Franklin Davis “Frank” Robinson (born 14th January 1930) is an aeronautical engineer and the founder of Robinson Helicopter Company in Torrance, California. He served as President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the company for many years. In the early 1970s, he designed the Robinson R22 helicopter, a popular, light, two-place civilian aircraft, which later developed into the R44, one of the most successful civil helicopters in history.
Robinson was born in Carbonado in Washington state, the youngest of four children. His father worked as a coal miner, a saw mill operator, and a fishing resort owner. He received his BSME degree from the University of Washington in 1957, with graduate work in aeronautical engineering at the University of Wichita.
He started his engineering career in 1957 at Cessna Aircraft Company working on the Cessna CH-1 Skyhook four-place helicopter. After 3 1⁄2 years at Cessna, he spent one year working on the certification of the Umbaugh U-17 and 4 1⁄2years at McCulloch Aircraft Corporation performing design studies on inexpensive rotorcraft. Robinson worked one year at Kaman Aircraft on gyrodyne-type rotorcraft. After this he spent two years at Bell Helicopter where he earned a reputation as a “tail rotor expert”. In 1969, he moved to Hughes Helicopters to work on a variety of research and development projects, including a new tail rotor for the Hughes 500 helicopter and work on “The Quiet One” program.
Robinson resigned from Hughes in 1973 and founded the Robinson Helicopter Company (RHC). RHC’s first business address was Robinson’s home where the two-seat R22 helicopter was designed. The first R22 prototype was built in a hangar at the Torrance Airport, and Robinson personally flew it on its first flight in August 1975.
The R22 led to the R44, which first flew in 1990. The aircraft became the best-selling general aviation helicopter in the world in 1999 and has been so every year since. There have been over 6,000 R44s delivered to date.
On August 10, 2010, Frank Robinson announced his resignation as President and Chairman of Robinson Helicopter Company. Robinson had intended to retire on his 80th birthday in January 2010, but elected to postpone his retirement until the design of the Robinson R66 Turbine was complete. With R66 production underway and FAA certification imminent, Robinson decided to make his retirement official. His son Kurt Robinson was elected by the Board of Directors to assume the positions of President and Chairman on 10th August 2010.
Robinson is a recipient of the 2004 Howard Hughes Memorial Award from the Southern California Aeronautic Association (given to an aerospace leader “whose accomplishments over a long career have contributed significantly to the advancement of aviation or space technology”), the 2010 Lifetime Aviation Engineering Award from the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy Living Legends of Aviation, and the 2013 Daniel Guggenheim Medal from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, for his “conception, design and manufacture of a family of affordable, reliable and versatile helicopters.”
In 2009, Robinson was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.
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