High-flying attorney keeps his feet far from the ground

Lisa Wirthman, Special to the Business Journal

The journey to becoming a competitive aerobatic pilot began in Chris Leach’s imagination.

“When you’re a kid and you’re playing with your little model planes, you make them do loops and you fly upside down,” said Leach, an attorney at Moye White LLP. “In my head, that’s always what I wanted to do.”

Aerobatic competitions require pilots to complete a precise sequence of aerial maneuvers. Somewhat like ice skaters, pilots are judged on how well they fly each figure.

Leach competes at the relatively beginner Sportsman level, performing maneuvers such as a loop roll and a reverse half Cuban Eight: The plane goes up at a 45-degree angle, and then flies a five-eighths loop to come out upright at the bottom of the loop.

Aerobatic flying isn’t stunt flying, Leach said. “The risks are very calculated,” he said, including flying very high to increase recovery time if something goes wrong. “It’s about precision and being meticulous rather than pushing your fear factor.”

Leach compares the experience with his work as a trial lawyer in commercial litigation for Denver-based Moye White, where he’s worked since 2006. “Lawyers motivated predominantly by fear aren’t very good trial lawyers overall,” he said.

Airplanes are a family legacy. Leach’s father was an aircraft mechanic in the Korean War, and his grandfather was a bombardier in World War II. Leach’s biological father, whom he never met, also was a pilot.

“People inherently want to feel the freedom of flight,” Leach said. As a young boy, that meant building jumps for his bike and competing in freestyle snowboarding.

“Flying aerobatics is a similar feeling, but it’s a lot easier on my knees,” he said.

It wasn’t until Leach was at Michigan State University and interning for an aviation lawyer that he got to experience flying, when his boss took him up for a ride. Leach was instantly hooked.

He took a job at a small airport in Michigan, doing everything from fueling and de-icing planes to business work.

“I learned a lot about the aviation industry firsthand,” said Leach, who now represents aviation clients as part of his practice and serves on the board of trustees of the Colorado Aviation Business Association.

Leach took a break from flying to attend law school and establish his career. He returned to aviation in 2009 to finish his pilot’s license and search for an aerobatics instructor.

He found both a mentor and a friend in instructor Dagmar Kress, who competed twice in world championships for the German National Aerobatic Team.

Kress taught Leach how to fly in her Pitts Special biplane last year. The first time Leach tried to fly upside down, “The plane rolled so incredibly fast that by the time I realized I was upside down I was already coming up around again,” he said.

“It was a love-at-first-sight kind of scenario.”

Leach would like to learn to compete at the highest level possible. He’d also like to try a maneuver called the “Lomcovak” — a Czechoslovakian word that translates into English as “cause of a headache.”

“It’s a gyroscopic maneuver where you make a plane tumble end over end,” he said. “I’d really like to try it for fun.”

Leach tries to fly at least once a week and now owns his own plane, which he keeps at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Jefferson County.

Leach said flying helps him better understand the needs of his aviation clients, and adds balance to his nonwork life. “It’s important to be part of the community and do something to get outside your office,” he said. “Flying adds to me. I think I’m a better lawyer for doing this.”

For Leach, flying is also the culmination of his childhood dream. “It’s a logical flow from the imagination of a child what you can do with a plane,” he said. “It’s a way to experience the world in three dimensions that you really don’t get any other way.”