Chuck Surack aiming to take Enstrom ‘to new heights’

Avatar for Brent BundyBy Brent Bundy | September 6, 2022

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 24 seconds.

After a tumultuous first half of 2022 for the storied Enstrom Helicopter Corp., the future is beginning to look bright once again. In January, after over 60 years of manufacturing helicopters, Enstrom was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Shortly after, during HAI Heli-Expo 2022, Texas-based MidTex Aviation appeared ready to take over the reins and reopen the doors. However, by May, financing for the move had not come through and the outlook for Enstrom once again looked bleak.

Chuck Surack (center) stands outside the headquarters of Enstrom Helicopter Corp. - the company he dramatically saved from bankruptcy in May. Brent Bundy Photo
Chuck Surack (center) stands outside the headquarters of Enstrom Helicopter Corp. – the company he dramatically saved from bankruptcy in May. Brent Bundy Photo

Enter Chuck Surack. The highly successful Fort Wayne, Indiana-based businessman built his fortune with Sweetwater Sound, the world’s largest online musical instrument and audio equipment provider. Surack has a longtime passion for aviation, evidenced in two of his other companies: Sweet Helicopters and Sweet Aviation. These provide charter services, flight training, aircraft rentals, and maintenance for rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft. He earned his helicopter flight ratings in an Enstrom several years ago, and when he saw the struggles the company was going through, he decided to step in.

Vertical recently joined Surack on a visit to his newly acquired factory in Menominee, Michigan, where he met with company executives for updates on restarting production of both piston and turbine models.

A look down the production line of Enstrom's manufacturing facility in Menominee, Michigan. Brent Bundy Photo
A look down the production line of Enstrom’s manufacturing facility in Menominee, Michigan. Brent Bundy Photo

“This is a great company with an incredible history of building safe, reliable helicopters — and I want to continue that,” he said.

When asked about potential issues with bringing back previous staff as well as finding new talent, Surack said: “There’s a good core of people in this area that we can tap into, and we offer good pay and benefits. They will see that I will take care of them, just like I have at all my other companies.” He also proudly added, “In 43 years of business, I have never laid off an employee and I don’t plan to start now.”

Also joining Surack was Helicopter Association International president and CEO James Viola. When asked about the importance of Surack’s acquisition, Viola said: “The energy and excitement that Chuck brings is a win for both Enstrom and the helicopter industry. The success that he has had in his other endeavors will surely translate here, to the benefit of not only Enstrom, but the people who work here and all of us in the aviation world.”

Surack (left) was joined by HAI president and CEO James Viola. Brent Bundy Photo
Surack (left) was joined by HAI president and CEO James Viola. Brent Bundy Photo

Viola then ran a 480B turbine model through its paces, after which his excitement was palpable. “It’s a great aircraft that is clearly well built and performs wonderfully.”

Enstrom marketing manager Jackie Kamps told Vertical the acquisition meant “everything” to the company’s staff and the wider community. “We’re like family here and with Chuck’s reputation, it’s clear that his number one goal is to take care of the people, just like he has at his other businesses. We are excited to have Chuck join this family and to see what he will do with this company.”

Viola took the controls of an Enstrom 480B during his visit to the plant. Brent Bundy Photo
Viola took the controls of an Enstrom 480B during his visit to the plant. Brent Bundy Photo

Addressing the 70 employees who have already rejoined Enstrom, Surack said he wanted to take Enstrom to the “next level.”

“I’m so proud of everyone here and I’m excited about what we’re going to do together,” he said. “I bought this company because of the people and what you have done in the past — and I intend to take Enstrom to new heights.”

Surack anticipates immediately restarting production, ramping up to 24 aircraft in 2023. He plans to display two newly built helicopters at Heli-Expo 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia, next March.

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