most reliable small helicopter

In this article, we will be discussing the most reliable small helicopter and the cheapest personal helicopter. For thousands of years, humanity envied a bird’s ability to get aloft right on the spot. Even when we figured out how to make heavier-than-air machines fly, we couldn’t fly freely in any direction like our avian counterparts can. It would take three decades after the Wright Brothers’ first flight to realize our closest approximation: what we today call the helicopter. Let us review the types of small helicopters below.

types of small helicopters

most reliable small helicopter

Some of these metal birds have impacted our lives in ways we instantly recognize; others have a lesser-known legacy. So here is our list—ripe for debate—of the 15 most important helicopters ever.

Focke-Wulf Fw-61: The World’s First Helicopter

ULLSTEIN BILDGETTY IMAGES

First flight: June 26, 1936

Germany made rapid progress in vertical flight in the 1930s with the design and construction of the Focke-Wulf FW-61, generally regarded as the first functional helicopter. 

Professor Henrich Focke started designing what would become the Fw-61 in 1932, using experience gained with autogyros from British maker, Cierva Autogiro. He built a model in 1934 to explore a twin-rotor configuration with articulated rotor blades. A 1935 government order allowed Focke to develop a full-scale prototype using the airframe of a training aircraft (Focke-Wulf’s Fw-44) to mount rotors on tube steel outriggers on either side of the fuselage and to house a radial engine driving the rotors through gears and shafts.   

Each rotor consisted of three articulated and tapered blades employing cyclic pitch, a core concept of helicopter control. A small propeller mounted in front of the radial was used for cooling only, not thrust. The first of two Fw-61s prototypes flew on 26 June 1936 with pilot, Ewald Rohlfs. Focke’s helicopters proved vertical flight and auto-rotation concepts, and gained even more notoriety when German aviatrix, Hanna Reitsch (flying in the picture above), flew one indoors at the Deutschlandhalle sports stadium in Berlin in 1938. 

Sikorsky R-4: The First Mass-Produced Helicopter

NASA LANGLEY

First flight: January 14, 1942

Designed by the legendary Igor Sikorsky and based on his VS300 prototype, the R-4 set the pattern for the conventional helicopter with its single lifting-rotor/single vertical-plane tail rotor configuration. 

Developed and publicly demonstrated in 1940, it was accepted by the U.S. Army in 1942. The R-4 set the first meaningful helicopter records including a 761-mile cross-country flight and service ceiling record of 12,000 feet while boasting a top speed of nearly 90 mph. 

Experimentation with the R-4 began almost immediately with the first deck landing on a ship made in 1944. The same year the first combat rescue by helicopter was made by Army Lieutenant Carter Harman of the 1st Air Commando Group using a YR-4B (pictured above) in the China-Burma-India theater. 

The Bell 47: The First Helicopter Certified for Civilian Use

KEYSTONEGETTY IMAGES

First flight: December 8, 1945

Images of the Bell 47 open every episode of M.A.S.H., and it saw Army service in Korea and beyond as the H-13 Sioux. But its most important distinction lies in its approval for civil use by the CAA in 1946. 

The prototype Bell Model 30 designed by Arthur M. Young was the basis for the 47 which first flew in December1945. Powered by a single Franklin or Lycoming six-cylinder piston engine, the Bell 47 proved endlessly adaptable with some 18 variants serving as everything from lunar lander trainers for the Apollo program to cropdusters. In 1958, a Bell 47 leased by Los Angeles TV station, KTLA, made the first successful television news flight transmitting video as the station’s new “Telecopter”. License-built in Japan and sold worldwide, over 1,000 of the 5,600 produced are still airworthy.

Aerospatiale SA-313 Alouette II: The First Jet-powered Helicopter

REPORTERS ASSOCIESGETTY IMAGES

First flight: March 12, 1955

In the early 1950s, French state-owned manufacturer, Sud Aviation, experimented with a variety of rotary wing designs including the SA 3120 Alouette light helicopter. While the Alouette prototype broke several helicopter speed and distance records, government support was lukewarm at best. 

