The world's largest producer of helicopters and a leading engine manufacturer have joined forces to produce a next-generation light helicopter. Robinson Helicopters has revealed that it is developing a five-seat light helicopter powered by an all-new Rolls-Royce turboshaft engine. Torrance, California-based Robinson had been hinting at such a development for several years.

Dubbed the R66 Turbine, the helicopter will be about 20cm (8in) wider than its piston-powered R44 sibling. The two-blade main rotor has the same diameter as that of the R44, but is 20cm taller, said Frank Robinson, the company's president and chairman, at last week's Helicopter Association International show in Orlando. The new aircraft will seat three-abreast in the back and will be the first Robinson helicopter to have a baggage compartment.

The target market for the new helicopter will be the ageing Bell 206 fleet. "We want something less expensive that will do the job of older JetRangers," said Robinson, adding that the price will fall somewhere between $400,000 and $1 million. Robinson has built 7,500 piston-powered two-seat R22 and four-seat R44 helicopters to date, with 749 sold last year.

Robinson's decision to launch was aided by Rolls-Royce's commitment to develop an economical new 300shp (225kW) engine for the programme. The RR300 powerplant will feature an increased inspection and overhaul interval of 2,000h and 4,000h, respectively, compared with 1,750h and 3,500h for the R-R Model 250, its predecessor. Robinson said he would have preferred a diesel-powered piston engine for the R66 but, despite searching for two years, could not find one light enough.

Scott Crislip, president of R-R's helicopters and small turbine engines group, said the RR300 would have a new supply chain and 7-9% better fuel efficiency than the Model 250, mainly because of an all-new single-stage centrifugal compressor.

Crislip says R-R also has agreements in place with Enstrom, MD Helicopters and Schweizer to look at the new engine in other applications.

Source: Flight International