Helicopter Overhaul in Progress

Stripped down and waiting for “the kit.”

Regular readers of this blog might remember my October series of posts about flying my helicopter from my home in Malaga, WA to Quantum Helicopters in Chandler, AZ.

Robinson helicopters are required to be overhauled at 12 years or 2200 hours, whichever comes first. January 2017 would be 12 years for Zero-Mike-Lima, but because I need the helicopter back in time for my late winter frost work and I don’t fly it much during the winter anyway, I dropped it off early to give the shop plenty of time to do the work they needed to do. At this point, they’ve had it for about a month and a half. They’ve had the money they needed to get started for about a month.

I’m back in Arizona now, enjoying the first part of my annual migration to the south. (After 15 years living in Arizona, it’s hard to take the short, dreary days of a Pacific Northwest winter.) I had errands to run in the Phoenix area today, so I thought I’d head down to Chandler to visit Zero-Mike-Lima. I had a part to drop off — a starter that’s part of the “core” that needs to be replaced. The mechanics will pull the existing starter, which was replaced only a few months ago, and I’ll keep that as a spare. The helicopter will get a brand new starter among the many brand new parts that come in the overhaul kit.

And that’s what it’s waiting for now: the kit. The maintenance shop draws up a list of the parts needed for the overhaul and sends it to Robinson Helicopter, along with a huge chunk of my money. The parts folks at Robinson pack up the parts that go into the kit. This takes about six weeks. They then put it all on a truck and ship it to Arizona.

My main rotor blades sit atop a pair from an R22, along with the “candy cane” bar that protects the tail rotor area. I’ll go back for the blades once I figure out how I can get them home. I think they’ll look good hanging on the wall in my living room.

In the meantime, the mechanics disassemble the helicopter and pull out the parts they need to send back to the factory as cores. I’ll get some money back for those — possibly as much as $50K. (I sent them $175K.) They send the engine to a shop to be rebuilt. They send other parts out to another shop to be inspected. They take the time-limited parts that have no value and literally thrown them on a scrap pile.

So the helicopter is mostly disassembled at this point. Most of its parts are on carts where the tailbone should be. Its doors are on another cart. One of its skids is temporarily on another helicopter that had a hard landing the other day and broke a skid. (I saw the video and it’s amazing that helicopter ended up on its skids.) The other skid is shoved underneath of it.

The helicopter’s fuselage is sitting on a rolling wooden cart right now.

Cart full of parts Cart full of parts
Rolling carts full of parts occupy the area where the tailcone should be.

Helicopter Interior
They stripped out the carpet and removed the seats. None of the avionics will be replaced.

No one was working on it when I got there. They’re waiting for the kit. They had plenty of other helicopters to keep them busy, though. Quantum is a large operation.

I’ll go by and visit again later this month or after the kit has arrived. I’ll bring cookies or pizza for the mechanics. (I really regret not stopping for at least cookies today.) I don’t want to be a nuisance, but I do want to keep apprised of the progress. I want to take photos along the way.

And I can’t wait to go flying again.

16 thoughts on “Helicopter Overhaul in Progress

  1. Jeez! I had no idea the ‘first overhaul’ was quite that radical. You say the engine will be ‘stripped and rebuilt’. Does that mean a rebore, new pistons, new rings, new oil pump as in an auto engine full ‘rebuild’? If so, the new engine might be a tad more powerful.
    Now I’m beginning to understand why it costs so much.

    • It’s a complete rebuild. I have no idea what it entails, but I think it costs at least $20K. That was included in my initial deposit of $175K.

      When it gets done, it’ll be like a new helicopter and likely worth more than I originally paid for it, somewhere between $350K and $400K.

    • So far, so good. The parts should come before Christmas and they’ll likely work on it throughout January. I’m hoping to get it back early in February so I can do some flying in my old stomping grounds. I owe rides to a lot of people in Arizona and I can’t wait to take them flying.

  2. Ill bet it’s kind of discomforting to see your “baby” all in bins like that, especially seeing as the normal experience with helicopters is “the more parts I see, the more it costs me”. :)

    One idea for the timed-out blades is to chop them into sections to use as gifts or souvenirs. I cut a few dozen sections of M/R and T/R blades from both a Bell 206 and an R-22, they made handy demonstration pieces and conversation starters back when I was flight instructing. The Bell blades are actually much easier to chop up, since the leading edge spar is aluminum. The stainless steel spar in the R-22 is much tougher, you have to use an abrasive chop saw instead of just a normal carbide-toothed construction blade.

    If you pick out the section out near enough to the end, you can get a nice profile including the brass tip weights on the Bell, I don’t know if that would work on the Robinsons.

    • I think what makes this less disturbing to me is that I actually saw it back in 2004 on the very day they put the fuselage on the assembly line. I happened to be touring the Robinson factory with my sister and brother when 10603 (the serial number) was added to the line. I have a picture somewhere of me standing next to it. So I know what it looks like when it’s all stripped down and I know it’ll eventually be put back together.

      As for the blades, cutting them up for souvenirs would be kind of cool. But if you think it’s tough to cut through an R22’s leading edge spar, imagine an R44’s. Still, I might poke around to see if I can find someone who can do this for me affordably. There’s a metal worker in Wenatchee that probably could.

      Honestly, however, I’d prefer to hang them as a pair on the wall. I think they’d look cool.

    • I’ve been to at least one drinking establishment that featured a bar made from a main rotor blade. It wasn’t a blade from an R-44 of course, not big enough. The blade chord on a Bell 540 rotor (used on some Hueys and AH-1 Cobras) is 27 inches wide, they’re huge!

    • I have found that a diamond cutting disc on a 3kw angle grinder will cut through most things. Bricks, concrete (with re-bar), steel safes, computer hard drives in thick steel casings. All goes in the end.

      How about cutting the old rotor blades into seven two foot lengths and mounting them on a hub, to act as a wind-powered DC generator? They already have a sophisticated aerodynamic cross-section built in. Set at the right angle of attack they could be quite efficient.

    • Wow! That sounds like a very cool — but very ambitious — project. Still…. there’s a pair of R22 blades there and I bet I could have those, too. Smaller, easier to cut. I don’t think I’d do a generator, but a wind sculpture would be VERY cool. I just don’t know if I have or could acquire the equipment and skills to pull it off.

  3. Something like this would do it, might be useful to have around if you’ve got any upcoming projects using angle iron or rebar that needs cutting.


    A hand-held angle grinder would do the job too, but probably wouldn’t give as neat a cut. If you end up using a saw like this, make sure to do it outside or at least some place that’s easily swept out afterwards. The shower of sparks it makes turns into black grit that gets everywhere. Also plan on spending some hand-work time with a file or grinder removing the “flash”, the burr created on the cut pieces by the heat from the blade. It’ll be on pretty much every steel part, and it’s super-sharp, wear gloves. The goggle part goes without saying, it’s like the 4th of July when you bear down on an abrasive blade cutting steel.

    • That looks like a serious saw. There’s a metal working guy not too far from where I live. He’s done some metal cutting for me. I think I’d rather let him deal with it. I’ve cut metal a few times and the sparks freak me out. And you’re definitely right about the rough edges.

What do you think?