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Backyard chopper: How one CEO will cut his two hour commute to 11 minutes

Monday - 7/21/2014, 3:00pm  ET

The commute from Chuck Kuhn's Purcellville farm to the Gaithersburg offices of JK Moving Services is about 80 minutes — if he's driving in the middle of the night. During rush hour, on the roads, it's more like two hours.

By air, it's about 11 minutes, no matter the time of day.

Kuhn, JK Moving's president and CEO, has asked Loudoun County for permission to build a heliport at the center of the 540-acre Egypt Farm, which he purchased last December for $5.2 million. An existing 6,000-square-foot concrete pad will serve as the landing pad, and the foundation of a 6,540-square-foot barn will serve as the base for a new hangar, where he will store his Eurocopter EC130.

"One, it's a passion," Kuhn said of his piloting. "Two, it's a time machine. I can be up to New York for business in the morning and be home in the evening for dinner with the kids."

A licensed airplane pilot since 1988 and helicopter pilot since 2002, Kuhn plans to construct his primary home on Egypt Farm (and more than 400 additional, adjacent rural acres he is in negotiations to acquire) and he would like to use his private helicopter to travel between this property, his business and the four farms he owns in Frederick County, Virginia.

While JK Moving is headquartered in Sterling, Kuhn said he has no intention of making the 21-mile jaunt there by air. But to Gaithersburg, he will absolutely fly, or to Richmond, Philadelphia and New York, three cities he frequents often for business. The trip to New York by helicopter is an hour and 20 minutes, Kuhn said, the same amount of time it would take to drive to Gaithersburg.

His Eurocopter gets about 350 miles on a 140-gallon tank of jet fuel. The cost of a single fill-up: $600.

"It makes visiting clients so much easier," said Kuhn, who founded JK Moving Services, now the nation's third largest independent mover, 32 years ago.

There are a half-dozen federally recognized airports in Loudoun — Leesburg Executive and five smaller, private air strips — and only two heliports, one at Loudoun Hospital Center and the other in Bluemont, owned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If approved, Kuhn's pad will be the first residential heliport in the jurisdiction.

Kuhn acquired the abandoned Egypt Farm in a foreclosure auction. The father of nine currently leases property next door, on Sandy Lerner's Jubilation Farm. Once he assembles his 1,000 acres, Kuhn said he will put it all into conservation easement, preserving it in perpetuity while reducing his tax burden. Along with the seven bedroom home he hopes to have built by the end of 2015, the property will also feature a new, 14.8-acre lake. It will remain an active farm, both for crops and cattle.

Developers still call, frequently, asking whether Kuhn wants to sell. "This farm," he said, "will always be a farm."

The helicopter "is being used as an alternative to the private car," according to the special exception application submitted to Loudoun, which is why Kuhn has asked for permission to fly between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., a "reasonable time for an owner to be arriving home in the evening." County rules generally prohibit takeoffs or landings after 6 p.m.

The anticipated use is roughly two to three times per week, though the application suggests "at most one trip a day on average" is possible. The heliport is located at the center of the tree buffered 540 acre tract, about a half mile from the property line in any direction. Kuhn has committed not to fly lower than 500 feet except over his own property. He will subscribe to and operate using the Helicopter Association International "Fly Neighborly Program."

But there's still concern in the neighborhood. Sean Baker, operations manager with Camp Highroad, a Christian youth adventure camp located about three miles from Kuhn's farm, has already written Loudoun officials to express his opposition. The low altitude flight of a helicopter, Baker wrote, "would take away from the experience," and he does not feel that helicopter takeoffs and landings would fit well with the camp's eight week horse-riding program.

Kuhn said his Eurocopter, at full power, makes less noise on the ground than a Kubota tractor he has on the farm. Currently stored at Dulles, the helicopter features a fully enclosed Fenestron tail rotor that is designed to reduce noise.

The Federal Aviation Administration has already signed off on the project, assuming that Kuhn follow the standards and regulations set by the FAA.

© 2014 American City Business Journals, Inc.