F. Lee Bailey, 87, the high-profile defense lawyer and aviator who also owned the Enstrom Helicopter company for nearly a decade, died yesterday in Atlanta. Some of Bailey’s more notorious legal clients included Dr. Sam Sheppard, Army captain Ernest Medina, kidnapped heiress Patricia Hearst, and former NFL football player O.J. Simpson.
Bailey and a group of investors acquired Enstrom in 1971. There, he hired a talented team of young executives and engineers, including Alfred Checci, who later would serve as co-chairman of Northwest Airlines, to revive a piston helicopter design that dated back to the 1950s. Bailey also hired Medina, whom he had successfully defended during the My Lai (Vietnam) Massacre trial, to head up sales and marketing.
Under Bailey’s tenure, Enstrom launched the 280FX “Shark,” increased production to 100 helicopters per year, and began work on a four-seat piston design known as the 280L “Hawk” that was never completed and drove the company into financial distress. He also launched a series of controversial photo promotions for Enstrom that called it “the love machine.”
Bailey sold the company in 1979 and was subsequently involved in other aviation ventures, including the “Bailey Bullet” Piper Twin Comanche remanufacture program and aircraft completion center Oxford Aviation.