To consolidate French backing and further boost performance, Sud paired another design (X.310G) with a single shaft turbine developed by Joseph Szydlowski, the founder of Turbomeca. The resulting Alouette II flew in March 1955, becoming the first production jet-powered helicopter. It began setting records almost immediately, establishing a helicopter altitude record of 26,932 feet in June of that year. An Alouette II drew attention when it became the first helicopter to perform a mountain rescue, evacuating a stricken climber over 13,000 feet up in the Alps, and again in 1957 when it searched for the crew of a crashed Sikorsky S-58 on Mont Blanc (pictured above).  

The SA-313 would go on to serve in 47 armed forces, earning distinction as the first helicopter equipped with anti-tank munitions (Nord S.11s). Over 1,500 Alouette IIs were built through 1975, including license-built versions produced in the U.S. Bell UH-1 Iroquois: The Vietnam Legend

LARRY BURROWSGETTY IMAGES

First flight: October 20, 1956

The UH-1 Iroquois, called the “Huey,” is the embodiment of the helicopter for people all over the world. Its association with Vietnam in history and in pop culture assured its status as did its groundbreaking use by American Forces. Over 16,000 military and civilian examples of the Huey family have been built, and production continues today with the military UH-1Y and civilian Bell 412. 

Born as the Bell 204, the two-blade main rotor, single shaft turbine-powered design addressed an early 1950s Army requirement for a medical evacuation/instrument trainer/general utility helicopter. Selected in 1955 from 20 competing designs, it overcame early cabin configuration and insufficient power issues to become the U.S. military’s first turbine-powered helicopter. 

Officially named the “Iroquois” by the Army, its familiar “Huey” moniker stems from its early HU-1 designation. The nickname stuck so firmly that Bell actually cast “Huey” on the helicopter’s anti-torque pedals. In Vietnam, its use as a MEDEVAC, utility, gunship, and transport aircraft altered the way modern armies fight. The air-assault/air cavalry concept was founded upon the Huey and the insertion/extraction techniques it pioneered underpin special forces operations to this day. 

Anyone who has ever heard the Huey’s characteristic two-blade rotor “whump-whump” sound will never forget it.  

Mil Mi-8: The World’s Most Produced Helicopter

DMITRY SEREBRYAKOVGETTY IMAGES

First flight: July 7, 1961

The first Mi-8 transport helicopter flew in July 1961. It’s a workhorse, still being produced today with over 17,000 built. In use by approximately 80 countries, the “Hip” (its NATO codename) was reportedly inspired when Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, visited the U.S. in 1959 and took a ride in the Sikorsky S-58 presidential helicopter. Back in mother Russia, he ordered a similar helicopter to be developed in time for a visit by President Eisenhower.  

Designer Mikhail Mil used Khrushchev’s desire as an opportunity to develop a new twin-turboshaft transport. Employing two 1,500 shp Isotov TV2 turbines and a newly designed gearbox, the Mi-8 could carry 24 troops or 12 stretchers. Though production began in 1964, the Soviet military didn’t really become interested until Vietnam demonstrated the value of rotary-wing aircraft like the Huey. 

By 1967, the Soviets were rushing the Mi-8 into production. Over 35 military/civil variants including the more powerful Mi-17 have been used for everything from transport, armed reconnaissance/gunship, and heavy civilian airlift to dropping radiation-absorbing materials into the failed reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The Mi-8 is not just the world’s most produced helicopter, it’s among the most produced aircraft period. 

Boeing CH-47 Chinook: The Tandem Rotor Workhorse

STAFF SGT. JENNIFER SPRADLIN / U.S. ARMY

First flight: September 21, 1961

The tandem arrangement of the CH-47’s main rotors relates directly to its role as a heavy tactical lift helicopter. The 60 ft. diameter rotors mounted on pylons atop each end of the Chinook’s fuselage rotate in opposite directions, counter-acting torque and eliminating the need for a tail rotor. All power from the two Lycoming turboshafts on either side of the rear pylon can be used for lift. Independent rotor adjustment makes the CH-47 less sensitive to center-of-gravity changes and more stable when weight is added or removed—all good things when lifting and dropping cargo or troops.

