Frank Robinson, founder of Torrance’s Robinson Helicopter Company, dies at 92

TORRANCE — Aviation visionary and South Bay legend Frank Robinson has died at 92. leaving behind six children, a company of over 1,000 employees and a forever changed helicopter industry.

Robinson founded the Robinson Helicopter company in 1973 where he defied the opinions of aviation leaders and opened a previously untapped market for private ownership through his signature R22, R44 and R66 model helicopters.

He served as president of the Torrance-based company until he retired in 2010 at age 80 and passed the reins to his son Kurt Robinson. Robinson died peacefully in his Rolling Hills home on Saturday, Nov. 12.

“He was captivated with helicopters and really wanted to develop that as a personal transport and the rest is history,” said Kurt. “He really did have a true love of 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 hovering his VS300 Prototype helicopter.

That image stuck with Robinson and drove the course of his career and life.

In 1957, he earned a BSME degree from the University of Washington and later attended graduate school at the University of Wichita. He went on to work in engineering at the Cessna Aircraft Company, McCulloch Motor Company, Kaman Aircraft, Bell Helicopter and Hughes Helicopter Company.

However, he was unable to interest any of his employers in his concept for a small, low-cost consumer helicopter. The prevailing opinion, at the time, was that helicopter market was for the military only.

Robinson set out to prove them wrong.

“He was a very determined person who didn’t accept no; whenever he was faced with a challenge he found a way to push on,” Kurt said.

Robinson founded the Robinson Helicopter Company out of his Palos Verdes home in 1973 and developed the first R22 prototype at the Torrance Airport. Just two years later he took the two-seat, piston powered helicopter on its first flight with a mere 60 hours of flight experience behind him.

“That’s just amazing to me. I mean, that’s somebody just learning how to fly,” said Kurt. “And he got in the helicopter and he actually hovered it, which is very impressive. I look at that today and I just say ‘oh my god’.”

“Nobody could show him how to do it, he just had to do it.”

The R22 received its hard-fought FAA approval in 1979 and went on to become the most popular civilian helicopter worldwide.

In the mid-1980s, Robinson began development on the four-seat piston-powered R44 helicopter, which hit the market in 1993 and eventually outsold the R22. It was so popular that he went on to build a specialized newscopter version as well as a police helicopter.

In 2010, the company once again expanded its line with the five-seat turbine-powered R66 helicopter. In each model, Robinson played an integral role in the engineering and development.

“If you asked Frank who he is, the first thing he would tell you is he’s an engineer,” said Kurt. “Not the president of Robinson Helicopter, not the founder, he was an engineer. He handled everything as an engineering problem and something to solve.”

Related links

Helitankers on display above Helispot 69 Bravo, near Topanga, show what they can do
Aviation: A look at NASA’s plan for automated passenger and cargo transportation in urban areas
Media day on Thursday gives a taste of things to see at Aug. 20-21 Wings Over Camarillo air show
Air Force pilot Major Kristin ‘Beo’ Wolfe is on Cloud 9 in anticipation of Super Bowl LVI flyover
Lawmakers call for safety review of Whiteman Airport in Pacoima following recent crashes

Robinson was also a visionary and a veritable aviation rock star, who racked up accolades over the course of his five-decade career.

These include, but are in not limited to, induction into the California Aviation Hall of Fame, induction into the U.S. 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 from the Southern California Aeronautic Association.

Robinson was also a major figures of the Torrance and Palos Verdes communities, and played an integral role in putting Torrance’s aviation industry on the map.

“He really loved living here and we’ve been part of the community for over 40 years. It’s been a really good partnership,” said Kurt.

The company currently has over 1,000 employees in its Torrance headquarters. To date it has delivered more than13,000 helicopters and shows no sign of stopping.

“His legacy was to develop a low-cost reliable helicopter, that was more affordable, that more people could own in order to expand the industry,” said Kurt. “We intend to go on for many, many more years, so he’s left a real legacy.

“We’re on our mission and we will keep going forward.”

Related Articles

News |

Improv comedy club founder Budd Friedman dies at 90

News |

Iranian who inspired ‘The Terminal’ dies at Paris airport

News |

Kevin Conroy, iconic voice of Batman for decades, has died

News |

Singer Aaron Carter, 34, found dead in bathtub at Lancaster home

News |

D.H. Peligro, former Dead Kennedys, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer, dies at 63

Share the Post:

Related Posts