2022 Robinson R44 Raven II review

Here are some thoughts after flying a factory-new $700,000 Robinson R44 Raven II from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Our machine is the gold one in the foreground on the ramp at KTOA:

(One of the teachers in the safety course, regarding a photo of the R22, R44, and R66 lined up, said “They’re not going to win any beauty contests.”)

The $25,000 air conditioning is a great luxury and worth the 33 lb. payload penalty. The lack of a sliding window for taking pictures is a continued disappointment. If you want a good aerial photo you need to land, remove a door, take off again, take the photo, land, put the door back on, etc. Bell and Airbus manage to include simple mechanisms for temporarily obtaining an unobstructed camera position. Why can’t Robinson do this?

The $57,000 autopilot should have been a game-changer and it kind of was, but usually not in a good way. I have trained some Blackhawk pilots who were transitioning down to the R44 and they struggled initially because they always flew the Blackhawk with the stability augmentation system (SAS) enabled. The Genesys autopilot’s core mode is SAS, in which it seems to return the helicopter to whatever attitude was preset. The system is hyperactive, however. If there are small attitude changes from extremely light turbulence or just the vibration of the helicopter, the autopilot will fight those small changes. A human pilot would do nothing and assume that the attitude bumps will average out. In straight and level flight, the SAS system is applying a control input literally every second. It is like having the world’s most nervous copilot on the controls with you. It probably should try to figure out if a human pilot is on the controls and, if so, do nothing until there has been at least a 2-degree disturbance in attitude. We were able to get the autopilot to fly a NAV course, go down a glide path on an LPV approach, etc. It more or less works just like an autopilot in an airplane, but because the helicopter shakes so much more it is not as confidence-inspiring. Is it worth $57,000 (the pre-Biden price of an airworthy certified IFR-capable 4-seat airplane)? Maybe! Despite the annoyance factor, I think it is worth enabling SAS for night flights and any time visibility is reduced or there is a chance of inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions (i.e., going into a cloud).

Robinson has limped into the glass cockpit era, but not gracefully. The Garmin G500 is a primary flight display, but not an integrated flight deck like the G1000 (see the Bell 505). So the pilot needs to look at the warning lights above the PFD to see if anything dramatic is wrong with the machine. Although the helicopter is certified for visual flying only and there is nothing on the PFD that is necessary for continued flight and landing, the FAA requires that Robinson install a full set of backup steam gauges. These are much larger and easier to read than what’s on the Garmin glass (the vertical speed indicator, for example, is at least 5X the size).

The G500 does not display a lot of the information that you’d expect it would. For example, it shows the outside air temperature and the aircraft’s altitude. Even without access to the manifold pressure sensor, it could look up in a table to find out what the current maximum continuous manifold pressure should be (corresponds to a horsepower limit) and display that to the pilot. It becomes the pilot’s job to use a table on the checklist or in fine print on the cyclic. Robinson continues to have separate fuel gauges for the main and aux tanks so it becomes the pilot’s job to do a bit of arithmetic and calculate flight time remaining.

Our second radio was a Garmin 225B. It was entirely unreadable/unusable at night due to being so much dimmer than the G500H and the GTN 750 (the NAV/COM1).

10 thoughts on “2022 Robinson R44 Raven II review

  1. It just goes to show you that one man’s Supermodel is another man’s Olive Oyl, because I really enjoy the simple, clean lines of the R44. It’s just uncluttered and functional. Maybe also call me the Marie Kondo of aircraft style.

  2. Question: do you tend to experience any extra fear or trepidation when you take a helicopter out for its relatively long maiden voyage, or does your knowledge of the aircraft and level of experience allow you to overcome that without much trouble?

    • I am a chicken so the first few hours have me on heightened alert. But we are following Interstate 10 so we always have the option of landing or autorotating to side road or the shoulder.

  3. Sounds like Greenspun is fed up with general aviation helicopters in general after discovering the C8 Corvette.

  4. PhilG, you sound like a 5 year old with your snarky political rants … even in a supposed R44 review (“pre Biden”)? You need to grow up .. you’re like nearly 60 years old… you used to be chill at MIT! What happened ? You sound like an angry bitter old white man! That #MAGA personality is just so strange! #sad

    • “ You sound like an … old white man”. We can’t all be virtuous and precious non-binary young People of Color. But perhaps if we hope and dream our current leader will develop a way to replace America’s white population with a superior race or set of races. Or at least dilute the white population to insignificance. Also, maybe we can find a way to reduce the percentage of “men” in the population in favor of people who identify with gender IDs less associated with violence. Perhaps we could have our public schools educate boys, beginning in kindergarten, that they are not fated to grow up into “men”.

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