Developed in the late 1950s by Boeing Vertol from the Model 107 (which became the CH-46), the Chinook saw service in Vietnam where in addition to transporting troops, it placed heavy artillery pieces on otherwise inaccessible mountain positions and kept them resupplied with ammunition. The 47’s large cargo compartment tempted crews to overload it at first and lifting slingloads underneath required experience. But it became an invaluable tool in Southeast Asia and development of the latest CH-47F shows that it remains so today. The Chinook also happens to be the third fastest helicopter in the world at 196 mph. 

Bell 206 JetRanger: The Civilian Chopper

RADOSŁAW DROŻDŻEWSKI

First flight: December 8, 1962

The Bell JetRanger is instantly recognizable to almost anyone raised in the West, a presence in the skies, on television, in films, and in newspapers for five decades. Whether chasing 55 mph-disdaining speeders in the 1970s, providing live local TV news pictures, transporting emergency medical patients, or shuttling celebrities to events, the Bell 206 family has defined the light corporate helicopter. 

Ironically it was born as a military aircraft in the 1960s in response to a requirement for a light observation helicopter. Bell’s D-250 twin blade, single turbine prototype (YOH-4A) lost out to the Hughes OH-6 but the company chose to market it as a civilian aircraft, self-funding development of the redesigned, larger 206A which first flew in 1966. By 1973 over 1,000 had been sold on the civil market and the Army had chosen it as a new observation helicopter (OH-58A) while the Navy selected it as a training helicopter (TH-57A). 

Subsequent LongRanger variants increased performance and capacity and over 7,300 have been built.  In 1982 a 206L completed the first around-the-world helicopter flight in 29 days. 

Bell AH-1 Cobra: The First Dedicated Attack Helicopter

SIERRARATGETTY IMAGES

First flight: September 7, 1965

Attack helicopters are a staple of advanced armies, but it wasn’t until the Vietnam conflict that a truly purpose-built attack helicopter – the AH-1 Cobra—was fielded. 

The Army’s creation of Air Cavalry Brigades in the early 60s included a requirement for a dedicated attack helicopter. An Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFS) program posited a sophisticated, heavily armored machine. Bell had shown the Army a light attack design (D-255 Iroquois Warrior) based on the Huey in 1962. Though not selected for AAFS, Bell continued work on the concept. 

By 1965 the Army sought an interim gunship for Vietnam duty and Bell responded with its Model 209, dubbed “Cobra”. The Cobra featured a narrow forward fuselage with stub-wings and a fighter jet-like stepped-up tandem seating for the gunner (in front) and pilot (behind), a configuration seen in nearly all attack helicopters today. It borrowed components from the UH-1 Huey including its main rotor, turboshaft engine, transmission, tail boom, empennage, and tail rotor.    

Designated AH-1, the Cobra debuted during the 1968 Tet offensive. In addition to escorting transport helicopters and forming “hunter/killer” teams with scout helicopters, it performed a rescue, picking up a downed F-100 Super Sabre pilot who clung to its gun panel door until over friendly territory. The AH-1 inspired attack helicopter designs worldwide and remains in service with the U.S. Marine Corps as the AH-1Z Viper. 

Westland Lynx: The First Fully Aerobatic Helicopter

HEB

First flight: March 21, 1971

While the Huey dominated the medium utility/attack market in the late 1960s-early 1970s, Europe looked to develop its own competitors. British manufacturer, Westland, came up with its WG.13 in the late 60s, intended as a replacement for its previous designs, and to challenge the Huey. 

Initially folded into a joint Anglo-French development program, the WG.13 soon devolved to a purely British effort as a naval attack platform. Following its first flight in March1971, the Lynx showed the benefits of its special main rotor design which allowed it to perform loops, rolls, and handle much like a fixed-wing aircraft. It was also fast, setting a speed record in 1972 at 199.9 mph. 

The Lynx debuted in British Army/Navy service in the late 1970s in transport, armed escort, anti-tank, anti-ship, anti-submarine, and other roles and  flew during the Falklands War and in Iraq. In 1986, a modified Lynx set a new speed record at 249 mph. The basic Lynx design has evolved into the Augusta Westland AW159 military helicopter. 

