2005 Robinson R22

an owner's review by Philip Greenspun, ATP-H, CFII-H; updated March 2010

Site Home : Flying : One Article

Robinson's R22 is the world's most economical-to-operate helicopter. The R22 carries a base list price of $250,000, with dealers typically discounting between 3 and 4 percent off list, but excellent used machines are available at around $100,000. Paying $5 per gallon for 100LL and budgeting realistic amounts for maintenance and the 2200-hour overhaul, the direct operating cost of an R22 is approximately $145 per hour.

R22s have been remarkably reliable and maintenance-free. The majority of accidents are due to the machine being used in training (a mission for which the R22 was not designed and is ill-suited) or pilot error. Thus the accident and death rates in R22s would be tough to reduce by making the machine more robust (though we'll talk later about some engineering improvements that could make accidents less likely to occur and more survivable).

This review is based on my experience as an owner of an R22 from late 2005 through late 2008.

Fun to Fly

A lot of folks say "I'm training and building time in this R22 so that I can eventually transition to a real helicopter." By "real" they mean "big, heavy, turbine-powered." Only when they do finally achieve their dream do they realize what they lost when they stopped flying the R22: fun. The R22 is light and therefore low inertia and therefore extremely responsive to flight control inputs. On a big helicopter, you nudge the cyclic and then wait "a while" for the input to have any effect. If you're going to change your mind about continuing an approach, allow a few seconds for the turbine to spool back up and deliver go-around power. The piston-powered Robinsons, by contrast, offer instant power changes.

I have heard high-time helicopter pilots, with experience in many different types, say "The R22 is the most fun helicopter to fly."


Due to its light weight and low inertia rotor system, the R22 is not forgiving of pilot error or sluggishness. After an engine failure, real or simulated, you and the instructor will have 1.6 seconds to lower the collective and enter an autorotation. Any delay beyond 1.6 seconds will be fatal as the rotor speed, once decayed below 80 percent, cannot be recovered. Frank Robinson did not design the R22 to be a trainer; he designed the R22 for a fast cruise speed and fuel efficiency. The R22 thus has a fast cruise speed, high fuel efficiency, and is a terrible trainer. Why do so many flight schools use the R22 for training? It is cheap to operate.

If you are looking for a trainer, consider the Robinson R44 instead. The R44 has about 4 seconds of rotor inertia rather than 1.6. That gives a pilot time to hear the low rotor RPM warning horn, look at the gauges, come up with a plan, and implement the plan (i.e., lower the collective and enter the autorotation). Count out 4 seconds to yourself and then count out 1.6.

Another pro-safety factor in the R44 is the extra power. With two people sitting in a four-seat helicopter, there is a tremendous power reserve available to recover from ugly training situations. The heavier weight of the R44 also makes the machine much more stable in windy/gusty conditions. Students learn to hover and autorotate faster in the R44 than in the R22.

In the event that the R22 is used for training, the cabin remarkably robust for surviving the inevitable accidents. I have personally met five instructors who failed to catch student errors resulting in dynamic rollovers. One suffered a cracked rib and the other two were uninjured. (See "Teaching Hovering" for some ideas on how to avoid this kind of embarrassment.)

As of 2010, Robinson does not offer the Amsafe airbag seatbelts that have been standard equipment in most fixed wing aircraft produced since 2006 (all Cessna, Cirrus, and Mooney piston singles, for example).


Passenger and baggage capacity with a full 30 gallons of fuel is about 310 pounds in a typical modern R22 Beta II. Baggage is stored underneath the seats. The crushability of the seats is one of your primary protections in the event of a crash. People have broken their backs in accidents that they might have walked away from if they had simply avoided putting rigid non-crushable items underneath their seat. If you're going to carry the wheels, for example, keep one under each seat and make sure that the steel handle is flat.

Aside from the items on the factory checklist, pay some attention to the little screws on the sheet metal around the doors. These screws have a way of coming out. Look for damage to the sheet metal surrounding the rotor mast and a "smile" on the horizontal skid tube when viewed from behind. These are signs of a hard landing.

