montana Mechanic of the Year.
Richland Aviation’s facilities and services have grown alongside the aviation market. In 2014 an extensive remodel was completed to modernize facilities, accommodate larger aircraft and expand on the customer service and hospitality capabilities they had become known throughout Eastern Montana for.
Mike and his family welcome you to come by and share in the family legacy that is Richland Aviation. Whether you’re in town on business, or just passing through they look forward to the opportunity to get to know you and learn how they can meet your aviation service needs.
Stop by and say hello!