Enstrom enhances product line; plans ‘measured’ production ramp

Avatar for Oliver JohnsonBy Oliver Johnson | March 8, 2023

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 13 seconds.

Enstrom Helicopter Company is continuing to focus on product enhancements for its existing line of aircraft, as its new leadership group plans a “measured” ramp-up of the company’s rebooted production line.

Enstrom owner Chuck Surack (center) addresses attendees at HAI Heli-Expo 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. Oliver Johnson Photo

At HAI Heli-Expo 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia, the company announced the availability of all-glass instrument panels for the 480B and 280FX and a new RPM governor for Enstrom piston helicopters.

The glass cockpit is built around a Garmin G500H TXi EFIS display, with a Howell digital engine instrument system, Garmin GTN 750 and 650 TXi, remote transponder and audio panel options, and new com radio options.

The RPM governor is designed to help pilots maintain rotor RPM using a digital controller and fast-acting servo motor to accurately control RPM.

Todd Tetzlaff, Enstrom’s new president, said the company recently sold two aircraft, and its sales team was “working diligently with many, many potential customers.”

The company is currently only producing the 480B, but will add the 280FX and F-28 next year.

“The updates that we’re working on here, engineering is working on these products [480B and 280FX] and what we’re going to enhance them with, but we’re also looking to the future,” said Tetzlaff. “These types of helicopters [480B and 280FX] will not be here for sale in 10 years. We are looking for the next step and we have aerospace expertise in house and . . . certainly looking for more to take us to the next level.”

In terms of a production ramp up, Tetzlaff said Enstrom’s facility had seen as many as 36 aircraft a year produced.

“We are ramping up in a measured manner right now, so that is not the production we’re anticipating or even our goal this year,” he said.

The target sector for Enstrom is primarily the training market, but Tetzlaff said the private/business aviation sector was also promising. He said the company is working on a crash resistant fuel system that it hopes to certify by the end of this year/early 2024.

The new panels are designed around a Garmin G500H TXi EFIS display. Enstrom Photo
A Momentous Year

It’s been a year of dramatic change for Enstrom. The company declared bankruptcy in January 2022, shuttering the doors of its facility in its long-term home of Menominee, Michigan, after 64 years and having produced nearly 1,500 aircraft.

Chuck Surack, the entrepreneur behind Sweetwater Sound, acquired the company in May 2022, and quickly set about restoring the manufacturer to full operation.

“Last May, we had a few volunteer employees, but really almost no employees,” Surack told attendees during a presentation at Enstrom’s booth at Heli-Expo. “Fast-forward to today, we have 125 employees. We’re looking for new engineers and new production people every day.”

On Enstrom’s booth was the first helicopter to come off the company’s production line since the acquisition: an Enstrom 480B.

“This came off the line a few weeks ago,” said Surack. “We’ve got several more in line right behind it. So, Enstrom is back — Enstrom’s back in a big way.”

Tetzlaff said the strides the company has made over the last 10 months were “extraordinary.”

“Ten months ago, the doors were closed, the lights were out, there were no employees,” he said. “As Chuck said, today we have 125 employees. We have a robust production line. We’ve got inventory being built. All of our shops are busy. We have a very capable manufacturing facility.”

The company is continuing to grow its staffing levels, and Tetzlaff said it was seeking aerospace professionals to work on the shop floor and in engineering.

“We’re a startup with a history,” he said. “The type of work we’re doing going forward is extremely satisfying, and we live in a really great part of the country. We’re doing well already attracting talent. We’re just going to keep hammering at it.”

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