Starting the engine is easy whether hot or cold, one of the advantages of carburetion. If you are storing your engine in a place where the temperature falls below freezing at night, considering adding a Reiff or Tanis electric preheater.


If you look at the height-velocity diagram ("dead-man's curve") in the R22 P.O.H., you'll notice that Robinson emphasizes a line drawn approximately 10 feet above ground level. Nobody has demonstrated a successful autorotation, one that does not break the ship, above 10' and slower than 45 knots. A Jet Ranger pilot might begin lifting the ship at around 30 knots. This works because there is so much more interia in the rotor system. If it feels unsafe to fly so fast so low, keep in mind that if the engine quits, the ship will supposedly balloon upward at first. You will be sinking from more like 20' than 10' and will therefore have more time to execute a flare.

Once you reach the magic 45 knots, let the ship rise into a 60-knot attitude and hold it there. Eventually you will achieve 60 knots and the ship will be climbing almost as fast as at Vy (53 knots). When you're a few hundred feet off the ground, say "upwind check" to yourself. Check those engine gauges. Look at the carb air temp gauge. If it is in the yellow, this is a good time to add carb heat. In fact, if you don't need the machine's full performance you can apply full carb heat and leave it on for the entire flight.

If you're doing a maximum performance takeoff over an obstacle, compare the rotor disk to the obstacle. If the tree is under the front of the rotor disk, you're probably going to make it. If you are looking through the spinning blades at the top of the tree, well, I hope that it is winter, that you are light, and that you are prepared to back up into your parking spot and kick your fat friend out of the ship before trying again.

En-route Comfort

When folks ask me for a short summary of my trip from Los Angeles to Boston in a brand-new R22, I say "For the first day, I was worried that I was going to die. On the fifth and sixth days, I was worried that I wasn't going to die." Sitting bolt upright, a bit tense on the controls, hour after hour, is not very comfortable. Most beginners, including this author, have an unfortunate tendency to lean into the center of an R22. This might be because the cabin sheet metal curves or maybe just because we want a better view. Anyway, after a few hours of leaning at a 10-degree angle, you are ready to land at a chiropractor's office.

Heat and fresh air controls are adequate. It is March now and my feet are still being defrosted from some time I spent in a $1.6 million Bell Long Ranger during early February; my torso was sweating but the area near the floor was frigid. The Robinson has a far more uniform heater and the output is ample for the coldest conditions.

In our miserably bumpy somewhat hilly region of the country, any wind stronger than 12 knots on the surface usually results in unpleasant in-flight turbulence. If there are reported gusts or an Airmet for "occasional moderate turbulence", prepare to be beaten up and for susceptible passengers to be airsick. This is another reason to consider an R44. A lot of New England days that are not pleasant or marginally safe in an R22 are perfectly doable in an R44.

Interior noise is comparable to a light airplane such as a Cessna 172, i.e., loud enough that you definitely need hearing protection. I fly the R22 while wearing foam earplugs and a noise-cancelling headset. If you want to do the same, make sure that you don't get a Bose headset. The speakers in a Bose headset cannot handle the full power of an aviation radio. So if you crank up the volume on your radio to hear it through the earplugs, you'll blow out the speakers in the Bose headsets. The Telex 50D and the Sennheiser both have drivers that can handle the higher sound levels and both are available with LEMO connectors that let you plug them into an R22's (optional) "Bose" outlets so that you can have noise cancellation without a battery pack. (LEMO is the brand name of the Swiss company making the connectors that Bose and other headset companies have adopted.)


Pull the carb heat full up on downwind. The air outside might be above freezing. The air speeds up and therefore cools down as it goes through the carburetor venturi. If you close the throttle, as you would by lowering collective on an approach to landing, you're creating an additional venturi on either side of the throttle. You can get ice here and the airflow to the engine will cease. Why doesn't this happen in airplanes? It does, but the airplane has the windmilling propeller out front to keep the engine turning. As soon as you open the throttle again, the engine will start burning air and fuel again. Not so on the helicopter. The sprag clutch prevents the spinning rotor system from trying to turn the engine over. When the engine quits, it isn't coming back until you turn it over with the starter motor.

