March 07, 2013
Credit: Alan Barclay
Boosted by buoyant sales of the R44 and turbine-powered R66, Robinson is ramping up production to 13 helicopters per week at its Torrance, Calif. manufacturing site.
The rate increase means overall annual production could come close to 600 in 2013, exceeding the record-setting 517 helicopters made in 2012.
“The economy has been quite a challenge, but interestingly enough it hasn’t impacted us. We’re just carrying on doing our thing,” says company President Kurt Robinson.
Although the 2012 tally marks a 45% increase over 2011’s production of 356, Robinson says the numbers could grow even further if the latest member of the helicopter family can win full certification in Canada, Russia and European Aviation Safety Agency regulated countries. These agencies refused to accept the U.S. FAA exemption over the helicopter’s single-string hydraulic system, thereby preventing certification of the R66 in several countries that have proved to be successful markets for the piston-powered R22 and R44 models.
As a result, Robinson has been working for more than a year with the FAA to demonstrate the single-valve design has an equivalent level of safety (ELOS) to a redundant design. FAA and Transport Canada officials witnessed tests on the R66 hydraulic system at the Robinson factory on Feb. 13-14. Tests included flight evaluations of the R66 control characteristics as well as ground tests using a fixture designed to simulate critical failures.
The exhaustive evaluation work “convinced us we have an incredibly robust system. We had no dual valve, so we had to show what happens if we intentionally jam the hydraulics. We put the biggest chip we could put in there, and it proved easy for the pilot to break through the chip (and maintain normal flight control).”
Following the demonstrations, the ELOS was granted a few weeks ago. “It’s a huge step for us,” says Robinson, who adds the company “immediately notified EASA and Russia and the others. So the ball is in their court.”
If the helicopter receives approval in these markets, Robinson anticipates that “we can bump up the 66, but right now as it is we’re looking at between 500 and 600 per year (of all models),” he says. Production in 2012 included 286 R44s, 191 R66s and 40 R22s. Robinson says the relatively high numbers of four-seat R44 sales indicates the Rolls-Royce RR300-powered R66 “is not cannibalizing sales of the R44. The R66 is a different market.”
Weekly production rates are now pegged at 13, which includes six R44s (four Raven IIs and two Raven Is), six R66s and a single R22.