Sikorsky H-60 Black Hawk: The Modern Huey

TERRY MOOREGETTY IMAGES

First flight: October 17, 1974

The Army was already looking to replace the UH-1 Iroquois/Huey in the late 1960s launching the Utility Tactical Transport Aircraft System (UTTAS) program around a common turbine engine (GE’s T700). Sikorsky came up with the S-70, a twin engine design it put forward as the YUH-60A for UTTAS. The first prototype flew in October 1974, besting Boeing’s YUH-61A in a flyoff competition. 

It would become the UH-60 Black Hawk – named after a Native American warrior. It entered service in 1979 as the Army’s new assault/utility helicopter. During its development, the Navy was evaluating replacements for its SH-2 Sea Sprite search and rescue/maritime warfare helicopter. Favoring common acquisition with the Army, the Navy chose Sikorsky’s UH-60-based design as the SH-60B Seahawk in 1978. These choices spawned a family of H-60 models including the Coast Guard Jayhawk, special operations Pave Hawk and VH-60N presidential support helicopter. 

More than 4,000 H-60s have been produced and are operating with the armed forces of Japan, Turkey, Israel, and Columbia among others, but the UH-60 gained worldwide fame from the 2001 film Black Hawk Down.

Robinson R-22: The Best-Selling, Low-Cost Helicopter

ULLSTEIN BILDGETTY IMAGES

First flight: 1975

Frank Robinson was inspired to embark on a rotary-wing career upon seeing a newspaper photo of Igor Sikorsky hovering in his VS300 prototype. After stints as an engineer at Cessna, Kaman and Hughes, he struck out on his own in 1973, determined to build and market a small, low-cost helicopter.

California-based Robinson Helicopter Company perfected the low-inertia rotor system design of the R-22 in the 1970s, receiving FAA certification in 1979. The lightweight, two-seat, piston-powered R-22 proved perfect as a primary rotary-wing flight trainer, surveying and cattle management tool. Its 150 hp Lycoming O-320 air-cooled four cylinder runs well on inexpensive 100LL aviation gas and the ability to literally tow the helicopter on a trailer behind a pickup truck made it immensely popular, inspiring a family of variants including the R-44 and R-66. 

Nearly 5,000 R-22s had been produced by 2015, and in 2016 a new one cost approximately $290,000, a fraction of the price of other civilian helicopters. 

Mil Mi-26: The Largest Series Production Helicopter

DMITRY TEREKHOV

First flight: December 14, 1977

Reflecting Russia’s taste for gigantic things, the Rostvertol Mil Mi-26 is the world’s biggest production helicopter. Designed in the 1970s as a heavy-lift transport for military equipment from amphibious-armored personnel carriers to mobile ballistic missiles, the Mi-26 also serves civilian operators in roles from aerial firefighting to lifting outsize freight including a 25-ton block of frozen soil encasing a preserved, 23,000-year-old Woolly Mammoth. 

The Mi-26’s eight-blade main rotor is a 105 feet in diameter and converts 22,800 shaft-horsepower from two Lotarev D-136 turbines to thrust. Its tail rotor is about the size of the main rotor of an MD500 light helicopter. The Mil has the load capability of a C-130 with an internal payload of 44,000 lbs (20 tons). It retains the world record for the greatest mass lifted to 2,000 meters (6,562 ft) with125,153.8 lbs in 1982. In 2002, Uncle Sam leased an Mi-26 from a Canadian firm to lift a U.S. Army MH-47E Chinook helicopter (huge in its own right) from a mountain in Afghanistan. 

Northrop-Grumman MQ-8: The First Operational Autonomous Helicopter

MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 2ND CLASS ALAN GRAGG/U.S. NAVY

First flight: 2002

The idea of ship-launched aircraft as scouts for Navy vessels dates to before WWI. Not until the Northrop-Grumman MQ-8B deployed aboard the US Navy frigate, McInerney (FFG-8) in 2010 was an autonomous, unmanned rotary-wing scout aircraft operational. 

The RQ-8/MQ-8 arose from the Navy’s need to replace aging RQ-2 Pioneer fixed-wing UAV systems. With unmanned systems performing everything from reconnaissance to strike by the late 1990s, the Navy wanted these capabilities in a relatively large unmanned vertical launch/recovery aircraft.   

