KENNON HISTORY

Kennon Aircraft Covers was an idea born by Ron Kensey and Paul Kennon Chaney at a Los Angeles, California garage sale in 1984. With a $500 investment and a 5” advertisement, Ron and Paul started producing hand-cut sunshields from Ron’s garage in Temple City using an insulative material from construction projects. After working full days in their “day jobs,” they would visit the library to search for local aircraft owner information and arrange to pattern and sell sunshields one customer and aircraft at a time.

In 1986, our company attended the Oshkosh Annual Airshow with a live demonstration of the insulative performance of Kennon Sunshields – reading real-time cockpit temperatures from two aircraft stationed side-by-side, one with competitor’s shades and one with Kennon’s high performing sunshield. Shortly after, Ron and his family moved to Sheridan, Wyoming with the contents of their house and garage packed in a converted school bus.

Ron transitioned from his fast-paced career in California to a single source of financial support and entrepreneurship – Kennon Sunshields. This risk was accompanied by a difficult, but culture-defining lesson. In 1989, Aviation Consumer magazine published an article recommending Kennons Sunshields, leading to a significant increase in sales. Shortly after, the same magazine released a service alert on the product as reports of surface scratching and windshield damage came to light. Ron responded swiftly, determining a solution to the issue and contacting every sunshield customer to address it. In turn, we won awards for this display of transparency and honesty. Kennon recovered from the incident due to Ron’s quick and commendable actions, and sunshield sales were steady over the subsequent years.

Kennon gained name-recognition from advertisements in monthly magazines, such as Trade-a-Plane, and a continued presence at the OshKosh Airshow, which resulted in Ron being selected as the official provider of preheaters for the Iditarod Air Force. While in attendance at the Iditarod in Alaska, Ron heard of the talents and knowledge of Lynn Cunningham – recognized around the state for his quality boat and aircraft covers. Ron saw an opportunity to further diversify Kennon’s offerings and made Lynn an offer to relocate to Wyoming and join our team. Lynn joined Kennon in 1993 and the first stitches were added to our products in the form of engine and wing & tail covers.

In 1995, an aerospace engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base contacted Ron after seeing a set of Kennon Sunshields in a Beech Bonanza aircraft. He requested sets for the F-15s deployed in the Gulf War. Access to many military aircraft platforms quickly increased Kennon’s offerings. Our products were used around the world, protecting US Military Aircraft and private aircraft alike. Ron traveled to the Asian Defense Show in Singapore to showcase Kennon Sunshields and, shortly after, Ron and Lynn conducted an Asian/European tour, visiting Malaysia, Pakistan, the Middle East Defense Show in the United Arab Emirates, and wrapping up in Italy and the United Kingdom.

Kennon had grown into a company heavily rooted in cut and sew operations with approximately 15 employees by the 1990s. Lynn decided to leave the company, which now included a full line of winter aircraft covers. Soon after, we made a move toward automated manufacturing processes with the purchase of a CNC Table which cut nested textiles with digitized patterns, significantly reducing the space and time required for storing hardcopy patterns and cutting/marking each unit by hand.

Kennon’s offerings grew again in response to the national tragedy September 11, 2001, now including a wide range of military aircraft covers in addition to sunshields. Ron recalls what seemed like $250,000 worth of military orders placed overnight, covering most aircraft platforms mobilized in response to the attacks. At the time, aircraft covers were still patterned on the aircraft, by hand. Ron would accompany Production staff to bases around the country to collect information and develop patterns to facilitate the efficient and effective coverage of our country’s aircraft. In response to the ever-increasing demand and to better support and supply the US Military, Kennon hired retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Todd Pierson as a Military Sales Liaison.

In 2006, Mark Weitz began consultation services as our first engineer, working on a Phase I SBIR proposal for the Kennon Clamp – a high retention, easily movable fastener. Kennon’s selection as the provider of the SBIR Phase I grant changed the course of the company – driving Defense Contracting requirements and establishing our Research & Development and Engineering teams. We added a second engineer, Dr. Kelly Brennan, in 2008, while waiting on the Phase II award for additional clamp and aircraft cabin liner system development.

