Spotlight on Black Diamond Aviation

The Black Diamond name is well-known in the small city of Marion, Illinois. Besides the nearby Black Diamond mine that produces Black Diamond coal, the town also hosts Black Diamond Harley-Davidson, Black Diamond RV, and Black Diamond Aviation, all co-founded by Rodney Cabaness. Rodney opened the southern Illinois Harley-Davidson dealership with co-owner Shad Zimro in 2007, and the business grew into a new 33,000 sq. ft. facility just a few short years later. The pair also opened Black Diamond RV just north of the H-D dealership in April 2018.

Following the success of the motorcycle business, Rodney entered into a partnership with Brock Watt to co-found Black Diamond Aviation in August 2012. With a fleet of two Robinson R44’s and one Bell 206L LongRanger, Black Diamond Aviation routinely supports local law enforcement with search and rescue missions and by assisting with tactics and training exercises for the Carbondale Police Department. Black Diamond helicopters also assist local farmers in pollinating corn fields by dispersing viable pollen with rotor blade wash. Other services include wildlife and geophysical surveys, powerline patrols, utility work, charter operations, and flight training.

Rodney credits his success on never losing sight of what is important—taking care of people. This shows in his business’ participation in many community events and fundraisers. The Black Diamond HD and RV facilities regularly host free concerts and other events, while Black Diamond Aviation takes its services to the people. For example, in May 2019, a Black Diamond Aviation R44 helped dry out baseball fields in the town of Herrin, Illinois, to allow a regional tournament to play ball. The company has also provided helicopter rides at the Southern Illinois Boat & Fishing Show and the annual Sister City Cultural Exchange, which provides global connections and exchanges with leaders and students from Kanie Town, Japan. In September 2020, Black Diamond Aviation participated in a golf ball drop for a cancer charity, dropping 1,200 practice golf balls marked with a number and prize from the R44. Though none went in the hole, the grand prize winner’s ball was only four inches away.  

Pilot’s view of the charity for cancer golf ball drop

Embodying the versatility of the company, Brock manages several roles at Black Diamond Aviation including flight instructor (Rodney was one of his first students), commercial pilot, Part 135 operator, logistics, mechanic and inspector. He recently installed Van Horn Aviation main and tail rotor blades on the company’s 206L LongRanger, ordering custom high-viz orange stripes on both sets of blades to match the company’s black and orange paint scheme.

“At max gross weight [the blades are] extremely smooth and that is much to [Van Horn Aviation’s] credit, compared to other airframes I have flown in that configuration,” Brock said, commenting on the VHA main rotor blades. “The two per rev hop is much less noticable.”