Meanwhile, Robinson studies powerplant for proposed five-seat R55 rotorcraft

Robinson Helicopter has increased production of its R22 and R44 piston singles to 15 aircraft a week as it continues to study a five-seat machine tentatively dubbed the R55. Buoyed by the weak US dollar, Enstrom Helicopter and Schweizer Aircraft are also increasing production.

Robinson sold a record 422 helicopters last year consisting of 128 two-seat R22s and 294 four-seat R44s. Production has been stepped up to three helicopters a day to cut the backlog, but president Frank Robinson says both the R22 and R44 Raven II are sold out to October.

Robinson says he has not yet found the right engine for the five-seater now in preliminary design. The company is looking at three approaches: turbine, turbocharged piston and diesel. A turbine is too expensive to acquire and operate, a turbocharged piston is too complex and a diesel is too heavy, he says.

"If I had a favourite, it would be the diesel. But that is a long, hard road because of the weight," Robinson says. "We will take all of the concepts well down the road before we make a decision," he says. "Any one of the three is a long way down the road - not this year or next."

Enstrom plans to deliver 30 piston- and turbine-powered helicopters this year, 38 next year and 42 in 2006. Delayed deliveries of 480B light turbines to the Indonesian police have begun after activation of a US Ex-Im Bank loan. Four helicopters are in-country and the other 14 will be delivered by October, says chief executive Jerry Mullins. The company is pursuing other law-enforcement and training sales in Asia.

Schweizer expects to deliver 37 pistons and turbines this year and 52 in 2005, with fleet sales doubling production of the 300CBi trainer. "We have a solid backlog in pistons and we have orders for all the turbines we can make," says president Paul Schweizer. The company is looking at a potential five-seat light turbine using the four-blade rotor and new blades under development for the Northrop Grumman RQ-8B Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicle, which is based on its Model 333.

Source: Flight International