Keith Storey, CFO for Colorado and Nevada-based Rotor Leasing (Static 1 and 3), will be the first one to tell you that the name of the company is a little bit of a misnomer. In fact, the company does not lease helicopters at all today. Instead, the company, with its own facilities, including a helipad at 7,300 feet agl (66CO), researches, imports and restores French, British and Irish SA341 Gazelles and SA365 Dauphin helicopters in the U.S.
“Our research and acquisition partners are Regaviation in Europe and Africa, UKRTransaero in Ukraine and Eastern Europe and Freight International Transport in South and Central America,” said Storey, who we found polishing his personal ship in the busy exhibit hall at Heli-Expo 2014. The company brought two Gazelles, one still in its military olive drab that could be had for around $300,000. Storey’s personal ship sported a ceramic exhaust on the Turbomeca Astazou IIIc engine, as well as full leather interior and a Garmin glass in the updated instrument panel. It burns 32 gph of jet A, but, according to Storey, “it costs half what an R66 costs, and I think it’s twice the helo!”
Both ships operate under U.S. experimental airworthiness certificates, as do all the helicopters restored by Rotor Leasing. The company works with the FAA’s Denver Flight Standards District Office to facilitate the specific operations specifications for each helicopter, some of which are legally capable of aerobatic flight.
“It took us 17 months to get the first helicopter out of France, but our partner Regaviation has smoothed that process considerably,” said Storey. The company holds a U.S. DoD license to import implements of war, which is critical to the business. Once the helicopters clear into the U.S. they undergo an extensive 12-year major airframe inspection as well as a T-1 (1,000 hour) engine inspection, and, if necessary, de-mothball processing. All military wiring, hardpoints and communications gear is removed, reducing the weight of the aircraft (and increasing its useful load) by as much as 200 pounds. All manuals are translated into English and all testing and certification for an experimental airworthiness certificate are accomplished on site at the Colorado facility.
As far as the customization? “That can run upwards of $450,000, including the helicopter itself,” said Storey. And that’s for a Gazelle. The larger Dauphins are priced commensurately.