Frank Robinson's long-held dream of a helicopter on every driveway may not be a reality, but it is off to a good start. With deliveries on the way to the 8,000 mark, the diminutive Robinson R22/R44 continues to be the world's most popular helicopter family, with production continuing at rates of up to 16 a week.

Just how popular was evident in 2005 when helicopter number 806 emerged from Robinson's Torrance, California factory, beating the record for annual deliveries of 780 set by Bell in 1980. Last year Robinson delivered 749 helicopters, including the 3,000th R44.

Although the 4,000th R22 was delivered in late 2005, the larger four-seat derivative is catching up quickly as the model made up 652 of 2006's deliveries. The company is therefore seeing a big rise in R44 demand, while R22 sales have levelled off. "We're seeing a big shift from the low-cost R22 to the more expensive R44, and particularly the R44 Raven II," says Frank Robinson who, as president and founder, has steered the company since development of the R22 prototype in 1975. "So our revenues went up for 2006 even though the number of units delivered was slightly less," he adds.

© Robinson Helicopter
The four-seat R44 has become the most popular helicopter

The Raven II "fits the market now. We added performance for higher-altitude work, it is faster and can carry more load, and it has an option for air conditioning. It's going over extremely well, particularly in places like South Africa, where it can perform in hot and high places," says Robinson.

The Raven II is equipped with a fuel-injected Textron Lycoming IO-540 engine derated to 245shp (182kW) for 5min and 205shp maximum continuous rating. As well as producing more power and greater altitude performance and payload, the changes eliminate the carburettor and carburettor icing problems that troubled initial models. Robinson has also diversified the Raven II configuration into an instrument flight rules trainer, "Newscopter", police helicopter and a version dubbed the Clipper II.

Robinson hopes to push sales of the baseline R44 at the training market. "I think it will be ideal to replace the R22 in flight schools because it gives you good performance margins as well as being safer and easier to fly. It has better auto-rotation characteristics and gives pilots more time to think between manoeuvres." Robinson says the "docile" R44 is better suited to the "over 40s" pilots who are increasingly getting into the personal helicopter market. "The 22 is for younger pilots who want to be professionals," he adds.

Although the Raven 1 "is going to be more expensive on fuel, it isn't going to cost much more than the R22", says Robinson, who adds: "We have no plans to stop producing the R22. Cessna did the same thing with the C152, and now you've got to learn to fly in a C172."

For the mid-term future Robinson is designing a turbine-powered five-seater, "but it will be three to five years, even if we do it", says Frank Robinson.


Source: Flight International