Robinson Helicopter Co. president and CEO Frank Robinson told HAI Convention News yesterday that he plans to encourage flight schools to adopt the company’s pricier four-seat R44 Raven I helicopter as a trainer instead of the two-seat R22 Beta II.
“The R22 is a quick little helicopter,” said the 76-year-old company founder, noting that the R22’s agile handling and autorotation characteristics make it a challenging trainer even for, as he called them, “the young people” who have comparatively quick reflexes.
Over the last two decades, the company’s founder has fielded questions regarding the R22’s safety in a training environment, and his efforts to defend the helicopter’s valor to the FAA and to the public have been well documented in the aviation trade press. The R22’s vast popularity among flight schools has proved to be a double-edged sword–with more training hours came more accidents, most attributed to pilot error. In response, Robinson urged the FAA to increase the minimum training for helicopter flight instructors.
Sales of the R22 continued to be strong, and in December the company delivered its 4,000th R22 to an Australian customer. Robinson said that the R22 is quite popular among Australian cattle herders who favor its maneuverability.
Despite Robinson’s apparent hesitation now to continue to promote the R22 as a trainer, the company announced this week that Sky Helicopters of Dallas will take delivery of the R22 Beta II and the R44 Raven II that are on display at the Robinson booth (No. 2219). The R22 will augment Sky’s current training fleet of five R22s; the R44 is Sky Helicopters’ fifth R44 and will be used for charter.
Robinson Helicopter also announced that Silver State Helicopters of Henderson, Nev., will take delivery of a new R44 Raven II police helicopter equipped with a moving-map display. The aircraft is on static display here at Heli-Expo (No. 30).
Robinson said that costs associated with building prototypes of the R22 have increased over the last several years, with retail prices consequently increasing at a faster rate than for the R44. “The R22 will continue to have its place. It will always be less expensive, but maybe not as much,” he said.
As of February 1, the base price for the 855-pound R22 Beta II is $209,800; the 1,442-pound four-seat R44 Raven I starts at $307,000.
Robinson said he has been pleasantly surprised at how many R44 customers have purchased optional air conditioning–especially those who, he said, live in a climate where they don’t really need it, considering that the system decreases the helicopter’s 958 pounds of useful load by 33 pounds. The company began offering the $18,000 air-conditioning system last year.
Last November, the Los Angeles Business Journal ranked Robinson Helicopter 23rd among the city’s fastest growing private companies, up from number 69 in 2004. The Torrance, Calif.-based company set a new sales record last year, producing 806 new helicopters–more in a single year than any other manufacturer.