GAMI and Tornado Alley Turbo: Innovation Takes Flight in Ada, Oklahoma
By: Sunnie Dawn Baker
While most people living in Ada, Oklahoma, have never heard of General Aviation Modifications, Inc., or GAMI for short, this would not be the case for those outside of Ada, especially for those in the aviation industry. The same goes for GAMI’s related company, Tornado Alley Turbo, which also housed at the Ada Regional Airport. Despite their quiet local profile, these are revolutionizing aviation as we know it: constantly improving, innovating, inventing, and designing new ways to make aviation more efficient and powerful.
In 1996, Timothy Roehl and his friend George Braly founded GAMI. Two years later they founded Tornado Alley Turbo. Roehl, who had a background in aerospace manufacturing, came to Ada because of an entrepreneurial opportunity. He founded Dynamic Flight Structures in 1989, eventually turning into what is now known as Apex Composites. However, this venture ended in bankruptcy and he needed to start over again. Sometimes it is those setbacks in life that lead to new and exciting adventures, and that is exactly what happened when he started working with Braly.
Braly had always had aircraft in his family and became a certified flight instructor at the age of 19. Many in Ada might know him as a lawyer, but few would know that, in addition to a law degree, he also has a degree in aerospace engineering. He is the chief designer and inventor of the products that they manufacture and even taught Roehl how to fly once they went into business together.
GAMI began because they had some ideas for general aviation aircraft that they thought they could design and certify with the FAA. Their first product was the GAMIjector® fuel injector which are fuel injectors that replace factory fuel injectors in fuel injected, spark ignition, piston aircraft engines. Their GAMIjectors create a more precise balance of the fuel to air ratio in the engine allowing aircraft to run more smoothly, efficiently, and can improve fuel efficiency as much as 20% in some cases. In 1996, they founded GAMI and released the GAMIjector, which went on to win Aviation Consumer Magazine’s product of the year. Today, there are currently about 35,000 sets of these GAMIjectors flying all around the world.
After this development, they realized that there was also an opportunity for further improvements with turbocharged engines. They purchased some STC’s (or supplemental type certificates) from a company in Colorado that had aftermarket turbocharging, or turbonormalizing, systems and started experimenting. By 1998, they had developed their own turbonormalizing system that could make planes fly faster at high altitudes. Turbonormalizing is a form of turbocharging that provides for maintaining sea-level power as the air gets thinner as the place flies higher and this provides a way to increase the density of the air so the plane could fly at its peak performance.
Using their turbo technology as well as the GAMIjectors, Roehl says, “These are currently the best performing, most efficient piston engines in aviation.” People send their planes to Ada from all over the country to get these modifications and make their aircraft more efficient. While the GAMIjectors can be mailed to individuals with instructions about installation, Tornado Alley Turbo is about the only place where people build and install turbo systems as an aftermarket modification.
After revolutionizing fuel injectors and turbo systems, though, they couldn’t just stop innovating and in September of 2022 following a 12 year FAA certification effort, they achieved their greatest boon to date: the invention and FAA approval for a high octane unleaded airplane gasoline known as G100UL®. This is a challenge that people have been trying to solve for decades and GAMI finally accomplished it.
With this fuel, there are no changes that need to be made to the aircraft, and no special training is needed. It can be mixed with the existing low-lead gasolines or used on its own. Roehl says, “It burns just as clean as today’s auto fuel.” This is both better for the environment as well as aircraft engines. As Roehl points out, as auto fuels have become cleaner and more efficient, tune-ups can be more spread out because there aren’t as many deposits left from the fuel. G100UL will do the same for aircraft engines.
What started as two men and a dream in 1996 has grown to an operation housed over multiple buildings at the Ada Regional Airport and employing 45 people. Though G100UL will need to be produced and distributed outside of Ada, everything else they do is in-house. While some of their employees, like welders or aircraft mechanics, are recruited based on their education and experience, many of the people who work there just walked in off the street and then are specifically trained for their jobs. This allows GAMI and Tornado Alley Turbo to get exactly what they need out of their workers while also engaging in skills training, improving the lives of their workers.
Ada is lucky to have one of the premiere experimental aviation facilities in the country, and maybe even the world. Through their development of the GAMIjectors, the turbonormalizing systems, and the first ever FAA approved high octane unleaded fuel for aircraft, they have already revolutionized aviation as we know it, but they also aren’t ones to sit back on their laurels. They are constantly innovating, inventing, and experimenting. While the crew works diligently to improve aircraft from all over the country, the researchers are continuing to decipher what problem needs to be solved next and how to find a solution. It will be interesting to see what will come in the future and how it will shape the future of aviation.
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