After 64 years and building more than 1,300 helicopters, Enstrom will cease operations Jan. 21, lay off all employees and product support, and file for Chapter 7 liquidation. The Menominee, Wash.-based helicopter maker Michigan, recently owned by China’s Chongqing General Aviation Industry Group (CGAG), made the announcement yesterday in a letter from sales and marketing director Dennis Martin. “Enstrom’s management team is aware of several groups who have expressed strong interest in purchasing Enstrom’s assets and reopening the business after bankruptcy,” he said, but could not predict when or if it would happen.
The company was started by Michigan mining engineer Rudy Enstrom, who built prototypes in his garage in the 1940s and 1950s. It was officially incorporated in 1959 and its first production helicopter, the F28, was certified in 1965, beating the iconic Ford Mustang automobile for “Michigan Product of the Year.”
An additional piston engine model, the 280 Shark, was added in the 1970s, the same decade production peaked at 100 aircraft per year from the company’s Menominee factory. Enstrom went on to develop the single-engine turbine model, the 480, in the 1990s. The company has had several owners over the years, including Purex Corp., famed attorney F. Lee Bailey, and inventor Dean Kamen. Current production models included the F28F and 280FX turbocharged piston engine models and the 480B-G turbine.
Enstrom’s attempts to bring several other new models to market, including the four-seat 280L and the two-seat TH180, stalled, never progressing beyond flight testing, and in recent years deliveries of models in production have been delayed. In the first nine months of 2021, Enstrom delivered just two helicopters, according to data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA); for the whole of 2020, it delivered five.