January 2017

2017 January

Robinson Helicopter Company - Frank Robinson with the R22 HP
September 1981: Higher performance R22 HP announced. 1980s and 1990s: R22 sets world records for altitude and speed for Class E-1a helicopters.

After receiving a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1957 from the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, and completion of graduate studies at the University of Wichita in Kansas, and following numerous other jobs to pay off his college education, Frank Robinson found employment at the Cessna Aircraft Company with the CH-1 Skyhook helicopter as his first assignment.

After Cessna, and with over three years of experience, Frank joined Umbaugh Aircraft Corporation working on gyroplane certification, then to McCulloch Motor Company to design low-cost rotorcraft.

At Kaman Aircraft for one year, he also worked on gyrodyne rotorcraft. He then joined Bell Helicopter’s research and development design department and gained enough experience to become an industry-recognized helicopter tail-rotor expert. In 1969, he left Bell to help Hughes Helicopter Co. design improved tail rotors for the Hughes 500.

By early 1973, he had left Hughes after trying to convince the manufacturer to design, build and market a simple, low-cost, low-maintenance piston-powered helicopter. He started his own company, designing the R22 in the living room of his home and by utilizing a small hangar at the Torrance Airport to build the first aircraft.

By August 1975, Frank had designed, built and flown the first Robinson R22.

After three years of flight testing, despite several challenges, the R22 received its FAA certification in 1979 and ultimately became extraordinarily successful as the least expensive entry-level helicopter on the market, playing a key role in Robinson Helicopter Co. becoming the world’s leading manufacturer of light helicopters by December 1988.

In 1993, Frank Robinson received the helicopter industry’s highest technical honor with the AHS’s Dr. Alexander Klemin Award for notable achievement in the advancement of rotary-wing aeronautics. He received the joint AHS-AIAA-ASME-SAE Daniel Guggenheim Medal “honoring persons who make notable achievements in the advancement of aeronautics”; the award was presented at the AHS Forum 68 in Ft. Worth, Texas, “For conception, design, and manufacture of a family of quiet, affordable, reliable, and versatile helicopters.”

In 1998, Frank Robinson donated $1 million to the University of Washington establishing an endowed tuition scholarship fund for students from his former Washington state high school. Robinson also donated $1 million to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, and $1 million to the American Helicopter Museum & Education Center in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

In November 2011, Robinson Helicopter celebrated the production of its 10,000th helicopter, an R44 built at the Torrance, California facility. 

Description: Ken Bartie
Photo credit: Robinson Helicopter Company

Go back to the calendar cover photo or view the photo for next month

2017 History Calendar Index