Frank Robinson Dead At 92
I was fortunate to hear this remarkable man speak at a Royal Aeronautical Society lecture in London. He even graciously answered a question from me. He changed the lives of many thousands of people by introducing them to helicopters, by making them light and simple. The R22 weighed half of the Enstrom I learned on – and it burned half of the fuel. His designs were a game-changer. Such engineering giants don’t come around often – I think he is up there with the best.
I’ll never forget meeting Frank for the first time in Miami at the HAI helicopter symposium in 1993. I was a ground systems tech for the FAA but flew helicopters for fun. I attended the symposium and they put FAA on my symposium badge. And I didn’t give it a second thought. Seeing all the new helicopters as a pilot I was like a kid in the candy store jumping from helicopter to helicopter.
I came upon the Robinson helicopter display and saw for the first time the R44 helicopter. I looked at the guy standing at the new helicopter and asked if I could take a look? I quickly began opening panels asking about a specific bearing in the drive system. The guy at the display said, you know quite a bit about these helicopters. I explained that only a couple years earlier I had to crash land one in Washington DC when the drive tension bearing burned up in flight.
There is a procedure to check these bearings before flight with a temp sensing strip and a warning light when the tension system is activated. The belts may need tensioning during flight and will activate momentarily. But, if it comes on for more than 6 seconds (now changed to ten seconds) it means the bearing is gone and you need to land immediately if not sooner. This bearing on the R22 is right next to the fuel tanks. When the bearing goes, it is metal to metal and glowing red hot quickly.
The run on autorotation was uneventful and we exited and ran from the helicopter before the rotors stopped. In our minds we knew what was happing and didn’t want to be in a helicopter when it explodes.
I told this story to the guy standing at the display with enthusiasm. Pointing at the bear involved and asked… I see more belts have been added and this bearing looks different, what was changed? The guy standing there clearly wasn’t a sales guy. He began to tell me in detail how the bearings were now roller bearings as he looked at my badge that said FAA. I then said… wouldn’t roller bearing create more heat and fail faster? I noticed the sales guy was looking very concerned. This was R44 #1 and had just got certified by the FAA.
When I noticed he was looking at my badge I immediately explained I was just an interested pilot and my job was to maintain radars, communication, and navigation systems for the FAA, not to inspect planes. I then said I was just interested and if he could pass on the information to the engineers back at Robinson.
You see, I looked at his badge and it only showed ‘Robinson’. So naturally, I thought it was a sales guy from Robinson. No, he pointed out. You are talking to the right guy. “I’m Frank Robinson”.
Boy did I feel like an idiot. I’m trying to explain helicopter systems to Frank Robinson, the guy who designed the helicopter. I went from smart a$$ questioning kid, to idol worshiping, thanking him for making an affordable helicopter so I could learn to fly one.
Learning to fly a helicopter is expensive… but learning in a Bell 206 was never going to happen under $50,000 back then in the late 80s. Impossible for the average guy without going into the military.
I’ve been out to the Robinson Safety school since then. Great experience.
Frank was a great influence on my [life]. Without him, I never would have become a commercial helicopter pilot.
Three People, 53 Dogs Survive Snowy Golf Course Crash
I spent the better part of 53 years flying 135 and 91 in the Great Lakes. I transported boat-crews for my client to/from Great Lakes freighters at various ports on the five great lakes. MKE was a popular destination for my client. My client was also the largest cement plant in world who operated 7 massive cement freighters.
It was Christmas Eve 1979 1000PM when my phone rang. I was in the middle of something and was also about to go to the midnight church service. The hysterical voice at the other end of the phone hollered out, “Jeff, this is Norm…I need to get to Milwaukee now….the E.M. Ford broke free of her moorings in strong winds and is ramming the dock….she will sink soon if I don’t get there….”. It took a few seconds for that image to come into view in my brain…..a 428 foot great lakes freighter, moored securely for winter weather, loaded with 8,000 tons of concrete, broke loose in the wind! “Norm, I will call you right back!”
