Smoke On Go

Another giant, Frank Robinson gone

The founder and CEO of Robinson Helicopter Company, and all round nice guy, Frank Robinson (92) has passed away peacefully at his Rolling Hills, California home.

Frank Robinson was born in Carbonado, Washington in 1930, the youngest of four children. At the age of nine, Frank saw a picture in the Seattle Post Intelligencer of Igor Sikorsky hovering his VS300 prototype helicopter. The idea that a machine could remain stationary in the air fascinated Frank, and set the course for his life’s work.

As a young man, he worked his way through college focusing his education on helicopter design, earning a BSME degree from the University of Washington in 1957. He later attended graduate school at the University of Wichita.

Robinson began his career in 1957 at the Cessna Aircraft Company working on the CH-1 Skyhook helicopter. After three and a half years at Cessna, he spent one year at Umbaugh working on the certification of its gyroplane and then four years at McCulloch Motor Company doing design studies. Robinson then spent a year at Kaman Aircraft working on gyrodyne-type rotorcraft, followed by two years at Bell Helicopter. In 1969, he moved to Hughes Helicopter Company to work on a variety of R&D projects, including  a new tail rotor for the Hughes 500 helicopter.

In June of 1973, he founded the Robinson Helicopter Company, with the goal for a small, low-cost helicopter.

The first R22 prototype was built in a hangar at the nearby Torrance Airport, flown by Frank in August 1975. In 1979, the R22 received its FAA Type Certificate with first delivery in late 1979. The R22 soon became the world’s top selling civil helicopter, holding the most world records in its weight class including speed and altitude.

In the mid-1980s, Robinson began to develop the four-seat R44 helicopter, which took its first flight in March of 1990. FAA certification was received in 1992 and deliveries in 1993. As popularity of the R44 grew, Robinson expanded the R44 product line to include the Newscopter and the specially equipped Police helicopter.

In 2002, the Raven II, an R44 with a fuel-injected engine was introduced and the R44 quickly became the company’s best-selling helicopter. By the end of 2010, more than 5000 R44 helicopters had been delivered worldwide.


Preliminary design for a five-place turbine helicopter began in 2001, and in 2005 Robinson reached an agreement with Rolls Royce to develop the RR300 turbine engine. On October 25, 2010, Robinson’s R66 Turbine received FAA certification and the first R66 was delivered in November 2010.

Robinson donated USD1 million to the University of Washington for an endowed tuition scholarship fund based on financial need for students graduating from South Whidbey High School, where he grew up, and another USD1 million for students majoring in engineering. He also donated USD1 million to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and USD1 million to the American Helicopter Museum in Westchester, Pennsylvania.

In June 2010, with FAA certification of the R66 imminent, Robinson, at the age of 80, retired. The Company publicly announced his resignation as President and Chairman in August 2010. Without question, Frank Robinson was the driving force behind the company’s success.

Since 1988, Robinson Helicopter Company has been the world’s leading manufacturer of civilian helicopters.

A man is recognised by his achievements, and Frank excelled in awards. Here are a notable few:

  • 2013 Daniel Guggenheim Medal
    For his conception, design, and manufacture of quiet, affordable, reliable, and versatile helicopters.
  • 2011 U.S. National Academy of Engineering
    For the conception, design, and manufacture of low-noise, low life-cycle cost, and high-reliability helicopters
  • 2011 Lifetime Aviation Engineering Award
    For his determination and goal to make a small, inexpensive helicopter for civil use
  • 2010 Cierva Lecturer
    Simplicity in Helicopter Design
  • 2009 Aviation Legend Hall of Fame
    Contributions to aviation and aviation technology
  • 2004 Howard Hughes Memorial Award
    Contributions to the advancement of aviation or space technology
  • 2004 Cabot Award
    In recognition of unique, significant, unparalleled contributions to advance and foster aviation or space flight
  • 2001 Paul Tissandier Diploma
    For his years of contributions to the field of rotorcraft aviation.
  • 2000 Laurels Hall of Fame “Legend
    Inductees are chosen from past Laurels winners meriting exceptional recognition for significant contributions to the global field of aerospace
  • 1998 Entrepreneur of the Year Western Region, Manufacturing
    Excellence and entrepreneurial accomplishment
  • 1997 The Doolittle Award
    Outstanding professional accomplishment in Aerospace Technical Management and Engineering
  • 1993 Dr. Alexander Klemin Award
    The advancement of rotary wing aeronautics
  • 1992 Laurels Award
    Significant contributions to the global field of aerospace
  • 1991 Distinguished Alumni Award
    For notable achievement in the field of engineering
  • 1990/1991 Igor I. Sikorsky International Trophy
    Presented to the designer or builder of a pure helicopter establishing an official world record during the preceding year in the official Class E-1 categories prescribed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale for maximum speed, altitude, distance, or payload, speed over a closed-circuit distance, and/or around-the-world speed.

You will be remembered. God speed Frank.




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