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Kurt Robinson on the R66 - Interview

Posted 13 years 239 days ago ago by Admin

Rotorcraft Professional recently spoke to Mr. Kurt Robinson, President of Robinson Helicopters about the new R66.

By Steve Goldsworthy


Rotorcraft Pro: Kurt I have to start by asking the obvious first question. Where is the R66r66 header in the certification process?


Kurt: The FAA is currently flying two ships. Next week we will start the F&R process. Function and Reliability, and then they will be flying a ship up in Big Bear (editors note: Big Bear field elevation is 6752’ and known for it’s high DA, over 10,000 feet in the hot summers). We expect that work to finish up around the end of August and then around two weeks after that, it’s a certified helicopter.


Rotorcraft Pro: So right now the schedule would be around September 15th, 2010?


Kurt: That’s about right.


Rotorcraft Pro: Back on the first day of accepting R66 orders at the Heli-Expo you had around 14 orders for the aircraft. Any official estimate of R66 orders to date?


Kurt: We have about 60 orders to date and that builds as we get 2 or 3 each week. I expect that number to jump once the ship is certified.


Rotorcraft Pro: How many R66s are there currently?


Kurt: We have the original experimental R66, the two that the FAA are now flying, plus another 5 in assembly. We will be shipping aircraft as soon as we get the certification.


Rotorcraft Pro: Were there any particular challenges that you had to overcome during the design or build of the 66?


Kurt: Yes, the seat crashworthiness standards took us longer than expected. The rules have changed, and we had to develop new seats and then some new ways of testing those seats to meet the (new) standards.


Rotorcraft Pro: What about the SFAR 73? Does Robinson have an opinion of whether that rule should apply to the R66?


Kurt: We don’t think the SFAR should apply. The R66 is a turbine, it’s an entirely different helicopter. The SFAR got applied to the R44 because of some concerns from the R22. We don’t feel the SFAR for the R44 is necessary, let alone the R66. But in the end, it’s up to the FAA.


Rotorcraft Pro: I know you flew the R66 out to Heli Expo in Houston this past year with Doug Tompkins. What’s it like to fly the R66?


Kurt: After 5 minutes you forget you are in the R66, you feel just like you are flying an R44. Except the gauges are different, and you’re flying faster, and of course, you have more power.


Rotorcraft Pro: What do you envision the market for the R66 is?


r66 cockpitKurt: Well we have 9000 aircraft around the world currently, so there will be some of those owners that will want to upgrade. We have a lot of older Bell 206 aircraft out there, so the R66 may replace those ships as they age. But our goal is to create new markets and not just steal from existing ones. We proved that in Australia with the R44; they initially thought owners only wanted the R22 for cattle rustling and would not be interested in the R44. However the R44 has proven to be extremely popular in Australia.


Rotorcraft Pro: Well when you change the economics as drastically as Robinson Helicopters has done, you open up new markets, new operations that no one thought practical before.



Kurt: Exactly, new uses, new markets, that’s where our focus has always been.


Rotorcraft Pro: So when Bell announced the last sale of the 206 Jet Ranger a few years back, that had to be encouraging for you.


Kurt: Well, it sure told us we were heading in the right direction. It was an affirmation for us, it kept us focused on (completing) the R66 project.


Rotorcraft Pro: I know when you started taking orders for the R66, you started getting some customers who wanted to buy, but were holding off due to the fact that no air conditioning is available. Is there A/C in the works?


Kurt: Yes, A/C is extremely important to our customers. We did get people who were used to the A/C in the R44 and liked it and wanted it in the R66. But we had to freeze the project at some point so we could go for FAA certification.


Rotorcraft Pro: So the current ships the FAA are flying do not have A/C?


Kurt: That’s correct, they don’t have A/C. But we are working on those final details and once the ship is certified, we’ll have A/C approved in just a few months. In fact, I am accepting PO’s right now for ships with A/C on board.


Rotorcraft Pro: Have you set a price for the A/C option?


Kurt: Not yet, but we’re working on it.


Rotorcraft Pro: I see the R66 doing well in the ENG market. It’s turbine, it has the power, it has the room for all the equipment.


Kurt: Actually the R44 now has A/C available on the ENG ships as well. The 44 makes a great ENG helicopter; TV stations are very budget conscious and the 44 does a great job. We had some earlier issue trying to make room for both the ENG gear and the A/C, so we didn’t offer that version ship with A/C until just recently. In fact, I just delivered an ENG ship to Texas that had A/C.


Rotorcraft Pro: Well I know in the Los Angeles market there has always been a requirement for turbine ENG aircraft. I would think an R66 would be so economical compared to say, an AStar, it could really take the market there.


Kurt: We have many markets where the 44 has taken over, but L.A. doesn’t have any. But I see your point; it could do quite well in the L.A. market.


Rotorcraft Pro: Robinson currently has some expansion going on, is that for the new R66 line?


Kurt: We are expanding the plant by 137,000 square feet. It’s not just for the R66 though, it will be for all our operations, to make them more efficient.r66 helicopter


Rotorcraft Pro: Ok, I have to ask this. A few years ago I was at the factory safety course, and I had the opportunity to have lunch with Frank (Robinson). He told me he really wanted to use a diesel engine for the new R66. I was shocked. Was that really under consideration?


Kurt: Absolutely. We looked at everything, including the diesels. We would love to have a diesel option. Hopefully that technology will move forward so we can use them one day. When Rolls Royce came out with their new RR300 engine, and we just couldn’t get the weight down on the diesel engines, that’s what cinched the decision to go with a turbine.


Rotorcraft Pro: So for diesel, it just boils down to weight?


Kurt: That’s it, They are still just too heavy for our helicopters.


Rotorcraft Pro: I know you just came back from ALEA show, how was that for you?


Kurt: The ALEA confirmed that state and local governments are downsizing and need to save money. This is an area where the R44 Police Helicopter and the R66 should do very well.


Rotorcraft Pro: Robinson had substantial growth over the decades. Around two years ago the sales of helicopters began to crash, and Robinson was not immune to that. What did you have to do?   


Kurt: We had to cut back certainly. We went into that year with a fairly large backlog but our sales fell off and many orders that were in place dropped out; people just could not get financing. We see an increase in orders now, especially with the R66 coming out.


Rotorcraft Pro: Let me ask you one question about the R-22. I’ve always thought you should have a fuel injected model. More power, more fuel efficiency, no carb heat worries.


Kurt: Well, it gets down to cost. Would you really want to spend even more money for a two seater, when you could just buy an R44 and carry four people?


Rotorcraft Pro: I see that point, are there any changes you want to talk about on the R22?


Kurt: Nope, there are not any changes planned to the R22. Except for the new blades. We’re going back to the aluminum blades.


Rotorcraft Pro: And those are similar to the new -7 aluminum blades designed for the R44 Raven and the Raven II, correct?


Kurt: Yes.

Rotorcraft Pro: Was there anything that you were not able to accomplish in the 66?



Kurt: Nope, we are really happy with this aircraft. I think we accomplished everything we set out to do. We expect that we will get tons of feedback from our customers, and that will drive any changes in the future.


Rotorcraft Pro: So around September 15th the 66 should be certified. On the 16th I would love to come down and fly it, and give more of a pilots’ perspective on it.



Kurt: Come on down, we would love to have you.


Rotorcraft Pro: Sounds like a sequel in the works. Stay tuned. Thanks Kurt for taking the time to keep us updated.