Yup, MKE was experiencing a full scale winter blizzard. The weather was WOXOF S++ with sustained northeast winds of 70KTS. Zero ceiling, zero vis, hurricane force winds.
We didn’t fly that night and the E.M. Ford did sink at the bow next to the dock. The hole in her bow was patched and she was towed to Sturgeon Bay for repairs. It took months to hammer out the tons of now solid concrete in the bow. She sailed for 26 more years. The E.M. Ford became the oldest commercial vessel to sail the great lakes at 110 years old. Quite a night to remember about MKE.
Poll: Are Vintage Aircraft Flight Demos Worth The Risk?
Flight demonstrations are exciting and worthwhile. More safety precautions need to be created and observed to decrease the possibility of accidents. What happened in Dallas, while an absolute tragedy, was very much avoidable.
In my world, they’re definitely not worth the risk, but I know my opinion is and always will be a minority. However, I think we can all agree that events the nature of that in Dallas are beyond reason and ought to be curtailed. If you want to fly one – or two together – okay. Multiple aircraft filling a finite space is a recipe for sadness – no matter what the history of the aircraft involved.
Absolutely worth some risk BUT, you can’t do stupid things like throw multiple aircraft into the air at the same time and then have them all competing for the same airspace!!! What happened at the Dallas airshow was dangerous no matter what kind of aircraft were flying at the time. It should never have been allowed. One or two, MAX, sharing the pattern.
There is an inherent risk in aviation. Warbird/vintage aircraft do not pose a greater risk than other types of aircraft when operated and displayed. The display director, or Air Boss in the USA, should have as many bases covered as humanly possible. The UK CAA its actively involved in all display approvals, display director currency, pilot display authorization, etc. Display proficiency and type proficiency should be the limiting factor re display content. It’s a shared responsibility and when approached correctly. With a professional attitude by all involved, risk mitigation is not a problem. All too often, displays are flown by individuals who have the financial power to be in the aircraft but are not always the most suitable person to fly a display. We must address all aspects with a focus on the human involved. Regulations only provide a framework where good people will create a safe environment by being experienced, professional and self-critical.
Yes, they are worth the risk, as it’s the same risk when we fly. This tragedy, the loss of our fellow aviators and two warbirds, could’ve happened to two GA aircraft, yet wouldn’t have had half the press. This was the only midair in recent memory that my family asked me about. It was high profile because of the aircraft and people lost. We all have a risk of a midair as long as there’s more than one flying machine in the air. If I got into a midair the few times I was in the pattern with guys not on frequency, blowing through the pattern, etc., I wouldn’t have this attention but I’d still be as dead. It’s the same risk. Arguably they were safer with the airshow brief than I was with a student in the big bad world. RIP to our brothers and sisters wings forever folded.
People need a more complete experience to better understand and appreciate our history. Seeing fly, hearing, smelling is incredibly a more important experience than a static display. I worry warbird airshows will now be forever changed and be a lesser experience.
My perspective of the risk isn’t relevant. If the people who restore, operate and fly these aircraft feel it is worth the risk, they have the right and freedom to choose to take it.
There is risk involved in virtually all endeavors. The Warbird Community must come up with better ways to mitigate risk. Better training and better maintenance practices.
A tragedy on many fronts. In most aviation cases, 20/20 hindsight rules the day. They’ll lock down the flight operations further and further always trying but, never quite succeeding in achieving “prevention”.
Keep ’em flying but do not accept any risk. Constantly work to find ways to mitigate/remove the risks.
No, I think not. I think the skill required to fly one of these rare gems has long since passed. Today’s aircraft, and pilots, are so high-tech that most pilots do not have the skill necessary to fly a “real” airplane that is also very fragile. There are too few of them left now. I think more emphasis should be placed on preserving these jewels and just let people visit them in a static display.
With multiple airplanes in the pattern, with different airspeeds and outward visibility, the most important things become briefings and air bosses. Then the pilots involved have to be totally aware of the plan and observe it religiously. Get those right and there is no reason these kinds of demos cannot succeed.
