David Miller

Talking Points

Frank Robinson’s Legacy

Robinson HelicopterFrank Robinson is the youngest of his three siblings, born and raised in Carbonado, New York. As a kid, he once saw a picture of the VS300 Prototype in the Seattle Post Intelligencer that awakened his dream of creating and designing helicopters. He studied helicopter design in college and continued to the University of Washington for his BSME degree, where he ultimately increased his know-how in the field.

1957 marked the inception of his career, with the Cessna Aircraft Company being the foundation. Three years into these big shoes, he proceeded to Umbaugh for a gyroplane certification, spending the next four and a half years at McCulloch Motor Company researching and polishing his designing skills on a rotorcraft. Frank then gained access to Kaman Aircraft, where he worked on a gyrodyne-type aircraft for a year. With luck blowing along with his sails, he later went ahead to build a name at Bell Helicopter as a rotorcraft proficient just two years later.

Robinson Helicopter

Hanging on to his twelve years of experience, he moved on to work on several R&D projects, including the quiet helicopter program at the Hughes Helicopter Company. He resigned from Hughes and formed the Robinson Helicopter Company in 1973 after failing to partner with any of his then colleagues in his idea of a low-cost helicopter.

In 1975, the RHC built its first R22 prototype that was well received in the aircraft industry earning an FAA Type Certificate after three and a half years of testing. The first R22 civil helicopter launched in 1979 suddenly became a world sensation; Frank was living his dream. He expanded his merchandise with the R44 deliveries starting in 1993. This outgrowth spilled to the expansion of the R44 product line, launching the high-standard Police helicopter and the Newscopter soon after.

R44 ranked as the best-selling helicopter by 2002 after introducing a fuel-injected engine to its Raven II. 2010 saw more than 5000 helicopters delivered globally. 2019 was not a good year for Robinson Helicopter as it recorded a 33% decrease in deliveries. The economic crisis did not deter Robinson Helicopter from bouncing back to produce six helicopters a week and deliver three in six months.

Frank Robinson is a household name in the industry, boasting awards such as the Daniel Guggenheim Medal for his designs and honorary memberships. His philanthropic endeavors are well documented in many charitable events, his former institution – the University of Washington, museums, and his former high school – South Whidbey High School. Although he retired in 2010 at the age of 80, Frank’s mastermind has and will still be an invaluable asset to the company.


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