In 2019, Sunshine Coast company Helitak were awarded an Ignite Ideas Fund grant to help scale the manufacturing of their cleverly designed firefighting tank, designed for surplus military helicopters.
Since then, the regional business has continued to gain momentum abroad, earning their innovation prestigious recognition on a global scale.
We caught up with Helitak Operations Manager, Paul Blundell to learn about the progress that has been made with support from Advance Queensland.
How did you begin?
Chief designer and engineer, Jason Schellaars started Helitak over 15 years ago when he was working as a commercial firefighting pilot.
Having spent countless hours in Australian skies to drop water on bushfires, Jason decided there was a more effective way for aircraft to carry and release water.
Jason came up with an initial tank design and set up the company in 2006 and then exported our first fire tanks to the United States in 2007.
What did you set out to do?
Our goal was to design and manufacture the best and most effective aerial firefighting suppression tanks available for different models and types of helicopters.
From the beginning, we focused on an underbelly tank with the highest head pressure possible that could deliver the most water in the shortest time. The extended shape of the tank provides the exiting water to obtain a high level of mechanical force which helps to penetrate the forest canopy and extinguish the fire — faster and better than any similar firefighting apparatus on the market.
What new milestones and/or achievements has your business reached since receiving an Ignite Ideas Fund grant?
In May 2021, the Helitak FT4500 Black Hawk Fire Tank was awarded Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification approval. This is a major achievement for Helitak as it means the Helitak Black Hawk tank is the only underbelly Black Hawk Fire Tank in the World approved for aerial firefighting mission operations.
What growth has your business witnessed since receiving an Ignite Ideas Fund grant?
With the success of the Black Hawk project, Helitak has received further international exposure, recognition and inquiries from both Australia and overseas government as well as military and civilian operators. South Australian based operator Aerotech Helicopters were the first to jump onboard and their new UH60 Black Hawk Fire Tank was delivered last month. If all goes according to plan, there may be around 6 Australian owned and operated Black Hawks fitted with our new FT4500 fire tanks battling the upcoming Australian bushfire season and keeping Australian’s safe.
Ignite Ideas funding helped us progress both the Airbus Super Puma and Leonardo AW139 fire tank projects.
The new Helitak Super Puma fire tank will undergo FAA certification and validation test flights in early July 2021. The Helitak AW139 fire tank prototype was displayed at the RotorTech Expo in Brisbane in June and gained large interest from the industry.
We have also initiated quite a few innovative R&D projects for customers.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome these?
2020 and early 2021 was a difficult period for Helitak with international travel restraints and the cancellation of many overseas tradeshows disrupting the momentum Helitak had enjoyed. This also slowed down the FAA Certification process and affected our export sales revenues.
To counter these challenges during the early COVID-19 onslaught, Helitak decided to ramp up production to help retain our experienced staff base which proved costly over such a prolonged period.
What role has the Ignite Ideas Fund played in helping your business to scale?
The Ignite Ideas Fund helped in the initial stages of the Helitak Black Hawk project. This early financial support allowed Helitak to direct other funds to areas like training, acquisition of advanced manufacturing equipment and improving processes and systems.
Why are grants such as the Ignite Ideas Fund important for regional innovators/businesses?
State and federal government support such as the Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas Fund provide a necessary financial base to provide businesses the breathing room to explore innovation and improvements in operations.
What are your business goals over the next 12-24 months?
Helitak has already received several orders both in Australia and from our export markets for the Black Hawk fire tank – and we will continue the manufacture and sales of this model.
The Helitak Super Puma is due for certification approval in July 2021, this will bring forward further expansion requirements including larger premises, increase employment and increases in export revenues into the local, state and federal economies.
Learn more about the Ignite Ideas Fund including eligibility and how to apply by visiting the webpage.