Episode 5: Test Pilot

Kurt Robinson is the President of Robinson Helicopter Company, the world’s leading civil helicopter manufacturer that was founded in 1973 by his father, Frank. Known for their R22 and R44 helicopters, Kurt, who’s been with the group for two decades, stepped into the lead role in 2010 after Frank retired. And since the company’s inception, they’ve produced over 10,000 aircraft. In 2012, they’ve produced approximately 500 aircraft.

Did you ever entertain doing something different or was working with Robinson Helicopter something you always wanted to do?
Robinson: When I was going to high school, it was out of our home. And then I went off to college–I got my undergraduate degree in economics from University of California, San Diego. My intent was to eventually get my MBA, but at that time, my father had just gotten certification of the R22 and was trying to set up a manufacturing plant. He thought working with that would be a good experience prior to earning an MBA. It was during those two years that it became evident that I had a good place here and that I could really contribute, so from there on, I knew I’d pretty much be staying with the company.

Your dad started the business out of his kitchen and retired in 2010. Do you have any favorite memories of working with your dad?
Robinson: The best memory has been that we’ve kind of grown together (laughs). There was a time where I was still pretty young and I came into his office with a bunch of problems. I looked at him, waiting for him to give me the answer and he just looked at me and said, “I don’t have the answer–I don’t know what to do, that’s why I have you. You have to figure it out.” It’s kind of the first time you realize that your dad can;t answer every question. And from that point forward, I felt like I was working more with him than under him.

What is the most misunderstood part of your job?
Robinson: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that since we produce an economical, low-cost and reliable helicopter, somehow some think it’s cheap to do it that way. But actually, it’s reverse. In order to drive your costs down, you have to have very sophisticated, very machines and equipment.

What do you love most about your job?
Robinson: The people in the industry – the pilots, the operators and the like. Flying itself is a very adventurous activity. We have people like Jennifer Murray, who flew around the world in a Robinson R44 helicopter in 1997. Plus, we’ve had people fly to the North Pole and to the South Pole. It’s that last frontier mentality of a lot of people that are out there flying. And it takes a special breed of person and our industry is just full of them.

What would you say is the biggest challenge?
Robinson: The biggest challenge is that you’re working with a lot of regulatory agencies. Any time there’s an accident, we can get sued. Litigation is pretty tough and you have to be on top of it.

What was it like working with Richard Hammond?
Robinson: He was a very nice guy –- I was very pleased to meet with him. I hope he enjoyed his time here and learned a little bit about what we do.

Episode 5: Test Pilot