Nearly two and a half decades ago, as a fledgling commercial pilot, I had the opportunity to fly with HelicopterHelmet.com founder Ron Abbott while he was working as a flight instructor in South Florida. Even then, his can-do, entrepreneurial spirit was noticeable. As the decades have gone by, that same spirit assists him in growing several businesses in a very competitive market.
Abbott began his career in Army Special Operations where his “get it done” mentality was recognized and cultivated. After the Army he went to a civilian flight school and became a certified flight instructor. As his career in the helicopter industry progressed, he went on to fly approximately 22,000 hours in sectors such as ENG, sling-load, HAA, tours, tuna boats, utility, firefighting and offshore oil support (his true flying love).
While flying for Air Evac Lifeteam in 1997 Abbott determined that he had a need for a helmet. He bought his first helmet at an army surplus shop, then proceeded to tear it down with the intent of refurbishing and customizing it for his own use. When other pilots saw the improvements he made, they were so impressed that they began asking him to refurbish helmets for them. Realizing there might be a market for helmet refurbs, Abbott began buying used helmets, breaking them down, and customizing them to meet pilots’ needs.
HelicopterHelmet.com has become a popular place for helicopter pilots to shop for gear. Why? Helicopter Helmets is run by a pilot who knows the industry and has a passion for safety and products that are truly useful for pilots. Abbott has done most jobs in the helicopter industry; he knows what works. He is an accomplished “rotorcraft pro” with ATP and CFI ratings. His flying career led him into the helmet business, unlike other helmet suppliers run by non-pilots. Abbott surrounds himself with a team of professionals that believe in pilot safety and strive to make the best products. Some of those professionals are also family members. Son Alex (also a rated helicopter pilot) works alongside his father as the business manager.
From ‘Down Under’ to USA
In 2005, Abbott and several colleagues from the offshore oil support industry formed AviationSurvival.com in Australia. At the same time, Ron debuted sister company HelicopterHelmets.com as the business that would serve markets in the western hemisphere. Over the years, the company worked on military contracts but found a niche market for pilots flying law enforcement, government contracting, HAA, utility, flight training, and for some OEMs such as Agusta, Bell, and Airbus.
As time went on and business grew, it became clear that keeping two offices open on opposite sides of the globe created management challenges, so the business was brought fully back to the U.S. and integrated into the business based in Charleston, South Carolina, and later relocated to Melbourne, Florida. During its time in South Carolina, Helicopter Helmets continued to distribute OEM helmets from Alpha and other manufacturers, as well as refurbish and repair used helmets for individuals. Building on that experience, Helicopter Helmets slowly began looking toward the prospect of manufacturing their own design.
Looking across the spectrum of helmet manufacturers, and based on his own pilot experience, Abbott believed he could manufacture a better helmet that was safe, comfortable, gave pilots more options, and improved customer service. Based on that belief, Evolution Helmets and the EVO helmet design were born.
Abbott believed that many improvements could be made that would serve a pilot throughout his/her career, as well as for the life of the helmet. One improvement for example, revolves around warranties. Some manufacturers do not do not honor the warranty when minor changes are made to the helmet. For instance, what if a pilot changes aircraft and needs to change out the cord adapter? Could they do it themselves without shipping it back to the manufacturer or voiding the warranty? Most likely not, but the EVO design fixes that. If a pilot needs to change a cord, Helicopter Helmets has designed a quick disconnect that can be easily done as the pilot walks from one aircraft to another.
Another big innovation was the integration of the BOSE A20 into a flight helmet. Abbott designed the EVO to accept the Bose A20 by making the EVO wider. Taking it one step further, the company designed an installation kit for the BOSE to fit into the SPH-5, XPH and others. Now 80 percent of all helmets sold by the company includes the Bose A20, which was unheard of prior to the development of the EVO and the installation kit.
Meeting Pilots’ Needs
With the challenges of being a manufacturer, a pilot shop, paint shop, and electronics shop, Helicopter Helmets outgrew their facility in South Carolina and found a new home in Melbourne, Florida, where they now utilize nearly 12,000 square feet of space. The new facility has ample room for corporate offices, refurbishing, repairs, assembly, sewing, cutting, painting and a full manufacturing floor. Having everything under one roof has allowed Abbott and his team to maintain the highest level of quality in the products they manufacture. “We are an ever-growing company and we want to retain our employees and keep them happy, part of doing that involves having a beautiful facility to work from and state of the art equipment,” says Abbott.
As a testament to the fact that they are a pilot-driven company: their highest priorities are safety, quality, and delivery time. Having an in-house paint shop has reduced process times from two to three weeks to three days. Abbott says such efficiency allows them to beat their competitors’ quality and delivery times by up to three weeks for a new custom helmet. “As a career pilot, I see things through a pilot’s lens of what works and what does not out in the field,” Abbott says. When a pilot is changing jobs, he or she needs their helmet immediately. Pilots have different needs dependent on the job they are doing and their own personal preferences. So time is of the essence and Helicopter Helmets wants to get quality products to pilots in a timely manner.
Making it Better
Abbott and his team believe they are making a difference for those pilots wearing Helicopter Helmets’ Evolution Helmets (EVO) helmets. The brand ranges from the basic EVO 052 to the EVO 152, EVO 252, HPH, and the most affordable, feature-packed EVO XPH. All have the same innovative design that features a lightweight shell construction of carbon fiber, Kevlar, and fiberglass. EVO helmets also offer greater peripheral vision for pilots flying SPIC. They are extremely light and incredibly resilient to penetration and impact. The shells are manufactured in the U.S.A. by Hammerhead Aviation and destruction tested to spec at Dynamic Research in California.
The innovation that goes into the EVO line comes from knowing that what pilots need is quality and interchangeable parts such as quick disconnects and toggle switches for impedance changes. All EVO helmets have an NVG battery pack holder compatible with all U.S.-made NVG devices, and an adjustable heavy-duty magnetic chin strap rated to 440 pounds pull.
Helicopter Helmets is also in the business of repairing other companies’ helmets as well. The company stocks parts for every brand and they carefully inspect each helmet that comes to them and gives pilots the best information needed in order to make the right upgrades and/or repairs. The company performs a detailed and thorough check for cracks in the shell, makes sure liners are installed correctly and secured, and confirms cabling to microphones and ear pieces are working properly. Ascertaining vision and communication clarity are paramount safety checks. Inspection on other brands’ helmets is inexpensive and takes about an hour to accomplish. Currently Helicopter Helmets provides service to many large operators to include AMRG, Air Methods, PHI, and many law enforcement agencies.
“I want fair prices, so that pilots have something that is affordable, but lasts” Abbott emphasizes. “I treat my clients as my friends and I work hard every day to make sure I am producing a good product that keeps them safe.”
I asked my friend and fellow pilot what’s next for Helicopter Helmets.Abbott revealed this:
Get Helicopter Helmets on the approval list with the Department of Interior, as they surpass every standard.
Design and manufacture in the U.S.A., a new EVO line of flight suits in partnership with United Designs, a company in Italy.
Aviation Survival will remain a part of Helicopter Helmets and has a full line of rafts/raft rentals, military gear, and all products for the civilian pilot.
While HelicopterHelmet.com and its EVO helmets are setting standards for the future, the company will continue to meet the needs of pilots around the world today. The company is led by a pilot that has “been there and done that” and he wants to make a better product for fellow pilots. With a new facility and a dedicated, capable team working inside it, HelicopterHelmet.com is embracing the future.