Robinson Helicopter has booked orders for more than 170 R22 and R44 helicopters to be delivered this year, prompting the California-based manufacturer to begin a major expansion to its Torrance site and increase production of its four-place R44 from four to five machines a week.

The move follows the introduction of hydraulic flight controls on a new version of the R44, dubbed the Raven, which will be delivered as standard from April. The system, which eliminates cyclic stick vibration and eases control forces, was offered as an option on new aircraft last September and has been specified on all but two of the 120 R44s ordered to date for delivery this year.

The order tally means that R44 production is sold out until the end of July, despite the planned weekly increase in production. The company also has orders for 50 R22s.

The site expansion, which will increase overall size by around one third, will also see the workforce grow from 650 to around 700 in the first quarter. Engineering design staff will also be recruited, says company president Frank Robinson, who says the surge in orders continues the trend established with the record 278 helicopters delivered in 1999. This included 128 R22s and 150 R44s and was "the best year we've ever had" says Robinson.

One element of the R44 orderbook is a deal for 10 aircraft from Audi Helicopters of Sïo Paulo, Brazil, which plans to develop a fractional ownership scheme around the fleet. "It sounds very promising, and they plan to expand considerably" says Robinson.

Forthcoming developments for Robinson's products include the introduction of a new tailrotor gearbox on the R22 which is just nearing certification, and a new R44-based rotor system for the R22 which will see the use of steel skins and spars. The company is also testing turbocharged versions of the Lycoming O-540 in the R44 to boost altitude performance.

Source: Flight International