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      Enstrom Still Thriving Without U.S. Contracts

      Kevin flying over the skies of Menominee in an Enstrom Chopper / Brett Dickie

      These helicopters are made in the U.P. at Menominee TMs Enstrom helicopter. You can see the entire process from beginning to end in their factory. Aside from an assembled engine the majority of the helicopter is made completely in Michigan from the welding of the smallest parts to the blades, the cockpit instrument panel and even the glass.

      The choppers are sold to individuals all over the word as well as police departments. Los Angeles has Enstrom helicopters according to President and C.E.O. Jerry Mullins.

      When you finally catch them, you light them up and we also have the capability to put infer red in the nose of the helicopter, says Jerry. They TMve more than paid for the helicopter with the drug money recovery.

      Are you surprised this is made in Michigan? It gets more interesting. Michigan workers build training helicopters here for the Royal Thai Army and the Japanese self defense force. Other clients include Bangladesh, Peru and Vietnam, all allies of the United States, but why not the U.S.?

      Mullins says Enstrom has lost bids to two larger companies for U.S. military contracts. One, Bell helicopter, is located in Texas. The other, Eurocopter, is in France. So all of those jobs are essentially in Europe now, said Mullins.

      According to NTSB statistics Enstrom helicopters have had fewer accidents and fatalities than the European competition since 1996. So, the foreign chopper must have saved the taxpayers some money, right? Wrong, says Jerry, it TMs more expensive helicopter. Our helicopter was designed for training, and was the best training vehicle out there, he said.

      So why on earth the foreign choice, for the U.S. Border Patrol of all things? I was convinced it was for political reasons, said Mullins. He explained that larger companies, even foreign ones, have the ability to pull more strings and wield more influence on the defense department, despite help from the Michigan delegation of representatives.

      Worse says Mullins, the U.S. government claims the helicopters are made in America. All they do is bring the helicopters here. After build they may paint them and put some avionics on them in the U.S. and say they are built in the U.S. when essentially 85% of the labor is in Europe.

      Photojournalist Brett Dickie and myself were able to ride in one of the demonstration helicopters. The ride was smoother than I expected, and they are obviously very effective training vehicles, because I was able to fly it myself with little assistance on the first try. Of course, our pilot, Bill was always in control as a failsafe.

      Relentless testing of everything from the smallest parts to the blades is a way of life at Enstrom, and Mullins says they are committed to make a great safety record even better. It TMs got the best accident rate of any helicopter flying today, says Jerry, a claim the government data seems to confirm.

      Mullins says they will continue to pursue any U.S. contracts in the future, but for now they are still proud to be an American company, as evidenced by a large Made in America banner in the factory. And he says the U.P. work force is among the best he has worked with.

      Any why should someone choose to own their own helicopter for a cool million, if one can afford it? Flying a helicopter is just a freedom you don TMt understand until you do it, Mullins says. your visibility is amazing because you have the flexibility to fly at different angles and different levels and different maneuvers, which makes it very exciting.