Based on the company’s two-seat Robinson R22, the R44 was Robinson Helicopter Company’s first four-seat light helicopter
Designed during the 1980s by Frank Robinson and his staff of engineers, the R44 first flew on 31 March 1990. A second prototype was built, and the R44 Astro was awarded an FAA Type Certificate in December 1992, with the first deliveries taking place in January 1993.
The R44 offered two rows of side-by-side seating for a pilot and three passengers in an enclosed cabin. The R44 single engine helicopter features hydraulically assisted flight controls, with a semi-rigid two-bladed main rotor, a two-bladed tail rotor and a skid as landing gear. The tail rotor direction of rotation on the R44 is reversed compared to the R22 for improved yaw control authority. On the R44 the advancing blade is on the bottom.
Most helicopters have two cyclic sticks poking up from the floor in front of the pilot seats. The Robinson has a cyclic coming up from the centre of the ship with horizontal arms at the top. If the left side arm is attached, either pilot can apply pressure to the cyclic at any time.
Models The first R44 Newscopter featuring on-board electronic news gathering equipment was delivered in 1998. In January 2000, Robinson introduced the Raven with hydraulically assisted controls and adjustable pedals. In July 2002, Robinson introduced the Raven II featuring a more powerful, fuel-injected engine and wider blades, allowing a higher gross weight and improved altitude performance.
In November 2015, Robinson announced the Cadet, a Raven I with a cargo area instead of the two back seats, a slightly less powerful engine and a more efficient muffler.
Robinson Helicopter Company is born
The Robinson Helicopter Company was born in 1973 in Rancho Palos Verdes, Washington State, the hometown of engineer Frank Robinson. As a child, Frank became fascinated with helicopters.
Frank recalls, “When I was 9 or 10 I saw a picture in the Seattle newspaper of Igor Sikorsky hovering in a VS-300 prototype. Right then and there I decided that’s what I want to do.”
Frank earned a degree in mechanical engineering and then spent 16 years working for aircraft manufacturers, including major helicopter makers Bell and Hughes. He had a vision that the masses needed an affordable helicopter, and neither of the manufacturers at the time was interested in fulfilling this need.
In a lecture in 2010, Robinson said, “I wanted to design a very simple – with an emphasis on simple – low-cost helicopter that could be produced efficiently and sold to the public at a price that many people could afford.”
He replaced his living room furniture with drafting tables, set up a workshop in the garage and farmed out parts fabrication to a business partner in Hawaii. The first helicopter prototype was the two-seat, piston-engine R22, built in a hangar at nearby Torrance Airport. This is now home to the company’s 600,000-square-foot factory. The R22 hit the market in 1979. With a bargain price tag of $40,000, it soon became the most popular civilian helicopter in the world and a favourite of flight schools. But soon operators and owners were asking for a four seater, the R44.
Best Features Here are the things that make the R44, in some respects important for personal ownership:
- Design: the best design regardless of price.
- Weight: (2400 lbs. max gross for the Raven I; 2500 for the Raven II). The R44 doesn’t have a lot of inertia. If you put in a control input, the helicopter responds immediately and dramatically. The R44 is like a sports sedan. The R44 is substantially heavier than the R22 and therefore rides through gusts and turbulence much more solidly than the R22. A passenger who gets uncomfortable or sick in the R22 would have no problem on most days in the R44.
- Piston power: The piston engine provides instant power changes without the spool-up time of a turbine. Instant power is very comforting during a go-around. Another nice thing about the piston engine is that an R44 will burn about half as much fuel as a small turbine-powered helicopter, such as the Bell 206 JetRanger.
- Simple maintenance and overhaul: In theory, aside from oil changes, nothing in the R44 requires service between 100-hour inspections. Almost everything in the R44 is overhauled at the 2200-hour interval.
- Safety: The R44 offers a lot of safety advantages over the R22. The machine is less squirrelly than the R22 in gusty winds and near obstacles. With a 700 lb. full-fuel payload, you’re much less likely to be bumping up against gross weight limitations and therefore you’ll have a lot of extra performance available for operating from confined areas. The higher inertia in the R44 rotor system, compared to the R22, will give you a few extra seconds to react to a simulated or actual engine failure. The occupants are primarily protected by the skids and seats to absorb energy in a vertical direction.
