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While at the Robinson Helicopter Company headquarters this past June, I was afforded the opportunity to fly the new R44 Cadet (certified by the Federal Aviation Administration on May 6) with Robinson chief test pilot Doug Tompkins.
The preflight walk-around is all R44 Raven I. One noteworthy difference was that the strut fairings have a small taper from the top to the bottom. I figured it was some sort of engineering trick to reduce weight, but when I asked Robinson VP of engineering Pete Riedl about them, he simply answered: “We think it looks better.” He added that the company intends to change to the increased taper for all R44 models.
The Cadet I flew had three noteworthy options. The first was the Aspen Evolution 1000H primary flight display. This is the basic system with no navigation/horizontal situation indicator functions since the demo Cadet had no navigation equipment installed. (I attached my iPad to the Ram mount bar, which included USB power ports.) But for those who want horizon and directional gyro information, the Aspen 1000H makes most sense in that it adds just a little over $1,000 versus the mechanical instruments.
The demo Cadet also sported a Spidertracks flight tracking device. It provides real-time satellite tracking, as well as automatic alerting and two-way text messaging. And — saving the best for last — air conditioning! Yes, although not available on the Raven I, the Cadet, with its lighter weight and better hot weather margins, can handle it. And as soon as I conducted a normal R44 startup, that air conditioner was dumping nice cool air into the cabin.
With takeoff checks complete, we hovered out to position for takeoff. With Tompkins, me, and full fuel on board, we were about 65 pounds below maximum takeoff weight. With an outside air temperature of 75 F (24 C), 22 inches of manifold pressure (mp) was required for hovering, which was about 2.5 inches less than maximum allowed for takeoff.
On takeoff, I pulled in full climb power to quickly get to a fly neighborly altitude. The best rate of climb speed is 55 knots. But even at the 60 knots I was using, I saw 1,010 feet per minute on the Aspen 1000H.
In cruise at 22 inches mp, the indicated airspeed was 107 knots — that’s only a couple of knots less than the Raven I. Robinson literature says to expect around 14 gallons per hour in fuel consumption for both the Raven I and the Cadet at cruise. But with 20 less horsepower being generated in cruise than the Raven I (and 15 horsepower less at takeoff), it will be interesting to see what the real numbers run for high cruise.
Slowing it to 90 knots, the fuel flows should drop to pretty close to what the R22 Beta II burns at 90 knots, which is around 10 gallons per hour. So, if flight schools want to reduce their Cadet fuel costs for normal training, it should be pretty easy by just slowing down.
Tompkins and I conducted the flight just like a normal training session. A normal approach and landing was first. On a maximum performance takeoff, I held a much more steep departure angle but still saw 880 feet per minute prior to reaching 55 knots.
Then we quickly moved into straight-in autorotations to a power recovery for warm-up. I was enjoying the Cadet for what it is — a great trainer. And having Tompkins as my instructor was the icing on the cake. He tweaked my touchdown technique on a straight-in autorotation, then after a decent full-down 180, we looked at each other and almost in unison said, “It’s a 44.” And that is a good thing.
Another good thing is the Cadet numbers on the bottom line. The Cadet is $40,000 less than the equally standard-equipped Raven I. Yes, it’s still almost $47,000 more than a comparably equipped R22 Beta II — the industry leader for training. But on the line as a trainer it’s much more versatile.
The Cadet, with its longer tail, bigger blades, and higher cruise speeds, is more like the aircraft students will be flying in the commercial world. And finally there is a trainer that can be fully equipped with glass panels and GTN avionics from Garmin — plus a full featured autopilot — and still carry students and instructors who enjoy burgers and fries. These students will be able to easily fly instrument approaches at the real world speed of 90 knots while gaining valuable glass cockpit and automatic flight control experience.
Plus, with its lighter weight and additionally de-rated Lycoming O-540 engine, the time between overhaul interval is increased by 200 hours. This has got to grab the attention of many flight schools — especially those operating the out-of-production and harder-to-maintain Sikorsky 300 series helicopters.
Consider, too, that until the Cadet, the only piston helicopter one could buy with air conditioning was the R44 Raven II. Even for the many schools where air conditioning could almost be considered a necessity, the purchase and operating costs were out of reach. However, with a purchase price that’s $122,000 less than the Raven II — and with a 10 percent lower hourly operating cost — flight schools and personal owners could find that aspect the coolest thing yet about the R44 Cadet.