In 2000, Northrop Grumman’s Schweizer Model 330-based design was selected. Developed as the reconnaissance-focused RQ-8A, it met the Navy’s range, endurance, and payload goals (125 NM/3 hours/200 lbs) but interest waned until the Army saw merit in the design which evolved into the more capable MQ-8B in 2003. A decade later, the Navy had taken lead again and the Fire Scout/Sea Scout was operating in Afghanistan, in Africa, from Frigates, Littoral Combat Ships, and Coast Guard cutters. 

In September 2012 a Fire Scout set a single-day record, providing ISR coverage for a 24-hour period over the course of 10 flights. 

Eurocopter X3: The World’s Fastest Helicopter

PAUL J. RICHARDSGETTY IMAGES

First flight: September 6, 2010

The Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) X3 is a hybrid helicopter which combines a traditional main rotor powered by two Turbomeca RTM322 turboshafts with a pair of stub wing-mounted propellers to provide additional forward thrust. Each stub wing prop has a different pitch to counteract the torque of the main rotor thereby providing additional directional stability.

With this configuration and with a highly drag-efficient fairing over the shaft and gearbox below the main rotor, the X3 sprinted to 255 knots (293 mph) at 10,000 feet in 2013. That’s the fastest speed ever recorded by what could be called a helicopter. Since the X3 is based on the popular Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin, it fits the definition and its importance lies in signifying what the helicopter may become.  

The X3 was a candidate for the U.S. Army’s Armed Aerial Scout requirement but it wasn’t selected. Eurocopter/Airbus see future applications for the X3’s technology in the offshore oil market and high speed inter-city shuttle services to landing venues not usable by fixed-wing turboprops. 

What is the most dangerous helicopter?

According to various sources, some of the world’s best, and most dangerous, attack helicopters include, but are not limited to: 

  1. The Russian Ka-52 “Alligator”
  2. The American AH-64 “Apache”
  3. The Russian Mi-28N “Havoc”
  4. The European Eurocopter (Airbus) Tiger
  5. The Chinese CAIC Z-10
  6. The Italian/Turkish TAI/AgustaWestland T129 ATAK
  7. The Russian Mi-24 Hind
  8. The American AH-1Z Viper

What is the newest attack helicopter?

There are various new attack helicopters in development, but some of the most interesting are the Lockheed Martin “RAIDER” and the Sikorsky-Boeing “Defiant”

We’ll talk more about the “Defiant” a little later in this article, so for now, we’ll focus on the “RAIDER”.

interesting helicopter Raider
Source: Lockheed Martin

Touted as a “next-generation light tactical prototype helicopter”, the RAIDER has been designed to carry up to six personnel, and carries a range of external weapons that will “redefine helicopter flight during the 21st century”.

This chopper is based on the Sikorsky’s Collier Award-winning X2 Technology, and features advances in fly-by-wire, flight controls, vehicle management systems, and systems integration.

Such innovations enable the “RAIDER” to operate at high speeds and also maintain low-speed handling qualities and maneuverability of conventional single main rotor helicopters. The prototype has been clocked at 222 knots (407 km/h) and can operate at a ceiling of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters)

Designed to meet and exceed the requirements of the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), the “RAIDER” could potentially be applied to U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps missions.

According to Lockheed Martin, “the X2 Technology at the heart of the Raider helicopter is scalable to a variety of military missions including light assault, light attack, armed reconnaissance, close-air support, combat search and rescue, and unmanned applications.”

interesting helicopters Raider
Source: Lockheed Martin

What are some of the most interesting helicopters?

And so, without further ado, here are some of the most interesting helicopters ever designed. Trust us when we say this list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. The Boeing CH-47 Chinook is one of a kind

interesting helicopters chinook
RAF CH-47 Chinook. Source: Airwolfhound/Flickr

One of the most iconic helicopters of all time is the Boeing CH-47 Chinook. First flown in 1961, this tandem rotor helicopter is a true workhorse of the skies. 

Designed as a heavy-lifter chopper, each of its 60-foot (18.3 m) rotor blades rotate in opposite directions, providing counter-acting torque and eliminating the need for a tail rotor.

