For Robinson Helicopter Company, “2013 was eerily identical to 2012,” according to company president Kurt Robinson. That’s reflected in the numbers: in 2012 the company produced 517 helicopters, and for 2013 that number was 523. Compared to 2012, this year Robinson built 42 R22s (+2), 81 R44 Raven Is (-9), 208 R44 Raven IIs (+14), and 192 R66s (+1).
Robinson told Vertical, “2012 and 2013 were pretty stable years and we don’t see any major trend changes for 2014, so our production numbers should be pretty much the same.” One thing that may change that — for the good — would be finally receiving European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification for the R66, opening the door to finally selling the popular light turbine-engine helicopter model in Europe. Canadian and Russian certifications for the R66 both occurred in 2013, and at press time, the company was hopeful that EASA certification would soon be in hand. However, Robinson was also embroiled in a legal battle with EASA over certification fees, with the agency asking for more than US$1 million in administrative “charges” to certify the R66 — more than 10 times what Transport Canada charged for the same privilege.
Meanwhile, the company’s big news at Heli-Expo 2014 was changes to the instrument panels of all the Robinson models to facilitate the incorporation of glass avionics displays. Gone will be the customary seven-, nine-, and 10-hole instrument panel options. These will be replaced by either a six- or eight-hole instrument panel with the instruments in vertical columns of two instruments each. The six-hole panel will be standard in the R22 and R44 Raven I. The eight-hole panel will come standard on the R44 Raven II and the R66, and available optionally on the R44 Raven I. (Only the six-hole panel is available on the R22, due to space constraints.)
This, of course, sets the stage for a range of glass panel solutions to be available for the full line of Robinsons. An Aspen Avionics single screen EFD1000H Pilot will be the optional center piece in the six-hole panel and upgradable to Aspen’s Pro version, which replaces the directional gyro with a horizontal situation indicator (HSI). The eight-hole panel allows installation of an Aspen EFD1000H/EFD500H dual-screen system. The dual-screen EFD500H multifunction display includes moving map, traffic, terrain, and charts.
RHC will also be offering Garmin’s 600 and 700 touch-screen series navigators, GTR225B com radio, GMA350H audio panel, GTX 330ES transponder (with ADS-B “out”), and GDL88 universal access transceiver (with ADS-B “in”). The larger GTN 700 series and GDL88 will not be available on the R22. And, per certification requirements, the GTN touch-screen units will only be installed using the separate pilot console already offered as an option.
“A lot went into the new avionics certifications — it wasn’t a simple matter,” stated Robinson. He continued, “We had to do major electrical design changes, incorporate an avionics master switch for the R22 and R44, and work extensively with Garmin, the FAA, and Aspen to address pilot ergonomics. This is why the Garmin touch-screen units will only be installed in front of the pilot so as to minimize head-down time.”
This is also why other projects for the R66, such as cargo hook and float certifications, have been delayed. In fact, Robinson indicated that had they known that the certification of the modified panels was going to be as involved as it was, they would have shuffled the order of tasks to handle the floats and hook first. However, with the new panel certifications in hand, the priority now will be certification of the floats and cargo hook.
Beyond that, the follow-up order of business for avionics will be to certify and offer more glass panel solutions such as the Garmin G500H, as well as to get an autopilot certified for the R66 and R44.
For as long as this writer has been covering the happenings at Robinson Helicopter Company — since 1980 — there’s never been a dull year. 2014 is setting up to be no exception.