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09

Old Friends
By Jerry Trimble
 

As a measure of something’s quality or worth you could safely use longevity as a yardstick.   I am lucky to own and fly a Robinson R-22 that has an early serial number.  N9015V was the 11th R-22 to roll off the assembly line in Torrance, California on January 19, 1980.  What makes this fact special to me is that I had been hired by Frank Robinson in 1979 to work for him as a mechanic. I was fresh out of A&P school and as green a helicopter mechanic as a Wenatchee apple.  Frank had me assigned to work with Dave Akamine who was one of the first mechanics at Robinson Helicopter Company.  Dave would try to keep me out of trouble.

 
As S/N 011 progressed down the line to my station in final assembly, it was my job to install the main rotor blades on the helicopter and rig the controls.  We would troubleshoot any squawks on the initial hover flights and then proceed to forward flight track.  On January 10 1980, I took S/N 011 on its first forward flight. My accomplices were Don Shear, who is currently flying 500s in Hawaii and Frank Tucker who is currently working for MD Helicopters.  I show that we spent 2 hours of maintenance flight time to get S/N 011 smoothed out.  I never knew where S/N 011 went, because my intentions had turned to S/N 012.  Those early days were busy days for everybody at Robinson Helicopter Company.


Fast forward 27 years - I am looking for a helicopter to buy and I see my old friend, S/N 011, for sale.  I don’t know what S/N 011 had done since we parted ways, but I do know that the helicopter was featured on an early Sporty’s video, “So You Want To Fly Helicopters”.  My old friend was in Sardinia, Ohio being sold by Ted Mays, a senior Bell 47 pilot.  After a brief test flight, I trailered her to my home in McMinnville, Oregon.  It took awhile to get her running right, but since then, she’s been flying happily for 5 years.

 
This summer, we expect S/N 011 to break 10,000 flight hours.  From our research, we have found that R-22 S/N 001 is at the factory, and S/N 002 is at the Smithsonian.  The only other US registered R-22 with an earlier serial number  is S/N 007, which we located in Worley, Idaho with less time than ours.  So, the best we can tell, S/N 011 is the oldest, highest time US registered R-22.  We also own ship S/N 4168.  I think it’s a real advantage for an operator operating a fleet of Robinson R-22s, that most of the parts that fit the later serial numbers will also fit an early one.  This proves to me again, what a durable product Frank Robinson and the factory have continued to produce. 
So, 27 years, 10,000 hours, and a lot of grey hair later, S/N 011 and I have both aged, but the R-22 holds the advantage – not only is she in better shape than I am, but she can go in for an overhaul and new paint job!  It’s always comforting to meet and fly with, an old friend… 

I’ve got to go now, bingo is going to start any minute.
 

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