Todd’s arrival in 2007 had initiated much discussion regarding the insignia and squadron emblems proudly displayed on many military aircraft covers. Kennon purchased our first large-format printer and started printing military logos to incorporate into product. Fully utilizing the engineering department of two and the printing equipment, Kennon was contracted for the design and manufacture of UH-60 Blackhawk Upturned Exhaust Covers (UES Covers) for Sikorsky Aircraft in 2008. This product would in turn sustain Kennon through slow times and drive additional high-volume products such as Lockheed’s F-35 Solar Shields.

Additional engineering support was necessary when local VA Patient Safety Manager Lisa Garstad and Public Affairs Specialist Jackie VanMark requested a collaborative effort to design and produce a patient privacy barrier, safe for behavioral healthcare units.The Soft Suicide Prevention Door (SSPD) was first prototyped and delivered in 2008 with a remove and replace Velcro hinge. With several years of low-rate initial production and incremental design improvements, the door was finally established as an independent product line and production team with the substitution of a magnetic hinge solution. Today, the Soft Suicide Prevention Door is shipped to facilities across the US, internationally, and is represented by a dealer in the U.K.

In 2010, Joe Wright was brought on as the company’s third engineer but quickly began assisting the operations team, improving company products and processes.  Soon after starting at Kennon, Joe initiated the “All Hands Meeting” where all employees gather for a 5 to 15 minute communications meeting.  This meeting still exists today and has been key to our company-wide transparency. Joe would later become the CEO in 2015.

With several engineers on staff, Kennon began taking on unique design-and-build projects, such as the 747 Aircraft Cover for the Sultan of Bahrain, rodent-proof wellhead covers for oil and gas companies, a rodent-proof bar cover for the LA Dodgers Stadium, and a Sikorsky helicopter cover, all patterned from the aircraft/physical structures or mock-ups. The physical demands of plastic patterning were an ongoing concern, so the expanding engineering team (now consisting of 5 engineers) established digital patterning in 2011 with the use of a 3D data collection system, still in use today.

Kennon continued to bolster our engineering staff through successful SBIR awards including: developing lightweight inflatables for the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and V-22 Osprey VIP Cabin Liner Sets (utilizing the clamp, initially proposed in Kennon’s first SBIR award in 2006). Responding to DoD contract requirements, Kennon brought on Becky Cooper to implement a Quality Management System (QMS), achieving ISO 9001 certification in 2015. Our QMS formalized an already strong culture of continuous improvement and the consistent and standard supply of high-quality product to protect high value assets.

In 2015, with a strong leadership team and a culture of continuous improvement in place, Kennon’s employees became owners; our company implemented an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP).

With strong production and engineering output 2015-2017, and projections of increasing demand, we have further defined Kennon’s strategic growth plan. This includes our vision statement: “Kennon is inspired by and committed to the protection of high value assets, from aircraft and other essential equipment, to the most important asset: life.” Our plan also involved the intentional trimming of product lines, including local graphic design and print services and many of the general aviation products which the company added throughout the 90s. In 2017, to address capacity limitations, Kennon added a second production shift bringing our company to a total of over 50 employees, with approximately half working in production, and an engineering team of more than 10.

Due to further contractual requirements, Kennon became Cybsecurity Compliant (NIST 800-171) through a year-long effort spearheaded by our Quality Manager, Lindsay Fischer.

Future opportunities, aside from steady military aircraft cover and healthcare sales growth, include thermal radiation shields for the KC-46 tanker, commercialization of the SBIR lightweight life preserver unit and possible production of V-22 armament systems. We also continue to be the innovation, design, and development arm for the DoD and aircraft primes such as Lockheed, Boeing, and Sikorsky.

With two shifts and over 60 employees, Kennon has maximized utilization of our 11,000 sq. ft. space on North Main Street. Our company is set to move into a new facility in Sheridan’s Hi-Tech Park in early 2021.