Robinson Helicopter’s new chief executive David Smith has marked his first two months in charge of the rotorcraft manufacturer with the acquisition of a US-based drone maker, underscoring the firm’s commitment to expand into new markets.

At his appointment on 27 February, Smith said he was preparing the storied helicopter manufacturer for the “products of the future”, with a strong focus on electric propulsion and autonomous systems.


Source: Robinson Helicopter

Smith sees new acquisition as bolstering helicopter maker’s capabilities

The capture of Wilmington, Massachusetts-based Ascent AeroSystems for an undisclosed sum is the first step towards that goal, argues Smith.

Ascent’s engineering team – with its focus on electric power and autonomous flight – “really complements what we need for the next generation of products”, he says.

Payload integration capabilities and the potential for manned-unmanned teaming or swarming operations are additional selling points, he adds, allowing Robinson to meet the demands of its core law-enforcement, public safety and utility customers.

More innovations will be revealed over the coming months, he adds, promising “extensions, enhancements and new products entirely”.

Additionally, Ascent will benefit from Robinson’s existing manufacturing expertise, with assembly of its Spirit and NX30 vertical take-off and landing platforms to be integrated in the helicopter maker’s factory in Torrance, California.

Ascent Spirit-c-Ascent AeroSystems

Source: Ascent AeroSystems

Spirit is a compact vertical take-off and landing platform suitable for multiple missions

“Doing that work at low cost and high scale is going to be a huge value-add to make [Ascent] more credible when they bid for contracts involving thousands of units,” says Smith.

Spirit is a 6.1kg (13.5lb) uncrewed aerial vehicle while the larger NX30 weighs in at 30kg; both take-off and land vertically using a coaxial rotor system arranged around their cylindrical fuselages.

Ascent is bidding the platforms for multiple contracts at present, says Smith. Several are in the final stages and promise to deliver “significant volumes – in the thousands” if successful.

Customers include those in the defence sector “preparing for future conflicts and supporting existing conflicts”. Although Smith declines to provide further details, deliveries to Ukraine via third parties are a possibility.

Multiple payloads have previously been integrated onto the UAVs, he says, including kinetic payloads.

Robinson will maintain Ascent as a separate business, retaining the company’s Wilmington site as an “engineering centre of excellence”.