The last year was a good one for Robinson Helicopter Company, according to company president Kurt Robinson. The Torrance, California-based civil helicopter manufacturer saw increased sales in 2017, a larger proportion of international deals, and growth in its global sales and support network.
At a Heli-Expo 2018 press conference, Robinson reported that a total of 305 aircraft were produced in 2017, including 77 R66s, 194 R44s, and 34 R22s – numbers that reflect increases for each model type.
Approximately 80 per cent of the company’s deliveries were outside the United States, indicating that global economies are strengthening. Customers came from China, Australia, South Africa and Russia, in addition to the United States.
Robinson also said the five-seat R66 turbine-powered helicopter – first announced in 2007 and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2010 – is proving its reliability in the field.
“We have delivered well over 800 R66s, and we’re not seeing any issues on it. People are flying them all over the world and really doing well with them.”
According to Rolls-Royce, which manufactures the R66’s RR300 turbine engine and monitors its performance electronically, the R66 fleet flew a total of 185,000 hours last year. That’s up from 150,000 in 2016, with the grand total hours on the R66 fleet now exceeding 735,000 as reported by the engine manufacturer.
Projects and production
Robinson also reported that the company’s weekly production rate climbed in 2017. Currently, the manufacturer builds one R22, two R66s, and five R44s every seven days.
“My forecast is that this year will be similar to last year, perhaps a little bit better,” he said. “So far, we’re ahead a bit in sales this year, but not a whole lot.”
Numerous R66 projects have been completed or are in the final stages.
“Last July, we certified the R66 HD Newscopter, and we certified the lithium battery from Mid-Continent Instruments. That reduced the gross weight by an astounding 26 pounds. We argue about ounces, so when you talk about that kind of weight, it’s pretty amazing. And, it provides a more reliable start.”
Robinson Helicopter is displaying its R66 cargo hook ship at Heli-Expo 2018. Rated for 1,200 pounds, final certification is expected by the end of March.
“We have a second set of engine gauges with torque and gas temperature and load hook meter located by the collective, so the pilot can just look down,” said Robinson. “That makes it easier for them to do cargo lift work.”
Also announced in February 2018, the OEM has added optional wire strike protection to the R66. Certified in the U.S. and Canada, the process involves bolting on a kit supplied by Magellan Aerospace of Winnipeg, Manitoba,
“We worked with Magellan on it,” said Robinson. “On either strut you have a cutter so you don’t have to hit the wire perfectly straight; if you’re on an angle, it does the job.”
A simple but popular addition to the R66 is heated seats in the front and rear.
“It’s something people really like. I’m pretty certain the only crashworthy heated seats you can find right now are on the R66, which is kind of fun.”
Robinson also reported that Garmin touchscreen upgrades are available in the cockpit, while all three of the helicopters displayed at Heli-Expo feature the company’s Genesys autopilot system.
“You can see the price points and the various ways it can be equipped. I think autopilots and SAS systems are the wave of the future,” he said. “They are getting better and more accurate, and I do think they enhance the safety of the aircraft.”
Support and innovation
Robinson Helicopter has increased its worldwide fleet of service centres and dealerships from 460 to 480 over the past year.
Kurt Robinson said service is a priority.
“One of the things about having your name on the side of the building is that it matters and I care. If people can’t make revenue with their aircraft, we want to work with them to get them up in the air.”
The OEM is also focused on a number of innovations, including participation in the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI), which aims to develop an approved unleaded fuel for piston engines.
The company is also working to design a cockpit video recorder (CVR) for all three of its aircraft models. Fitted with a removable flash drive, the device will record the view from behind the two pilots, including the outside scenery and the instrument panel.
“It will be an excellent tool for training and also for people that are doing tours, or for owners who want to make sure everyone on board is doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Robinson. “In the event of an accident, it will be a great help to determine what happened.”
The CVR is expected to be completed in the second half of this year.
Another big project is the development of a data recorder for the R22 and R44.
“This is similar to the electronic monitoring unit on the R66 and will include the rotor and engine RPM, cylinder heat and oil temperature,” explained Robinson. “We are hoping to have it done and standard in the aircraft by mid-year.”
Finally, the manufacturer has been supplying ADS-B field upgrades as optional equipment for the last couple of years. Robinson said this package is becoming more popular as owners move to meet the FAA’s ADS-B implementation deadline of Jan. 1, 2020.
As for competition, specifically from Bell’s new 505 Jet Ranger X, Robinson said an operator’s mission, requirements and budget will determine which helicopter ultimately meets their needs.
“If [the 505] is right for them, they’ll get it. If the R66 is right for them, they’ll buy it,” he concluded. “Now at least you don’t have that doubt and uncertainty about what is coming. We have a project, we’re working hard on it, and we’re going forward.”