meet the bell operators group ‘oney posse’
September 12, 2019
“I wouldn’t call it a club, I would call it a close-knit friendship,” began Dana. Members of the Oney Posse get together weekly in some capacity. The Oney Posse activities range from flying, talking business or just catching up on hot fishing spots. This month’s gathering was particularly special for the group.
Tony Oney Sr. celebrated his 85th birthday this August, and to commemorate the special occasion, the Oney Posse met for a group photoshoot with renowned professional aviation photographer Paul Bowen. The flight flew through mountain passes of the Alaska Range, the location of North America’s tallest mountain the “Denali”, to posse member Tom Gimple’s Stoney River Lodge, a remote, fly-in only, private wilderness facility. There the crew shared stories from over the years during a long dinner in celebration of the man who made such an impact on their aviation lives. “Tony paved the way that brought us all together, and we wanted to make sure we did something special,” said Dana.
Tony moved to the Alaska territory in 1958, primarily as a dentist but also found a calling as a hunting and fishing guide. Tony quickly recognized the terrain and weather in Alaska could be demanding and in 1983 began operating a Bell Jet Ranger 206B. “He was one of the first operators to use a helicopter in Alaska sport fishing, it was unique for the time,” said Tom.
After working alongside Tony, Tom appreciated how well helicopters maneuvered through mountain passes and handled the challenging Alaskan environment. He too, saw helicopters as an asset to sport fishing, initially leading him to the purchase a Bell 206 and ultimately a new Bell 407. Tony was the visionary for using helicopters recreationally in Alaska.
Tony’s birthday gave the Oney Posse another opportunity to celebrate his legacy. “Without Tony’s foresight that Bell helicopters were a great way to move around Alaska, I’m not sure any of us would be helicopter pilots or owners,” said Tom. “He gave us an opportunity to get into aircraft that none of us were familiar flying before. A common thread between all of us who operate out of Anchorage International is we all own Bell products. Once we started flying Bell, there was no going back.”
Dana reflects that once the Posse started operating fixed wing aircraft. “We all laugh, we’ve navigated to the dark side. It’s not every day that a group of people jump in their Bell helicopters land on a glacier, fly to a stream and catch salmon in one of the most scenic places on earth.”
Between the six of them, the Oney Posse currently operate three Bell 206s, two Bell 206Ls and a Bell 407. “Once you’re in the Bell family, you continue to trade up in aircraft, you don’t change manufacturers,” said Tom. “I think that’s one of the reasons you don’t see any other helicopters but Bell here. The main reason we all fly and own Bell helicopters is because of the level of support we get from Bell and the Bell Service Centers as well as the Bell Training Academy. There really is no reason for us to leave a product and a company that has supported us so well.”