Enstrom Helicopter chief executive Jerry Mullins is stepping up the search for state aid to support upgrades to the Enstrom 480B after his company's loss to Eurocopter's EC120 in last year's US Border Patrol light helicopter contest.

"It was a wake-up call for Enstrom," says Mullins, who adds that the "480B met the requirements, but didn't have the optional equipment certificated and on the shelf. We have got to get that additional equipment certified and so I'm in the process of working with state governments to identify economical development funds to help us compete with both US and foreign competitors."

Chief targets include the addition of right-hand, pilot-in-command controls, a rotor brake, TV camera/forward-looking infrared mounting system, night-vision capability, barrier filter (rather than particle separator), wire-strike protection and searchlight. Mullins still believes the US Border Control should re-evaluate its decision to buy 55 EC120s.

Discussions are under way with the state governments of Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as "other sources", says Mullins. Other key projects under way, and also in need of funding, include plans for a possible 480B upgrade and the development of a low-cost turbine trainer. The 480B upgrade would see the engine relocated to the top of the fuselage, eliminating the need for a belt-drive and replacing it with a simpler, lower-cost direct-drive system. The change would allow the bulkhead to be moved aft, creating additional cabin space for a full two- to three-seat layout.

Mullins says: "We are also looking for funds to develop a low-cost turbine trainer. We are looking at maybe putting a turbine engine in a piston airframe, because we think there's a huge market for a turbine trainer." The move might use the 280FX as the target airframe, and would effectively mirror the process that created the 480B. However, the airframe would be lighter, and could be developed within the next two years, he adds.

Source: Flight International