The global civil helicopter industry has seen impressive growth in recent years. The aggregate global helicopter market is expected to reach $13.88 billion by 2024, says MarketWatch. This represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.04 percent from 2019 to 2024.
Civil helicopters are an especially effective means of reaching remote or high-altitude areas that aren't accessible by fixed-wing aircraft or road travel. In addition, the helicopters' vertical take-off and landing capabilities make them ideal for law enforcement and emergency medical services (EMS) use.
Robinson Helicopter Company is a key player in the competitive civil helicopter industry. In fact, this well-regarded business has become the leading global manufacturer of these civil versatile rotor-wing aircraft. To date, Robinson Helicopter has delivered more than 13,000 aircraft to its customers around the world.
Robinson Helicopter: An Overview
Launched in 1973, Robinson Helicopter Company grew from founder Frank Robinson's vision. He wanted to produce the highest-quality, most reliable helicopters in the world. At the same time, he vowed to accomplish that goal while emphasizing an efficient, cost-effective approach.
More than 40 years later, Robinson Helicopter has accomplished all of these goals. The company is now one of the most respected civil helicopter manufacturers in the world.
Robinson's Growing International Connections
An increasing number of overseas buyers have purchased the company's products. For example, the Polish Air Force University now has a number of Robinson R44s in its training fleet. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, the city's police force has purchased 40 of the company's R22 rotor-wing aircraft. Finally, at least one R44 police helicopter is now flying missions in China.
Several Robinson helicopters have also taken part in long-distance flights. In September 2000, pilot Jennifer Murray flew her R44 around the world, becoming the first female solo circumnavigator.
In September 2013, two R66s landed near Moscow after circling the globe. And in October 2002, two adventurous pilots flew an R44 Raven II piston helicopter to the North Pole, the first such trip on record.
Frank Robinson's Passion for Helicopters
Frank Robinson developed his longtime passion for helicopters at age nine. Growing up in Washington state during the Great Depression, Robinson saw a Seattle Post Intelligencer photo of Igor Sikorsky hovering his Prototype VS300 helicopter. Robinson was fascinated an aircraft could perform that maneuver, and he decided to devote his career to helicopter design and development.
Frank Robinson structured his college education around helicopter design. He attended the University of Washington and earned a BSME degree in 1957. He later pursued a graduate degree at the University of Wichita.
Beginning a Multi-Decade Helicopter Career
Fresh out of college, Frank Robinson began working at the Cessna Aircraft Company. As luck would have it, he landed on the CH-1 Skyhook helicopter project team. After three and a half years at Cessna, Robinson worked a series of jobs at rotorcraft manufacturing facilities.
First, he spent one year at Umbaugh, working on the company's gyroplane certification. Next, he worked for four and a half years at McCulloch Motor Company, executing design studies on inexpensive rotorcraft. After that, Robinson spent a year at Kaman Aircraft, where he focused on gyrodyne-type rotorcraft.
Robinson's two-year stint at Bell Helicopter earned him a reputation as a tail rotor expert. In 1969, he took his talents to Hughes Helicopter Company, where he worked on numerous research and development projects. Specifically, Robinson focused on building the Hughes 500 helicopter's new tail rotor. He also worked on Hughes' quiet helicopter program.
Launching Robinson Helicopter Company
At this point, Frank Robinson was well versed in both the theoretical and practical aspects of helicopter construction. Despite his considerable skills, he couldn't interest any companies in building a small, inexpensive helicopter.
So, Robinson left his Hughes Helicopter Company position and started his own helicopter manufacturing company. In June 1973, Frank Robinson launched Robinson Helicopter Company from his home. He built his first R22 prototype in a Torrance Airport hangar and flew the aircraft on its maiden flight in August 1975.
