Chinese Owner Fuels Enstrom Expansion

 - June 1, 2013, 12:10 AM

Thanks to the help of its new Chinese owner, Enstrom Helicopter unveiled plans in April to develop a new helicopter and for a major plant expansion and upgrade of its Menominee, Mich. headquarters.

Construction is set to begin this month on an $8 million, 77,000-sq-ft expansion that will double its current space and house new administration and engineering offices. The facility is expected to be completed by year-end. Enstrom was purchased late last year by Chongqing (China) Helicopter Investment (CQHIC), which is funding the expansion. Over the last 18 months Enstrom has added more than 100 new employees, taking its employment to 165. It plans to deliver 32 helicopters this year and 45 next year. Much of that production is destined for export to Asia.

In August, Enstrom completed delivery of 16 of its 480B turbine single helicopters to the Royal Thai Army equipped with Cobham EFIS, dual Wulfsberg RT-5000 transceivers, Honeywell radar altimeters and dual electronic/analog flight instruments.

CQHIC bought 15 Enstroms in 2012 and is buying 15 more next year. Enstrom also has purchased a nearby building to serve as living quarters for Chinese pilots training in Menominee. The company has other Chinese customers as well. Enstrom and Isolair received Chinese certification for the Innovator II 3900-480 agricultural spray system last year for use on the 480 and 480B; customer Wuhan Helicopters operates both models.

Enstrom recently received type certificate Number 74 from the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) for the 480B. The application was initially submitted to the JCAB on May 17, 2012, and over the last year the company has worked with Japanese authorities to ensure the Japanese translated Rotorcraft Flight Manual and Japanese dedicated Rotorcraft Supplement, as well as the Japanese translated placards, meet the certification requirements. Enstrom recently sold thirty 480Bs for use as trainers to the Japan Ground Self Defense Force, delivered 10 through the end of last year, and is looking to expand sales to other customers there.

Since being acquired by CQHIC, Enstrom has made several significant announcements. In March the company said that the 480B will be available with the Garmin G1000H glass panel avionics system as a $155,000 option. The G1000H in the 480B features two 10.4-inch, high-resolution displays and incorporates a moving map, helicopter synthetic vision technology (HSVT), helicopter terrain awareness and warning system (H-Taws), datalink weather, and traffic alert and collision avoidance.

Enstrom CEO Jerry Mullins said the company eventually expects to ramp up production to 100 per year and introduce a new model. “We’re excited about the expansion,” Mullins said. “We’re extremely happy to have an owner that is willing to invest in helping Enstrom grow. This is great for Enstrom and for the community. We appreciate the support the community has shown for this project.”

Founded in 1959, Enstrom manufactures three helicopter models: the three-seat, piston-powered F28F and 280FX and the larger, turbine-powered 480B. The latter is available as a three-place advanced trainer and patrol aircraft, a 2+2 four-seat training helicopter, or as a three- to five-place executive transport. For law enforcement applications, Enstrom produces an optionally equipped variant of the 480B, known as the Guardian, and the F28F, called the Sentinel. The company has had a variety of colorful owners, including trial attorney F. Lee Bailey and inventor Dean Kamen.