For years, Robinson Helicopter president and CEO Frank Robinson has delighted in leaking tidbits of information on the subject of his next helicopter, the R66. This year the company’s amiable founder all but launched the program by admitting that he has begun detailed design work and selected an engine supplier.
Robinson launched into his press conference yesterday afternoon by noting that revenues last year were up, despite sales of fewer helicopters than in 2005, which he attributed to the fact that the company sold more of the pricier R44 Raven II model. He then changed topics to the R66, saying it will be “several” years before the helicopter is certified and admitting he has yet to build a prototype.
And that’s when the barrage of questions began.
Does Robinson intend to build and certify the helicopter? No doubt about that, he readily admitted, noting that the idea of an “R55” did come up but was dismissed when it was suggested that it might be associated too closely with the number of passengers it is expected to carry–five.
As for the R66 engine, Robinson slightly upstaged Rolls-Royce, which is expected to unveil the Model 300 turbine powerplant at a press event this afternoon at 2 p.m. Robinson noted that the Rolls-Royce engine will have a new compressor section and will require less maintenance and less fuel than the Model 250 engine. A 2,000-hour time between overhaul is expected.
Robinson said “tremendous research” went into the engine choice, and had one been available, his first choice would have been a diesel, “if there were one light enough to do the job.”
Will there be a shift away from the traditional two-blade main rotor that distinguishes the Robinson products? Not likely. Robinson likes to keep things simple and is in fact given to repeating that mantra with some frequency. A two-blade rotor, he declared, is simple, “and an obvious choice.” The rotor diameter will probably be about the same as the R44’s, but with an eight-inch mast.
How big will the R66 be? Robinson revealed only that it will be about eight inches wider than the R44 Raven II to allow three seats across the aft cabin section.
For those inclined to speculate about market demand, Robinson allowed as how they might expect a helicopter aimed directly at a tiring fleet of Bell JetRangers. In fact, he said he expects many of the R66 buyers will be “moving up” from a JetRanger.
As for the gross weight, he said, “It’ll be heavier than the R44 and lighter than a
So how about the range? Again Robinson neatly dodged the question: “More than an R44 and as good as a JetRanger.”
How much will be R66 cost? “Less than a million dollars,” he replied, smiling as laughter broke out in the room.
An autopilot? Not likely. Robinson prefers to believe that the pilot should focus his attention outside the aircraft as much as possible, and an autopilot can be a distraction, he said. Instead, as with the current Robinson helicopters, the most he will agree to is a stability augmentation system. Oh, yes. And no full-authority digital engine control, and no glass cockpit.
Asked about the possibility of military versions of any of the Robinson products, he admitted that he might go so far as to sell off-the-shelf helicopters to the military. But he resists the idea that military use will dictate the design of his machines.
Meanwhile, Robinson Helicopter continues going about the business of building simple helicopters.