The Chinook is specially designed to be able to independently adjust each rotor to enable it to adapt to the weight of different cargos. She was a development of the older Model 107 (CH-46) and saw service in Vietnam transporting troops, heavy artillery, and other supplies where needed. 

Since then, this helicopter has proved to be an invaluable asset to many militaries around the world. She also happens to hold the record as the third-fastest chopper around — the lastest CH-47F can reach a top speed of just over 195 mph (315 km per hour)

2. The Sikorsky H-60 “Black Hawk” Helicopter is an icon of American airpower

interesting helicopters black hawk
Source: Lockheed Martin

First flown in 1974, the Sikorsky H-60 “Black Hawk” is another iconic helicopter. It also happens to be a pretty mean looking machine. Named after a Native American warrior, it officially entered service in 1979 as the U.S. Army’s latest assault/utility chopper.

Since then, more than 4,000 units have been produced and they operate for various armed forces around the world including Japan, Turkey, Israel, and Columbia, to name but a few. The helicopter became world-famous after the 2001 blockbuster film “Black Hawk Down”. 

3. The Russian Mil Mi-24 “Hind” is possibly one of the best military helicopters ever built

interesting helicopters hind
Source: Airwolfhound/Flickr

Built during the Soviet-era, the Mil Mi-24 “Hind” is one of the coolest-looking helicopters ever built. She was designed to meet the Soviet requirement for a heavily armed and armored transporter helicopter and has become one of the most iconic choppers of all time.

The “Hind” first flew in 1969 and entered service in 1972. It went on to serve in various combat arenas over the following decades. The Mil Mi-24 is powered by 2 Isotov TV3-117 series turbine engines, each pumping out an incredible 2,200 hp.

Her armaments can vary, but typically a “Hind” is equipped with a four-barreled 12.7mm Yakushev-Borzov Yak-B gatling gun improved through the installation of a 30mm GSh-30K twin-barrel, fixed cannon. Depending on mission needs, she can be fitted with a 23mm GSh-23L cannon in a powered turret. She can also be armed with machine gun pods, anti-tank missiles, and rocket pods. 

4. The Bell 222A was the helicopter used in Airwolf

interesting helicopters airwolf
Still from the 1980s series Airwolf. Source: IMDB

The Bell 222A might seem like an odd choice, given some of the earlier listings, but bear with us. For any American child of the 1980s, the Bell 222A is probably one of the most recognizable helicopters of all for one reason — It was the helicopter used in the highly-popular series Airwolf

It is sleek, dare we say sexy, and really is a lovely-looking helicopter. Designed for civilian use, the Bell 222A is powered by 2 Honeywell LTS-1010-650 engines. This helicopter has a range of 230 nautical miles (425 km) and a service ceiling of 12,800 feet (3,900 mt). It can carry a crew of 2 and has seating occupancy for up to 5 passengers.

5. The Soviet V-12 is often cited as the biggest helicopter to ever have been built

interesting helicopters homer
Mil V-12 at Groningen Airport circa 1971. Source: GFDL/Wikimedia Commons

The Soviet-era Mil V-12 (Mi-12) is probably the world’s biggest-ever helicopter. Known to NATO as “Homer”, this helicopter was designed, among other things, to transport ICBMs. 

Unfortunately for the V-12, by the time it was ready for service, its main purpose was redundant and it never went into production. The idea behind this monster-chopper was to transport missiles in secret to remote bases wherever and whenever needed.

She first flew in 1968, and was longer than a Boeing 737 and could carry more people. It could also carry somewhere in the region of 88,000 pounds (almost 40,000 kg) of cargo. 

As US satellites become more advanced, and ICBMs became lighter, the Soviets found it more cost-effective to transport them by truck instead. 

6. The Focke-Wulf FW-61 was the world’s first

interesting helicopters fw
Source: Born2flie/Wikimedia Commons

First taking to the air in 1936, the Focke-Wulf FW-61 is generally regarded as the world’s first-ever helicopter. Designs for it began in the early 1930s and were inspired by autogyros developed by the British company Cierva Autogiro. 

