Helicopter Profiles (R66)
The Robinson R66
The Robinson R66 is a five-seat turbine-powered helicopter designed and manufactured by Robinson Helicopter Company, a leading name in the global helicopter market (along with Helipaddy, of course). Introduced in 2010, the R66 has become a popular choice for various applications, including corporate transport, news gathering, law enforcement, and utility operations. This review aims to provide an overview of the R66’s features, performance, and key advantages, along with a discussion of its limitations and areas for potential improvement.
Design and Features
The R66 boasts a sleek and modern design, incorporating many of the proven attributes found in its predecessors, the R22 and R44. The helicopter’s frame is primarily composed of aluminum and steel, ensuring a robust and lightweight structure. Its five-seat configuration consists of two seats for the pilot and co-pilot, with three additional passenger seats in the rear.
Powered by a Rolls-Royce RR300 turbine engine, the R66 offers enhanced performance and reliability compared to piston-engined helicopters. The engine delivers 270 shaft horsepower, contributing to the helicopter’s impressive performance characteristics. Like all Robbie’s the R66 is equipped with a two-bladed main rotor system, which offers simplicity and reduced maintenance costs.
The R66’s performance is a key selling point, as it offers a smooth and efficient flight experience. With a top speed of approximately 140 knots and a maximum range of around 350 nautical miles (without the range extender), the R66 is well-suited for various missions and operations. The helicopter has a useful load capacity of approximately 550kg allowing for the transport of passengers, cargo, or a combination of both.
The R66’s hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) is around 10,000 feet, while its hover ceiling out of ground effect (HOGE) is approximately 7,000 feet. These performance figures make the R66 suitable for high-altitude operations, such as mountain rescues or aerial surveys.
- Cost-effectiveness: The R66’s acquisition and operating costs are competitive compared to other turbine-powered helicopters in its class. Its simple design, efficient engine, and relatively low maintenance requirements contribute to lower overall operational expenses. The service interval of 100 hours is a significant improvement on the 25 hour interval of the R44. Jet fuel is half the price of Avgas.
- Versatility: The R66’s performance and design make it well-suited for a wide range of applications, from corporate transport to aerial work and emergency services.
- Reliability: The R66’s Rolls-Royce RR300 turbine engine offers improved reliability and a longer service life compared to piston engines, ensuring fewer unscheduled maintenance events and better overall aircraft availability.
- Safety: The R66 comes equipped with various safety features, such as energy-absorbing seats, a rupture-resistant fuel system, and a comprehensive instrument panel. Furthermore, the helicopter’s simple design and robust construction contribute to its overall safety.
Limitations and Areas for Improvement
- Limited cabin space: While the R66 can accommodate up to five occupants, its cabin space is relatively compact compared to some competitors. This can make longer flights less comfortable, particularly for taller passengers.
- Noise: The R66’s two-bladed rotor system generates more noise compared to helicopters with more rotor blades. This may be a concern for operations in noise-sensitive environments or for passenger comfort.
- Limited avionics options: Although the R66’s instrument panel is well-equipped for basic operations, it lacks some of the advanced avionics options found in other helicopters. This may be a drawback for operators who require more sophisticated systems for specific missions.
- Hot and high performance: While the R66’s performance is suitable for high-altitude operations, it may struggle in extreme hot and high conditions. This could limit its effectiveness in certain geographical areas or during specific seasons.
Important Configuration Options
Aux fuel tanks (AKA Range extenders)
Two, a small and a large, optional auxiliary fuel tanks are available for the R66 Turbine helicopter. The small tank, dubbed the Slimline, holds 23.2 gallons (88 litres), and adds approximately 1 hour to helicopter endurance and extends its range by as much as 100 nautical miles. It mounts on a fibreglass tray that installs in the aircraft’s baggage compartment, occupies one-third of the space, and leaves room for up to 90kg of baggage. Both tank and tray can be removed when not in use. The tank weighs 13kg when empty and 85kg when full of fuel.
