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Helicopter, aviation pioneer Frank Robinson passes away

November 14, 2022  By Helicopters Staff

Frank Robinson in is best known for the design and manufacture of the R22, R44, and R66 model helicopters, which he began to develop after starting his own company at age 43. He retired at age 80. (Photo: Robinson Helicopter)

Frank Robinson, founder of the Robinson Helicopter Company, passed away on November 12, 2022, at his home in Rolling Hills, California. Recognized as one of the pioneers of the global helicopter industry, Robinson was described by the company bearing his name as “a man not driven by reward or accolades but by a vision that redefined the industry and forever changed general aviation.”

Robinson is best known for the design and manufacture of the R22, R44, and R66 model helicopters, which continue to be some of the world’s most popular helicopters based on their simplicity and reliability.

The company explains Frank Robinson’s fascination with helicopters began in 1939, at age nine, when he saw a picture in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of Igor Sikorsky hovering his VS-300 helicopter, an image that captivated Robinson and set the course for his life’s work.

He earned a BSME degree from the University of Washington, later attending Wichita State University’s graduate aeronautical engineering school. His aviation career began in the late 1950s with Cessna and continued through the 1960s working for many leading aerospace companies, including Bell and Hughes.


In 1973, at age 43, Robinson resigned from his job at Hughes and founded Robinson Helicopter Company in Palos Verdes, California, aiming to develop and build a simple, personal helicopter. Six years later, after overcoming enormous obstacles, Robinson was granted FAA certification for his two-seat, piston powered R22 helicopter. The helicopter company delivered its first production R22 in October 1979. By 1989, the R22 had gained a foothold in general aviation, with the company opening a previously untapped market for private helicopter ownership.

In the early 1990s, Robinson introduced the four-place, piston-powered R44 light mid-size helicopter. The company explains orders for the R44 quickly piled-up and Robinson Helicopter became a recognized player in the aviation industry. In 2010, Robinson once again expanded his line with the five-place, turbine powered R66.

Frank Robinson retired in 2010 at age 80. Today, the company continues under the leadership of Frank’s son, Kurt Robinson, and, to date, it has delivered over 13,000 helicopters worldwide.

Below are some of the more notable awards and honours on Frank Robinson:

2013: Daniel Guggenheim Medal – AHS International

2011: Lifetime Aviation Engineering Award – Living Legends of Aviation

2010: Cierve Lecturer – Royal Aeronautical Society

2011: Inducted into the U.S. National Academy of Engineering

2004: Howard Hughes Memorial Award – So. California Aeronautic Association

2000: Named Laurels Hall of Fame Legend – Aviation Week & Space Technology

1997: The Doolittle Award – Society of Experimental Test Pilots

1992: Laurels Award – Aviation Week & Space Technology

1991 & 1990: Igor I. Sikorsky International Trophy – American Helicopter Society


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