It’s often tempting to assume that technological progress is inevitable. We imagine that if the pieces are there then someone will figure out how to build upon them. However, we can see from major innovators like Robinson Helicopter Company that things are a little more complex than that. The company is in large part the story of Frank Robinson and his family. And by looking at his story we can see that a love of innovation and equally deep commitment to family are also needed to move an industry forward. Because in many ways these two elements were the fuel that drove his progress through life.
It’s easy to forget that industry leaders were once children. But Frank spent his formative years growing up in the midst of the great depression. One of his strongest memories was seeing a picture of a prototype helicopter at his family home. This combination of family and flight would be a continuing trend through every day of his life from that point on. Because his family would eventually help him study the subject academically.
Frank quickly demonstrated an aptitude for the subject. And this led to a rapid rise within the industry once he graduated. But eventually, that previously touched upon drive for innovation drove him to try something new. The industry was stagnating, but Frank saw a better path to the future of aviation. This drive led to him creating the Robinson Helicopter Company in 1973. At the time it was a one man project. But Frank was able to create his first prototype of the R22. He would first fly the initial offering of his company in a scant two years after founding the company. Again, it’s amazing to think that he created an industry changing helicopter on his own as a one-man project.
Of course Frank wasn’t one to sit on success. As the R22 quickly caught on he’d design custom engines for new models. All of his helicopters built on success and added in new innovative elements. But just as his story began with family, so would his time at the company end with family. In 2010, the now 80 year old Frank retired and his son Kurt continued the family legacy. This all shows that a combination of family and innovation can create some amazing things.