Cambridge’s Duane Zentgraf’s route to work routinely consists of little traffic and spectacular scenery
Story by Joe Willey | Photography by Grant L. Gursky
Commuting is synonymous with the grind of the workweek. It consumes time and carries frustration. But not all commutes are drudgery. To some, it is the best part of the day. For Duane Zentgraf, a long commute is one more way to enjoy his passion for helicopters.
Zentgraf has loved flying since he was a boy, and his interest in helicopters was fueled by two popular ’80s television series: Magnum P.I. and Airwolf. Both prominently featured helicopters, and he can easily name the makes and models of the ones that shared the starring roles. By the time both shows were ending their runs in the late ’80s, he had acquired his private helicopter license.
The freedom of helicopters is what attracts him. He likes the ability to hover and look at the ground below. And since helicopters do not need a runway, they are ideal for landing in small areas. Have a short conversation with him, and you are convinced of a helicopter’s practicality.
Because he is originally from Ellicott City, Zentgraf is familiar with the Eastern Shore, so he bought a small summer home just outside of Cambridge. His growing family moved there permanently in 1999. Soon after, he purchased another piece of property nearby and began an extensive renovation. At this new home, he also built what he calls the “warehouse.” As well as being an immaculate garage that has room for vehicles, display cases of collectibles and cases containing family memories from multiple generations, it also houses a shining, black Robinson R44 Clipper II, his favorite commuter vehicle.
HANGAR HOMAGE Resembling a cool mancave rather than a hangar for his helicopter, Duane Zentgraf proudly displays items from his youth, rare neon signs, his love of all things Maryland, and more, inside his Cambridge garage.
Robinson helicopters are Zentgraf’s first choice. His first was the two-seater R22, which is the same one he learned to fly in, in 1988. Since then, he has owned two Robinson R44 Clipper IIs —
a red one, purchased in 2003, and his current black one, purchased in 2017. All three helicopters were manufactured at the Robinson Helicopter Company in Torrance, CA, and personally flown back across the country, to Maryland. While doing so, he was able to view the landscape of America in a way that could never be seen in a commercial aircraft.
He splits his work week between his home on the Eastern Shore and his office in Ellicott City. Weather permitting, he commutes part of the week in his R44. It only takes a third of the time, and he readily admits, “It’s a lot more fun.” Since he typically flies at an altitude of 1,500 feet, he can easily see changes in the roads, farms and even home-improvement projects. “I can even see who’s putting in a pool,” he jokes.
HIS PRIDE & JOY Zentgraf is a big fan of Robinson Helicopters. He’s already owned two of them, including this beautiful, black R44, which he acquired 2017.
Commuting in a helicopter is not common, but it is enjoyable. And when Zentgraf meticulously describes the mechanics of the helicopter, the cautious way in which he flies and the scenic views of the Chesapeake Bay, you will wonder how you are living without one.