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Tue, Jan 31, 2023

First New Enstrom Helicopter Flies

Menominee Phenomenon

In May 2022 Surack Enterprises purchased storied helicopter marque Enstrom with the near-term aim of restarting parts production, and the longer-term objectives of resuming helicopter production and improving and updating the Enstrom fleet.

Comes now January 2023, and Surack is actualizing its ambitions.

Menominee, Michigan-based Enstrom Helicopter Corporation announced on 30 January that the first new 480B model helicopter had flown. The turbine-powered 480B is the 1,317th helicopter to roll out of the Enstrom factory, and the 255th 480 series helicopter built. Enstrom stressed that the aircraft in question was not cobbled together from an unfinished left-over airframe and surplus parts; rather, it was built using components procured, machined, fabricated, and assembled onsite.

That a new Enstrom helicopter has taken to the skies is fine news. That it has done so only eight short months after the company was wrested from oblivion’s dusty embrace beggars belief.

The resurgent helicopter—resplendent in a stylish black and gray livery—was urged aloft by Enstrom production test pilot Cody Parkovich, who said of the machine: “It flew great. No issues. We were able to complete all our flight test steps on schedule. The team did a great job putting this helicopter together.”

Enstrom Chief Operating Officer Adam Richardson asserted: “This was a critical milestone in our plan to not just bring back Enstrom, but to start to reinvent ourselves and the way we operate. It took all functions to focus on the objective. New supplier relationships, new machinists and fabricators and luckily many from prior years, better print definitions, a high standard of workmanship, and everyone onsite helping each other cross-functionally to bring us back online.”

The new 480B helicopter will be showcased at 2023’s Helicopter Association International (HAI) expo at Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center. The event—the world's largest trade show dedicated to the international helicopter community—runs from 06 through 09 March. Expo attendees are invited to visit Enstrom’s display at booth C2820 and glimpse, perhaps, the inchoate wonders currently constrained to the company’s drawing boards.   

Following the expo, Enstrom will retain the new 480B aircraft as a testbed by which to vet and certify future upgrades and design improvements.

Enstrom Helicopters was founded in 1957 by mining engineer Rudolph J. "Rudy" Enstrom, who based his young company at Michigan’s Menominee–Marinette Twin County Airport (MNM). The company's first product was 1965’s piston-engined F-28. Rudy Enstrom—who knew little of helicopter design and was sustained to an extensive degree by outside aerospace experts and generous investors—was removed from his own company by the time the F-28 debuted. His surname remains Rudy’s only enduring contribution to the Enstrom enterprise. 

Between 1965 and 2011, Enstrom built over 1,100 helicopters in both piston and turbine iterations. Throughout those decades, the company offered three models: the F-28, the more aerodynamic 280, and the turbine-powered 480—each with its own variants.

A hallmark of Enstrom's designs is the lack of exposed main-rotor pitch-change-linkages. Contrary to convention, subject mechanisms are housed within the aircraft’s hollow main-rotor shaft. The unique architecture reduces aerodynamic drag, and renders the linkages less susceptible to external hazards the likes of bird-strike, powerlines, or FOD.

In January 2022 Enstrom declared bankruptcy due to what the company’s management described as “several financial difficulties.” Technical support for Enstrom customers ceased, and the Menominee factory was shuttered. At the time of its closure the company employed only thirty workers.

In May 2022 Surack Enterprises purchased Enstrom.

Years prior to adding Enstrom to his portfolio, Chuck Surack had learned to fly helicopters in an Enstrom 280. Impressed with the machine and the company by which it had been built, Surack purchased a 480.

Of Enstrom as a whole, Surack remarked: “When the company became available, I knew how good the employees were … it’s the safest helicopter in the world. If you look at the safety record it’s really, really safe, and I just knew there was an opportunity to improve the company and restore it, and take it on to the next level.”



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