Robinson Helicopters has announced that its founder Frank Robinson has passed away peacefully at home at the age of 92. Robinson, one of vertical flight’s most recognised names, was a pioneer who made the dream of helicopter flight a reality for thousands.
As you might expect, the accolades for such a titan are rolling in. Among the messages that stand out are one from a pilot now flying the heavy iron for a large operator who said, “if it weren’t for Frank Robinson and the R22 and 44, I wouldn’t be here.” Another, now an instructor with a rival manufacturer, said “Rest in peace, Frank and thank you for creating these incredible machines that let me become a part of this industry.” Yet another who had once worked for RHC fondly remembered Robinson’s high standards and demand that they be maintained, noting that “when general aviation was at a low point, he was the one pulling it in the right direction”, recalling that when “Frank was on the prowl looking for work that did not meet his standards we’d hum the theme from Jaws.”
Of course, Robinson will be remembered for the design and manufacture of the R22, 44 and 66 aircraft borne of a fascination with helicopters that found its genesis when the young Robinson read a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and saw a picture of Igor Sikorsky hovering in his VS-300 helicopter. At the tender age of nine, he was caught in the thrall of vertical flight, which he never escaped.
Robinson’s aviation career began following studies at the University of Washington and graduate aeronautical engineering study at Wichita State University, after which he joined Cessna at the end of the 1950s. His career continued at Hughes and Bell through the 1960s. Until he found himself, in 1973, at the age of 43, unable to interest any of his erstwhile employers in his concept for a simple personal helicopter; he took the bold decision to resign from his job at Hughes and founded the Robinson Helicopter Company, operating initially in his garage at home in Palo Verdes, California.
Six years later, following an arduous struggle and overcoming the naysayers, the US FAA certified the R22. After 10 years of production, the R22 had found a previously untapped market in private helicopter ownership. The success of the R22 continued when in the 1990s, the company introduced the four-seater R44 and today, as we wrote in the August/September edition of RotorHub International, “if you’ve got a job, there’s an R44 for that”. Entering the turbine market in 2010 with the R66, there can be no doubt that the company had ‘arrived’ in the helicopter industry.
From that garage in Palo Verdes to a world-class company, more than 13,000 Robinson helicopters have been delivered, and from the far north of arctic Finland to the Australian outback and everywhere in between, ‘Robbies’ are out doing their thing.
It’s quite a legacy; some have called Robinson an aviation rock star….he isn’t…he is one of its legends.