Helitak – Innovation Leads to Growth

As far as nontraditional career paths go, Jason Schellaars’s path to success has been long and full of challenges while always steeped in aviation. His hard work and determination led to the creation of the company we now know as a top producer of the world’s first expandable tank solution for aerial firefighting aircraft.

Jason began learning to fly in the late 1990s at Becker Helicopters before taking on a role at the well-known aerial firefighting company McDermott Aviation, based in Noosa, Queensland. Starting as a loader and then pilot in the year 2000, Jason worked for the company until 2006. His role involved flying agricultural aviation missions and aerial firefighting while the company was in its infancy of providing aircraft to the aerial firefighting industry.

Helitak CEO Jason Schellaars (right) and Helitak Director of Business Development Nick Noorman

During that time, company owner John McDermott acquired several Bell 214 models from Oman, which Jason helped physically acquire from the Middle East with John. Jason fitted a 2500-liter fire tank to the aircraft, igniting what would later become Jason’s passion for invention and the creation of the company that would become Helitak Aerial Firefighting Equipment.

His initial exposure to tank building came from McDermott Aviation, which built a tank under license for the company, and Jason, who has a marine engineering background, naturally began to see improvements that could be made to existing tank designs.

After six years with McDermott, Jason continued his flying career, putting his tank-building ambitions on the back burner while flying contracts in Tasmania and Papua New Guinea. However, as an engineer, his ambitions led to developing the first expandable tank design, a 1000-liter/250-gallon tank with the original hover pump designed for an AS350 in 2007.

Although growth was initially slow, selling one tank to pay for the design of the next, Jason developed a tank for the S-61, which was quickly sold to several companies, including Coulson Aviation in Canada and CHI in the United States.

By 2010, with Black Hawks’ impending entrance to the civilian marketplace, Jason took to designing a tank for the UH-60, seeing the writing on the wall for applying the UH-60 to aerial firefighting. This would prove a smart move for the company’s growth, as it now builds and ships several FT-4500 tanks worldwide to civilian and government entities each month from its Lake McDonald, Queensland facility.

The next several years would see the addition of tank designs for the Bell medium range, now widely utilized on the McDermott aviation fleet and many others around the world. Tanks designed for the AS332/H215, S-92, and recently FAA-certified CH-47 Chinook will also be added. Launch customer ROTAK Helicopter Services has placed additional orders to equip the company’s fleet with the largest expandable tank on the market.

In 2024, with growing interest and a massive expansion in demand for the FT4500 tank, Helitak leased a 20,000-square-foot facility at Camarillo Airport, where the company had previously shared a small facility with another operator.

The new facility, which will serve as Helitak USA’s headquarters, will consist of design and manufacturing facilities, office space, and a repair station for maintaining tanks already deployed in the field.

When brought up to full capacity, the Camarillo facility will eventually employ up to 30 new staff. These new premises aim to further streamline the production process and provide faster service to their United States clientele. Production will no longer rely solely on the company’s Australian headquarters, which Jason states will speed delivery by more than a month on new tanks and allow much faster servicing of existing tanks, an essential service for any damage sustained to tanks during firefighting operations.

In addition to tanks, Helitak also stepped into the bucket market in 2024, showcasing several new tank designs capable of operating on type three to type one aircraft. This produces an end-to-end solution for operators who perform aerial firefighting operations with both tanks and buckets, depending on contract requirements.

Although the growth process is not always smooth, Helitak has become accustomed to it as the company grows and provides life-saving equipment to those threatened by wildfire.

Ryan Mason
Ryan Mason
Ryan is an accomplished writer and aerial photographer that has worked in the aviation industry for over a decade before co-founding AerialFire Magazine. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Ryan is a former police officer that focuses his writing and photography efforts on para-public operations and agricultural aviation.

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