By Exec Edge Editorial Staff
When big news breaks, sometimes the best place to capture all of the action is from above.
Robinson Helicopter’s R66 and R44 Newscopters have become important tools for broadcast news. The company equipped the high-tech helicopters with the latest electronic news-gathering (ENG) equipment, making them must-haves for breaking news stories, regular traffic reports, and special events.
Eyes on the R66 Newscopter
Robinson Helicopter’s R66 Newscopter is based on the highly successful R66 helicopter model. Founder Frank Robinson began designing the R66 turbine-powered aircraft in 2001 when he saw a need to replace the aging Bell Jet Ranger helicopter.
The company’s engineers designed the R66 to carry five people while providing cargo space. Like Robinson Helicopter’s smaller R44 and R22 models, Frank Robinson wanted the R66 to deliver better and more economical performance than its competitors.
The R66 received FAA certification in October 2010, and Robinson Helicopter began customer deliveries shortly thereafter. Since that date, the aircraft has logged more than 1.2 million global flight hours.
The R66’s enthusiastic market reception spurred Robinson Helicopter to look for even more customers. Configuring the helicopter for news-gathering was the logical next step. The R66 Turbine Newscopter received FAA certification in July 2017.
A Fan in the ‘Sky’
SKY Helicopters is a longtime Robinson Helicopter dealer based in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Besides Robinson Helicopter sales and services, SKY Helicopters coordinates aerial video operations for local news networks.
“About half of our TV station customers have elected to use the R66 turbine-engine news helicopter, and the other half fly in the piston-engine R44 news helicopter,” says SKY Helicopters President Ken Pyatt. “The R66 certainly gives us better high-altitude performance, plus the opportunity for a greater payload when we carry additional talent or passengers. The TV stations we are adding next year are also evenly split between the two airframes. Overall, our customers really appreciate the reliability, dependability, and economy of the Robinson products.”
Primed for Airtime
With its powerful Rolls-Royce RR300 turbine engine, the R66 Newscopter performs well at high altitudes. Increased altitude performance is an important attribute for big market stations where varying terrains exist. An optional HeliSAS autopilot is an additional safety feature and reduces pilot workload.
In addition, the four-seat R66 Newscopter can carry one or two extra passengers in addition to a dedicated cargo compartment. Optional air conditioning will keep the pilot and reporter comfortable in hotter climates.
Under the R66 Newscopter’s standard configuration, the aircraft’s news-gathering platform consists of a five-axis gimbal with gyro-stabilizers. This housing contains an Ikegami HD camera outfitted with a Canon 22-to-1 HD lens. An optional gimbal can accommodate the same camera, along with a tighter-angle Canon 40-to-1 lens.
News crews won’t miss a thing. The R66 Newscopter contains three high-definition micro-cameras and two seven-inch monitors. Two digital audio controllers round out the R66 Newscopter’s ENG package. The aft compartment’s camera controls are on the center and laptop consoles. Multiple HD monitors display crystal-clear images.
The R44 Raven II Newscopter: From Tip to Tail
Robinson Helicopter’s R44 Raven II Newscopter is an offshoot from the company’s highly successful R44 platform. Its aerodynamic fuselage contains a fuel-injected Lycoming IO-540 engine that enables a cruise speed of up to 115 knots.
The workhorse can keep up with hardworking news crews. The R44 Newscopter has up to three hours of flight endurance on a full tank, allowing for lengthy news coverage.
The R44 Newscopter’s affordable purchase price and manageable operating costs are desirable for smaller market television stations or larger markets that require multiple choppers in their fleets.
The versatile R44 Newscopter’s ENG equipment easily receives, transmits, and records live HD audio and video. It’s a broadcast-quality airborne studio with wide-ranging news coverage capabilities.
The R44 Newscopter features a five-axis gyro-stabilized Ikegami HD digital camera system to capture images in vivid detail. This aerodynamically shaped camera is nose-mounted for optimum perspective.
The camera’s nose-mounted gimbal rotates 360 degrees for maximum visibility to film from multiple angles and effectively track subjects. The camera operator controls the device via a laptop console at the ENG workstation.
The Canon HD Series 22x (44x with extender) features a zoom lens. Additional camera options include a 1080p, 24p frame rate, and digital extender. Besides the camera functionality, ENG features include a joystick controller that enables X, Y, and Z-axis movements. A series of switches control the snap-zoom, transmit, intercom, and video functions. Four color video monitors, a digital audio system, and a full-featured microwave transmission package round out the R44 Newscopter’s ENG electronics suite.
A Versatile Fleet
Since Frank Robinson established Robinson Helicopter Company in 1973, it has become a well-regarded manufacturer of helicopters. Robinson’s Helicopter’s current fleet includes its R66 turbine helicopter. The company has adapted its R66 Newscopter and R66 Police Helicopter for targeted markets.
The R44 Raven I and Clipper I, along with the R44 Raven II and Clipper II, are also among Robinson Helicopter’s current offerings. The Clipper II model includes pop-out floats for over-the-water use. The Clipper I includes fixed floats. Finally, customers generally use the R44 Cadet as a flight trainer.
The R22 Beta II is the smallest Robinson Helicopters offering. This affordable two-seater aircraft is the latest version of Frank Robinson’s original R22 prototype.