For a normal approach, cruise along at 300' AGL and 60 knots until the desired landing spot is just above the yaw string (this is about a 10-degree glide slope for a 6' tall pilot). Then smartly lower collective to begin a descent and adjust the collective to hold that spot at the same height on the bubble. Gradually pull back on the cyclic to keep the apparent rush of the ground underneath you constant. Make sure to establish a fairly aggressive descent rate of perhaps 700 fpm at first. Otherwise your approach will get too steep and you'll need a high descent rate towards the end, when you are slow. As you start to slow down and feel the vibrations of effective translational lift (ETL), glance at the vertical speed indicator to make sure that you aren't descending more than 300 fpm. If you are, do not slow down below ETL or you are risking settling with power ("vortex ring state"). You probably did a settling with power demonstration up at 3000' with an instructor. In real life, you get into it about 100' above the ground while trying to do an approach.

If you're going into a confined area and might need the last bit of power, push the carb heat down as soon as you commit to the landing, perhaps 50-100' above the ground.

Parking and Securing

If it is ridiculously windy, you might not want to leave the R22 pointing directly into the wind, though most people do. The blades will flap more as they slow down when you shut down. There is some risk that they will get pushed back by the wind and contact the tail boom. Better to park the ship so that the wind is coming from the right side as you shut down.

If there is any chance that another helicopter might park or lift off nearby, secure at least the front rotor blade with the tiedown.

The Panel

Panels don't get much more basic than the one in an R22. The flight instruments are airspeed, vertical speed, altimeter, engine/rotor tachometer, and manifold pressure. Engine instruments include oil pressure and temperature and cylinder head temperature. You won't be distracted by all the individual cylinder and exhaust gas temps that you imght find on a modern airplane; there is nothing in the Robinson panel to tell you if one cylinder is running leaner and hotter than the others.

I recommend against ordering any gyros in the R22. They are heavy, expensive, and tend only to last 500 hours when subjected to the vibration of a helicopter. At the safety course, Frank Robinson himself noted that he has been disappointed in the number of R44s with attitude indicators and Garmin 430s that have flown into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) and not come out. The extra capability does not translate into safety, apparently, but only encourages pilots to take risks with the weather that they should not have. As noted in the Instrument Training section below, one day there will be lightweight glass panels with solid-state attitude reference that will fit into the R22.

I recommend against the optional digital clock. The timer is nice, but the instrument has spectacularly crummy buttons that tend to stop working reliably. You never can be sure whether or not you have been successful in starting the timer.

Instrument Training

Robinson no longer makes R22s suitable for instrument training. If you want to get the instrument rating that is required for most commercial jobs, you'll need to pay the higher cost of an R44 or find an older R22 stuffed with round instruments and suffering from gross weight and C.G. limitations. Note that the flight school where I'm a CFI, East Coast Aero Club, offers the lowest price in the world on an R44 IFR trainer.

With the glass cockpits that are offered by every other general aviation aircraft manufacturer except Robinson, the R22 could rise again as an instrument trainer, though the increased weight and therefore stability of the R44 certainly makes learning and checkrides easier. Systems such as those from Aspen Avionics are light and much easier to fly than the World War II-style steam gauges installed by Robinson.

The T-Bar cyclic

Most helicopters have two massive cyclic sticks poking up from the floor in front of the pilot seats. The Robinson has a spindly cyclic coming up from the center of the ship with horizontal arms at the top. If the left side arm is attached, either pilot can apply pressure to the cyclic at any time.

One downside of the T-bar cyclic is that, even with the left side controls removed, the actual cyclic is very close to a passenger's right leg and right arm. A passenger is much more likely to nudge the cyclic accidentally than he or she would be in a Jet Ranger or Hughes 300. A more serious problem is that a passenger might intentionally yank on the cyclic. Social conventions and the wide cockpit would probably prevent a passenger from reaching down between your legs and grabbing the pilot's side Jet Ranger cyclic. A local flight school owner was giving rides at a county fair in an R44. One strong young teenager, when they were in a hover at the end of the 6-minute ride, grabbed the top of the T-bar and shook it, asking "what does this do?" Fortunately he learned the answer before the helicopter rolled over... Consider adding a "this is the control that rolls the helicopter over if you touch it" line to your preflight passenger briefing.


