Is the R44 the Ford Pinto of Helicopters?

Can any question remain about the R44's tendency to roll over and catch fire?  It happened again yesterday, in Glendale Arizona.  This time, the helicopter had barely gotten off the ground. R44 Fire

Fortunately, no one was hurt.  But the story is becoming all too familiar. According to the Arizona Republic:

A mechanic was testing the engine of the Robinson R-44 helicopter when he lost control and it came down on its side and caught fire.

Helicopters aren't supposed to catch fire in survivable accidents.  But Robinsons do just that because their fuel tanks are defectively designed.  This latest fire happened little more than a few weeks after an R44 accident killed filmmakers Mike deGruy and Andrew Wight.  That crash led well-known aviation attorney Ladd Sanger to call the Robinson R44 the "Ford Pinto" of helicopters.

Seems as though there may be something to that.

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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Justin - February 28, 2012 8:45 AM

I would be interested in knowing more about the design of the R44 fuel tank and fuel system. I would also like to know more about both crashes. Was it pilot error or mechanical failure. This one might have been a flight control problem if not caused by the mechanic doing something severley wrong to get the aircraft to roll over.

Michael Ugo Nwankwo - February 29, 2012 8:14 AM

Does the company of R-44 need 44 yrs to project their product? It has to satisfy the environmental hazard regulation even if no lives were lost. Otherwise the testing should be isolated.
Michael

Keith Davis - October 13, 2012 12:40 PM

The R44 is an excellent design. That is why it so popular.

Mike Danko - October 13, 2012 2:18 PM

Keith-

No question that the R44 is popular. That's because it is fast, fun to fly, and inexpensive to operate as compared to other helicopters. Does that mean the R44 is an excellent design? Not if the design kills people unnecessarily.

Mike

Greg - December 7, 2012 12:22 PM

I have been around the Robinson line of products for 20+ years as a mechanic on them and some limited flying as a pilot in them. They are the BEST helicopter on the market today. I have seen some accidents in them personally, all pilot error, no fatals. The design of the Robinson is virtually flawless. As for the fuel tanks, they are no different than 80% of the aircraft out there flying today. "Wet" type (the skin of the aircraft is the tank skin), gravity feed fuel systems have been on aircraft for over 70 years. This is all media hype and lawyers jumping on the money bandwagon with Robinson left trying to defend itself, hence the R44 fuel bladder retro-fit. I am the Director of Maintenance for helicopter training school, all of our students learn in either the R22 or R44 II, they are sent solo, taught to long line, etc, not one aircraft has had the "tendancy to just roll over and catch fire". I have looked after Robinsons in the oil patch in the Canadain north, where they are literally flown and treated like pick-up trucks, I had one R44 get pranged in 5 years (settled with power with a load on the line, pilot error, not mechanical), the aircraft was repaired, flew to its 2200 overhaul, was overhauled and is still flying about 800 hrs a year. Robinson products are still the safest helicopters on the market today.

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