- Instruments: Robinson offers reasonably modern glass instrument panels, though the Garmin G500H is not available in the Raven I. This can be a safety improvement due to the propensity of mechanical gyros to fail when installed in the high-vibration environment of a helicopter. Robinson offers the HeliSAS autopilot as a $46,000 factory option which is nice in the event of inadvertent IMC or simply to take one’s hands off the controls to adjust something.
Cost It is estimated that the direct operating cost of an R44 is approximately $190 per hour (2019).
The future Robinson has carried out ground run testing with an aircraft diesel engine that could replace its Lycoming IO-540 avgas engine. The diesel could provide better altitude performance, a fuel burn reduced from 16 to 12 US gal (61 to 45 L) per hour and better fuel availability.
Sales At a production rate that peaked at 800 machines per year, Robinson makes more helicopters than the rest of the manufacturers combined. The company produced its 10,000th helicopter in November 2011.
To date, Robinson has made more than 12,000 helicopters, with at least 60% of recent sales going to foreign buyers. The R44 has been the world’s best-selling general aviation (GA) helicopter every year since 1999. It is one of the most produced GA aircraft of the 21st century, with 5,941 deliveries from 2001–2020.
However… Besides pilot error, there have been two major issues with Robinson helicopters:
- Rotor: A Robinson issue is mast rocking, mast “chugging”, mast bumping, and a phenomenon in which a R44 can shake so badly that it becomes impossible to fly. This has been responsible for at least a handful of incidents and accidents over the years and no definitive cause has been established. Pilots should be alert when loaded near the forward C.G. and especially during steep turns and autorotation’s.
- Fuel tanks: The R44 was found to be prone to post-accident fires due to damage to the aluminium fuel tanks. In 2009, Robinson began installing bladder-type fuel tanks in all new R44 helicopters. It also issued Service Bulletin SB-78 on 20 December 2010, requiring R44 helicopters with all-aluminium fuel tanks to be retrofitted with bladder-type tanks to “improve the R44’s fuel system’s resistance to a post-accident fuel leak.” The company recommended that the change should be done as soon as practical, but no later than 31 December 2014. The compliance date was later moved to 30 April 2013.
Crash Statistics Robinson R44s were involved in 42 fatal crashes in the U.S. from 2006 to 2016, more than any other civilian helicopter, according to a Times analysis of National Transportation Safety Board accident reports. That translates to 1.6 deadly accidents per 100,000 hours flown — a rate nearly 50% higher than any other of the dozen most common civilian models whose flight hours are tracked by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Comparison Raven I versus Raven II
Robinson makes two versions of the R44: the Raven I and the Raven II. Here are the differences:
|R44 Raven I||R44 Raven II|
|Power||Carburetted Lycoming O-540||Fuel-injected Lycoming IO-540|
|Gross Weight||2400 lbs.||2500 lbs.|
|Empty Weight||1430 lbs. (stripped)||1500 lbs. minimum (?)|
|Fuel Burn in Cruise||14 gallons/hour||15 gallons per hour|
|Carb Icing||Semi-automatic system to add carb heat||No worries|
|High Altitude||Good Performance||Very Good Performance|
|Over Water||Fixed Floats Optional||Fixed or Pop-Out Floats Optional|
|Aircon.||Student Holds Spritzer Bottle||Optional (33 lbs.; $18,500)|
|Practice Autorotation’s||Engine Idles Nicely||1970s fuel injection design may quit if you roll all the way down|
Range: 560 km
Top speed: 240 km/h
Cruise speed: 200 km/h
Wingspan: 10 m
Engine type: Lycoming O-540
Unit cost: + -475 000 USD (2020)
In 1997, a Robinson R44 was piloted by Jennifer Murray for the first helicopter circumnavigation of the world by a woman, covering a distance of 36,000 miles in 97 days. As of 2014, an R44 holds the piston speed record of 227 km/h.