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Plans to allow the Robinson R44 and R22 to operate with unleaded fuels, the development of a cockpit video recorder across the Robinson range, and the long-awaited certification of the R66 cargo hook were among the developments discussed by company president Kurt Robinson at the manufacturer’s annual update at HAI Heli-Expo 2017 in Dallas, Texas.
Robinson is one of the members of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI) — a program to help reduce lead emissions from small aircraft and steer the industry to a more environmentally friendly future.
“We have that program running right now on both the 22 and the 44 with the unleaded fuels,” said Robinson. “The fuels are slightly heavier, they’re slightly more costly, and you don’t get quite as many miles per gallon. But . . . it’s unleaded. And it is time for our industry to move on.”
Robinson said one of the things the company was looking at was ensuring that an aircraft could be able to switch between fuel types — a necessary requirement if unleaded fuels aren’t immediately widely available.
“Our testing isn’t that far along with it,” he said. “It’ll run for us all through the rest of this year and then into next year to hopefully do all that different testing that they [the PAFI program] have asked for.”
Robinson said the cockpit video recorder in development for the R22, R44 and R66, would be available this year. He praised the technology’s capability to enhance training, as well as the safety benefits of being able to better understand accidents.
Also available this year will be a data recorder for the R22 and R44 — similar to the electronic monitoring unit used in the R66. It will monitor items such as rotor RPM, engine RPM, and oil temperature, allowing the aircraft to comply with European Aviation Safety Agency regulations for commercial operation in Europe.
“It will also be another tool that will be useful in accident investigation and for us to enhance things down the road,” said Robinson.
The R66 cargo hook has been in development for several years, but Robinson said it looked likely to be certified this year. The manufacturer performed high altitude testing in the summer with the hook, which will have an external load capacity of 1,200 pounds (545 kilograms). “We’re going to modify the total gross weight to allow the 1,200 pounds on the hook,” said Robinson. He added that the results from the testing were very positive.
Another major program in the development pipeline is the FAA certification of a lithium battery by Mid Continent Avionics for the R66 — expected in the next two or three months. Robinson said the starts it provided were much stronger than a standard battery, and it was just a fraction of the weight — 16 pounds (7.2 kilograms) as opposed to the standard 36 pounds (16.3 kilograms).
Finally, Robinson said the R66 HD Newscopter and a wire strike protection kit from Magellan Aerospace are both “very close” to certification.
In terms of deliveries over 2016, Robinson recorded a total of 234; and 60 percent of those sales were outside of the U.S.
“2016 was a good year, not a great year, but a good year. Our sales and production was less in 2016 than it was in 2015,” said Robinson. “Over the last nine months or so, we have started to see the economies of some of our key markets have started to recover . . . so we’re very positive about that and it leads us to think our overall production this year will be higher.”