Last year marked another step up in shipments for Robinson Helicopter Company, with the light helicopter OEM marking a total of 258 units delivered.
In a press conference at the Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo in Atlanta on Tuesday, company president and CEO Kurt Robinson reported on the strong sales as well as other current issues—including the lack of availability of unleaded aviation fuels for testing in its aircraft.
Robinson nearly doubled production of its single-engine turbine R66 model over the past three years, with a total of 101 units going out the door in 2022 versus 54 in 2019. Those numbers helped make up for the drop in R22 Beta II sales over the past year, which went from 33 in 2021 to 15 in 2022.
Three versions of the R44 series—the Cadet, Raven I, and Raven II—made up 125 units in 2021 and 142 in 2022, a roughly 14 percent increase.
As for new models in the future, Robinson didn’t reveal any details but said, “There are a variety of areas that we are looking at…that we are working on. Most of it…is incremental…and you’re putting together a package for down the road.” Diesel-powered models have potential, as well, but problems remain to be solved.
Unleaded Avgas for R44 Raven II?
Robinson has been working on testing unleaded avgas in its aircraft since 2014. “Currently with our fleet, the R22, the R44 Raven I and the Cadet, which operate on the O-540—a parallel-valve engine—are all approved to fly on 91UL or 94UL,” said Robinson. “The R44 Raven II—with the fuel-injected IO-540 high-performance angle-valve engine—is not.”
“And we are working with different manufacturers and continue to work with Lycoming to develop a solution,” Robinson continued. “This whole area remains a top priority, and one of the reasons why I bring it up here and now is because we are seeing just a lot of misinformation. We get letters, people contacting us from various municipalities, saying we understand 100 [octane] unleaded aviation fuel is available, and I can tell you as we get into the market and are watching very closely that at the current time there is not an unleaded 100 octane aviation fuel currently being distributed.
Not Here Yet…
“From my understanding, it’s still going to be a while,” said Robinson. “We’re in California, so whether we like it or not, we tend to be on the leading edge. This is something that needs to be solved, and it’s only going to happen with everybody working together.
“I am optimistic that we’re going to find a solution, but it’s certainly going to be before 2030.”
As for sustainable aviation fuel for its R66 Rolls-Royce turbine-powered model, the news is better. “In the summertime, we actually got a fuel load, a tank load, of sustainable aviation fuel—it was 25 percent,” said Robinson. “[We] ran it in our aircraft, and I think the amount that we were able to put in the tank, it lasted for about a month and a half.” The company ran all of its production flights and safety courses on the SAF. “We had no issues whatsoever. It ran really well.” The manufacturer hasn’t tested higher-percentage blends yet, but Robinson anticipates those will also go smoothly.
“The amount that we had to buy was definitely more expensive than the standard, but we wanted to make sure that there wasn’t any issue and it could be used in our aircraft.”
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