A working model was produced in the mid-1930s, exploring the use of twin-rotors with articulated rotor blades. Each rotor had three blades that employed cyclic pitch — a key feature of helicopter control.

Two full-scale prototypes were built and showcased but the vehicle never went into production. No known originals exist today, but a replica can be found on display a the Hubschraubermuseum in Bückeburg, Germany.

7. The Bell 47 was the first helicopter certified for civilian use

interesting helicopters bell 47
Source: Peter Bakema/Wikimedia

First taking to the air in 1945, the Bell 47 was the first helicopter ever certified for use by civilians. The chopper became a workhorse of the Korean war and beyond, and was made famous by the T.V. series M.A.S.H.

Based on the design for the earlier Bell Model 30, the Bell 47 was first approved for civil use by the CAA in 1946. It was powered by a single Lycoming six-cylinder piston engine, and 18 variants of the helicopter were designed and built over the years. 

Today, thousands of them are still airworthy. 

8. The Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne could have been an excellent helicopter 

interesting helicopters ah-56
Source: Hohum/Wikimedia Commons

Another fascinating helicopter is the Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne. Widely considered to have been a masterful piece of helicopter design, it never actually saw combat.

A revolutionary attack helicopter, it was once thought that it would revolutionize warfare forever. Sadly that was never to be.

She was developed to meet the United States Army’s desire for an advanced helicopter and was born out of a ten-year contract for Lockheed to prototype choppers. It made its first flight in 1967 and proved to have impressive performance and power. It had a top speed of somewhere in the region of just over 244 mph (394 km/h) and could be armed with an XM-140 30 mm cannon, various anti-tank missiles, and missile pods. 

A fatal crash, technical issues, excessive weight, and cost overruns, as well as a change in military planning, eventually led to the program being canceled. 

9. The Sikorsky-Boeing Defiant is another very fast helicopter

interesting helicopters defiant
The SB-1 is very fast indeed. Source: Boeing-Sikorsky/YouTube

On the cards to replace the aging UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, the SB-1 Defiant is one hell of a helicopter. Currently in its prototype stage, the SB-1 Defiant recently hit a major speed milestone by reaching 236 mph (380 km/h).

A compound coaxial helicopter, this impressive speed was made using only 50% of the chopper’s potential power. In the following months, it is hoped to really push the helicopter to its limits. 

Its manufacturers are confident it should be able to reach a speed of 290 mph (466km/h). This is well above the U.S. Army’s cruise speed requirements for its Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program. The Defiant is currently in competition with Bell’s new V-2380 Valor advanced tiltrotor, which has reached eye-watering speeds of 345 mph (555 km/h). 

10. The first jet-powered helicopter was the Aerospatiale SA-313 Alouette II

interesting helicopters SA-313
Source: Airwolfhound/Wikimedia Commons

Taking its first flight in 1955, the Aerospatiale SA-313 is a very interesting helicopter indeed. Developed by the then French state-owned Sud Aviation, various rotary designs were trialed before settling on the design used in the SA-313.

Although a very capable and fast helicopter, Sud Aviation decided to include a single shaft turbine from another design, the X.301G. This resulted in the Alouette II becoming the world’s first production jet-powered helicopter.

Adding to this interesting design choice, the helicopter immediately began setting records. It managed to reach an altitude of 26,392 feet (8 km) in June of 1956, when it was used to perform a mountain rescue in the Alps. 

The helicopter would go on to serve in many armed forces around the world, and more than 1,500 were built. It also became the first helicopter to be equipped with anti-tank munitions. 

11. The Bell AH-1 Cobra was the world’s first dedicated attack helicopter

interesting helicopters cobra
Source: + -/Wikimedia Commons

Nothing symbolizes pure aggression more than this, first-ever dedicated attack helicopter. The Bell AH-1 Cobra first flew in 1965 and would set the standard for all attack helicopters that would follow.

It was born out of the U.S. Army’s desire for a heavily armored and fast helicopter as part of its Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFS). With its narrow forward fuselage, stub wings, and fighter jet-like stepped-up tandem seating, it was like nothing ever seen before.

