November 11, 2009
Helicopter pioneer Frank Robinson paid tribute to AOPA this week for the association's ongoing efforts to keep general aviation flying. As AOPA President Phil Boyer toured the world's largest manufacturer of civilian helicopters, Robinson said, "We appreciate so much what Phil and AOPA did to get us back in the air after 9/11." Robinson demonstrated that appreciation following the 9/11 tragedy by making significant contributions to AOPA's General Aviation Restoration Fund, which supported the creation of the "GA Serving America" campaign.
Frank Robinson, an icon in the personal helicopter industry and founder, president, and chairman of the Robinson Helicopter Company, showed Boyer around his sprawling, 260,000-square-foot plant at Zamperini Field in Torrance, California. The factory employs nearly 1,100 workers and will soon double in physical size with the completion of a second building at the airport.
The company is a perfect example of how a general aviation airport supports a business that provides vital jobs and economic benefit to a community. Without the airport, those jobs would not exist in Torrance.
Robinson started his company in 1973 in his garage and has spent his entire career in the personal helicopter business. He said he has been fascinated with helicopters "almost since the time they were invented." After suffering through some financial hardships in the 1980s, Robinson Helicopter got its footing and today completes an average of three helicopters a day, shipping two thirds of them overseas. Robinson now has 5,400 helicopters flying worldwide.
The company's sporty-looking R22 and four-seat R44 models serve numerous purposes, including personal transportation, news gathering, and police work, to name just a few.
Boyer commented on how impressed he was with the magnitude of the operation and the attention to quality control. Robinson, who is an engineer, personally designs numerous parts for his products using high-tech state-of-the-art machines. In 1990 the American Helicopter Society presented Robinson with the Igor I. Sikorsky International Trophy.
Boyer also took note of how different flying a rotorcraft is from a fixed-wing plane. In fact, Robinson says it's easier to train someone who is not a fixed-wing pilot. For example, non-helicopter pilots are trained to react to a stall warning horn by pushing the stick forward and increasing power. Robinson explained that such a move in a helicopter would be catastrophic since the alarm denotes low rpm, and such a movement would actually slow rotor rpm even further. As with the entire general aviation market, personal helicopter sales are growing. Robinson reported 2004 first quarter sales rose 82 percent over the same period last year.
Boyer visited Robinson Helicopter while in California for a series of Pilot Town Meetings.
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