History of RotorWay Aircraft
Javelin and Scorpion
In the early 1960s B.J. Schramm designed and built a single seat helicopter called the Schramm Javelin, using a 40hp motorcycle engine. The production version of this helicopter was renamed the Scorpion and was powered by a modified 100hp marine outboard motor. RotorWay Aircraft Inc was established by Schramm to market Scorpion plans and kits of components to amateur builders.
Offered for purchase in 1967, the Scorpion was the first real personal helicopter on the market that actually flew. The Scorpion’s simple control system and rotor blade design, and off the shelf drive train components served to make the RotorWay a simple design, without sacrificing structural strength. The Scorpion also introduced the tail rotor belt drive system which survives today on most Exec 162F aircraft. The v-belts driving the tail rotor have a number of inherent safety features. The belts are not subject to the same torsional fatigue as a drive shaft, and the issue of gearbox overheating is avoided. The result was that maintenance for the Scorpion was relatively simple.
Scorpion II and Scorpion 133
The Scorpion was replaced in 1972 by a two seat version called the Scorpion II. With a 125 horsepower 2-stroke engine, the Scorpion II provided the added power to fly two people in cool, low density altitude environments. But despite all the improvements, overhaul times on the major components were still not up to the desired levels.
In 1974, RotorWay Aircraft embarked on a major redesign with the goal of reducing the amount of maintenance time required for every hour of flight. First to be addressed was the elimination of the inefficient 2-stroke engine. It was acknowledged that there would never be a way to sufficiently improve the vibration and low torque associated with 2-stroke engines. The vibration was found to cause rapid wear in various parts and had a tendency to cause cracks in airframe and drive systems.
Unable to find an engine manufacturer to make a 4-stroke engine suitable for a helicopter, RotorWay developed and produced their own engine; an aspect of the company that is unique to this day. Called the RW133, the new 4-stroke engine had the added power RotorWay wanted for its helicopters. Scorpion helicopters fitted with the new engine were called the Scorpion 133.
With a two-seat helicopter available, RotorWay was also able to begin instructing customers on how to fly their aircraft. This program was initially offered at the Scorpion Sky Center in Tempe, Arizona, and remains a valued service by RotorWay customers to this day.
Exec and Elite
In the 1980’s a substantial redesign effort produced the aerodynamically improved RotorWay Exec series. The aircraft had a modern, sleek appearance, and significantly improved the capability through the introduction of the new elastomeric rotor system. The elastomeric technology had been proven in larger helicopters up to that time, but this was its first use in a light kit-built helicopter.
The elastomeric bearings use alternating thin layers of rubber and brass, which are bonded together in a pack. This bonded elastomeric pack absorbs the pressures of centrifugal force whilst, due to the flexibility of the rubber, allowing blade pitch changes to occur rapid and with low stress loads on the rotor head components. This system significantly reduces the complexity and maintenance requirements for the rotor system, making the helicopter much more user-friendly for its owners. It also allowed the Exec and its successors to be designed as more powerful and capable helicopters, less restricted by an intricate rotor system.
As design concepts evolved in the late 80's, RotorWay created the Elite, a larger, attractive two-place helicopter. The Elite had an RW 152, water-cooled, dual electronic ignition, 4-stroke engine. Whilst the Elite showed a lot of promise, it also presented RotorWay once more with the difficulties of developing and introducing a new model. Under the new management of John Netherwood, a former customer from England, the company reassessed the design issues of the Elite and set out to make the proven Exec a better aircraft to build and fly.
Now called RotorWay International, the company conducted an extensive redesign of the Exec. The outcome was the Exec 90, with improvements made to the drive train, aerodynamics, stability and power. The Exec 90 utilised a unique drive system, eliminating an expensive transmission, metal chip detectors and possible in-flight failures that were associated with these systems.
The engine was greatly improved, a task made possible by the fact that RotorWay had been developing and building their own engine for several years. The RI 162 engine was specifically designed for the Exec and featured an exceptional power to weight ratio. Extended life limits were added to the chains, belts, rotor system and asymmetric rotor blades. The Exec 90 was the only piston-powered helicopter at the time to utilise an asymmetric airfoil for improved autorotation characteristics and safety.
All of the welding and most of the fabrication was completed before delivery to the builder, and many critical systems were assembled at the RotorWay factory. The tailboom and rotor blades were delivered as virtually complete, with the builder required to mount these structures and apply the finishing touches. The electrical system featured a wiring harness that had been assembled and tested by RotorWay, with the builder left to install the harness and connect the electrical plugs.
Major changes were made to the kit itself, to make things easier for the builder and improve the quality of the built aircraft. This included the method of organising and packing the components, the construction and maintenance manuals and a more comprehensive package of technical information to assist the builder. With these changes the average build time was 500 hours. A quick build kit was soon offered, cutting that time nearly in half. Eventually, the quick build kit became the standard kit.
In 1994, the company took a hard look at the carburetted engine used in the Exec 90 and knew they could do better. A fuel injection system with electronic ignition and redundant FADECs (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) was developed and the revolutionary, award-winning Exec 162F was born. FADEC was a technological development unheard of in the experimental category and practiced only among a few certified helicopter companies. Also introduced to the 162F technology was ACIS (Altitude Compensation Induction System). Lightweight and efficient, the new ACIS allowed the RI 162F engine to maintain standard sea level performance at higher density altitudes.
Over the next decade RotorWay’s 162F became the number one choice in the personal helicopter marketplace, having earned that spot by providing a safe, reliable and enduring way to enjoy rotor craft flight. Many RotorWay owners retrofitted the 162F improvements to their Exec 90 helicopters. The RotorWay 162F remains the most numerous and widely-owned experimental helicopter, with over 700 sold world-wide.
Introduced in 2008, the A600 Talon is RotorWay’s eighth-generation helicopter, and is the proud successor of the award winning Exec 162F. The Talon introduced significant safety feature upgrades, including improved dual FADEC systems, and a standard cog-belt main drive system to replace the Exec’s chain drive and oil bath. A shaft-drive system is standard for the tail rotor, and the Talon undercarriage is stronger, wider and higher for easier and more forgiving ground handling.
The Talon also introduced a digital ‘glass cockpit’ display system offering full instrumentation and integrated GPS and moving map navigation functions. The digital FADEC and instrumentation systems enables the last 900 hours of flight and engine data to be downloaded to a computer and analysed by the RotorWay engineers via the internet. The same system can be used in reverse for RotorWay engineers to change the engine performance parameters by adjusting the FADEC CPU over the internet. RotorWay also developed a rotor RPM governor system as an option for the A600 Talon. This safety benefit offers greater peace of mind and reduced workload for the pilot.
Today RotorWay is proud to deliver what our customers have asked for – the new A600 Talon.