The Little Guy Stands Tall

A small repair station holds its own and even expands

Helicopter Specialties in Janesville, WI, may be one of the smaller repair stations, “But we operate on the same level as the big ones,” says President Jim Freeman. “We help some of the big ones by doing some of their work for them.”

Having “little guys” like Helicopter Specialties strategically located helps bigger operators manage their nationwide fleets. “We help save them the cost of having to send work across the country,” says Freeman. “For Air Methods, for example, if they have to send work from Denver to Wisconsin, it’s much cheaper than them sending it all the way to the East Coast.”

Helicopter Specialties is an FAA repair station that performs maintenance and onsite support to helicopter customers. Freeman himself is an aviation technician by trade and a pilot. He inspects work done and does some test flying as insurance and customers allow.

Helicopter Specialties provides custom avionics, helicopter paint, structural repairs, composite repairs, and custom interiors for helicopters. Its staff has worked on light piston helicopters to medium twin-turbine helicopters. 

Work in the shop ranges from “nose-to-tail” work on new aircraft, to refurbishments, to partials. In the avionics shop, most of the work is helmet and headset repair. It doesn’t do work on components themselves, nor does it do overhauls. Helicopter Specialties received more than 150 work orders in 2008, mostly from four airframe manufacturers’ service centers.

Helicopter Specialties’ chief inspector has been with the company since day one. Shop manager Jason Shrier, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University graduate, has been with Helicopter Specialties for seven years. There are 18 people on staff total, 12 of whom are A&Ps.

Medical equipment
Interfacing medical equipment is the bulk of Helicopter Specialties’ work as well as its headlining customization. Much of its clientele requires products for medical interiors. EMS customers tend to look for autopilot, varying avionics, medical interfacing, and certification.

Private owners generally look to get their aircraft some “VIP” treatment. Their installations usually include exterior lighting, leather interior, sound systems, and cockpit upgrades.

“Building products is easy,” says Freeman. “Getting them approved for use in aircrafts is a much longer process. We have to build a mounting and the FAA has to approve its install.”

“The weight’s usually the biggest consideration,” says Shrier. “Sometimes we have to remake parts to make them a little bit lighter, and sometimes we have to limit the amount of equipment that they put on there.”

Many of the medical interiors that Helicopter Specialties’ staff creates include customized mounts for medical equipment. On prominent display in the entry to its main office is the platform designed to mount an Isolette and related life support systems to a Stryker stretcher.

“It’s something we built from scratch,” says Shrier. “We designed all the mounts and locks, and we do all the plumbing. We start out with a pile of parts and flat aluminum and wind up with the end product.”

It has also developed a quick-release latching mechanism to lock a Stryker stretcher securely to the aircraft floor.

Another innovation is a compact medical wall that combines provisions for an IV warmer, oxygen, air, vacuum, medical air conditioning, drawer storage, a ProPac monitor, and radio and CD compatibilities in a Bell 222. “We had to make it usable within the aircraft so that everything is accessible when they’re utilizing it, not just accessible when it’s outside the aircraft,” says Shrier.

Helicopter Specialties goes through its local FSDO for approvals. The FAA and the operators closely scrutinize new products. “There are lots of checks and balances,” says Freeman.

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