By NEIL ZAWICKI
Mansfield Heliflight owner Eric Chase began his career as a helicopter pilot and parts dealer began in the 1980s, when he was an art student at the University of Vermont.
He started brokering odd helicopter parts out of his dorm room back then, according to Chief Financial Officer Tina Lindberg.
Lindberg said Chase always had an affinity for aviation, and started flying as a kid. His mechanical aptitude, enterprising nature, and ability as a pilot helped him to win a contract flying line patrol with AT&T, back when the phone company kept hundreds and hundreds of miles of telephone line above ground.
That experience, along with his side business selling parts, led him to form the company in 1986, and today he employs eight people, keeps a fleet of choppers for tours as well as lessons, and is an international helicopter parts dealer.
The company also offers flight lessons and helicopter tours. At $360 per hour, such lessons take a special kind of dedication. That rate goes for rides as well.
“Helicopters aren’t cheap,” said Lindberg.
A lot of people come to the company with a “bucket list” item, she said, and so the most popular tour flight is a seven-minute ride for $45.
It’s a unique business, to be sure. Inside the facility, a warehouse is filled with choppers in various states of repair or reassembly. There’s an airbus, a Sikorsky, some Bell Helicopters, and one that is so badly damaged it looks as though it fell from the sky just yesterday.
“That one just came in,” said Lindberg. “I’m not sure what happened to it.”
Chase, or one of his mechanics, will eventually rebuild the damaged craft and then sell it., but the majority of their business is still rooted in parts dealing. They get calls from Honduras, Turkey, India and Japan, to name a few.
In fact, the old, boxy helicopter on the lawn out in front of the company headquarters along Route 7 in Milton near the Colchester border is a Soviet-era military transport called a Kamov 26. Chase got his hands on it during a business trip to Hungary several years ago, and had it running in no time.
“It’s been a hangar queen forever,” she said, using the aviation slang for an aircraft that spends most of its time in the shop. “It’s kind of sinking into the ground out there now though. It should be in a museum is where it should be.”
For her part, when she started as an accountant with the company 20 years ago, Lindberg knew nothing about helicopters. She said she was just happy to get a job as an accountant. But today she can name practically any helicopter and give a brief history on the aircraft.
As for Chase, he did complete his art degree at UVM, and Lindberg said it goes well with his work.
“He is very much an artist as a mechanic and a pilot,” she said. “It’s a very precise artform. In order to be an aircraft mechanic you have to be an artist.”