In 1979, following several years of technical analysis and testing, the FAA approved the R22 for sale, and Robinson delivered the first helicopter before the year's end. Not surprisingly, this innovative aircraft quickly became the global leader in civil helicopter sales. In addition, Robinson Helicopter's R22 broke all speed, altitude, and other world records in its weight class.
Robinson Helicopter Continues Impressive Growth
In the mid-1980s, Robinson Helicopter began development of the four-seat R44 helicopter, which received FAA approval for delivery in 1993. In addition to a float version, Robinson Helicopter produced two specialty R44 designs: the versatile Newscopter and the uniquely equipped police helicopter.
Robinson Helicopter's next project, a five-seat turbine helicopter, was almost 7 years in development. In October 2010, the R66 Turbine received its FAA certification, and Robinson delivered the first model in November 2010. By the end of December, the company was facing an impressive backlog of customer orders.
Shortly before the R66's October 2010 FAA certification, Frank Robinson retired at age 80. Today, his son, Kurt Robinson, leads the company. Robinson continues to produce the high-quality, reliable, and easy-to-maintain helicopters that honor his father's legacy.
Robinson Helicopter Product Offerings
Robinson debuted its first civil helicopter offering in 1979. The two-place piston-powered R22 sported a personal-style design, and the aircraft's affordability helped broaden its marketplace appeal.
This five-seat helicopter provides an efficient means of transport for small company teams, business travelers, and aerial tour groups.
R66 Turbine Marine
This versatile aircraft features emergency pop-out floats for users planning over-the-water travel. Companies that operate offshore oil rigs, along with aerial tour companies, would find this helicopter useful.
R44 Raven II and Clipper II
These four-seat helicopters feature high performance, reliability, and easy maintenance. The powerful Lycoming IO-540 fuel-injected engine enables more payload capacity, making this versatile aircraft ideal for small group travel.
R44 Raven I and Clipper I
These streamlined four-seat helicopters offer an aerodynamic fuselage design. This maximizes airspeed while providing good fuel economy, making this helicopter useful for fast, efficient transport that's also affordable.
The R44 Cadet's airframe, rotor system, and engine are the same as those on the R44 Raven 1. The Cadet provides an aft cargo compartment and economical flight performance for flight schools and budget-minded operators.
R22 Beta II
This small workhorse helicopter has been in production for more than 40 years. Used for a wide variety of applications, the R22 Beta II's aerodynamic fuselage facilitates greater airspeed along with desirable fuel economy.
Specialty Helicopter Configurations
Robinson Helicopter Company's top-selling R44 and R66 helicopters are available in several configurations. Specifically, the company's Newscopters and police helicopters see widespread use in major metropolitan areas.
Robinson Helicopter Company R44 and R66 Newscopters are increasingly used for Electronic News Gathering (ENG) purposes in major media markets. The helicopters provide "eye in the sky" aerial broadcast support for television stations' live news stories and traffic reports. The versatile Robinson helicopters are compatible with the stations' broadcast equipment, and each aircraft can work with several stations at once.
Robinson Police Helicopters
Numerous law enforcement agencies have purchased Robinson police helicopters for use in aerial support activities. Each aircraft can be configured with police radios, an imaging system and infrared sensor, all of which are frequently used by law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security.
In addition, a digital mapping system will be useful for search and tracking purposes. Specialty flight displays, impact-resistant windshields, and auxiliary fuel tanks are also common on Robinson police helicopters.
Focusing on Innovation and Excellence
With decades of success under its belt, Robinson Helicopter Company is not content to rest on its laurels. The company maintains a strong focus on research and development, incorporating new technology and making improvements to current systems.
In addition, Robinson Helicopter's Torrance, California, factory hosts all production, assembly, inspection, and flight-testing operations. For maximum efficiency and quality, Robinson Helicopter makes many of its parts onsite.
The company's highly skilled workers possess the expertise necessary to produce and maintain its sophisticated aircraft. Robinson Helicopter also performs factory overhauls on its older helicopters.
