How does Robinson Helicopter Company (RHC) ensure its helicopters are maintained “the Robinson Way?” Provide a school, of course at the Torrance, CA, airport (KTOA). I attended the RHC maintenance course last November.
The week-long course covers maintenance on all three RHC airframes — the piston-powered two-place R-22 and four-place R-44, and the turbine-powered five-place R-66. Classes started each day at 8 a.m. sharp and run past 5 p.m. most days, so don’t plan on catching a Friday afternoon flight home.
A one-day R-66 course is also available. These classes fill quickly so plan ahead.
Each day students spent about half their time in the classroom and the other half twisting wrenches, torquing nuts, measuring bolt stretch, and learning how to work their way though RHC specific tasks. These included adjusting coning friction and teeter (flapping) friction; checking and adjusting drive belt tension; learning the methods and using tools used to check the clutch shaft angle and upper and lower sheave V-belt alignment; and adjusting track and balance of the main and tail rotors and balance the fan wheel.
The class was not dry; it was chock-full of real life maintenance shorts cuts and tips. Each of the 11 attendees was handed a class study book. Every morning they were given a test with questions based on their homework reading and class notes.
For instance, what part number lubricant does the free wheeling unit (sprag clutch) use? That question, as many other on the tests were designed to familiarize both new and experienced RHC techs with the RHC maintenance manual and illustrated parts breakdown (IPB). The sound of turning pages rippled through the classroom during these tests.
Instructor Efrain Vargas led the classes. He is an experienced Robinson technician and teacher. He started at RHC in 1986 and worked alongside RHC founder Frank Robinson during R&D for the R-44, the company’s second airframe. In addition to his years working at RHC, Vargas owns a Robinson dealership in Mexico and has directed maintenance on RHC helos operating off shore in the tuna fishing fleet. Besides his RHC duties, Vargas travels the world teaching Robinson airframe maintenance classes.
RHC unlocks the classroom door at 7:45 each day. International attendees included an Army sergeant from Estonia, a civil aviation maintenance inspector from Bangladesh, an experienced helicopter technician from the Philippine Islands, and a (female) aviation maintenance apprentice from an air tour company in China. Other attendees included experienced airframe and powerplant (A&P) helicopter technicians; one who said he was “from Tennessee but temporarily transplanted in Florida;” two from Texas; one from Alaska, one from Oregon; and one who got an early retirement after working on Apaches and Black Hawk helos in the Army.
This one, Eric Norman, worked in the Titusville, FL, training base for Bristow Academy. He was being prepped to take over maintenance management of Bristow’s growing fleet of Robinson helos. Lawrence Hromek, a Texan, was attending to fulfill one of the requirements to become a RHC Service Center. That required that he also attend the Lycoming piston engine maintenance and the Rolls-Royce turbine powerplant schools.
After introductions we went on a factory tour. Throughout the course Vargas dispensed tips and hints for RHC helo maintenance such as, “Wash your helo on a daily basis.” He defined clean by saying, “If you don’t dare lick it, it ain’t clean enough.” Other tips included, “Rebalance after all maintenance,” and “If there’s no instruction for a repair in the manual, call the factory.”
Vargas also advised the class to always get a component return authorization (CRA) before sending anything to the factory, and then said, “If you want credit for the returned parts, clean them up and treat surface corrosion before shipping.”