Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 58 seconds.
In 1979, Mike Gelskey Sr. started the sling and rigging company, Lift-It Manufacturing, with a dream common to many entrepreneurs striking out on their own for the first time. He wanted to be his own boss, and to build a company the right way.
He also firmly believed he could build a company that would contend with the best in the world.
Today, more than 40 years later, that dream is a vivid reality. With deep connections to the helicopter industry, Lift-It is one of the top helicopter longline suppliers in the world, helping operators carry commercial and human external cargo on job sites across North America.
“We quickly found many lines that intersected,” said Mike Gelskey Jr., president and general manager of Lift-It Manufacturing and son of the company founder, Mike Gelskey Sr.
“There are many common grounds for manufacturing helicopter lifting products as there are with land-based, crane operation lifting products. We put just as much detail, care, and attention into a half-inch (12-millimeter) longline as we do a 330-ton-rated high performance fiber lifting sling used in the aerospace fabrication sector.”
Lift-It started out by manufacturing web slings and other rigging components servicing the mining, wind, nuclear, hydro, and electrical utility industries. Land-based crane operators have used Lift-It products to carry everything from ship module sections to rocket fuselage to excavation equipment, and many cargo types in between.
But in 2010, the company identified an opportunity to add its expertise to the helicopter industry by manufacturing longlines, grapples, and swivels, in addition to cargo nets, slings, and a host of other rigging equipment.
Today, the company also manufactures A-frame lanyards and Y bridles for securing external cargo.
“Our longlines, featuring PROLINE12 HMPE fiber, are by far the most popular and most sold item in the helicopter side of our business,” Mike Jr. said.
In the helicopter industry, Lift-It has established itself as a trusted partner of many commercial operators servicing the nation’s power grid in remote locations all over the U.S. A key reason for the company’s success has been its commitment to around-the-clock service.
“Around-the-clock service is one of the most important attributes of our company,” Mike Jr said. “Many people can sell you products, but the service that supports the products — the customer service, listening to your customers, and the innovation that surrounds listening to your customers — is what sets us apart.”
Mike Jr. and his staff also use customer feedback to continuously improve Lift-It products.
“They have my ear, which enables them to list things they like and don’t like,” he said. “The mother of change, improvement, and inventions are created at that point.”
This commitment to outstanding service starts at the very top.
Mike Jr. lists his own cell phone number as the primary emergency contact for all Lift-It customers. As a result, he regularly fields urgent calls at any hour of the day and night.
“Running an eight-to-five [8 a.m. to 5 p.m.] operation has never been our mantra,” he said. “At any time, we’re available. This is only made possible by the dedicated employees, whose tenure surpasses decades and must be stated in centuries. We’ve come in on Easter Sunday. We’ve come in at one o’clock in the morning to build hundreds of slings for major utility companies to solve problems they face at a moment’s notice.”
In addition to its role as a manufacturer and solutions provider, Lift-It has also been outspoken about the importance of external load rigging training and sling protection — a safety concern that still needs improvement in the helicopter industry, Mike Jr. said.
“Loads are dropped too often,” he said. “We find that lack of or inadequate cut protection is the root of many evils. It is very much still a hot point. Everywhere we go, we teach it, we preach it. It’s very interesting to talk to 20- and 30-year helicopter pilots with thousands of hours under their belts, as well as ground crewmen and equipment lift managers, and to expose them to these types of off-the-shelf cut protectors that are available to them. There’s still a big need to bring awareness to what occurs when flying an external load.”
At the same time, Mike Jr. was quick to say cut protection is not the only crucial safety precaution for helicopter operators who use longlines.
This is part of a larger strategy that Mike Jr. calls “rigging awareness,” which includes rigging geometry (math that measures tension when rigging at angles), and environmental considerations like extreme temperatures, and chemical and ultraviolet light degradation — all of which can damage longlines and related materials.
“Rigging awareness can envelop many issues,” he said. “All of these things need to be considered. We have spread this message for many years through external load training at HAI Heli-Expo professional education courses, as well as helicopter companies that hire Lift-It to train their employees to make a difference within their organizations. Our ultimate goal is to share rigging knowledge, best practices, and inspection protocol through individuals all in an effort to send moms and dads home to their babies at night.”
As the helicopter industry prepares to gather at HAI Heli-Expo 2022 in Dallas, Texas, the team at Lift-It has a simple and unambiguous message to share.
“We are a family owned, very service-oriented business,” Mike Jr. said. “Basically everything in between the cargo hook of the helicopter and the load being lifted, we provide. For every external load or human external load mission, Lift-It is very much committed to providing fast turnarounds [with] off-the-shelf inventory and custom-made items.”