The Enstrom Model 480B’s blend of forgiving flight qualities, turbine power and an almost six-foot-wide cabin help make it one of the most surprising light helicopters on the market today. Pilots love it, for all of the reasons just listed, as well as for its low operating costs and an exceptional safety record since its introduction in the early 1990s.
On the outside, the 480B is smallish-looking, kind of like a miniature AStar, yet it boasts a roomy interior that provides plenty of elbowroom for three adults, and space for up to five in a pinch. Powered by a derated Rolls-Royce 250-C20W turbine engine mated to a three-blade main rotor, the combination gives the 480B the handling qualities of a much larger machine, not to mention excellent high, hot and heavy performance.
The helicopter I flew had a full-up Chelton synthetic-vision EFIS, comfortable leather seats that can be removed, rearranged and installed again in minutes and — best of all — a demeanor in flight that makes this Enstrom model perhaps the easiest to fly of any small helicopter on the market today.
In this light, slow sales of late seem a mystery. The sour economy would certainly seem to provide one explanation. Another could be the emergence of the Robinson R66, another five-place turbine-powered helicopter that sells for a few hundred thousand dollars less than the 480B while boasting similar performance numbers, a higher useful load and the terrific Rolls-Royce RR300 engine.
There might also be a certain stigma attached to what many perceive as an “old” design, owing to the fact that the 480B is derived from helicopters first conceived and built in the 1960s and ’70s. Poke your head into the cabin of a new Enstrom, breathe in the smell of the high-quality leather interior, check out the fit and finish of the materials inside and out, study the gorgeous PPG paint, and your ideas about the helicopter, and the company that builds it, will quickly change.
At least they did for me when I visited the Enstrom Helicopter Corp. factory recently and had a chance to fly a 480B with company demonstration pilot Bayard duPont. Departing to the east from the company’s headquarters at Menominee-Marinette Twin County Airport (KMNM) on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the company’s demonstrator 480B, duPont showed why flying this helicopter can seem about as effortless as a circuit in the pattern in a Piper Cub. Adjusting the controls for a gentle climb and setting the trim, duPont let go of the cyclic, held his hands in the air as though he were a magician about to perform a trick for his audience, and then placed them in his lap. The 480B dutifully continued on its trajectory without belying for a moment its true identity as a helicopter and not a docile fixed-wing airplane. Credit Enstrom’s fully articulated main rotor system, which is a work of engineering art. Weighing 300 pounds including the rotor hub and blades, the system provides exceptionally high inertia, which means the blades want to keep spinning even in the event of a power loss, affording the pilot more time to react in emergencies.