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Robinson Helicopter Company

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Helicopter pioneer Frank Robinson passes
The industry remembers the man who redefined aviation with the creation of a simple, personal helicopter. His relentless determination earned him respect and awards.
Robinson Helicopter Company founder Frank Robinson.

Robinson Helicopter Company has bid a final farewell to founder Frank Robinson, who passed away peacefully at his Rolling Hills, California home on 12 November aged 92.

One of the most recognisable names in the helicopter industry, Robinson was a pioneer, a man not driven by reward or accolades but by a vision that redefined the industry and forever changed general aviation. He will be remembered for the design and manufacture of the R22, R44 and R66 model helicopters; known for their simplicity and reliability, the popular helicopters have a distinct profile and can be spotted easily and frequently all over the world.

Robinson's fascination with helicopters began in 1939 at age nine when he saw a picture in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of Igor Sikorsky hovering his VS-300 helicopter, an image that captivated the boy and set the course for his life's work.

He earned a BSME degree from the University of Washington, later attending Wichita State University's graduate aeronautical engineering school. His career began in the late 1950s with Cessna and continued through the '60s, working for many leading aerospace companies including Bell and Hughes.

In 1973, aged 43 and unable to interest any of his employers in the idea for a simple, personal helicopter, he resigned from his job and founded Robinson Helicopter Company in his Palos Verdes, California home. Six years later, defying critics and overcoming enormous obstacles, Robinson was granted FAA certification for his two seat, piston-powered R22 helicopter. The unknown helicopter company delivered its first production R22 in October 1979, and by 1989 had gained a foothold in general aviation, opening a previously untapped market for private helicopter ownership.

In the early 1990s, realising the potential for a light midsize helicopter, Robinson introduced the four seat piston-powered R44. Orders quickly piled up and the company became a recognised player in the aviation industry. In 2010, Robinson once again expanded his line with the five seat, turbine-powered R66.

Robinson's relentless determination earned him the respect of both colleagues and competitors. Affectionately called a rock star in certain aviation circles, he retired in 2010 at the age of 80.

The list of awards and honours bestowed on Robinson is long. Most notable are :

2013: Daniel Guggenheim Medal, AHS International

2011: Lifetime Aviation Engineering Award, Living Legends of Aviation

2010: Cierve Lecturer, Royal Aeronautical Society

2011: Inducted into the US National Academy of Engineering

2004: Howard Hughes Memorial Award, Southern California Aeronautic Association

2000: Named Laurels Hall of Fame Legend, Aviation Week & Space Technology

1997: The Doolittle Award, Society of Experimental Test Pilots

1992: Laurels Award, Aviation Week & Space Technology

1991 and 1990: Igor I Sikorsky International Trophy, American Helicopter Society

Today, the company continues under the leadership of Frank's son Kurt and, to date, has delivered over 13,000 helicopters worldwide.

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