Frank Robinson, who founded Robinson Helicopter Company in 1973 and built it into the largest manufacturer of civil helicopters in the world, has resigned as president and chairman of the company. Robinson had intended to retire earlier this year but elected to remain until design of the R66 was finished. With R66 production under way and FAA certification imminent, Robinson made his retirement official. Kurt Robinson, who joined the company in 1987, will be the new president and chairman.

Bell has partnered with BLR Aero­space to install its FastFin modification on the Bell 412EP. (See “Aircraft mods and upgrades,” p 95.) A performance enhancing modification for single-rotor helicopters, it is designed as a tail rotor enhancement with dual strakes along the left side of the tail boom to control aircraft rotorwash and a reduced area vertical fin for increased usable thrust. An STC kit is available through Bell affiliate Aeronautical Accessories (AAI) and through BLR Aerospace. The STC will be available as an option on all new 412EP deliveries.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept has purchased 12 American Eurocopter AS350B2s, which will be placed in service with the department’s Aero Bureau as part of an upgrade for the current fleet of 12 AS350B2s, in use since 2003. The order includes an option for 2 additional helicopters. During completion the new helicopters will be equipped with night vision, laser pointing and advanced mapping and tracking. Additional technologies such as FLIR, multiband digital radio, GPS mapping and downlink video feeds will allow Aero Bureau pilots to provide real-time support to law enforcement personnel and command operation centers on the ground. The Aero Bureau also plans to employ the AStars to transport the K9 unit, arson explosives detail unit and any other support unit requiring rapid deployment.

Bell Helicopter and Esterline CMC Electronics have developed and flight tested a new-generation GPS sensor to replace existing Doppler or inertial velocity sensors used in automated approach-to-hover and hover-hold systems. The ground velocity sensor, designed to work with existing autopilot systems, provides significant SAR safety enhancements to LE and EMS operators. Benefits are said to include reduced weight and improved stabilized hover-hold performance. Established as a standalone software up­grade to the Esterline CMA­5024 satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS) GPS receiver, the sensor produces an actual velocity measurement, rather than reporting changes in GPS positions over time. The sensor will be available for installation on the Bell 412­EP within the next 12 months, with plans to expand availability to other models.

AgustaWestland has received an order for 6 AW139 medium twin helicopters from the Panamanian government. The contract also includes pilot and maintainer conversion-to-type training. Four aircraft will be equipped to perform various national and public security roles, one will be used for utility missions and the last aircraft will be used to transport senior government officials and other VIPs.