In recent years the country’s largest-volume producer of general aviation aircraft has been Robinson Helicopter Co. But a weak showing in 2014 from the Torrance, California-based helicopter manufacturer meant that position was ceded to Textron Aviation. According to recent remarks at Heli-Expo in Orlando from President Kurt Robinson, it’s not likely to be a trend.
The company delivered 329 helicopters last year, down 37 percent from 2013. But Robinson says sales this year are already ahead of 2014’s numbers and that things are rebounding “quite nicely.” There’s now a six-month backlog, which is significant considering they are currently building nine helicopters a week. Robinson said the majority of their business continues to be foreign sales, with Russia, China, Australia, and Canada the biggest exports. And Robinson executives must believe the future looks strong. They signed an agreement at the show with R66 engine partner Rolls-Royce for 1,000 more engines over the next 10 years.
Each year Robinson invests in the R22, R44, and R66 with modest certification or design enhancements. Last year the FAA gave the green light on pop-out floats for the R66, an option used mostly in case of emergency for pilots operating over water. A tank of pressurized helium below the right seat inflates the floats in two to three seconds. The R66 Turbine Marine edition adds 65 pounds to the empty weight, includes the floats and corrosion proofing, and costs about $35,000.
The company continues to expand to more modern avionics options, and now the R66 is available with a Garmin G500H and Genesys stability augmentation system. The SAS can hold altitude and heading once above 40 knots. Slow down below 40 knots and the autopilot turns off but the stability protection remains. It will provide corrective inputs to the cyclic to maintain a fixed pitch and roll attitude. Robinson said he flew with the SAS and found it to be as far a leap forward as adding the governor was years ago.