Littlejohn Plane Parts-Maker Does Add-On

Sponsor: Littlejohn & Co

Add-on Target: Helicomb International Inc.

Value: Undisclosed

Platform Company: Synchronous Aerospace Group

Lender: Jefferies Finance LLC

Financial Advisor: Target: McGladrey Capital Markets LLC

Legal Counsel: Sponsor: Morrison Cohen; Target: Johnson, Jones, Dornblaser, Coffman & Shorb LLP

Littlejohn & Co. has piloted Synchronous Aerospace Group into the soaring market for composite-based aerospace structures. In the company’s first add-on acquisition under Littlejohn’s ownership, the company acquired Helicomb International, of Tulsa, Okla., kicking off what could be small series of acquisitions.

Synchronous Aerospace, which makes aluminum and metal parts for commercial and military aircraft, now has the opportunity to take advantage of growing demand for lighter-weight, durable composites, which Helicomb specializes in.

Case in point: The Boeing 787, among the next generation of commercial passenger jets, will feature a fuselage and wings made almost entirely of composites. The same holds true for new military equipment, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. So while Santa Ana, Calif.-based company Synchronous Aerospace has been growing more than 10 percent a year, Helicomb’s business has been growing substantially faster, according to Edmund Feeley, a managing director with Littlejohn.

Helicomb was founded in 1981 by Robert Austin, who will remain president under the larger Synchronous Aerospace umbrella. Austin navigated Helicomb through a turbulent shakeout in the aerospace industry in the early 1990s, during which Helicomb’s revenues plummeted more than 36 percent from a 1991 peak of $11 million to $7 million in 1992, according to a Fortune article published at the time.

Austin has since righted the ship. In 2008 Helicomb generated $20 million in revenue and Austin expects that number to grow 25 percent to $25 million in 2009, according to a recent article printed in newspaper The Tulsa World. Last April, Helicomb was awarded a $241,258 contract for airframe structural components by the U.S. Army Aviation & Missile Command. The company has been awarded at least nine other contracts from the same institution over the past four years.

Sychronous Aerospace, too, has had industry trends blowing at its back. Consolidation among the upper-echelon of commercial and military aircraft manufactures has led to a relatively small number of major players in that market, such as Boeing Co., GKN Aerospace, and Lockheed Martin.

Below those major players however, are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies that provide parts and structures to the larger manufacturers that range in annual revenue size from $10 million up to $200 million. Feeley believes this market is ripe for consolidation because the large players “don’t want a million vendors for fundamentally the same thing.”

Greenwich, Conn.-based Littlejohn expects to close another two to four add-ons with the Synchronous Aerospace platform over the next couple of years to bolster the company’s presence in the composites arena, as well as to deepen its relationships on the military side of its business.

Littlejohn, which describes itself as a control-oriented firm, used equity from its vintage-2005 Littlejohn Fund III LP to finance the add-on. That capital pool hit a total of $850 million and is now more than 50 percent invested, Feeley said. Debt financing for the deal was provided by Jefferies Finance LLC.