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Ace Aeronautics: Build your own Black Hawk

Lisa Gordon | April 2, 2024

Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 13 seconds.

This sponsored article was created by Insight magazine, the sponsored content division of MHM Publishing, on behalf of Ace Aeronautics.

When Rich Enderle sat down with employees at the Ace Aeronautics holiday party in December 2023, he told them the company would be hitting the accelerator hard in the new year.

“Our goal for 2024 is turning 16 aircraft refurbishments a year, and then add to that a minimum of eight cockpits per year,” said Enderle, the company’s president and CEO. “We have 70 employees right now and I’d like to be at 150 by the end of 2024.”

Headquartered at the municipal airport in Guntersville, Alabama, Ace Aero prides itself on being a full-service resource for any rotary-wing needs — from maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services to airframe, avionics, paint, engineering and certification solutions. The company focus is currently the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk twin-engine, medium-lift utility helicopter — a legacy platform that is gaining renewed popularity in both civil and military applications.

Ace Aero was founded in 2015 by Frank Wallace and Darrell Kindley (the latter sold his interest to board chair Bob Caldwell in March 2023). The company’s foundation was built upon offering a modernization plan and long-term sustainment program for the Black Hawk. The company got its start with the Ace Deck VL-60 cockpit upgrade, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved supplemental type certificate (STC) solution which integrates Garmin’s G5000H avionics suite into the UH-60/S-70 family of Black Hawk helicopters. 

“Ace was founded on that digital cockpit,” Enderle said. “It was the catalyst that started it all.”

Wallace, who is currently the company’s executive vice president, said there are nearly 5,000 Black Hawks deployed worldwide, with about 2,000 of them in the U.S. Armed Services inventory.

The rest are scattered throughout the world, including about 500 to 600 excess defense helicopters that have been offered for sale.

“We consider the market for our Ace Deck cockpit is 1,000-plus aircraft,” said Wallace, adding that the company’s customer book divides into about 75 percent commercial and 25 percent military. To date, Ace Aero has completed Black Hawk cockpit upgrades for Portugal, Ukraine, Austria, and a private operator in the U.S. Malaysia has also contracted for four Black Hawks with the modernized Ace Deck cockpit, with delivery in 2024.

Enderle said Ace Aero takes pride in delivering a Black Hawk that is customized to a client’s specific mission requirements. The company’s three “your way” Black Hawk options include a base, refreshed UH-60 with the original analog cockpit, new paint and preventive maintenance performed; the Ace Deck VL-60 integrated flight deck that eliminates obsolescence issues, reduces pilot workload and provides a path for easy future upgrades; and the Ace Deck VL-60 plus a mission computer that enables the use of FLIR, tactical maps, aircraft performance calculations, weapons management systems, etc.

“We can customize for the end user as required,” Wallace noted. “That is one of the benefits of the Ace Deck architecture. We have bifurcated the flight critical functions so that when we add additional radios or equipment, it does not impact the operational flight program.”

Enderle said that as 2024 unfolds, Ace Aero will continue to invest in the acquisition of aircraft that will be brought to a base configuration, in preparation for eventual customization. Currently, there are 14 Black Hawks in the hangar, compared to just two last March.

“Where we’re going, I jokingly call it Ace 2.0,” he said. “It’s sort of a reset in my opinion. Our plan now is to acquire aircraft, perform a solid and thorough inspection, make any repairs, and then take all the upgraded systems available to us and apply them to the helicopter to meet the customer’s needs — to give them a safe, modernized aircraft.”

Enderle said the company is currently developing a catalogue of upgrades available for the Black Hawk. For instance, Ace Aero already holds an STC for a FLIR EO/IR mount on the helicopter, as well as a blade fold kit.

In addition to its 110,000-square-foot (10,220-square-meter) Guntersville headquarters, Ace Aero also operates a 20,000-sq.-ft. (1,860-sq.-m) manufacturing shop in Arlington, Texas. Despite its state-of-the-art facilities, Enderle said it is Ace Aero’s quality people who enable its success. “The calibre of our senior leadership and our mechanics is second to none.” Visitors to Heli-Expo 2024 in Anaheim, California, will find Ace Aero at booth #9039, with static displays in S63-S66. Enderle invites show attendees to stop by to see the Ace Deck VL-60 cockpit upgrade and the FLIR EO/IR sensor mount, as well as the UH-60 blade fold kit, all developed by the company.

“Come by and see our engineering capabilities,” Enderle concluded. “It’s worth a chat to discuss your needs. We are differentiating ourselves by investing in aircraft up front and keeping them in inventory, ensuring that they will be available quickly. We’re also offering blast and paint services, and spares. Plus, we’re buying aircraft to harvest components, for operators all over the world. We can even offer UH-60 pilot and maintenance training through our partnership with U.S. Aviation Training Solutions Inc. in Titusville, Florida.”

From its early experience upgrading the UH-60 cockpit with the Garmin G5000H, Ace Aero has remained focused on delivering advanced systems solutions to resolve obsolescence and capability gaps. As the company accelerates into 2024, there is certainly much more to come.

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