The standard factory communications radio is a King with one standby frequency and 9 memories. Robinson has thoughtfully added "memory recall" and "active/standby switch" buttons to the pilot's side cyclic. Prepare for a cross-country flight by programming all the frequencies you will need into the radio and then you won't have to take your hands off the controls to set up or change frequencies.

Robinson offers a variety of GPS units as factory-installed options. Unfortunately, these are all placed in a hard-to-see place at the bottom of the radio stack. My R22 came with a Garmin 250XL GPS/Com. In addition to being hard to see while flying, the unit does not have any land database. When your assigned route from the Phoenix Class B tower controller is "follow I-10" and you come up on an 8-way intersection, you will wish that you had the kind of land database that is standard on a handheld GPS or a Garmin 430/530. Much better than any GPS in the radio stack would be a handheld unit on top of the console, suction-cupped to the bubble, or, mounted to a stalk that slots into the door frame. The last one is our mechanic's idea. He backs out some of the factory screws and takes a phenolic block puts it into the steel channel of the pilot's side door frame. Then he takes some slightly longer screws and puts them back through the steel and into the block. Then he mounts a short metal stalk to the phenolic block and the handheld GPS mounts to that (got to worry about vibration if the stalk is more than a few inches long). A handheld or kneeboard Garmin is a vastly more capable unit for VFR flying than anything Garmin sells for panel mounting (the 430/530 series dates back to 1998 and has the slow CPU and limited capabilities that you'd expect from computing equipment of that vintage). The newer handheld Garmins also aren't as counterintuitive and keystroke-intensive as the panel-mount Garmins.

The Engine

Robinson uses a Lycoming O-360-J2A engine in the R22 Beta II. The internal geometry and compressions of this engine are identical to a 180-horsepower engine for an airplane. The engine, however, is rated by Lycoming only to 145 horsepower because they are using thinner and lighter cyclinder walls, relying on Robinson pilots not to draw more than 131 horsepower (the 5-minute takeoff limit). The continuous power limit on the helicopter is 124 horsepower, partly for engine life but also because that's what the transmissions and driveshafts are engineered to take.

How much power is actually available at sea level? 180 horsepower. The collective control in your left hand is mechanically connected to the swashplate, which will push up the pitch links until the blades assume an extreme pitch angle. The correlator and governor will open the throttle as wide as it needs to go in order to keep the blades spinning at 520 rpm. If you load up the helicopter with lead and pull the collective up into your armpit, the engine will put out 180 horsepower in an attempt to keep those blades from slowing down against air resistance.

Students on hot summer days will often exceed the published manifold pressure limit. There is no required inspection after such an exceedance, but prolonged operations at higher-than-authorized power settings invites catastrophic mechanical failure.

The Lycoming O-360 has a reputation as the most "bomb-proof" aviation powerplant out there and in its derated form, engine problems are rare. Our flight school operates more than 30 aircraft with Lycoming powerplants and we've received excellent support from Lycoming, especially Joy Moffett and Mike Everhart in the warranty department.


The R22 burns 100 low-lead Avgas. With an STC, it can be converted to run car gas, but this requires changing the carburetor float ball. The number one reason for airplane piston engines to stop running is fuel exhaustion, i.e., the pilot failing to plan properly. Annoyingly, the R22 has two fuel gauges, one for the aux and one for the main tank. The pilot is expected to work out the sum of the fuel in the two tanks. The R22 has a separate low fuel warning system that is entirely separate from the gauges. The low fuel light comes on when you have about five minutes of fuel remaining.

Unless you and your passenger are both 12-year-old Japanese girls, it is unlikely that you'll be able to top off the tanks and enjoy 3-3.5 hours of endurance. With two people in an R22, it is more typical to fly with 1.5-2 hours of fuel.

