Body shop takes business to new heights

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By Donald Richie

When Cynthiana native Chris Curtis started Chip Magician in 2003, he couldnt have imagined to what heights his business might go.

On Wednesday, it went to around 45,000 feet.

Three paint specialists from Curtis auto body center spent a week in Danville repainting a Cold War-era Russian training jet.

I never would have believed six months ago we would do that, Curtis said of the rather unique job. The guys I have working for me are just absolutely amazing.

Curtis said Chip Magician is not exactly a typical body shop.

Were a little more specialized in that, he said. We like to call the kind of stuff we work on parking lot damage.

By that, he means minor scrapes and scuffs, chips in a cars paint that wouldnt necessarily warrant the cost of a full-service collision repair center.

We can do big jobs... but the stuff we focus on is the stuff that gets people back in their cars quickly, Curtis said.

In that business, he said the best thing to do is hire talented people who can produce top notch work. The more varied and able his employees are, the better his business can get.

All of a sudden my company goes from taking on one dimension into several dimensions, he said.

That very work is what led to the airplane job.

Nicholasville resident Jerry Conley, who pilots the modified L-29 Delfin jet, said he needed people who could give his plane visual appeal.

Before the new paint job, Conleys plane was a striking Russian red, adorned with the tell-tale hammer and sickle of the former Soviet Union.

For five days Chip Magician was shut down as Rob Robertson, Cheyenne Faircloth and Steven Kemp taped, drew and painted a custom design on the planes nose and wings.

Now the L-29 has a split personality, part old Russia and part U.S.A.

On one side of the nose is the head of a bald eagle holding the American flag in its mouth.

The other side sports a Steppe Eagle holding the red flag of the U.S.S.R.

Black paint sweeps down the planes body forming feathers on the planes wings before morphing back into the tail feathers of the two eagles at the back end of the jet.

Conley flies the plane in the airshow circuit, staging mock dogfights with his partner Andy Anderson in a prototype BAC Strikemaster.

Its a competitive business and Conley said he needed the new look to remain successful.

Everything is a competition nowadays for the dollar and youve got to have something thats unique and stands out or they wont hire you, they hire someone else, he said. What [the Chip Magician crew members] were able to accomplish is a design and style that looks fast without even moving.

Curtis praised his crew for the success of the job. Without the talent they brought to the table, he said, it wouldnt have been possible.

He also said he appreciated the time they spent, day and night, being away from their families, to get the job done.

[The crew] really sacrificed a lot last week, he said.

On Wednesday, the jets take off from their hanger at Stuart Powell Field in Boyle County to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., for the annual Joint Services Open House which lasts Friday through Sunday.

More information on Conleys show and plane are available on his website, www.jerrythejet.com.