As mentioned earlier, the 480’s exceptional safety record is a testament to the helicopter’s build quality, maintainability and superb flying traits. A review of the NTSB accident database turns up only three serious accidents, two resulting in injuries and a third, in the Dominican Republic in May 2009, in one fatality to the helicopter’s pilot.
Strength of the 480B comes from a welded-steel central pylon. An extendible tail rotor and removable wheels can be used for ground operations. The helicopter is also fitted with top and side windows, two removable doors, composite materials and fuel tank enclosed with hinge bracket.
The 480B’s Rolls-Royce engine is capable of producing 420 shp, but Enstrom has chosen to use only a fraction of that power (305 shp for five minutes and 277 shp continuously), which gives the pilot the luxury of having plenty of power in hand and of retaining that power in demanding hot-and-high environments.
There is no hydraulic system in the 480B, which keeps things simple but also requires a trim system to absorb feedback from the rotor and to reposition the stick datum as required by the pilot. If the trim system fails, the forces required by the pilot to overcome them are about 15 pounds — not excessive, but the pilot would want to land fairly quickly. Unlike most helicopters, the 480B’s pilot flies from the left seat.
During my demonstration flight, the usual sideways and backward maneuvers, and landings and takeoffs into and out of wind, were straightforward. The rotor disc is responsive in all phases of flight as well as in turbulence, with controls that are nicely balanced and, as mentioned earlier, a trim system that’s easy to use and quick to react.
That Enstrom has managed to cobble together enough orders to stay afloat during what has been an extremely difficult time in the company’s 52-year history is a testament to the ownership and senior executive team led by CEO Mullins, who heads a work force of around 110 that still takes enormous pride in its work. It’s an American story, one that was written more than a half-century ago and, with hope, will continue to write itself for many years to come.
“I have the design for our next helicopter in a binder in my office,” Mullins confides. “We all hope we get to build it one day.”