North American Helicopter, a 55-plus year veteran charter operator that provides services to customers throughout the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean from its home base at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, debuted its newly acquired K-MAX® medium-to-heavy lift aircraft with an aerial firefighting demonstration on the airport grounds on March 6. The K-MAX® chopper is designed to do one thing – pick up really heavy things – and the test drops demonstrated firsthand the helicopter’s unique ability to carry a significant quantity of water, which makes it a groundbreaking tool in the fight against forest fires across the nation and into Mexico.
During the demonstration, the rugged $7 million, American-made K-MAX® helicopter – one of just 23 in the country and the only one currently in the Midwest – dipped its two Bambi Buckets into a nearby pond, where they collected nearly 700 gallons of water (the equivalent weight of an F-250 truck) and completed six short flight patterns, each of which ended with the helicopter hovering approximately 100 feet above the ground and initiating a test drop to return the water to the pond. The aircraft is the first-of-its-kind in the St. Louis region with the capability to lift up to 6,000 pounds (2,722 kg) with unmatched performance in hot and high conditions, and it is one of only 60 K-MAX® helicopters manufactured worldwide.
North American Helicopter purchased the K-MAX® helicopter in the fall of 2022 from Kaman Air Vehicles, a division of Kaman Aerospace Corporation. This addition to North American Helicopter’s impressive fleet is an important step for expanding the company’s operational services and overall external lift capabilities to help benefit future firefighting efforts. Outside of firefighting season, the aircraft will be used to support the company’s ongoing work with the electrical and gas utility sectors and the Department of Defense, while enabling it to also meet heavy lift needs in the construction industry.
“We’re excited about the sustained growth at North American Helicopter and their recent investments that will enhance future power line projects, infrastructure building, and firefighting support in St. Clair County and far beyond,” said St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern. “The diversity of operations occurring at MidAmerica Airport have a significant impact on the local and regional economies, as well as contribute to the tremendous strength of the aviation sector in the State of Illinois.”
Bryan Johnson, director of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, said North American Helicopter established a presence at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in 2021. “The acquisition and use of the K-MAX® by North American Helicopter demonstrate the diverse nature of the aviation/aerospace industry and the technology that is developed and used for specific needs,” said Johnson. “The company is another example of how business aviation has a direct economic benefit for the airport and the entire region.”
Founded in 1967, North American Helicopter has built a solid reputation on its commitment to safety and the professional, reliable service they have been proud to offer customers for more than five decades. Since its establishment, the company has grown from three choppers and a handful of full-time staff members to a team of 24 employees and 10 state-of-the-art aircraft, offering operational services, aerial firefighting, utility inspection, charter flights, scenic tours, helicopter emergency response, and aerial photography to business, government, and individuals.
Now operated by Chris and Jessie Bailey, the third-generation husband-and-wife ownership team purchased North American Helicopter from its former owners 10 years ago, and it has since become certified as a Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) in Illinois and Missouri with pending approval for federal WOSB certification.
In February 2020, the duo invested more than $2 million in a 19,000-square-foot facility that broke ground at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The airport’s convenient location and available developable land provided North American Helicopter with the space needed to support the company’s continued growth and build its new facility. Completed in 2021, it includes an oversized hangar with aircraft and maintenance services, extensive community office space, and more. In late 2022, the company further expanded by purchasing Maine Helicopters, Inc., a utility helicopter company based out of mid-state Maine that was established in 1960. This extended their service territory while acquiring an existing customer base offering the same utility-type services that North American Helicopter provides.
“Over the last 10 years we have stretched our footprint from only the Midwest all the way to New England and down the east coast – really anything east of the Rockies we travel and service year-round,” said Jessie Bailey, President of North American Helicopter. “We’ve grown our operations quite substantially, which is very exciting, and beyond its firefighting capabilities we plan to grow K-MAX® construction operations throughout the east coast, establish U.S. Army Corps of Engineers connections in the area, and further build on relationships with utility customers in this region.”