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From left to right, President George W. Bush and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger receive a tour of the Robinson factory from Frank Robinson.

Bush visited the Robinson Helicopter Company in January of 2008 to promote free trade agreements. Photo: Courtesy of the Robinson Helicopter Company

RPM:: What was it that made you pursue the R-44 and R-66? FR: The R-44 was the logical follow on to the R-22. The R-22 car- ried two people; the R-44 carried four.

So it was, in that sense, twice as big

of a helicopter. By the time we designed the R-44 we had pretty well worked out all the bugs on the R-22. Most of the R-44 could be scaled up from the R-22. The R-66 was the only answer we could come up with to the shortage of 100 low lead fuel. You just can’t get it hardly anywhere outside the United States to power the planes. That was the driving factor for the R-66, to design a helicopter that would burn Jet A fuel. I spent a lot of money and time trying to design a small diesel engine that could burn Jet A fuel and be light enough and efficient enough. We just couldn’t get the weight down far enough, it was too heavy.

improvements that we worked on with Rolls Royce. We worked with them for a couple of years to get a good engine for our R-66.

RPM:: Along the way you’ve been very active in test flying your air-

craft. How do you think being highly involved in both designing and test flying has helped you develop such successful aircraft? FR: It is essential.

ROTORCRAFTPROFESSIONAL It just floored me the fact that most of the compa- 26 nies that I worked at, the engineers didn’t know how to fly a helicopter. I

always thought that was absolutely ridiculous, that they didn’t take the time to go get their helicopter rating so they could do some of the test flying.

I test

flew the prototypes of the R-22 and R-44 on their first flights. That is so essential to get that firsthand feel so that you not only know what is going on by understanding the theory, but also have the feel for the helicopter. That’s why I went in that direction. On the R-66 I didn’t do the first flight. I had our Chief Pilot, Doug Tomkins, do the first flight.

I flew it fairly early

in the program, but Doug was already doing fine and the aircraft flew well. It flew great right from the beginning. We couldn’t find anything serious that needed to be fixed.

That’s why I finally worked out a deal

with Rolls Royce for them to redesign their Allison 250 engine. They did a good job. We got rid of the long snout that was the compressor, which was causing a lot of their problems and engine failures.

There were a lot of other

RPM:: Some of the early helicopter pioneers like Igor Sikorsky and Arthur Young had a very loyal group of engineers and craftsmen working for them. Igor Sikorsky and Arthur Young both praised these employees for being instrumental in the success of the early Sikorsky and Bell helicopters. In some cases these folks stuck around the companies long after Sikorsky and Young had departed and continued to guide the companies and help them be successful. You’ve given a lot of credit for the success of Robinson Helicopter to your employees. Do you see yourself as having created a group similar to Sikorsky and Young? FR: Yes, technically. All of my key people have been with me for over


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