Robinson Factory Tour

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An R44 with most of its components--engine, tail boom, tail, seats and skids-assembled gets ready to head down the line.
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Although it has cut production from 17 to 12 helicopters a week, the Robinson factory in Torrance is a busy place, with hundreds of workers busy doing the thousands of little jobs needed to get a helicopter from a pile of raw materials to a finished flying product.
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A row of machining tools where hundreds of small and not so small parts for Robinson's helicopters are fabricated.Photos By Robert Goyer
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Workers assemble wiring bundles on different helicopter models using templates specific to a single model.
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At this phase of construction the R44 is an open book. Steel skids, monocoque cabin construction and a steel engine mount form the basis of all of the company's models.
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Tail sections under construction.
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A worker puts some of the finishing touches on the mast.
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As you can easily see in this photograph, the tail boom is constructed of built-up sheet with internal aluminum substructure.
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What makes a helicopter a helicopter: the blades.
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Each part is individually serial numbered, and its history is traced from the day it hits the factory floor.
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Fuel tanks for different models await assembly.
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A few examples of some of the beautiful machining that Robinson employees do at the Torrance plant.
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Necessity is the mother of invention. Robinson produces many of its parts that only it could build reliably, or at all.
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Workers put the finishing touches on subassemblies, here torquing down the retaining bolts.
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A worker makes modifications to a Lycoming IO-540 bound for a Raven II.
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Robinson even builds its own tugs for its helicopters.
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Finished subassemblies await assembly as R44s move down the line.
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The R44 can be bought as the Clipper II model with fixed or, shown here, pop out emergency floats.
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Robinson gets the engines from Lycoming. Just about everything else aft and up is built in Torrance.
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Engine mounts powder coated and ready for assembly.
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Stock color coded and ready for picking.
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With parts like this, how can a helicopter be made as light as Robinsons are?
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Precision is the name of the game when building shafts for high-speed rotational applications.
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A worker shaves shafts by hand in order to get an extremely exact line.
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End of the day and a worker cleans his station for the next shift.
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The console is put in early as part of the overall cabin construction.
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Doors go together on the subassembly line.
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A part getting drilled in the machine shop.
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This came in as a solid core of stock and left as a finished part.
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Hollow drilled shafts await further machining.
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An R44 gets crated up for international delivery. The process, repeated hundreds of times a year, goes surprisingly fast.
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Metal shavings come off of parts to be recycled and turned, maybe, into other helicopter parts.
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R44 cabins await further assembly. Two people could easily pick up one of these structures.
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Stock ready for milling.
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Tail booms undergo assembly.
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The process creates very strong and very light components, but it's hardly new. The same basic construction methods have been used in aircraft for around 100 years.
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It's a simple approach. The internal ring structures are placed on a jig and then skins of various thicknesses are riveted to them, creating a superstrong and stiff structure.
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These parts are ready for corrosion proofing prior to assembly.
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Pretty, identical pulley wheels ready for the next step in the process.
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Riveting the aft bulkhead into place.
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Creating the structure for the cabin roof.
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The business end of a Lycoming engine as installed in a Robinson helicopter. As you can see, there's a lot that needs to be done between the Lyc's point of exit and the rotor blades to create a functional helicopter.
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Helicopters undergo final assembly in this hangar. Workers install controls, doors, rotor blades and interiors, preparing the ships for first flights.
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A lineup of pretty R44s sit ready for flight.
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A lineup of ready-to-go R44s. I liked the purple and yellow one, though I was in the minority among my group.