On October 25, Robinson Helicopter entered a new phase as a manufacturer of turbine-powered rotorcraft when the FAA handed over the new R66’s type certificate to founder Frank Robinson and his son and company president Kurt.
The event was clearly of great significance to Frank Robinson, who started the company on his kitchen table after the major helicopter manufacturers rejected his ideas for building a light low-cost trainer.
Robinson Helicopter has grown beyond even his wildest expectations into the most prolific helicopter manufacturer in the world, with 4,492 R22s and 5,190 R44s sold thus far and a backlog of orders (as of October 25) for 96 copies of the Rolls-Royce-powered R66. Just before receiving the type certificate–and also a production certificate amended to include the R66–Robinson Helicopter completed an addition to the company’s Torrance, Calif., campus, another 134,000-sq-ft building that brings the total to 600,000 sq ft on 32 acres.
Early work on a turbine-powered Robinson began in 2001, with exploration of a larger helicopter called the R55. Engineers tested that concept with an R44 cabin widened by six inches, according to vice president of engineering Peter Riedl, then added another two inches. The R55 never progressed beyond that stage because “the engine wasn’t quite right for our application,” he explained. When Rolls-Royce committed to the new RR300 derivative of the 250 engine, he said, “that’s when things really took off.”
Work on the R66 began in 2003, and the first prototype R66 flew in August 2007. The RR300 was certified in December 2007.
At the certification event, Robinson president and chairman Kurt Robinson said, “This is a truly historic event for Robinson Helicopter Company.” The $770,000 five-seat R66 fills a big gap between the four-place piston-powered R44 and the four- to five-place light turbine helicopters available from other manufacturers that start at about $1.2 million, he said. “So finally the words ‘Robinson’ and ‘turbine engine’ won’t be an oxymoron, which is kind of nice.”
Kevin Hull, manager of the FAA’s Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office, congratulated the Robinson and FAA teams for a smooth and trouble-free certification process. “Everyone across the board really worked as a team on this, and with Robinson’s support we’ve met all of those critical milestones and we issued the type certificate with no issues that were open, all of the maintenance requirements were completed, so job well done.”
“It’s probably the last time I’ll ever receive one of these,” said Frank Robinson, after accepting the type certificate from Hall. Robinson, 80, retired as president and chairman of Robinson Helicopter in August. After Dale McMann, acting manager for the FAA’s Los Angeles Manufacturing Inspection District Office, handed over the amended production certificate covering the R66, Robinson said, “It’s very, very welcome. It means that I can produce the things that we’ve been working on and I can collect money for them.”
The first R66 delivered (S/N 4) went to HeliStream, a long-time Robinson dealer based in Costa Mesa, Calif. Barbara Perrin, HeliStream co-owner and CFO, told AIN, “We were looking for something that would be a little bit cheaper to operate. We thought this would fit a nice niche for us between the R44 and more expensive turbine aircraft.” HeliStream offers flight training, charter, sales and service and in addition to the Robinsons operates the Eurocopter EC120, AS350B2 and -B3, a Bell 205 and an MD500.
Perrin has flown the R66 and said, “I loved it. I got in and flew it straightaway. For autorotations, it doesn’t just come down. You have so much time in the air; it’s not like you’re falling like a rock. I think it’s going to do a really good job.” Perrin also likes Robinson’s policy of timing major maintenance events to coincide with engine overhaul intervals, which makes maintenance more efficient compared with other helicopter types. “This makes it so easy,” she said.