By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Mitch Kelldorf stands in his helicopter bay near the Scottsdale Airport. The wind is blowing slightly and, with his tousled black hair, he looks more like a model than a former Marine who fell in love with aviation as a child.
“Long story short, I’d always wanted to fly, and I was able to get into it,” he says. “My passion was always helicopters because, growing up in Texas, was I near Bell helicopters. I grew up in the ’60s, when the Vietnam War was going on. So, I was obsessed with Hueys, Cobras and all these gunships.
“As a little kid, I would see these flying around all the time. So, in the back of my head, I developed a love for helicopters long before I even was able to afford to buy them and fly.”
His H5 Helicopters provides aerial cinematography, still photography, motion picture, television and aerial coordination. Custom charter and tours are available as well as additional services.
Kelldorf joined the military right out of high school. Three days later, he was in boot camp. After the Marine Corps, he moved to New York to try his hand at acting. There, he met an event planner and he started a production company.
His company produced parties for the likes of Lancôme, L’Oréal and Ralph Lauren.
“We were doing these launch parties all across the country,” Kelldorf says. “About four years ago, we developed a product that’s like a Spandex chair cover. We were doing a launch party for a men’s fragrance an everything was black matte and the chairs were white.”
Kelldorf scrambled to cover the chair. Painting them wasn’t really an option. So, he threw black tablecloths over the chairs and said, “There has to be an easier way to do this.”
He established the award-winning Sculptware, a manufacturer and supplier of “functional art” design products for the special events industry.
Kelldorf still has a passion for flying, so he earned his pilot’s license started a 10-year career as an aerobatic pilot. Meanwhile, he met his wife in a gym in New York City and moved to Florida with her before landing in Scottsdale.
“We moved the chair cover company and all the business out here,” he says. “It was more centrally located to the East Coast and the West Coast so we could get product out to different places.
“We wanted to be at an airport so I could get a plane eventually and just fly out of here.”
One of his neighbors had a Huey helicopter and Kelldorf was sold.
“I was like, ‘Dude. This ticket is like the magic carpet,’” Kelldorf says with a laugh. “When we got back down, I pretty much just got rid of the acrobatic airplane.”
In 2008, Kelldorf founded H5 Helicopters and introduced the SaberCat1 helicopter, setting a “new standard for aerial platforms in the tour, charter and aerial filming industry. The same year, he wanted to jump back into production and film, so he started developing the gyro-stabilized camera system.
He’s done film production for Red Bull, Disney and Warner Bros.
“All the networks, too, including NatGeo Discovery and on down the line. We’re really blessed to be in the Southwest and being able to film all that,” says Kelldorf, who rents his hangar for event space.
“We went full on into film production. A few years later, people started asking about charter work. We needed to haul people around for scouting.”
Now H5 is a fully operational helicopter company, which does everything from filming to managing aircraft.
Since he started his business, he has flown with Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn and Wayne Newton on various levels for films.
“When we flew Clint Eastwood, he actually flew the helicopter because he’s the pilot,” Kelldorf says. “When we landed, I walked around and he was buckling up, closing the helicopter door and helping me tidy up. He was super lowkey and super old school—a very respectful, very humble man.”
Kelldorf says it’s been a pleasure to meet visitors and businesspeople who request his services.
“It’s great to fly with people who come in from the Midwest or back East somewhere, who have never experienced the Arizona desert,” he says. “I show them different canyons and the Grand Canyon or Sedona and I love seeing the excitement on their faces. It’s a real blessing to share that with other people.”
The custom tours are treated like a concierge service.
“I’ve taken couples out to the edge of Roosevelt Point, which overlooks Roosevelt Lake,” he says. “We set up a table and caterer. We land right on point, and they have their little dinner and stuff. It’s gorgeous there.
“I also take people through the saddle of Four Peaks, which is gorgeous. We have a 30-minute tour, which takes you to the lakes and over the hills. I took a couple from the U.K. who wanted to go shooting but had never handled a gun. I took a specialist—one of my buddies—and he worked with them. They had fun.”
Kelldorf does a lot of work for charity, too. He auctions off rides for organizations like Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Foundation, Phoenix Children’s Hospital or the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
“We try to give back as much as we can,” he says. “We’ve been blessed and it’s really fortunate we’re able to do that.”
16114 N. 81st Street, Scottsdale