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Robinson’s R66 - The Rest of the Story: Part 3

Story by Steve Goldsworthy
Photos by Michael Everhart

The sound of metal skid shoes scraping against runway asphalt is never pleasant. But today, there is nothing more fun than doing full down autos in Robinsons new R66.

R66

As a pilot who thinks the R44 is a blast to fly, I’m in for a real awakening. The R66 has more room, more power and certainly a lot more inertia upstairs. The main rotor is only a few inches shorter than what you would find on a Bell 206, yet the 66 is around 500 pounds lighter. That makes for some pretty amazing autorotation characteristics. 

It’s a beautiful brisk morning as I walk into the Robinson plant in Torrance, California. There is a high wind warning today, but you would never know it, as the winds are dead calm. Doug Tomkins, Robinson’s Chief Test Pilot says hi and we meet up with James from Sloane Helicopters in the UK. James is here to do his R66 checkout as Sloane is on the list of dealers soon to receive their R66.

Moments later, we are all admiring N4512G, Robinsons R66 C/N 0003. We start the preflight with Doug noting some of the differences from the R44. The luggage compartment, the re-designed tail rotor and the sleek cover that hides a fuel cap with “JET FUEL” written in large lettering! Any fuel truck could easily mistake this ship for a 44.  I remember Kurt Robinson telling me that the redesigned fuel cap was mostly aerodynamic, part of their goal of making the R66 faster than its little brother.  

An unusual feature for a Robinson is found when you open the inspection panel and small LED lights highlight the sight glass for the main rotor gearbox. Nice feature to have at night, but I wonder who allowed a luxury item on a Robinson helicopter! 

The screened air intakes just aft of the mast base and the two air intake nostrils in the front are the quickest way to identify an R66 from the 44 and a slightly taller main rotor mast means that even big guys like me can walk underneath without fear of losing any hair.

Several built in steps allow you to climb up easily and inspect the main rotor, and Doug easily clambers up to show us. Once inside the cockpit, you are instantly at ease, everything is still where you remember it. The startup procedure is the easiest of any turbine ship out there. Just turn the key to enable the igniter, and tap the start button once. The starter auto engages to keep you hands free and at the familiar 15% N1, just push in the fuel control and watch the gauges as the turbine comes up to speed. The starter will disengage by itself, and you can switch on the generator. A well laid out display panel takes the place of multiple warning lights, and a built in recorder will tell you if any over speeds or over torques have occurred on the previous flight.

As the rotor RPM comes up to speed I tap the N2 to 100% and we are ready to go. The pedals are a bit stiffer on this ship than I am used to, but most of us never get to fly a new ship!

The feel is exactly what you would expect, and very familiar. In fact, the whole secret to the R44 versus R66 transition is there really isn’t much to learn! Once startup is complete, you can easily forget that you are not flying an R44.

Let’s get back to the autos. We fly around the harbor a bit, but I am anxious for some full downs so we head back to Torrance Airport (TOA). I figure they must think I am the greatest pilot in the world allowing me to fly their only certified R66. I feel pretty good until I remember that I have Doug riding shotgun. My ego deflated now, I shoot an auto to the runway and set her down after scraping around 12 feet of pavement. I spool up the turbine and pick her back up, departing behind a Piper in the pattern. Suddenly I realize that not only am I climbing faster than the Piper, I'm flying faster at the same time. The distance between us closes and I expect a call from the tower any second, so I lower torque to 50% and start doing S turns; just to give the Piper some room before I enter the next autorotation. This is fun, so let's go at it again.
 
“Be careful to not lower collective until you roll down some power to prevent any N2 overspeed” Doug cautions. I decide not to be the one that has to buy a new RR300, so I roll off power until the low RPM horn comes on and then lower collective.  It feels pretty much just like any other R44 Raven II autorotation. At first, I notice we're only losing 700 FPM, as a bit of the N2 inertia helps us along. But as N2 spools down the descent rate starts to increase and a few seconds later we are approaching the more familiar 1200 FPM descent. 
 
As I start the flare and level off, I'm still a bit unsure how much collective to pull. Afraid of ascending if I pull too much, I of course, don't pull enough as I feel the ship settle onto the skids. Doug tells me that one was pretty good, but I start to realize just how much energy were still in the blades compared to what I was used to. After a few more, and a 180, we move over to the grass for some hover auto's. This is where it really gets fun.
 
In an R22 you barely have time to think before you are cushioning your fall with all you got. In the R44 it seems like a dream in a hover auto, but in the R66 you actually are dreaming. Doug rolls off the power, and I just sit there waiting for the descent to start, I realize I haven’t added in enough right pedal and I am now facing a good 20 degrees off center. Slips in some right pedal to straighten her out and then add in some collective and I'm on the ground. It wasn’t my best hover auto but again, I realize just how much more collective I could have pulled.   
 
I wish it was windy and then I could blame all the tail wags on something other than my lack of instinct figuring out just how little pedal I need to move the ship around. This is Robinson’s newly redesigned tail rotor, and the authority is amazing. May even be some truth to a rumor that they like the new design so well, it could eventually make it onto the R44.

Maybe that video showing my tail wagging like a lonely dog won't ever make it onto the Internet. Then again, probably not. My best bet is to just deny that was me flying or maybe that Doug was trying to show me some new advanced maneuvers.
 
I ask some questions about going thru the certification process. On one occasion the FAA questioned if a small statured pilot could handle the ship with hydraulics off. Remembering a rather petite gal that works at Robinson and has some helicopter time, they took her up with the FAA and she easily handled the run on landing with hydraulics off. Doug cautions that you don’t want to try a normal approach to a hover as the stiff controls can get the best of even a good pilot. Like any ship its size, always run them on.

The new certification standard requires that the seats endure a 16G force. After a few attempts, the machine testing the seats broke from the force it was delivering! After re-working the seats, and the testing machine, Robinson settled on a design that uses an extended area below each seat to help soften the blow. Think of it like a spring under the seat absorbing some of the force if an accident occurred.

The best news to come out of all the FAA testing was relating to the SFAR 73 rules. Simply put, the new R66 is certified without any reference to the SFAR. The rules do not apply to the new Robinson creation.

As I am flying along, it’s hard not to notice the power available. With full fuel and four of us on board, 100% torque brought us a 1600 FPM climb at around 70 knots. I ask Doug what he would like to see changed in the 66. “I can’t really think of anything. We’ve worked through each issue, it’s a really nice helicopter”.

We accelerate to 120 knots. It’s smooth at that speed and it seems to be the sweet spot where the ship wants to fly. Flying faster obviously increases vibration but 140 knots comes easy descending over LA Harbor. The load capability is tremendous at 927 pounds with full fuel, and lateral CG is such that you have a lot of flexibility where you can put that load.

Let’s remember this ship is still a Robinson. Not a lot of extra girth and weight and beef. It is however, very fast, very easy to fly as an R44 pilot, turbine, with great climb capabilities. The R66 has a huge space for luggage and is all around very comfortable. Nothing compares to the view from any seat and the extra inch they gave you in the rear seat legroom was a nice change for my six foot five frame.

Again, the new R66 may not be everything you want in a 5-seat helicopter. But it does do a lot of things extremely well, and at close to half the cost of any other 5-seat turbine.

 

Not only will you see this ship breaking new records out there, you will see it dominate some markets, and quite possibly create a few new ones along the way. I only wish it were a public company so I could put my money where my words are.

 WATCH R66 TOUCHDOWN AUTOROTATION VIDEO

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