Helicopter Specialties Carves EMS Niche

 - February 5, 2012, 2:40 AM

Janesville, Wis.-based Helicopter Specialties (HS) is carving a national niche as a maintainer and refurbisher of EMS helicopters. Avionics technician Jim Freeman founded the company in 2000, starting with a single BK117 HEMS refurbishment in a 3,000-sq-ft hangar and a handful of employees. Today HS has 25 employees working in nearly 50,000 sq ft of state-of-the-art space. HS is certified to work on 22 different makes and models of helicopter and six different engine types.

HS’s new, $1.6 million, 28,000-sq-ft main hangar and office complex features wireless work stations, precision-controlled temperature from an in-floor hydronic heating system, avionics and parts shop, and a spacious employee break room with kitchen, picnic room, outdoor patio and barbecues. “It’s bigger than my whole house,” Freeman jokes about the break room. The wireless work stations allow Freeman and his finance director to monitor any job’s progress in real time and know exactly where the company is with regard to schedule and budget. “Our work order system is electronic and layered. I can pull labor and parts off any job,” he said. The work stations also allow mechanics to access any manuals they need. They are all loaded on the company server.

Mechanic’s Eye View of Maintenance

An adjacent 14,000-sq-ft hangar houses airframe repair, paint and machine shops. HS’s paint booth can accommodate a Sikorsky S-92A and has a 3-million-BTU make-up unit with fire-suppression capabilities. The machine shop features a new four-axis Haas Computer Numeric Controlled machining center that HS uses to fabricate a variety of custom products including equipment racks and medical floors.

The company’s new anodized, modular aluminum medical floor is just the latest example of how Freeman and his team bring a “mechanic’s eye view” to crafting maintenance solutions to the EMS market. “Your typical glued rubber floor is easy to damage. To repair it, or get to the aircraft floor below it, is a multi-day task,” Freeman said. “And then you have to wait another day for the rubber sealant to dry after you repair or replace that floor. Any extra day of delay can cost a lot when you are the operator of a $7 million helicopter. Our modular aluminum floor can be removed one individual panel at a time and slides into the existing seat track and is screwed in place.”

Freeman and his team have designed various new pieces of equipment over the years, from equipment racks that mount recessed into aircraft window clearances to create more cabin space, tougher stretcher mounts, engine maintenance mounts and maintenance stands. “We like building things that work,” he said.

Freeman’s staff is a mixed collection of old salts and young guns, most of the latter coming from nearby Blackhawk Technical College, which has an aviation program also located on Janesville’s Southwest Wisconsin Regional Airport. Freeman said recruiting remains his biggest business concern. He said his company is competitive on wages, but can’t match the lavish benefit packages large OEMs offer. He said the problem is worsening as the number of available mechanics declines. “Here in Wisconsin, we have about 400 FAA-registered mechanics. About 82 percent of them are between the ages of 47 and 58 and of the remainder, more are older than 58 than younger than 47.”