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Goshen company keeps business up in the air

You have to look up to see this Hidden Gem of Elkhart County business.

Posted on Feb. 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — While we’ve profiled several “hidden gems” in manufacturing in Elkhart County, this time we’re looking at an unusual local company in the service sector.

This Goshen-based company is the only one of its kind in the state, and one of only a few in the region that provide aerial charter services with a turbine (jet)-powered helicopter.

COMPANY NAME

Indiana Helicopters, LLC

FOUNDED/WHY THEY’RE HERE

The company, according to Randy Sharkey, chief pilot, “was formed by Chuck Surack. Chuck is the chief executive officer of Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne. Chuck is a helicopter enthusiast, and also a helicopter pilot himself that we’ve trained, he got his training from some of our instructors in Goshen.

“He decided that there was a niche in the market for a turbine-powered helicopter in Indiana, so he bought this Eurocopter EC 120B with the intention of putting it on an air-carrier certificate,” and provided it for charter service based out of the Goshen Municipal Airport.

WHAT THEY DO

Unlike most helicopter companies, which can only carry passengers aloft and then return to the starting point, “this is an on-demand charter service,” Sharkey said. They fly for weddings, aerial photography, executive flights and even flights for casinos to bring VIPs to the casino. “We get calls to fly cargo, freight, out of Goshen directly to the end user,” he said.

“Airports are not a limiting factor for Indiana Helicopters. We do not need an airport to deliver executives or freight,” just permission from a landowner.

WHERE THEY REACH

They have a comfortable range of 200 miles without refueling, flying at 130 mph at 500 feet altitude. “That’s what provides the greatest scenery,” Sharkey said.

COMPETITORS

It’s a small enough market that they aren’t up against anyone. They’re the only charter operator of a jet-powered helicopter in Indiana, and they often help out with the only charter company in Chicago, Sharkey said. There are also one or two in Detroit.

INTERESTING FACTS

Ÿ They’re the only charter operator of a jet-powered helicopter in Indiana.

Ÿ The helicopter costs about $2 million new.

Ÿ Insurance costs about $50,000 a year.

Ÿ Flying uses 30 to 40 gallons of fuel per hour.

Ÿ They are on standby with the sheriff’s department and emergency workers if the need arises.

Ÿ A New York booking agent called them, asking them to fly Kid Rock from his ranch in Michigan to Jackson to film a commercial, but “I was booked that same day to go to Chicago,” Sharkey said.

Ÿ Sharkey flew executives of a wind-turbine company from the heliport in Indianapolis to an under-construction wind farm near Danville, Ill. “They asked me to circle up there for 20 minutes while this thing was being raised by a 600-ton crane,” Sharkey said.

Ÿ Sharkey flew Colts punter Pat McAfee and lineman Joe Reitz to a Colts Fan Fest event last summer. “I picked them up in Indianapolis and flew them to LaPorte High School’s football field,” Sharkey said. “These guys got out and the crowds go crazy. These guys were loving it. This is a grand entrance. You want to impress somebody? Show up in somebody’s back yard in a helicopter.”

NEXT TIME

In two weeks we’ll look at a company that started here, left for Canada, went to Minnesota and then came home to Elkhart County, where the specialized controls they make here are used across four continents.




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