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Enstrom History, from inception to production of the 280C

Welcome to the first installment of Enstrom History, where we’ll highlight the pioneers and innovators who helped Enstrom become what it is today. For this month’s installment, we start right at the beginning.

Rudy Enstrom’s Early Designs

Rudy Enstrom was born on June 23, 1916, in Crystal Falls, MI. While employed as a mechanic for an iron mine, Rudy began to dream of flying helicopters. He built his own helicopter in 1942 at his father’s sawmill shop. Over the next 15 years or so, Rudy built five different models, testing some of them in a gravel pit near Crystal Falls.

Rudy was able to patent three of his designs, including a patent for a swashplate control system to allow for mechanical pitch change. This caught the attention of Jack Christian, a tool salesman from Menominee who had frequently sold to the iron mine Rudy worked at.

Jack had an idea to build an Aerospace company in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, believing it would bring high-paying jobs to an economically challenged area. Together, Rudy and Jack recruited several experienced aeronautical engineers, and the group was incorporated in 1959 as the R.J. Enstrom Co.

R.J. Enstrom Co.

Enstrom initially operated out of a leased building at the Menominee airport. In 1960, the company produced its first two-blade design, the F-27, but later modified the design to include three-blades. A few years later, the FAA certified Enstrom’s first helicopter, the F-28. If that model name sounds familiar, it’s because pilots are still flying a version of that helicopter to this day. Michigan officials named the F-28 as the state’s “Product of the Year” in 1965.

Enstrom would change ownership several times between 1968 and 1979. Attorney and entrepreneur F. Lee Bailey took over in 1971. He renamed the company to Enstrom Helicopter Corporation and ramped up factory production to more than 100 helicopters per year. He helped oversee the FAA certification of the Enstrom 280C, an instant success recognized by Fortune Magazine as one of the 25 best designs of the year.

The next few decades would bring significant change to Enstrom, including the introduction of the turbine-powered 480. We’ll dive into that period next time in a future month’s installment of Enstrom History.


Bayard duPont is the Senior Technical Fellow Product and Technical Representative at Enstrom Helicopter.

About Enstrom Helicopter

From Rudy Enstrom’s early designs in 1943 to initial testing in a Michigan Quarry in 1957 to aircraft operating on six continents, Enstrom Helicopter Corporation has maintained a reputation for safety, value and performance. Based in Menominee, Michigan and proudly made in the United States, Enstrom has a rich history for design innovation. The goal is to provide helicopters to the customer’s exact specification and deliver support and maintenance worldwide.