HI Uplift: Enstrom to ‘hit high notes of heli production’ with Surack Enterprises
Building any business is tough. But constructing a $1.5bn world-leading music business, starting from the back of your Volkswagen bus, reveals extraordinary grit, determination and vision. It is these qualities and more that the new owner of Enstrom Helicopters is bringing to his revitalisation of the 65-year old helicopter brand Enstrom.
Chuck Surack, founder of Sweetwater Sound, likes helicopters – a lot. He learnt to fly with Enstrom in 2008 – even buying his first new helicopter (a 480B) before gaining his pilot’s licence. He was so impressed that 14 years later – like Victor Kiam in the famous Remmington shaver TV ad – he bought the company. Surack has a simple business ambition: To rebuild the Enstrom brand into one of the leading American-made helicopter manufacturers, as it once was.
“We need to get back to manufacturing at the levels we did a few years ago,” Surack told Helicopter Investor. “We also need to freshen our products. I am truly excited by that. Enstrom helicopters are some of the safest helicopters in the world.”
But the company’s first priority will be to continue supporting pilots who already own an Enstrom helicopter by providing parts and support, he said.
In the medium to longer term, developing new Enstrom products for global markets is his preferred path to develop the company. So what markets is he targetting and why? “Enstrom has always been popular in the VIP markets and military markets around the world,” Surack tells us. “It is a great training helicopter and it is a great step up helicopter for the private or commercial owner. With the resources of the new company, we expect Enstrom to truly be a great helicopter company and a force.”
While North America is a key market for the company, Enstrom has sold helicopters around the world. And “We will sell many more,” he pledges.
Surack believes road congestion and the insatiable hunger for ever greater passenger convenience and comfort will help to swell a rising tide of demand for advanced air mobility and helicopter transport. “With the e-VTOLs being talked about so much and traffic getting worse all across our country, Enstrom helicopters are a great solution for many people,” he said. “Additionally, our turbine 480B is a very efficient and quiet helicopter to fly. It allows flights into people’s businesses, parking lots, homes, etc. An Enstrom Helicopters can really be a ‘magic carpet’ ride for many people.”
Based in Menominee, Michigan, Enstrom joins Surack Enterprises’ portfolio of aviation-related businesses including Sweet Aviation, which provides charter flights, training, and rental for fixed-wing aircraft and Sweet Helicopters, which offers the same services for rotorcraft. In fact, Sweet Helicopters is the official helicopter services provider of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which this weekend hosts the Indy 500. The entrepreneur’s aviation portfolio also includes Aviation Specialty Insurance, specialising in insuring corporate businesses, light aircraft, flight schools, drones, UAVs and other aviation risks.
Earlier this year, it looked as though MidTex Aviation would be the new owner of The Enstrom Helicopter Corporation assets, after the business declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in January. MidTex Aviation owns a corporate jet fleet management company, pilot management and a helicopter surveying business and was backed by a group of aviation entrepreneurs. The prospective business even had a new name – Enstrom Aerospace Industries.
But unexpected last-minute funding problems opened the door for Surack. Matt Francour, president & CEO of Enstrom: “When they [MidTex] had unexpected problems securing the funding, Chuck was able to step in and save the company, which ended a lot of sleepless nights here for us in Michigan. With the help of law firm Carson and Warner Norcross + Judd, the trustee’s attorney, the purchase was able to proceed quickly.”
Surack is keen to lavish praise on his employees. “The experience of our staff in Menominee, Michigan is out of this world. We build the majority of the helicopter in-house,” he tells Helicopter Investor.
“As the new owner, I am so proud to be behind an established American company, making American products, with great American people, yet able to serve the whole world,” Surack tells us. “That is the American dream.”