We recently popped in to HQ Aviation, NW of London, to discuss what one does with a UK-based R44 at the end of it’s shelf life.
HQ’s engineering team had detailed knowledge of rebuilds and showed us one near completion in the hangar.
Helipaddy themselves own an R44 hitting end-of-life in 200 hours so having to start thinking about the options.
Each R44 comes blessed with 2200 hours OR 12 years so that means they all time out either after 12 years (let’s call this case “under-utilised”) or 2200 hours (let’s call this case “over-utilised”). The complete airframe, including rotor systems, drive system, control system, and fuselage, must be overhauled after 2200 hours (since new or last overhaul) OR when the heli has been in service for 12 years (since new or last overhaul) regardless of hours flown.
It’s worth also noting that the same major overhaul is also a requirement if there is extensive subsurface corrosion in the primary structure, drive system or control system OR if the heli cannot meet the performance, controllability or safety specifications in the POH. However, in most cases the overhaul becomes due on 2200 hours or 12 years, whichever is sooner.
Different helicopters and different manufacturers apply (or are forced to apply) different rules regarding lifespan. For RHC, they picked a simple fixed-life formula. Guimbal’s Cabri G2 has all-composite rotorblades with a mandatory retirement time of 6,000 hours, as opposed to 2,200 hours for the Robbie.
Typically there are two scenarios: an under-utilised R44 will hit it’s use-by date before all the parts have gone through 2200 hours of wear and tear. This can present the owner with a dilemma, because a rebuild in this case, does not reset the 2200 life. HQ estimate that the break-even is around 700 hours - in other words, if your heli has done much more than this - after the 12 years are up - then it’s probably worth doing the “full 2200 reset” rather than the 12 year inspection. Equally, if it has only done 2 hours a month for 12 years, or 288 hours, then it obviously makes sense to go down the cheaper inspection route. Bear in mind that around 300 hours over 12 years is probably average for a single owner-driver.
The kits itself currently contains 86 items for around £95k (changing all the time due to FX) although some additional parts (for example throttle bellcrank assembly) are required and probably should have been part of RHC’s kit in the first place. Hence, expect an all-in bill of £105k for the parts and around £60k for labour, although this varies a lot between different service centres. Robinson say their kits are at a discount price as long as you send your old parts back to them. Hence they ask for a deposit of around £25k - probably £20k of which you can hope to get back once they have looked over the bits. All-told you can expect the bill to top £170k. You can spend more, obviously, if you want to change colour, update the interior, add avionics or get RHC to do the engine rebuild at their factory. Heavily kitted machines with floats, for example, will also end up with slightly higher costs. All of this can slow you down of course: when we were at HQ’s Head Quarters, they were preparing another overhaul for a long-standing customer who, shall we say, is on the fully-grown side. When asked what extras he wanted, we overheard him say “Not a single bit of unnecessary weight apart from me”!
So, one question is how does an overhaul machine compare to a completely new heli? The short answer is that you cannot tell the difference, the overhaul really is as good as new. For buyers out there looking to get on the helicopter ladder, there are therefore 3 options:
- buy a new one for £357k
- buy a rebuild for £235k
- find an end-of-life heli out there for, say, £40k and rebuild for £171k to make £211k
HQ say that there is a glut of Raven II rebuilds coming on stream and hence there is now a 2-3 month waiting list for the overhaul kits. Owners should also keep a crafty eye out for the 15th January, the date on which RHC annually raise their prices!