Finally, Robinson Helicopter has more than 400 global dealers and service centers. Each well-equipped facility provides targeted customer support and aircraft service.
Maintaining a Strong Focus on Safety
To promote pilot and maintenance team safety, Robinson Helicopter offers monthly onsite courses that draw attendees from around the world. Helicopter flight instructors receive in-depth pilot safety instruction, while maintenance technicians get detailed training from Robinson's team of experts. Robinson also serves on the International Helicopter Safety Team.
Industry Awards and Accolades
During his more than four decades in the aviation industry, Frank Robinson received numerous awards for his ongoing dedication to innovation and excellence. For his achieved goal of making a small, affordable civil-use helicopter, he earned the Lifetime Aviation Engineering Award. For his many contributions to aviation technology and aviation, Robinson was inducted into the Aviation Legend Hall of Fame. In 2012, Frank received the prestigious Daniel Guggenheim Medal for his conception, design, and manufacture of quiet, affordable, reliable, and versatile helicopters The medal is considered to be one of the greatest honors that can be presented for a lifetime of work in aeronautics.
Robinson Helicopter Company also received some well-deserved recognition. For its substantial contributions to aviation and space technology, the company received the Howard Hughes Memorial Award. Robinson Helicopter also earned the Doolittle Award for its excellence in aerospace technical management and engineering.
Negotiating the Pandemic Restrictions
In April 2021, Robinson Helicopter Company reached a production milestone, rolling its 13,000th helicopter out of production for delivery to a client. However, company president Kurt Robinson recalls no one noticed this landmark achievement until several weeks later. With everyone preoccupied with COVID-19 pandemic disruptions, other issues (and achievements) faded into the background.
Robinson Helicopter Company had been operating normally until January 2020. Then, Los Angeles County mandated a widespread shutdown to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. After sending employees home for nine weeks, Robinson Helicopter began slowly recalling workers once the business was declared an essential service.
Working under numerous precautions and social distancing protocols, Robinson Helicopter was first able to resume its equipment repair operations. Robinson Helicopter first resumed its equipment repair operations. Then, the company began to recall approximately 25 workers per week.
By the end of the third quarter of 2020, Robinson Helicopter Company's approximately 900-member staff was back on the job. Surprisingly, the company's unexpected production shutdown resulted in only 19 fewer helicopters delivered in 2020 compared to 2019.
Throughout this extended disruption, Robinson Helicopter maintained its dedication to serving its global customers. At the same time, the company took every possible precaution to keep its employees safe.
Robinson Helicopter's Future Prospects
As Robinson Helicopter Company casts its eyes toward the future, president Kurt Robinson is optimistic about the company's prospects. At the end of the first quarter of 2021, Robinson Helicopter had more new aircraft orders compared to the same period in 2020.
To elaborate, Kurt Robinson predicts that total 2021 aircraft deliveries will surpass 2020 and even 2019 totals. Of course, this assumes that there won't be any unexpected events such as a large-scale COVID-19 resurgence.
Robinson frames his prediction from a global perspective. "What we're seeing is, around the world, the helicopter industry seems to be rebounding quite nicely," he says. "We're not seeing it in just one area; we're seeing it all over the world."
The concept of increased civil helicopter sales is certainly appealing. However, Kurt Robinson understands that some potential buyers have relatively limited financial resources. As a result, the company is always trying to increase its helicopters' reliability while trying to keep production costs under control.
Continued Dedication to Fleet Service
Robinson Helicopter Company will continue to market its fleet of sophisticated new rotor-wing aircraft. At the same time, Kurt Robinson is deeply committed to serving customers with earlier-model civil helicopters. To ensure that these buyers receive timely top-tier service, Robinson Helicopter opened a special-purpose repair and overhaul facility in 2019.
"We still have aircraft flying that were produced in the '80s, '90s, and 2000s, so it's something that we are proud of, and we just keep working to keep upgrading the fleet and keep everyone moving along," he says.