Wild Green Yonder: How NVIDIA Co-Founder Chris Malachowsky Keeps Our Brand Aloft

by Brian Caulfield

Talk about free advertising. Everywhere NVIDIA co-founder Chris Malachowsky travels in his Piaggio Avanti 2 – fans spot the enormous green NVIDIA claw logo on the tail and ask him about NVIDIA.

This Italian-made 7-passenger turbo-prop is no corporate plane, however. Chris owns it. “I just don’t want to forget how I paid for it,” Chris says of the logo, which he had painted on the plane when he bought it in 2007.

The NVIDIA co-founder’s name may be on nearly 40 patents. He may have helped found one of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies. But clamber aboard his plane and he’s as easy to talk to as the dude down the street. If the dude down the street were one of the creators of the modern graphics industry.

Chris Malachowsky's Piaggio Avanti 2
Thing of beauty: Chris Malachowsky’s Piaggio Avanti 2

A mind like that has to keep busy, however. And there’s no better way to keep a mind busy than a complicated – and beautiful – machine. No doubt his Avanti 2 is beautiful. The 41-foot long plane’s curves seem to find the perfect line above the broad, flat surface of airport’s tarmac. There are bigger, faster planes at the airport today. None more elegant.

The Italian plane’s two rear-facing turboprop engines push it through the air at speeds comparable to a jet. Its elliptical fuselage and small forward wings, placed just in front of the cockpit, give the plane extraordinary efficiency. It flies like any other plane, most times.

It does have a few quirks, though. When coming in for a landing, you have to push the stick forward to land, rather than back, as you would most propeller planes. And when flying through clouds you’ve got to pull the nose up, just a touch. That’s to compensate as the lack of air density inside the cloud that sucks lift away from the forward wings, Chris explains. Suddenly, you realize Chris is smoothly explaining some of the finer points of flying and fluid dynamics.

Of course, flying hasn’t come effortlessly. The Piaggio is his fourth plane. Chris took up flying more than a decade ago when he was helping to build NVIDIA with co-founders Jen-Hsun Huang and Curtis Priem.

At NVIDIA, Chris has tackled more than a few jobs, leading NVIDIA’s operations, product engineering, and research teams. Chris found the need to be focused when he was flying helped him relax. He now spends a week every year honing his skills at the Flight Safety School in West Palm Beach, Florida.

One of Chris’ favorite stories involves flying the school’s full motion simulator when a mischievous instructor decided to throw some curves at him. “I look up and there’s a school bus flying through the air above me… at 20,000ft,” Chris says. “That’s the best video game going.”

A Tegra-powered tablet replaces a stack of paper navigation guides.
Flying right: a Tegra-powered tablet replaces a stack of paper manuals.

All that training has paid off. Chris has flown his plane to Juneau, Alaska; Cabo San Lucas; the Cayman Islands; and Nantucket. He navigates with the aid of a Tegra-powered Nexus 7 tablet he keeps mounted above the plane’s instrument panel. “It’s replaced a stack of manuals I used to have to fly with this big,” he says, stretching out his arms to show just how much space all that paper used to take.

That just makes it easier for Chris to get in his plane and go where he pleases. Of course, wherever he goes, NVIDIA’s logo goes with him. “Hey Mr.  Malachowsky, nice tattoo,” one of the hangar attendants shouts to Chris after he flashes the NVIDIA logo on his right bicep for a photo next to his plane.

“Matches my tail,” Chris replies with a grin. “How many other owners can say that?”