Quite a few of its components were borrowed from the UH-1 Huey, like its main rotor, engine, and tail boom. The “Cobra” would first see action in the 1968 Tet offensive, where it performed perfectly.

The AH-1 is still in service for the U.S. Marine Corps today along with its younger sibling the Viper

12. Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8 is the first fully autonomous helicopter

interesting helicopters mq-8
Source: Northrop Grumman

The Northrop Grumman MQ-8 first flew in 2002, and it is the first autonomous helicopter deployed en masse. First used aboard the US Navy frigate, McInerney, the MQ-8 is an autonomous, unmanned, rotary-wing scout aircraft.

Arising from the need to replace the aging RQ-2 Pioneer fixed-wing UAV, the Navy required similar capabilities in a larger, unmanned, vertical takeoff launch and recovery scout. The Navy chose Northrop Grumman’s design, as it met the Navy’s need for range, endurance, and payload (125 NM/3 hours/200 lbs).

The MQ-8, also known as the Fire Scout/Sea Scout, has seen action in Afghanistan and Africa, and been launched from Frigates, Littoral Combat Ships, and Coast Guard cutters. A single Fire Scout set a world record in 2012 when it provided intelligence, surveillance, recon (ISR) coverage for 24-hours over the course of ten flights. 

13. The Bell UH-1 Iroquois (“Huey”) is one of the most iconic of all time

interesting helicopter huey
Source: Museum of Flight

First flying in 1956, the Bell UH-1 Iroquois (“Huey”) is probably one of the world’s best-known helicopters. Cementing its place in history during the Vietnam war, when people think of helicopters, the “Huey” is probably the first to spring to mind.

It is estimated that somewhere in the region of 16,000 military (UH-1Y) and civilian (Bell 412) craft have been built to date, and it is still in production.

Initially called the Bell 204, this two-blade main rotor, single shaft turbine-powered helicopter was designed to meet the Army’s need for a medical evacuation/instrument trainer/general utility helicopter.

While officially called the “Iroquois”, the moniker “Huey” came from its early HU-1 designation. Throughout its history, the “Huey” has seen action in many parts of the world, performing firefighting missions, humanitarian aid efforts, research operations, and search and rescue duties.

14. The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey is awesome

interesting helicpters osprey
Source: FOX 52/Wikimedia Commons

First flying in the late-1980s and entering service in 2007, the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey is another very interesting helicopter. Combining the vertical lift capabilities of a helicopter, with the fast-cruise forward flight efficiencies of a fixed-wing turboprop aircraft, the V-22 Osprey officially went into development in the mid-1980s.

By 1989, six prototypes had been built, but the program had a serious setback in the early-1990s when the fourth prototype crashed. The Osprey was approved for full production in 2005, and by 2012, between 24 to 48 were being built each year.

The V-22 has greater speed, range, and lift capability over more conventional helicopters, and can operate easily from ships. This craft is very versatile and carries troops, supplies, weapons, and vehicles wherever they are needed.

It comes armed with 7.62 mm or 12.7 mm machine guns and can have a 7.62 mm minigun mounted on its ramp. Plans are in place to put a Gatling gun in the nose of future models, as well as, adding the capacity to carry air-to-ground missile launchers. 

The Osprey has seen action all over the world, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also regularly used for humanitarian missions and has been used in Haiti and Nepal. 

15. The Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe is a very funny looking helicopter

interesting helicopters skycrane
Source: Mark Holloway/Wikimedia Commons

Another interesting, but perhaps lesser-known helicopter is the Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe. Also known as the Skycrane or flying insect, the CH-54 was a heavy load cargo carrier.

First entering service in 1962, its unusual design made it a very versatile helicopter that had various uses, including recovery, rescue, infantry transport, medical supply, and even armored transport operations.

Powered by a pair of Pratt and Whitney T73-P-700 turboshaft engines, the helicopter also came with a crane in the center of its fuselage. The helicopter cut its teeth in the Vietnam war and was widely considered one of the safest to fly. 

It was capable of transporting heavy ground vehicles, as well as containers, and parts for engineering projects like bridges and fortifications with its maximum payload of 12 tonnes. The Skycrane was officially retired from military service in 1991, but continues to be used for government and civilian operations. 

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