Last month, AOPA had a great article (AOPA members only) by Steven W. Ells about Robinson Helicopters and their manufacturing facility in Torrance, CA.
It just so happened that I was out in the Los Angeles area for a training conference with 10,000 other network engineers and I realized how close to the factory we were going to be. A co-worker and pilot friend of mine and I decided to skip lunch on Tuesday and go take the tour in Torrance. Keith is not much of a helicopter person per se, but I’ll keep working on it. Full write-up after the jump!
The factory was in a “low key” industrial part of town and just as the AOPA article points out there is not much noise. I observed lots of people working hard and their efforts turning out about 2 or 3 helicopters per day.
The tour took began with us right out to the assembly area. No pictures were allowed until we visited the delivery area, however, the AOPA article online has a few good manufacturing pictures.
The blade assembly area was pretty cool. In this area the tour stops and they demonstrate how a small sheet of aluminum honeycomb is stretched the entire length of the blade to give it strength. Engineering is so cool… One thing I did note is several racks of much wider blades — blades that were much larger than the current R44 blades. The tour guide claimed to not know any specifics about them, but I would wager a guess they are most likely for the new Robinson R66 turbine powered helicopter due sometime in the next couple of years.
The overhaul area, the next stop, was very busy. The tour stops here for you to sit in and look at several helicopters that are in for some type of maintenance work, however, still no pictures. A test pilot was in the area and stopped to answer questions. It is evident that Robinson employees are passionate about their helicopters. No question from the tour group went unanswered.
In the connecting building, which is next on the tour, you see the manufacturing area. Here raw materials are milled into 85% of the parts that go into the current Robinson models. This is done to control production, parts supply and the very tight tolerances to which these parts are manufactured. It was amazing to see all the precision machines working to make all sorts of parts.
Next stop, the delivery area — finally. Here about 15 helicopters were waiting and all ready to be picked up from the factory. All North American deliveries are flown from the Torrance plant. We got to see all sorts of R22 and R44 helicopters in various configurations. We were also lucky enough to be taking our tour during a Robinson Safety Course week. There were lots of helicopters doing auto-rotations and flying to and from the Robinson flight line. I could have sat and watched for hours…
The final stop was the international shipping area where three out of four helicopters are taken apart and shipped in two large wooden crates overseas. Depending on the destination, some go by sea and some by air. The tour concludes with returning your visitor badge, safety glasses and receiving a commemorative R22 lapel pin.
If you are ever within a close drive of Torrance, Robinson Factory Tours are offered on Tuesday and Thursday at 1PM local. (Be sure to call the factory ahead of time and reserve a spot) I highly recommend it and my non-helicopter pilot friend Keith even enjoyed it. I think it was well worth skipping lunch and I can now thank Frank Robinson and his staff for my renewed excitement of someday adding the words rotorcraft-helicopter to my pilots license.
I welcome your questions and comments.