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For decades, Robinson Helicopter Company’s R22 and R44 helicopters have been the leading products in the civilian flight training sector. However, flight schools often find the two-seat R22 to be weight-limited, particularly for instrument training, while the four-seat R44 costs more than many students want to spend. Now, Robinson thinks it has an ideal solution in the form of the R44 Cadet — a two-seat, de-rated version of the R44 Raven I that will be less expensive than the standard R44, but offer more comfort, performance, and flexibility than the R22.
Robinson first announced the R44 Cadet in November 2015. As this issue went to press, the company planned to release the final specifications and cost for the aircraft shortly before Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo 2016, March 1 to 3 in Louisville, Ky. But Robinson gave Vertical an early look at the aircraft during a visit to the factory in Torrance, Calif., in February. While the aircraft is targeted toward the training market, the company believes it will offer compelling value to a variety of owners and operators who only need two seats, but plenty of capability.
Compared to the R44 Raven I, the Cadet will see its gross weight reduced from 2,400 pounds (1,088 kilograms) to 2,200 lbs. (998 kg), and its never-exceed speed dropped from 130 to 120 knots. Both aircraft use the six-cylinder, 260-shaft-horsepower (s.h.p.) Lycoming O-540-F1B5 engine. In the R44 Raven I the engine is derated to 225 s.h.p. for takeoff and 205 s.h.p. continuous. Robinson said this is done to provide a performance margin before reaching full throttle, and to enhance engine life and reliability. The concept is extended in the lighter weight Cadet to a derating of 210 s.h.p. takeoff, 185 s.h.p. continuous. According to Robinson, this will provide increased performance margins at higher altitudes, as well as allowing an increase in the time before overhaul (TBO) from 2,200 to 2,400 hours, which will help reduce operating costs.
The Cadet’s two front seats each have a weight limit of 300 lbs. (136 kg) — identical to the Raven I and significantly higher than the 240-lb. (108-kg) seat limit in the R22, which can be problematic for larger students. The rear seats have been permanently removed (along with the rear seat intercom sysem) and cannot be retrofitted, but the space they occupied is now available for cargo. The Cadet’s rear windows are smaller than the windows in the Raven I and have a dark tint, and the rear doors do not have internal handles.But the Cadet isn’t just about what has been taken away. The aircraft has hydraulically boosted controls, making it more comfortable to control than the R22. It also has a newly designed muffler, which gives it a flyover noise signature more than three decibels lower than the current Raven I. It can accommodate an optional air conditioner, as well as larger panels and additional radios for instrument flight rules (IFR) training. And, Robinson plans to offer an optional autopilot for the Cadet, which will provide for more realistic IFR training in addition to enhanced safety.
Robinson Helicopter Company president Kurt Robinson and company propulsion and flight test engineer Dale Taft spoke to Vertical about the philosophy behind the Cadet’s design. “We wanted to have a helicopter with more weight capacity and performance than the R22,” said Taft. “We saw operators max out the R22’s gross weight . . . we also saw that an IFR panel added so much weight to the R22 that the helicopter would need to carry less fuel to fly a training flight. With the Cadet we can have the heavier IFR panel, additional radios, big pilots, and a reasonable fuel load, and still have the performance to operate at higher altitudes on warmer days. This gives schools in the desert and mountain locations the performance to get the job done.”
In addition to basic capability, the company expects comfort and convenience options on the Cadet will be appreciated. “With the optional air conditioner we now have the ability to offer a much more comfortable flight experience, and lower fatigue for both the student and flight instructor,” said Taft. “Consider how much more pleasant this can be on a long, hot, humid summer training day.”Robinson began working on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification of the Cadet in the summer of 2015; at press time, the aircraft was still going through the flight test program. Because the Cadet is so similar to the Raven I, the company wasn’t anticipating a great deal of engineering work. However, Taft said they underestimated the number of details that needed to be attended to both for the FAA and to satisfy company requirements. The main technical challenge was to ensure adequate engine cooling with the air conditioner installed on the O-540-F1B5 engine — something Robinson had not done before. With some minor adjustments to the cooling system, the test aircraft had passed all of its cooling tests a few days before Vertical went to press. The Cadet will be approved as a two-seat configuration of the R44, with a separate serial number range.
Although Robinson stated that it has no plans to discontinue production of the R22, it expects the Cadet to appeal to R22 flight schools that want to upgrade their capabilities without having to pay the higher price for a Raven I. Beyond the Cadet’s additional performance and optional equipment, it also boasts the R44’s docile, large-diameter rotor system, which is more forgiving than the lightweight system in the R22 and helpful in the early stages of training. Robinson has over 450 service centers and dealers around the world and flight instruction is a primary activity for many of them, so the aircraft should find an immediate market as a trainer.
However, the company also sees potential applications for the aircraft beyond the training sector. For example, with its excellent sea-level performance, longer TBO, and proven reliability, it should be an appealing option for offshore fishing fleets that will be replacing their aging turbine and piston-engine helicopters over the next decade. It might also appeal to adventurous private owners — who could use the additional storage space freed up by removal of the rear seats for camping and expedition gear — or more sedate ones, who don’t need additional passenger seats but would appreciate air conditioning, an autopilot, and space for golf clubs. The utility sector could also find applications for a low-cost, reliable aircraft with extra room for cargo.“On each of our models, including the R44 Cadet, we try to create new markets and find areas that our competitors have ignored,” said company president Kurt Robinson. The manufacturer will begin accepting orders for the aircraft after announcing the final configuration and pricing.