After an absence of some years, Enstrom Helicopter Corp now have an active new dealer in France. Rotor & Aircraft SA, based in Chartres, have taken delivery of the latest production example of the Enstrom 280FX. Serial number 2167, this aircraft was displayed at Heli-Expo in Atlanta following manufacture in March 2019. It was officially registered as N861EE but was already carrying French registration F-HPUX at Heli-Expo. Following transatlantic shipment, it was re-assembled at Chartres and flew for the first time in France on Thursday 29th August. It was flown to Blois-le-Breuil airfield the following day for display at the world-famous ULM Salon, held over the weekend of 31st August-1st September, which despite its name has always had a strong light helicopter presence. F-HPUX was a very popular attraction at the show, attracting considerable interest.
Rotor & Aircraft was founded in 1997 and has been dealers for both Bell Helicopter Textron and Cessna Aircraft in the past. Two years ago they took on the Enstrom dealership for France, Luxembourg and Monaco, and decided this year to purchase a demonstrator. CEO François Gatineau stated that he was very optimistic about the sales prospects in the training market for the 280FX, a competitively-priced 2-3 seat piston-engined helicopter, following extensive discussions with many of the rotary-wing Flying Training Organisations in France.
The Enstrom Helicopter Corp of Menominee, Mich is one of the great survivors of the U.S. helicopter industry. Although it has changed ownership several times since its founding in 1959, it has produced helicopters continuously at its factory since the original model F-28 was introduced in 1965. This type, powered by a Lycoming piston engine, remains in production to this day, in principle, with about 660 built, although the last one appeared in 2016. A dedicated training version, the TH-180, was developed in 2015 and three have so far been built.
The enlarged and improved model 280 was introduced in 1978 and 227 of the original model 280 were built before production switched to the model 280F, of which only 19 were built. The 280FX, powered by a Lycoming HIO-360-F1AD piston engine rated at 225 hp, was introduced in 1985 and 157 have been built so far.
An enlrged 5-seat turbine-engined development, the TH-28, powered by a Rolls Royce 250-C20W turboshaft rated at 285 hp, was developed in response to the need for a military training helicopter for the United States Army. It first flew in 1989 and although no U.S. Army contract was placed, a civilian version, designated Model 480, entered production in 1993 and the 250th example, N8736E serial number 5250, was produced in August 2019. A significant proportion of these have been delivered to military customers, principally in the training role, and many others are employed by law enforcement agencies worldwide.
Although there have been periods when production of Enstrom helicopters has been negligible, its fortunes under its current Chinese owners (Chongqing Helicopter Investment Corp) seem to be looking up: 22 examples were shipped in 2018, the highest number for some years.
Enstrom’s designs are generally considered to be aesthetically pleasing, especially the models 280 and 480, and technically are unusual in the absence of visible pitch-change links for the main rotor, as the mechanism is contained inside the hollow main rotor shaft, leading to reduced aerodynamic drag.
Enstrom helicopters were once a common sight at European airfields. It is to be hoped that the pro-active new French dealer will succeed in bringing more of them to the region over the coming years.
– Robert Swan, Freelance Aerospace Writers, for Helihub.com
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