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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: With 206B3 Demise, Interest in R66 is Stronger

PRODUCTS | AIRFRAMES

Interest in Robinson Helicopter’s R66, strong from its launch last year, has grown with Bell Helicopter’s decision to cancel its 206B3 JetRanger line.

The light, single, Robinson’s first turbine, has hundreds of dealers and customers ready to place orders based solely on the phenomenal success of the Torrance, Calif. company’s two-seat R22 and four-seat R44.

"Robinson has built two fine helicopters in the R22 and the R44, both of which we fly," said Bill Richards, president of Atlantic Rotors LLC at St. Mary’s County Regional Airport in Leonardtown, Md. "So, I’m very interested in the R66."

Robinson Helicopter founder and President Frank Robinson performed flight tests of the R66 prototype in January. It was powered by a Rolls-Royce Model 250, but Robinson plans to use Rolls’ new 300-shp RR300 on the certificated and production aircraft. Unveiled at Heli-Expo 2007, the RR300 won FAA type certification in December last year. It is lighter and shorter than the 250, thanks to replacement of the 250’s axial wheels with a centrifugal compressor.

The question on many minds is what the projected cost of the five-seat R66 would be, especially since Robinsons are known for being priced well below others in the same class. The 75-year-old engineer and patriarch of the company would only say at his packed Heli-Expo press conference that the R66 would come in somewhere above the $400,000 for a modestly equipped R44 and below the $1.3 million sticker price of the 206B3. The R66’s launch was a factor in Bell’s decision in January to halt JetRanger production.

Robinson said he and his design team have looked at a variety of features for the R66, such as an autopilot, composite rotor blades, and a glass cockpit. He dismissed autopilots and composite rotor blades as unnecessary on a light civil helicopter, but was less firm about glass instrument displays.

Torrance, Calif.-based Robinson sold 823 new helicopters (664 R44s and 159 R22s) in 2007, a record for annual civil helicopter sales by one company. — Ernie Stephens

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