At the Robinson Factory Safety Course, we were told not to rely on the gauges: "Use your watch," the instructor said, suggesting that we keep track of flight time. "How many gallons per hour does the R22 burn?" a student asked, noting that there are no data for fuel consumption or range in the P.O.H. "We won't tell you that because it might not be right for your ship," was the reply. "What about a dipstick?" None is supplied. So... you don't really know how much fuel is in the tanks unless you top off and are way over gross. You could make your own fuel stick, but where do you store it so that you don't get grit on it and then put grit into the fuel tanks? Even if you knew how much fuel was in the tanks before you took off, it would be tough to calculate how much remained in flight because you don't have any numbers for fuel consumption.

Most of the up-to-date piston single-engine airplanes these days come with fuel totalizers. The one in my Cirrus SR20 is part of the Avidyne multi-function display and it is accurate to within 0.1 gallons. The sensor is a little spinning wheel in the fuel line. The Cirrus carries 5.5 hours of fuel, can be fueled virtually anywhere that it can land (because it only goes to airports), and will be under gross with any pilot and passenger who are not morbidly obese. If you are carrying four heavy adults and need to resort of partial fuel, the Cirrus has tabs to make partial fueling precise. Even flying to remote corners of Nunavut, Alaska, the Yukon Territory, and the Northwest Territories, I never came within 10 gallons (more than one hour) of empty. Yet I always knew the fuel state of the airplane to within 0.1 gallons.

With the Robinson, by contrast, the gauges have often shown me very close to the FAA minimum 20-minute VFR reserve (day or night) for helicopters. Yet I had only a vague idea of how much fuel was actually in the ship. If Robinson ever switches to an all-glass cockpit, it would be nice to have a fuel totalizer and it shouldn't add more than a few ounces of weight.

[I wrote this section in 2006; it is now 2010 and Robinson has done nothing in the intervening four years to improve its fuel gauges.]

Terrain and Obstacle Awareness

If you are up at 7500' in your cheap little Cirrus airplane, bored because you have the machine on autopilot, you can entertain yourself by looking at the multi-function display's map of FAA-charted obstacles. All of those radio towers are thousands of feet below you, but the airplane knows about them.

Helicopters are much more likely to encounter obstacles such as radio towers and power lines, yet very few have any kind of terrain or obstacle awareness system. The Europeans have been investing in a database of all obstacles within Europe and a system for installation in helicopters that can alert a pilot "approaching power lines". The best that we can do in the U.S. is rely on the FAA's database of really tall towers. Although Robinson offers some GPS units, only the expensive and heavy Garmin 400-series will alert the pilot to an approaching obstacle.

In March 2006, the NTSB formally asked the FAA to require that helicopters carrying six or more passengers be required to have a terrain warning system. This was in reaction to a March 2004 "controlled flight into water" crash of an Era Aviation Sikorsky S-76 with two professional pilots at the controls.

Night Flying

The R22 has the same lighting posts around the panel that you'd find in an old Piper. They are reasonably effective and consistent. You switch them on by turning on the nav lights. A problem in flying N211SH at night is that the compass is substantially dimmer than the gauges. I have to ruin my night vision by cranking up all the lights if I want to be able to see the compass heading well enough.

If you're operating in a truly dark area, consider leaving the landing light off when near the ground. It is so bright that it will ruin your night vision and you won't be able to distinguish between trees and sky. It is perfectly possible to hover using only the nav lights for reference.

Try to limit night flying to familiar areas, following highways, well-lit cities, and higher-than-usual altitudes above the ground. Even very experienced crews have gotten disoriented and collided with terrain or water at night. In an airplane, I treat a night flight in an unfamiliar or mountainous area as an instrument flight and fly IFR routes, altitudes, and procedures.

Summer Flying

Removing the doors provides significant cooling for occupants and reduces weight by 10 lbs., which translates into useful additional performance on a hot day.

