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Robinson Helicopter Company transitions to new leadership


 

By Joanna Dodder-Nellans

Robinson Helicopter Company, renowned for its innovative and affordable R22 that greatly expanded the rotorcraft family in the civil market and trained generations of pilots, is transitioning into new leadership after celebrating a half-century as a family-owned business.

Kurt Robinson, president and CEO of the privately owned company the past 14 years, has moved to an advisory role and remains on the board of directors. David Smith, formerly Robinson's VP of operations, is the new president and CEO.

“Watching and helping our company grow from our living room to become a global leader in the helicopter industry is a fantastic lifetime achievement, and I am incredibly proud of my 40-year career with the company,” Kurt Robinson said.

Kurt grew up watching his father Frank leave his Hughes Tool Company engineering job to create his own company in 1973 to design the simple, reliable and economical R22 at home. Kurt helped launch the R22, earned his MBA and law degree, got his pilot's license, and became his father's right-hand man at Robinson as the company developed the R44 and R66. With FAA certification of the R66 imminent, Frank retired in 2010 and passed leadership to his son. Frank passed away in 2022.

Tenacious and stubborn are two words that Kurt uses to describe his father, and Frank instilled that never-give-up attitude in his employees. Frank also made sure to listen to his customers when they described their needs. Kurt remembers his father shocking eager new engineers with the line, "You can add anything you want to that helicopter, but you can't spend any more money and you can't add any more weight." So Kurt's vast knowledge base about past innovations and efforts will continue to be important for the company. 

Kurt said some of the innovations that made him proud during his leadership included safety measures such as a symmetrical horizontal stabilizer that Robinson just starting selling last year, as well as a cockpit video camera system introduced in 2021.

With Smith taking the reins Feb. 27, the company again has an engineer in charge. Smith joined Robinson Helicopter in early 2023 as vice president of operations. He has more than 20 years of experience in aviation and rotorcraft. He spent most of his career at Bell Flight in multiple leadership roles across engineering, serving as program director for critical product developments as well as the vice president of operations modernization. Smith also led TRU Simulation + Training Inc., an affiliate of Textron Aviation, delivering pilot training solutions including full-flight simulators and flight training devices.

“I look forward to working with the more than 400 service centers and dealers and the more than 1,100 employees of RHC as we pursue new products, markets, partnerships, and technologies,” Smith said.

While he can't reveal exact details, Smith said he has an eye on the next-gen versions of rugged Robinson aircraft. "Our sweet spot is areas of the world that lack infrastructure, lack reliable supply chains, and need durable, reliable and easy field-repairable systems and service," he related. "And I think we can bring Robinson affordability to more sophisticated applications.

"The future is going to have elements of enhanced operational technologies like machine vision that will help to identify threats before the pilot has time to perceive and react to them. So the systems will protect the pilot more than they do today. But I also think we'll still have pilots that love to fly and want a conventional interface with the aircraft."

Noting that "David's enthusiasm for this industry is awesome," Kurt Robinson says he has full faith in Smith's leadership.

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Created 140 days ago
by Admin

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