Robinson R66—First flight

September 13, 2010 by Tim McAdams

I just spent the last two days flying Robinson Helicopter’s new light turbine helicopter, the R66. Although it is still in experimental category, FAA certification is expected in the next 30 days as Robinson and the FAA work out some final details.

Having a couple of thousand hours in the Bell 206 light turbine series helicopter made for an easy direct comparison. Last year Bell announced that it would cease production of the five-place Bell 206B JetRanger, citing the R66 as one reason. Company founder Frank Robinson’s design goals are not just well-engineered products, but cost effective as well. The R66, the company’s first turbine helicopter, exemplifies this objective extremely well, and after flying it, I think Bell made the right decision.

The R66 is powered by a Rolls-Royce RR300 (model number 250-C300/A1), a new engine based to the proven 250-series engine (same engine used in the 206B). It is mounted below the transmission deck at a 37-degree angle which gives easy access for maintenance. The engine produces 300 shaft horsepower and is derated to 270 shp for a five-minute take off rating and 224 shp for max continuous operation. Starting is simple; igniter switch to enable (a nice feature that allows you to motor the starter without firing the igniters–no more need to pull the igniter circuit breaker); press-and-release the start button (it’s latched so no need to hold it down), at 15 percent N1 push the fuel control in and monitor engine light off and acceleration. At 65- to 67-percent N1 the starter disengages and the generator is switched on.

Picking the R66 up to a hover is smooth and it feels a little bigger and a little heavier than the piston-powered R44, which it is. I flew with Doug Tompkins, Robinson’s chief pilot who did all the experimental test flying on the R66. We were hovering at 64-percent torque and as we approached 60 knots during the take off Doug suggested pulling 100-percent torque. I started raising the collective, before I got to 90 percent the VSI was pegged at 2,000 feet per minute and at 100 percent we were climbing like a banshee. It didn’t take long to feel comfortable with the helicopter and we moved on to autorotations. These were predictable and basically a lot of fun. I did 180-degree, 90-degree, and out-of-ground-effect hovering autorotations to a full touchdown. It is just like the R44, only easier.

Another noticeable feature is comfort; the cabin is eight inches wider than the R44. The cyclic flight control retains Robinson’s T-bar arrangement. Not only does this ease transitioning from the R44 to the R66, but the T-bar is exceedingly comfortable in flight.

There is not doubt this helicopter will do very well. Once again Frank Robinson has found a need and filled it. The agile and turbine-powered R66 will do the jobs that a piston engine simply can’t, such as high-altitude flying. It will also find great acceptance in parts of the world where avgas is hard to get or just not available. And for those operators and contracts that require a turbine engine, the R66 will fit perfectly.

There is a lot more to say about this helicopter so look for a full feature article in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot magazine.


  • Alex Kovnat

    The next logical development of the Robinson family of helicopters, would be to design one around the Pratt and Whitney PT6 engine. I suppose it would be designated the R88.

  • Ehud Gavron

    The PT6 weighs an additional 200lbs. While it can generate more power (non-derated), the rest of the aircraft (transmission, powered components, rotors, hubs, etc.) would need to be beefed up, and more usable weight lost in a larger fuel tank (which necessitates a larger body… and more weight).

    This is the same problem race car designers face… for every pound you add to engine weight you have to add a lot more all around, and you end up winning less… which is why they always strive for light. The same is true in helicopter design.


  • Tom Sams

    How does blade energy in autorotation compare the the 22 and 44, as well as competitive birds? Maneuvering autoratations were always uncomfortable in rotor speed stability in my few hundred hours of R-22, compared to the Bell-47 and Hiller autorotation stability and ease of autoratation. This was true even after attending the Robinson IP course.

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  • mota copter

    Hi Tim thank you for sharing your views and your experience on flying R66 I must say a new creation of the Robinsons again..Great..The way you make your story is just great me myself will want to fly that as well..Good job.and more power as well..

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