The helicopter industry isn’t immune to the terrible trouble affecting the global economy, but if Heli-Expo’09 is any indication, the greater diversity among operators of the world’s helicopter fleets helped deliver record high attendance and exhibitor activity.
Rolls-Royce last month launched the RR500 turboshaft, a 475-shp derivative of the RR300 that powers the in-development Robinson R66. Certification is scheduled for late 2011, with deliveries pegged to begin in the first quarter of 2012.
Despite all the gloom about the recession, this year’s Heli-Expo in Anaheim, Calif., easily exceeded all expectations when it ended on Tuesday, with record attendance of 17,995 people, up from last year’s record total of 17,373. Exhibitor numbers also climbed a strong 12 percent, to 585 from last year’s 523, and the show exhibit area and static display included 65 helicopters.
One of Heli-Expo’09’s worst-kept secrets, the Rolls-Royce RR500 turboshaft engine, was unveiled Monday afternoon in a brief but hearing-impairment-inducing ceremony at the engine maker’s booth. The RR500 turboshaft, a 475-shp derivative of the RR300 that powers the in-development Robinson R66, is scheduled for certification in late 2011. A turboprop version of the RR500 was first announced last summer at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis.
The second Robinson R66 made its first flight on February 18, marking an important milestone for a company dealing with the affects of the economic downturn. Weekly output at Robinson has fallen from 17 to 12 helicopters, with the number expected to go lower still. In January the company began laying off workers at a rate of 50 per month, the maximum allowed by law without having to give 60-days’ notice.
Most HAI press conferences involve stone-faced CEOs reading from note cards. They are accompanied by their entourage of aides and fellow executives, piles of handouts and elaborate audiovisual presentations. It’s all quite serious.
This is not how Frank Robinson gives a press conference.
The second Robinson R66 made its first flight on February 18 and a third is under construction at the company’s headquarters in nearby Torrance, Calif. All Heli-Expo’09 attendees are invited to the Robinson factory on Tuesday for facility tours beginning at noon followed by a preview of the R66 at 3 p.m.
Frank Robinson, who turned 79 in January, likes to joke about his employees forcing him into retirement to pay him back for asking a former employee to retire at age 80. However, it is difficult to imagine Robinson Helicopter without Frank Robinson at the helm, although his children Terry and Kurt occupy leadership positions at the Torrance, Calif. company.
Robinson Helicopter Co. (RHC) will break ground on a 50-percent expansion of its Torrance, Calif. factory later this year. The 260,000-sq-ft combination manufacturing plant, flight-test facility and delivery center will extend westward along the south side of Torrance Airport’s Runway 11/29, adding 130,000 sq ft.
With the successes of the fractional model for business jet ownership, it was perhaps only a matter of time before a national fractional helicopter operation developed. Woodstock, Ga.-based Whirl Helicopters is basing its planned operation on the four-seat Robinson R44.