The 43.5-gallon large aux tank extends the helicopter’s range by approximately 2 hours or as much as 200 nautical miles. The fuel tank mounts on a fiberglass tray that installs in the forward section of the baggage compartment. The tank occupies two-thirds of the compartment, leaving space for up to 45kg of cargo. Both the tray and tank can be removed when not needed. The system weighs approximately 15kg.
The lithium-ion battery provides several advantages over lead-acid batteries:
- Weight Reduction: Lithium-ion batteries are generally lighter than lead-acid batteries of comparable capacity. This weight reduction can contribute to an increased useful load, allowing for more cargo, fuel, or passengers to be carried on board.
- Faster Charging: Lithium-ion batteries typically charge faster than lead-acid batteries, enabling quicker turnaround times between flights and reducing downtime for battery maintenance.
- Longer Service Life: Lithium-ion batteries usually have a longer service life compared to lead-acid batteries. They can withstand more charge-discharge cycles before their capacity starts to degrade, resulting in lower replacement costs and reduced maintenance.
- Improved Cold Weather Performance: Lithium-ion batteries tend to perform better in cold weather conditions compared to lead-acid batteries. They are more capable of providing the necessary power for engine starts in low-temperature environments, making them a more reliable option for operators in cold climates. Weak batteries cause a major issue when starting.
- Reduced Self-Discharge: Lithium-ion batteries have a lower self-discharge rate than lead-acid batteries, meaning they can hold their charge for longer.
Stability Augmentation and Autopilot
If you are doing 4.5 hour flights with the range extender, you probably want the autopilot system by Genesys. Pilots tell us that once they get used to this there is no turning back.
The Genesys Aerosystems HeliSAS (Helicopter Stability Augmentation System) is designed specifically for light to medium helicopters and not only the R66. The system certainly enhances flight safety as it reduces pilot workload and provides increased stability during various flight operations.
The Robinson R66 helicopter is a versatile, cost-effective, and reliable aircraft that offers a range of benefits for various applications. Its performance, safety features, and competitive pricing make it a popular choice among operators in different sectors. However, potential buyers should consider the R66’s limitations, such as limited cabin space, noise levels, and hot and high performance, before making a decision. Overall, the R66 is a well-rounded helicopter that delivers solid value for its price point, making it a strong contender in the light turbine helicopter market. The additional options mentioned are essential in our opinion.
Other similar options
The light turbine helicopter market features a variety of models from different manufacturers. Some notable competitors in this category include:
- Bell 505 Jet Ranger X: Manufactured by Bell Helicopter, the Bell 505 is a five-seat, single-engine turbine helicopter known for its advanced avionics, comfortable cabin, and excellent visibility.
- Airbus H125 (formerly Eurocopter AS350 Écureuil): The H125 is a versatile single-engine turbine helicopter produced by Airbus Helicopters. It is popular for a wide range of applications, including aerial work, law enforcement, and sightseeing tours, due to its performance and spacious cabin.
- MD 500 Series (MD 520N, MD 530F, MD 600N): Produced by MD Helicopters, the MD 500 series includes various single-turbine helicopters with different performance capabilities and configurations. They are renowned for their agility, compact size, and the unique NOTAR (No Tail Rotor) system on some models, which reduces noise and increases safety.
- Leonardo AW119 Koala: The AW119 is a single-engine turbine helicopter from Italian manufacturer Leonardo. It features a spacious cabin with eight seats, including the pilot, and is used for various applications such as corporate transport, EMS, and utility operations. Its performance and cabin size make it a popular choice among operators.
- Schweizer 333 (formerly Sikorsky S-333): The Schweizer 333 is a light turbine helicopter designed for training, law enforcement, and utility operations. It features a three-bladed main rotor system and can accommodate up to five occupants, including the pilot.
- Enstrom 480B: Manufactured by Enstrom Helicopter Corporation, the 480B is a light turbine helicopter known for its durability, reliability, and low operating costs. The helicopter has a three-bladed main rotor system and can seat up to five occupants, including the pilot.
- Guimbal Cabri G2: Although primarily a piston-engine helicopter, the Cabri G2 is worth mentioning due to its potential for future development with a turbine engine. This two-seat helicopter, produced by Hélicoptères Guimbal, is known for its modern design, advanced safety features, and excellent handling characteristics.