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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Robinson Discusses R66 Projects Past and Present at HAI Heli-Expo 2015

Joseph Ambrogne

HAI Heli-Expo 2015 Orlando, Fla. - On Tuesday, March 3 at HAI Heli-Expo 2015, Robinson Helicopter President Kurt Robinson declared 2014 a successful year for the company. Though overall production and decreased from 523 helicopters in 2013 to 329 helicopters in 2014, Robinson believes that this was due in part to the company catching up on the back line of R66 Turbine airframes it had been trying to fulfill; and in part due to worldwide economics—70 percent of the company's production occurs outside the United States.

In 2014, worldwide sales outside of the United States were concentrated in Russia, China, Australia and Canada. Additionally, the company sold R44 Ravens to the Royal Jordanian Air Force in October for use in flight training.

Most of the company’s activity centered around the R66, which Kurt Robinson said is now certified worldwide, with over 600 airframes currently in service. Rolls-Royce, which supplies the R66’s RR300 turboshaft engine along with an electronic monitoring unit (EMU) to collect operational data, reports that the entire fleet has flown over 275,000 flight hours.

“The reports that we've been getting back on the R66 have been incredibly positive,” said Kurt Robinson. “The ships are being used more and more, and we really not seen any significant problems with the R66 at all.” In fact, the company has signed a 10-year agreement with Rolls-Royce for 1,000 more engines in the next decade — a minimum of 100 engines per year. Added Kurt Robinson, “They've done an excellent job – it's the perfect engine for that aircraft.”

The company reports that, following a low point last year, aircraft sales appear to be increasing in 2015. “We hit a low maybe a year ago,” said Kurt Robinson. “Our weekly production at the moment is one R22, three R66s, and four to five R44s per week. Even with that production rate, we are currently backlogged six months on the R66 and seven months on the R44 too. So clearly we are seeing the economy pick up and things are boding well.”

Coinciding with the increased sales, the company has increased its technical support infrastructure by adding 17 Robinson Helicopter Service Centers since last year, for a total of 478 operating worldwide. Of those, 112 are certified for the R66. “That remains a priority of Robinson, trying to get that spare part out there and keep everything running,” said Kurt Robinson. “We continue to grow, we continue to build, and to provide better support in the field.” Notably, the company’s head of technical support Patrick Cox is slated to receive the Rolls-Royce Excellence in Helicopter Maintenance Award on March 4.

“Now that we’ve got the certification out of the way, we’re actually starting to click on quite a few projects,” said Kurt Robinson, providing a summary of the company’s activities over the past year. In the Fall, the company received FAA certification for its R66 Turbine Marine, a variant equipped with pop-out floats. Additionally, the company outfitted an R66 outfitted with a Garmin G500H avionics display, one of which was present on the Heli-Expo show floor; the system comes with a number of additional options, including the Garmin GDL 69A XM receiver for digital weather and entertainment; and the HeliSAS autopilot. The company has also created an accessory bar that can be mounted alongside the instrument panel. With two USB ports and an outlet, it allows pilots to mount and use their iPads in flight without having to rely on suction cup holders.

Kurt Robinson also briefly touched on upcoming projects in 2015, also centered on the R66. “The number one thing that we’re trying to get, and we’ve been trying to get this for a few years, is the snow certification,” said Robinson. Though the company has already achieved cold-weather certification, it has had trouble searching for ideal conditions in which to test its aircraft. “It has to be blowing snow that reduces your visibility to less than a quarter of a mile, and the temperature has to be 30 degrees or warmer—that’s very tricky to get. The snow back East is too cold, you can’t use that.” Robinson is working with Aerial Recon, a Robinson Helicopter dealer in Alberta, Canada to test a fully-equipped R66 in blowing snow, and Kurt Robinson hopes that ideal conditions will permit certification later this year.

Other projects in the works for the R66 include a cargo hook option, and an R66 police helicopter equipped the above-mentioned Garmin avionics display and autopilot, as well as a FLIR camera and other police equipment.

Related: Airframes News

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