Of course they are. The risk is no greater than any other flying. Those airplanes are pampered like babies and probably safer to fly than your Bonanza.
The recent high-profile crash might very well be unrelated to the type of aircraft flown but be the result of how an aircraft was operated or how the display was managed.
Demos, yes, but avoid formation work, particularly involving dissimilar aircraft.
Another FAA failure. Again, poor oversite in the exemption program.
Yes, but only if we accept probability of losing a few is higher than average. If airworthy then fly; in the right hands it is a safe procedure.
Keep the most historically significant on the ground. Allow the others to fly solo exhibition flights.
Fly them singly, not in a big, swarming “mock attack” shows for adolescent war glorification!
As long as there are pilots and maintainers willing keep flying these parts of history.
Keep’m flying. Just change the way they are demonstrated in the air and increase the amount of ground and flight training for the respective airshow(s).
Institute additional safety protocols that preclude “furball flyovers” attempting to simulate aerial combat scenarios. If multiple aircraft are in the air, then they should be in the same formation and know how to fly that formation together safely.
Basic demos are safe (Rhinebeck etc). Elaborate are questionable.
Have them fly straight and level, no aerobatics nor formation flying.
Most obvious is the question as to why their demonstration flights must include strafing, fly-by at full speed, loops and other maneuvers. Is that really needed?
Keep ’em flying… But use common sense for aircraft separation and maintenance standards.
I do see risk in letting them fly. However, that is what we do – manage risk. Let them fly.
This is either a failure: on the part of the interaction between pilots and air traffic control, or a failure in the pilots’ preflight briefing process.
Simplify the shows: no formation, 1000-foot AGL passes; limit bank angles. Limit number of shows per year. Deep-dive maintenance quality.
No passengers, no mock dog fights.
The problem doesn’t appear to be with the aircraft in the last two front-page-making tragedies.
Demos are great. Maneuvers should not be risky.
Modest fly-byes, yes. Crazy aerobatics and spectacular dogfights, no.
Keep them flying, but not in alleged mock battles that pretend to be something they are not.
Great to see them fly but either solo or in formation – not desperately/conflicting flight paths.
Admittedly not an “Airplane guy,” but air show accidents seem not uncommon. How about one plane up at a time? Safer for pilots and spectators.
They should be allowed to fly, but with more restrictions for safety, such as not mixing different performance types (fighters and bombers, for instance) at the same altitude, increased in-trail distances, no close formation flights, limiting aerobatics, etc.
If the owner and pilot are ok with it then yes. The sky looked crowded on this occasion. That could be looked at. It was a problem in the war in the UK so satellite fields were utilized to reduce traffic.
The problem in the U.S. seems to be with demo rides. In either case, the Brits do demo shows and rides without incident. What are they doing that we are not?
Sloppy maintenance and over the hill pilots flying twitchy aircraft. Tighten standards (and the adhere to them!) or leave these priceless aircraft in their hangars.
It appears this latest tragedy was pure pilot error, and nothing to do with the age of the aircraft.
Watching some of the flying at these shows does not fill me with confidence. Warbirds were flown by young people with lots of recent experience. Old geezers with 20,000 hours behind an autopilot might not be the best choice to fly old aircraft when there are other planes around and crowds on the ground who might get hurt.
Too much oversight authority kept within the organizations. Impartial oversight, especially for airshows or paid rides, is necessary.
Not with stupidly risky choreography.
Keep them flying, but with meticulous planning and superior training for the pilots.
There’s no reason these aircraft can’t be operated safely. It can be difficult and expensive to maintain them, but that’s the real price of entry. If you own an irreplaceable piece of history, it’s your job to maintain and operate it safely. If/when you can’t do that, you either need to pass it along to someone who can or turn it into a static display… hopefully the latter is the last choice.
All forms of vehicles do demos. Aircraft should be included.
Unless you have money in the acquisition, restoration, and operation, you don’t get a vote.