The Robinson R44 has been a ubiquitous part of the helicopter scene since 1993 and in that time it has fast become the best selling piston helicopter of all time, over 6,000 having been produced in the past 30 years. However in 2015 Robinson revealed a new variant of stalwart which was introduced the following year, the R44 Cadet.
The R44 Cadet utilises the same airframe and engine as the popular Raven I but with a rear cargo area in place of the two back seats and with a derated engine it has an extended time between overhauls of 2,400hrs, some 200hrs greater than the standard Raven I.
There is no better place in the UK to learn about the advantages of the new machine than ICE Helicopters based at Elstree Aerodrome in North London. ICE Helicopters became the first flying school in the country to introduce the Cadet in October 2020, so impressed by their first example were they that they now have a further two in the fleet.
From a training perspective operating the Cadet is a no brainer, removing the rear seats that are not required for flight training provides the aircraft with improved performance, in particular the ability to operate with a full tank of fuel without leaving centre of gravity limits. The major advantage of the machine is that the derated engine maximises flight time between overhaul and the profitability of each machine resulting in lower costs for the operator and students making it a win-win for companies such as ICE.
This is particularly useful as students who learn on the two seater Cadet are qualified to fly the four seat Raven I and II as soon as they possess their licence without the need for a separate type rating.
Despite being “training machines” the aircraft are still well equipped with ICE’s aircraft featuring a glass cockpit display, air conditioning and Robinson’s new cockpit camera. “The new 4K cockpit camera” Neil comments, “is an excellent feature which gives students the ability to replay sections of their flight to really delve deeper during a debrief into manoeuvres or scenarios they want to analyse and improve on.”
As far as flight training for both PPL(H) and CPL(H) students is concerned Neil describes;
“The advantages for those wishing to train for PPL(H) and CPL(H) are the reduced costs from the other R44 variants, modern instruments and proven technology and mechanics give a reliable and simple helicopter to learn in. They (the R44) are the most popular helicopter in the world and so to train on them from day 1 gives an advantage for opportunities across the globe. The payload is also very good, enabling longer sorties than other aircraft used for training (it will also cruise easily at 100kts) meaning the effectiveness of training can be increased with longer distances and more airborne time per sortie. In monetary terms of £ per min in the air/distance travelled they are very competitive, even if the hourly rate at first glance seems a bit of a stretch. For those wishing to work in the industry learning in the R44 Cadet opens the market much more, with experience in a machine capable of training and charter gives an advantage above other makes and models of helicopter such as the Guimbal G2.”
The R44 Cadet is a much more capable helicopter than Robinson’s earlier R22, which has been the mainstay of helicopter flight schools for many years. Neil himself attests that it is safter and more stable, with a nicer cockpit environment and better speed and payload while the lower cost makes it an economically viable replacement for many ageing R22 airframes from both operator and students perspectives.
Of the type summarises that “I have been getting to know the Cadet for the last 12 months and think it really does do what it says on the tin so to speak. Its a very capable yet simple helicopter which is cost effective – what’s not to like.”
Whilst ICE Helicopters operate the largest fleet type in the UK its clear that it is on track to become the staple of the helicopter flight training industry
ICE’s investment in the type is a commitment to their belief that the R44 Cadet constitutes the future of helicopter flight training.