Be very careful going into confined areas anywhere near gross weight in the summer. If you've trained in an R44, which has a good power reserve even with four passengers, don't expect the R22 to be anywhere near as capable as the R44.

High Density Altitude Operations

A tremendous number of R22 accidents have happened at high density altitude. Unlike a turbine ship, the R22's normally aspirated engine loses power as the air gets thinner. Yet the blades actually need more power to generate lift in thin air. This is why the FAA requires run-on takeoffs and landings for all helicopter rating checkrides.

Don't try to take off unless you can hover. Don't get anywhere near the limits of the R22's performance unless you are going from one big airport to another big airport where there is plenty of room to slide onto a runway. When approaching to land, don't let your airspeed fall below ETL unless everything looks good. Don't go into any confined area unless the P.O.H. says that you can do an out-of-ground-effect hover at that altitude.

My first truly high-altitude operation with an R22 was in Hawaii, landing on a warm day at 6000'. The book said that we could do an in-ground-effect hover at that altitude and temperature. I kept bringing the speed back and the collective up as we came near our spot on a dirt road. The helicopter kept sinking at approximately the 300 fpm rate that I had established during the last phase of the approach. I pulled a little more collective and heard the blades start to slow down (no more engine power available). We continued to sink until we contacted the ground and slid along the dirt road. Was the P.O.H. wrong? No. I was able to pick the R22 up and hold a 3' hover. But power to hover is not the same as "power to overcome the inertia of a descent and turn it into a hover."

Aerial Photography

Unlike a Jet Ranger, the R22 does not have a little photo window that can be opened far enough to stick a lens out. You have to take the entire door off, which makes the standard machine impractical for aerial photography except in very warm climates. A company called Tech Tool has an STC'd door ($5000?) for the R22 with a sliding window. Robinson hates to see anything not from the factory attached to their ships and Pathfinder insurance excludes coverage for any accident due to, say, a chunk of the Tech Tool door coming off and hitting the tail rotor.

People have had accidents from windows popping out and doors not being properly secured. So if you are putting doors on and off, don't get lazy about putting the cotter pins back through the hinges.

In-flight Music

The Robinson audio panels do not have music inputs. If you think that you might get bored on a long ferry trip, get some in-ear headphones and run them underneath your aviation headsets. I like the Shure E3c, though they are fragile and need to be kept in their (supplied) hard case when not in use.

Insurance and Training

Pathfinder Insurance in the Bahamas will insure a new R22 for between $6,000 and 8,500 depending on whether it is private or flight school use (contact: pathfinder@coralwave.com; FAX +1 (242) 352-3932). The domestic carriers such as Starr Aviation charge 50-100 percent more (see www.suttonjames.com for an example).


Our R22 was very easy to maintain and fit the typical Robinson pattern of few parts requiring replacement in its first 1400 hours. Unlike other brands of helicopters, where each component has its own life limits and you'd better hope that your mechanic is extremely organized with his or her record-keeping, the R22 basically has one big limit: 2200 hours or 12 years. When you reach that point, the ship must be overhauled. You can send it back to the factory and they will bring it back to nearly new condition inside and out, or you can buy an overhaul kit and have your mechanic do the work. The latter option is less expensive, but the ship will not be cosmetically so nice.

Where to Buy

Here are some of my favorite dealers: It is best to buy from a local dealer when possible because the labor warranty is valid only at the dealer where you purchased the ship.


Some of these desires stem from personal quirks. My tolerance for heat and noise is lower than most folks'.


If you're an experienced and lightweight helicopter pilot, the R22 is a great little machine for flying on days that aren't too windy/gusty. It wasn't designed as a trainer and it isn't a very good or very safe trainer.

Resale Value

Before the Collapse of 2008-?, the R22 held its value reasonably well. As of March 2010, the market is flooded with overhauled and fairly new R22s advertised at about $150,000. Thus you could expect a new $250,000 R22 to lose about $100,000 in value during its first year or so. A run-out R22 (at 2200 hours) was worth $50,000 before the Collapse.


Text and photos Copyright 2006-2010 Philip Greenspun.

Add a comment | Add a link