Robinson Helicopters

Flying takes a closer look at this high-production helicopter factory.

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When Robinson announced earlier this spring that it produced about 500 helicopters last year, the significance of the number didn’t quite dawn on me until I visited the factory in Torrance, California. This year, the company expects to produce more than 600 helicopters. Here is a look at the helicopter production process at Robinson’s facility. (Photos by Pia Bergqvist)
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The first section of the hangar, which was built in the early 1990s, has been expanded multiple times. Today, its length makes it almost impossible to see from end to end. This picture was taken near the center of the factory, the total size of which covers about 617,000 square feet.
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About 95 percent of the machined parts that make up the R22, R44 series and R66 helicopters are produced on-site. Many machines, such as the ones pictured here, are computer operated.
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While computer operated machines are widely used, manually operated machines are also employed to cut and shape parts.
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Simple sheets of metal make up the exterior surface of the main rotor blades.
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Metal honeycomb structures inside the main rotor blades contribute to their strength.
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The primary assembly for the turbine powered R66 and refurbishment of old airframes takes place at the newest addition to the factory, which was added in 2010. By the looks of things, Robinson may need to expand again soon.
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A row of Rolls Royce RR300 engines are being prepped for installation into R66s.
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The serial number is posted inside each R66 fuselage and a large binder, which contains all the details and options for that particular helicopter, stays with the airframe as it moves through the assembly line.
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Each station adds specific components to the helicopter fuselage before the helicopter moves down the line. These fuselages are R66s, five of which are produced each week.
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On the opposite side of the hangar aisle, R22s and R44s are assembled. R44s come in two versions – Raven I, with a carbureted Lycoming O-540 engine, and Raven II, with a fuel injected version of the same engine. The Raven II gets slightly better performance and its gross weight is 100 lbs greater than the Raven I. About six R44s and one R22 are produced each week.
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Main rotor blades and tail rotor blades are painted with two different colors. Robinson’s helicopters are painted in house and several color options are available for the fuselage.
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Once flight testing is done and all the systems check out, the helicopters go through thorough detailing.
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About 70 percent of Robinson’s helicopters get disassembled and crated for export after they’ve been test flown and detailed. Most exports are shipped to countries such as Brazil, Australia, Canada, Russia, South Africa and several European countries.
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Powered tow machines for moving helicopters are also produced at the Robinson factory.
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An R22 and an R44 sit ready to fly outside the factory. Southern California weather makes for good flight testing conditions on most days.
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The R66 received its FAA sign off in October of 2010 and just recently achieved Canadian certification.