TORRANCE – Aviation visionary and South Bay legend Frank Robinson has died at the age of 92, leaving behind six children, a company employing over 1,000 people and a forever-changing helicopter industry.
Robinson founded Robinson Helicopter in 1973, where he defied the opinions of leading aerospace companies and opened up a previously untapped privately owned market with his signature R22, R44 and R66 helicopter models.
He served as President of the Torrance-based company until retiring in 2010 at the age of 80, handing over the reins to his son, Kurt Robinson. Robinson died peacefully at his home in the Rolling Hills on Saturday November 12.
“He was fascinated by helicopters and was keen to develop that as a personal mode of transport, and the rest is history,” Kurt said. “He really had a true love for the industry. Aviation was in his blood.”
Robinson was born in Carbonado, Washington in 1930. He developed his fascination with helicopters at the tender age of 9 when he saw a photo in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of Igor Sikorsky holding his VS300 prototype helicopter aloft.
This image stuck with Robinson and shaped the course of his career and life.
He received a BSME degree from the University of Washington in 1957 and later attended graduate school at the University of Wichita. He then worked as an engineer at Cessna Aircraft Company, McCulloch Motor Company, Kaman Aircraft, Bell Helicopter and Hughes Helicopter Company.
However, he was unable to get any of his employers enthusiastic about his concept of a small, inexpensive consumer helicopter. The prevailing opinion at the time was that the helicopter market was only for the military.
Robinson set out to prove them wrong.
“He was a very determined person who didn’t take no; Whenever he faced a challenge, he found a way to keep going,” Kurt said.
Robinson founded the Robinson Helicopter Company from his home in Palos Verdes in 1973 and developed the first R22 prototype at Torrance Airport. Only two years later he took the two-seater, piston-powered helicopter on its maiden flight with only 60 hours of flight experience behind him.
“It’s just unbelievable for me. I mean, that’s someone who’s just learning to fly,” Kurt said. “And he got in the helicopter and actually levitated it, which is very impressive. I’m looking at this today and I’m just like, ‘Oh my God’.”
“Nobody could show him how to do it, he just had to do it.”
The R22 received its highly competitive FAA certification in 1979 and went on to become the world’s most popular commercial helicopter.
In the mid-1980s, Robinson began development of the four-seat, piston-powered R44 helicopter, which was launched in 1993 and eventually outstripped the R22. It was so popular that he built a specialized Newscopter version as well as a police helicopter.
In 2010, the company again expanded its range with the five-seat, turbine-powered R66 helicopter. With each model, Robinson played an integral part in the design and development.
“If you were to ask Frank who he is, the first thing he would tell you is that he’s an engineer,” Kurt said. “Not the president of Robinson Helicopter, not the founder, he was an engineer. He treated everything as a technical problem and something to be solved.”
Robinson was also a visionary and a true aviation rock star, winning accolades throughout his five-decade career.
These include induction into the California Aviation Hall of Fame, induction into the US National Academy of Engineering, a Lifetime Aviation Engineering Award from the Living Legends of Aviation, the Daniel Guggenheim Medal from the American Helicopter Society, and the Howard Hughes Memorial Award the Southern California Aeronautic Association.
Robinson was also an important figure in the communities of Torrance and Palos Verdes and played an integral role in popularizing Torrance’s aviation industry.
“He really loved living here and we have been part of the community for over 40 years. It was a really good partnership,” Kurt said.
The company currently employs over 1,000 people at its headquarters in Torrance. To date, it has delivered more than 13,000 helicopters and shows no sign of stopping.
“His legacy was creating a low-cost, reliable helicopter that was more affordable and that more people could own, expanding the industry,” Kurt said. “We intend to continue for many, many years to come, so he left a real legacy.
“We are on our mission and will continue.”
https://www.ocregister.com/2022/11/13/frank-robinson-founder-of-torrances-robinson-helicopter-company-dies-at-92/ Frank Robinson, Founder of Robinson Helicopter Company of Torrance, Dies at 92 – Orange County Register