Conrad “Connie” Kalitta has built an impressive racing operation over more than half a century in the sport of drag racing, at times fielding a handful of professional nitro teams and garnering a long list of accomplishments, including several NHRA world championships. And while even most casual of fans are aware of Kalitta’s primary venture — air charters — if you’re anything like this journalist, you’re not keenly aware of just how much bigger Kalitta’s flying empire is than his drag racing efforts. In a word, it’s HUGE.
Kalitta famously founded Kalitta Air in the early 1960s, when he purchased a lone airplane using his race winnings from one of his early seasons behind the wheel. That investment in a single plane has become one of the most successful airline charters in the world. But Kalitta Air doesn’t just fly them — and that’s where the staggering scope of his operations show up.
Kalitta Air operates a reported 35-plus aircraft, including a fleet of some 30 gigantic Boeing 747’s and few smaller 767 and 777 models. Its planes are chartered for cargo transport around the world, and as with any business, money is only being made when the wheels are turning (or in this case, in the air). And Connie Kalitta waits for no one. Thusly, Kalitta Air employs more than 900 individuals who machine, design, and build virtually every component on a Boeing airplane, in house, to eliminate relying on outside parties for repairs, maintenance, and upgrades for its purposes. From the landing gear to complete engines, Kalitta manufactures everything but the bones and shell of the plane, making it one of the more capable airline manufacturing and service operations on the planet. It even has dyno testing facilities for the 90,000 horsepower jet turbines that power a 747…big-time stuff. This is a nitro machine shop on steroids, and if you have even a passing interest in mechanical things of incredible scale, this film from Titan Gilroy featuring a tour of Kalitta’s operations is 45 minutes very well spent.