For California-based Robinson Helicopter, the world’s most prolific rotorcraft manufacturer, this past year saw a rebound from a disappointing 2016. “Our production was up,” said company president and chairman Kurt Robinson, noting Robinson produced and delivered 305 helicopters last year, compared with 234 in 2016. Deliveries of the R22 increased from 19 to 34, and the R44 Cadet from 12 to 20. The R44 Raven I more than doubled from 26 to 54 deliveries, while the Raven II improved by six units to 120, and the turbine-powered R66 went from 63 to 77. “In every single one of our aircraft categories, we increased in sales, and obviously that makes us optimistic for 2018,” Robinson told AIN.
“We’re seeing a rebound and the other thing that is kind of nice to report is there was no pocket of strength around the world; we’re seeing sales everywhere,” added Robinson, son of company founder Frank Robinson. “Some areas that were way down have rebounded strongly.” The airframer saw improvement in Canada, Australia, China, and South Africa, among other countries.
That increased production has affected the company’s workforce. “It meant that we were working some overtime,” Robinson said. “Production lines run basically from 5 a.m. until midnight.” With two shifts a day currently, Robinson has hired more workers recently and the company plans to add approximately 100 workers over the next year, pushing the number of employees at its Torrance facility to more than 1,200.
While the company faces stiff competition for skilled aerospace labor in the area, it holds its own when it comes to staffing levels through its willingness to train new entrants. Robinson admitted that other local aerospace companies even suggest to their own job candidates that they work at the helicopter maker for a few years to gain valuable industry experience. The company offers generous pay scales and benefits to hold on to its talent.
At Heli-Expo, Robinson will debut the latest member of its R66 family, a skyhook-equipped version, which was expected to receive FAA certification around show time. The skyhook, which has a load lift capacity of 1,200 pounds, is on exhibit in the static display area. “It’s something we’ve been working on for several years, but its always been pushed to the back burner because there’s so many tests we had to do,” said Robinson.
As part of the conversion, three instruments—a measured gas temperature meter, load meter, and torque meter—were added adjacent to the left-side collective to aid the pilot. Also, operating controls for the cargo hook were added to the left-side cyclic grip.
The hoist-equipped helicopter on display in the static area also features the new Magellan Aerospace wire strike protection system, which received Transport Canada certification in November. Magellan was expecting to receive FAA approval before the show, and is accepting orders for the kit in Las Vegas. This past summer the rotorcraft maker also received certification for an electronic news-gathering-equipped version of the R66, one of which is in service in the Dallas area.
At its booth (Booth C4242) Robinson is displaying three of its products: an executive version of the R66 with air conditioning and the integrated Garmin 750 GPS; a two-seat R44 Cadet trainer; and a Raven II. The models will be equipped with the Genesys Aerosystems HeliSAS autopilot and fitted with new displays from Garmin and Aspen Avionics. “We’ll have the latest and greatest from those manufacturers on display, just to show what people can do in the different price ranges,” said Robinson.