Class of 2009 – Frank Robinson
The biographical information below was compiled by Alan Renga, Assistant Archivist, for the 2009 International Hall of Fame Gala. For more information on the Museum’s Library and Archives, click here.
He produces the best selling, non military helicopter in the world. He outsells all other North American manufacturers put together. He produces an aircraft which hold most world records in it weight class, including speed and altitude. He is Frank Robinson.
The youngest of four children, Frank Robinson was born in Washington State. Always interested in aviation, he worked his way through college and received his BSME degree from the University of Washington in 1957, with graduate work in aeronautical engineering at the University of Wichita.
Robinson began his aviation career in 1957 at Cessna Aircraft Company working on the CH-1 Skyhook. He then continued work with rotor aircraft at Umbaugh Aircraft Co., McCulloch Motor Company and Kaman Aircraft. During a brief stint at Bell Helicopter he earned a reputation as a “tail rotor expert.” In 1969, he moved to Hughes Helicopter Company, designing a new tail rotor for the Hughes 500 helicopter and working on the “quiet helicopter” program.
Robinson repeatedly tried to interest his employers in his own concept for a small, low-cost helicopter but to no avail, so Robinson resigned from Hughes in 1973 and founded Robinson Helicopter Company (RHC). RHC’s first business address was Robinson’s home where the two-seat R22 helicopter was designed. The first R22 prototype was built in a tin hangar at the Torrance Airport, and Robinson himself flew it on its first flight in August 1975 and the R22 received its FAA Type Certificate in 1979. The first production R22 was delivered in late 1979, and the R22 soon became the world’s top selling civil helicopter! The helicopter is so popular because it is relatively inexpensive and very reliable. In addition, the R22 holds most world records in its weight class including speed and altitude. The company also produces the very popular four seat R44. Close to 6,000 Robinson helos sit on flight lines around the world! In addition, Robinson oversaw development of the fuel injected R44 Raven II and the five place turbine driven R66.
Robinson is also very concerned about helicopter safety. He lobbied the FAA to quadruple the minimum number of hours of training needed to get an instructor’s license, as well as double the hours before a pilot could solo. In addition, he started a safety course that has become the gold standard of helicopter training, open to all pilots — today it has a five-month waiting list and is required by most helicopter insurers.
Robinson is an experienced helicopter pilot and flies the R22 and R44 helicopters regularly for personal and business purposes, including experimental test flying. He is a full member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and a Fellow of the American Helicopter Society. He has been presented numerous awards and honors, including the Howard Hughes Memorial Award, The Doolittle Award from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Washington. His philanthropic activities include donating large sums of money to the University of Washington and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
For his invaluable contributions to aviation technology and his dedication to making helicopter flight more safe, the San Diego Air & Space Museum takes great pleasure inducting Frank Robinson into its International Aerospace Hall of Fame.