Late October was the date of our visit to the new Rotorway factory in Arizona. With temperatures at 102F in the Phoenix area it was quite a shock after leaving our car at Gatwick a few hours earlier covered in frost. Our first view of Rotorway’s new facilities situated about 4 miles from the old site was one of a gleaming white modern building with acres of dark reflective glass, tall palm like trees and exotic plants.
Walking through the entrance doors the cool climate controlled air was greeted by us as a good start to a superb visit. We were later to find out that this coolness extended to the whole factory which must make for a much better comfortable and productive atmosphere for all the Rotorway employee’s. After meeting Grant Normitz the new Rotorway MD and his team plus old Rotorway friends Tom Smith, Brent Marshall and Mark Johnson it was off to see the A600, after all, that’s why we had undertaken the 13 ½ hour flight.
We were not disappointed. In its blue, black and silver livery it looked great, its higher, wider landing gear and longer skids only helping to make it look even better than in earlier photos. But looks are not everything so down to the changes.
Starting at the back the first change is a stronger tail boom and a shaft drive to the tail rotor instead of the belt system common to all previous Rotorway models. The drive starts with two short self adjusted belts running from the secondary to a right angled gear box on the front of the tail boom. A shaft then transfers the drive via bearings and flexible couplings through the tail boom to a similar rear gear box. The rivets in the tail are now Cherry rivets for added strength although we must say that we have never seen a problem with the previously used steel pop rivets. It should also be said that the drive shaft has been added as part of the certification process and to satisfy those many potential customer who refer to the original belts as ‘rubber bands’ with out having the knowledge that the Kevlar belts are extremely strong, easy to adjust and maintain and cause very little problems.
The main drive belts from the engine are now tensioned by an oil driven piston/pulley assembly which can vary the pressure on the belts to cope with varying engine loads. The chain drive has also been replaced and now uses a heavy duty cog belt which is also self adjusting by an oil driven piston and pulley system. Both of these drives were developed by Rotorway distributor Al Behuncik and should prove to be very reliable and require less maintenance.
The engine now uses a completely new next generation FADEC system which uses additional sensors and up to date electronics to help make the engine more efficient. The pilot now gets inertia seat belts, a low rotor warning system as standard and a ‘glass cockpit’ made by MGL Avionics which seems to do everything except make coffee. Add to this a new leather seat which looks cool and extremely comfortable and you have a cockpit you won’t want to leave.
So what’s it like to fly, well it flies just like a 162F. This in its self is no bad thing as the 162F is a great helicopter and is hard to beat and as the new model uses many of the 162F’s components this is no surprise. Rotorways chief pilot John O’Neil showed me an autorotation into the old airfield at Memorial and as always we just glided down with ease, thanks for that John, ( I’m sure he has done that before). But even if it flies like a 162F the A600 is still a new model in its own right and Rotorway are proud of their achievement. The Talon will offer improvements in reliability, lower maintenance costs, up to date electronics and better pilot comfort.
While there we took the opportunity to tour the factory and see how Rotorway buy in raw castings and machine them on site, even the engine is made here. There are many computer controlled machines drilling and milling away at all sizes of castings and raw materials to produce everything from large engine blocks down to intricate gear box parts. I wonder if they would miss just one of these machines, it would look great in my workshop back home. All spares are now housed in what I can only describe as a vertically moving lift of shelves. Pushing a button moves the next shelf up, holding the button will move the shelves continuously until it comes around again. Mounted from floor to ceiling it takes up far less floor space than normal racking. In one area was an airframe ready for welding with all the tubes and brackets held in place on a jig by clamps. Each frame takes 25 hours to weld and the workmanship is truly a work of art. You really do have to visit this factory to fully appreciate the precision and care taken by all the work force on every component. What also comes across is the friendliness of all the workers, just like a big happy family. Ask any one on the shop floor a question and they will explain how they make the part they are working on. This attitude is not only in the factory, it extends through the whole complex, from Donna who answers your calls in the front office to ever helpful Robin in the spares department. Nothing ever seems too much trouble.
It is early days for the new Rotorway management team at Rotorway but they seem to have the commitment to succeed. After talking to them all we are sure there are more improvements to come from their R&D department. Add to this the certified A600 which will be available over the next few years and the future looks good for Rotorway. As for us we can’t wait to get our first new A600 Talon kit early in the New Year.
After talking to all the great people at Rotorway we are sure there are more improvements to come from their R and D department and we look forward to getting our first A600 Talon kit here early in the new year.