After 64 years and building more than 1,300 helicopters, Enstrom will cease operations on January 21, terminate all employees and product support, and file Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy. The Menominee, Michigan-based helicopter manufacturer, recently owned by China’s Chongqing General Aviation Industry Group (CGAG), made the announcement yesterday in a letter from director of sales and marketing Dennis Martin. “Enstrom’s management team is aware of multiple groups who have expressed a strong interest in buying Enstrom assets and reopening the company post-bankruptcy,” he said, but could not predict when or if that would happen.
The company was spawned by Michigan mining engineer Rudy Enstrom, who built prototypes in his garage in the 1940s and 1950s. It was formally incorporated in 1959 and its first production helicopter, the F28, was certified in 1965, beating out 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 plant in Menominee. Enstrom went on to develop the single-engine turbine model, the 480, in the 1990s. The company has had multiple ownerships over the years, including Purex Corp., celebrity attorney F. Lee Bailey, and inventor Dean Kamen. Current-production models included the F28F and 280FX turbocharged piston engine models and the turbine 480B-G.
Enstrom’s attempts to bring several other new models to market, including the four-place 280L and the two-seat TH180 stalled, never progressing beyond the flight-test stage, and in recent years deliveries of in-production models have lagged. Through the first nine months of 2021, Enstrom delivered just two helicopters, according to data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA); for all of 2020 it delivered five.