The company’s helicopter covers are designed to protect aircraft exteriors while keeping interiors cool and free of harm from UV rays.

Soon after buying a Chevrolet Camaro in 1986, John Allen discovered that the Southern California sun could quickly deteriorate the car’s leather interior. Unable to find a vehicle cover that worked well and was easy to install, he designed one himself—and founded Valencia-based California PopTop to market and sell his creation.

Not Just for Cars
Before long, it became clear that automobiles weren’t the only vehicles that could benefit from Allen’s covers. One day after an electronic news-gathering (ENG) pilot in Los Angeles bought a California PopTop cover for his car, the pilot’s boss noticed how cool the product kept the vehicle’s interior and wondered whether the cover could be made for the company’s AS350 AStar helicopters. Allen made a cover for the AS350, and the rest is history.

“The next thing I know, all these pilots are calling from around the area asking about the cover and if I could make one for their helicopters,” Allen recalls. “It turns out the AStar was pretty popular, so I was able to sell a lot of covers for [that model] right away, but I got a lot of requests for other aircraft.”

Aviation Expansion
After the covers began to catch on throughout the aviation community, Helinet Aviation Services of Van Nuys, California, which operates helicopters for ENG, air medical, and aerial photography operations, started purchasing them. Helinet also requested a cover for its air medical–configured Sikorsky S-76 and asked whether California PopTop could make covers for Helinet’s $500,000 cameras.

Today, businesses that use California PopTop covers include air medical, ENG, and law enforcement operators such as the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, and New Mexico State Police. Both Airbus Helicopters and Robinson Helicopter Co. now include California PopTop covers with new aircraft purchases.

After a demonstration of the covers, Allen sold six of them to longtime customer and air tour operator Maverick Helicopters of Las Vegas, Nevada. Maverick staff told Allen that before they bought the PopTop covers, they’d been replacing sun-damaged helicopter interiors every three years. After using the covers, which are designed to block 99.8% of UV rays, that period increased to six to seven years, saving Maverick around $250,000 a year.

One-Person Installation
“The key thing for me in designing these covers, other than that they have to be effective, is that they have to be easy to put on and take off,” Allen explains. “By that, I mean that one person can do it quickly and easily without any tools.”

Indeed, one person can install the cover by hooking it to one side of the aircraft, unrolling it while walking around the helicopter, and securing it to the other side of the aircraft. The whole procedure takes about 30 seconds, depending on the size of the aircraft.

Variety of Types
California PopTop covers are available for most Bell helicopters, the Sikorsky S-76 and UH-60 Black Hawk, some MD Helicopters models, many Airbus types, all Robinson variants, and the Leonardo AW109 and A119. Covers are also available for aerial cameras, and the company can customize the covers to accommodate radar domes and external air-conditioning hoses.

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Jen Boyer

Jen Boyer

Jen Boyer is the principal of her own firm, Flying Penguin Communications. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and holds commercial, instrument, flight instructor, and instrument instructor ratings in helicopters and a private rating in airplanes. She has worked as a professional journalist and marketing communicator in the aviation industry since the early 1990s.