Zambia Air Force introduces Enstrom 480B, Bell 412 helicopters into service

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The Zambia Air Force (ZAF) has taken into service a new rotary wing type – the Enstrom 480B – and expanded its fleet of Bell helicopters.

During a ceremony at Air Force Base Lusaka on 25 March, two newly delivered Enstrom 480B turbine helicopters were inducted into service.

ZAF Commander, Lieutenant General Oscar Msitu Nyoni said, “The Helicopters we are about to induct into service today will serve a multitude of crucial tasks, thereby contributing to our combat capabilities such as training of pilots, search and rescue missions, medical evacuations, reconnaissance operations, anti-poaching efforts in collaborations with our counterparts, the national parks and wildlife, and combating smuggling activities.

“The Enstrom 480B helicopter will also be deployed in the crucial role of addressing food security by aiding in the surveillance of mealie meal smuggling and preventing mineral pilferage by illegal miners, who continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the general citizenry.”

Nyoni said the induction of the Enstrom 480Bs comes barely days after the induction into service of two Bell 412EP helicopters and the handover of agricultural equipment such as tractors, disc ploughs, planters and boom sprayers to Air Force farms for expansion of agricultural activities.

Two Bell 412EPs were handed over to the Zambia Air Force by Minister of Defence Ambrose Lufuma on 13 March at Air Force Base Lusaka. Nyoni said the aircraft were key in enhancing national defence and emergency response capabilities. He said the helicopters were a game-changer, offering strategic advantages in various scenarios, from military operations to disaster response.

Two Bell 412 helicopters added to the Zambia Air Force fleet.

The Zambia Air Force has four Bell 412EP helicopters on order, with the first two (formerly N412HS and N412TH) delivered at the beginning of March. These were built in 1996 and 1997 and most recently owned by Copter Lease of the United States.

The United States in September 2023 announced an $80 million grant to Zambia for the supply of four Bell 412EPs.

The Zambia Air Force has a substantial Bell/Agusta-Bell fleet, having operated many of their types over the decades. In 2021, three Bell/Agusta-Bell 412SP helicopters (AF717, AF718, and AF720) arrived from Italy and South Africa, joining a dozen surviving Agusta-Bell 205s.

In March 2023, then Zambia Air Force Commander, Lieutenant General Colin Barry, said the ZAF had concluded procurement procedures for a medium utility helicopter, which would be delivered in the coming months for troop movement, search and rescue, disaster relief, and other tasks: a second hand Bell 212 was delivered from the United States in June. The aircraft, AF721, was formerly operated by Era Helicopters in Canada and sold via US company Copter Lease LLC. Barry indicated another two helicopters would be subsequently acquired for medical support.

Zambia operates a diverse range of helicopters, including half a dozen Mil Mi-171Sh and Mi-171E troop transport and assault helicopters delivered from Russia between 2015 and 2017.

Zambia’s defence ministry in February 2023 signed a contract for the two Enstrom 480B helicopters for training pilots and personnel – a training package is included in the deal. The helicopters are equipped with cargo hooks and hard points for cameras, as well as Garmin avionics and glass panels. One helicopter is supplied with a full glass cockpit and one with a hybrid glass and analogue panel to provide training with a flight deck similar to the gauge-equipped Mi-17s used as the mainstay of the fleet.

South Africa’s Safomar Aviation Group coordinated and assisted Enstrom in the sale to Zambia, including logistics, specifications, and configuration of the Helicopters.