Maybe you want to rent a private helicopter for your own uses, or maybe you need the kind of emergency help only a chopper can give. Either way, the many types of civilian helicopters on this list are up to the task.
Some models on this list were originally designed for the military, and others were civilian helicopters all the way. However, while they are often thought of as military craft, the fact remains that helicopters are an incredibly versatile aircraft, and they can be used in many civilian roles.
One of the most common uses for helicopters is as a search and rescue vehicle. The reasons for this are obvious – they are lightweight, maneuverable, and can land in areas of need a lot more easily (that is, without a runway) than other craft.
In addition, many of the helicopters on this list are employed for transporting goods. This is especially true for copters that were originally designed for the military, since these craft are already designed to house lots of people and carry several thousand pounds of cargo.
Then there are private helicopters that are designed to carry the rich and famous (or at least those acting as such while renting them out) above landscapes and city spaces in style. These copters often feature extra room, luxurious interiors, and a host of special features.
Table of Contents
- 1. Police Helicopters
- 2. Firefighting Helicopters
- 3. First Aid Helicopters
- 4. Search and Rescue Helicopters
- 5. Coast Guard Helicopters
- 6. Stunt Helicopters
- 7. Transport Helicopters
- 8. Agricultural Helicopters
- 9. Oil Rig Helicopters
- 10. TV News Helicopters
- 11. Party Helicopters
- 12. Multipurpose Helicopters
- 13. Utility Helicopter
- 14. Site-to-Site Transport Helicopters
1. Police Helicopters
Members of the Thin Blue Line go off into the Wild Blue Yonder in the cockpit of helicopters that are capable of tracking suspects from the air. These helicopters are often adapted from or designed in the same fashion as military scout helicopters, such as the Bell series.
For example, the Los Angeles Police Department has used a Bell 412, which is also used by the Royal Air Force. Police departments such as the LAPD can use these helicopters to track suspects as they flee on the massive Los Angeles freeway system, giving squad cars vital aerial information.
The Bell 412 measures 56 ft 1 in., has a maximum takeoff weight of 11,900 lbs, a rotor diameter of 46 ft, and is powered by 1 × Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T-3D Twin-Pac or else 1 x PT6T-3DF Twin-Pac coupled turboshaft engine, which enable it to reach speeds of up to 160 mph.
2. Firefighting Helicopters
These helicopters are on the front lines of firefighting efforts across the world. That said, terms such as “airtanker” (used by US firefighting agencies) or “waterbomber” (used in Canada) are typically reserved for fixed-wing craft. By contrast, helicopters engaged in firefighting missions are often classified as helitack models.
These are further subdivided into four categories by US agencies according to how much they can carry. Buckets and tanks on the craft are filled by submerging them in nearby lakes, rivers, or other sources of water. Some models are outfitted with front-mounted foam cannons.
The Bell 212 is one example of a helitack-capable craft. It measures 57 ft 1.68 in., can carry 14 passengers, has a maximum takeoff weight of 11,200 lbs, is powered by 1 × Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T-3 or -3B turboshaft engines, and boasts a top speed of 140 mph over a range of 273 mi.
3. First Aid Helicopters
Larger helicopters sometimes have helicopters of their own, and sometimes they are run by other medical teams, such as Boston MedFlight. Either way, these helicopters obviously have a tough task, needing to be fast while housing lots of medical equipment.
Some earlier civilian medical helicopters were adaptations of military ones – again, think of the M*A*S*H*-style Bell series. Modern examples include the Airbus H145 and EC145, both of which are used by Boston MedFlight.
The EC145 measures 42 ft 9 in., has a main rotor diameter of 36 ft 1 in., a range of 420 mi, and features 2 × Turbomeca Arriel 1E2 turboshaft engines that enables it to reach speeds of up to 167 mph.
4. Search and Rescue Helicopters
These helicopters have an especially tricky balance to strike. On the one hand, they need to be speedy and nimble enough to get to the scene of an accident as fast as possible. On the other hand, they need to be able to carry a full payload of emergency equipment.
As a result, search and rescue helicopters are often modified versions of other models that have been outfitted with things such as sliding doors or more powerful engines. The S-76C variant of the Sikorsky S-76 is a perfect example of this, and is used in this role today.
This model measures 52 ft 6 in., is powered by 2 × Turbomeca Arriel 2S2 turboshaft engines, has a main rotor diameter of 44 ft, and can obtain a maximum speed of 178 mph and range of 473 mi.
5. Coast Guard Helicopters
The helicopters employed by the United States Coast Guard and similar services across the world need to be able to carry out land-to-see and air-to-sea missions. The MH-90 Enforcer variant was employed by the United States Coast Guard from 1998 to 2000. Belgium, Luxembourg, and Hungary have also used it.
Today, the Coast Guard uses the Airbus MH-65, which they have employed in rescue missions ranging from Hurricane Katrina and Rita in 2005 to Maria and Harvey in 2017. These helicopters are specially designed to work well at all elevations, from high altitudes in mountainous areas to sea level.
The Airbus MH-65 measures 38 ft 1 in., has a maximum takeoff weight of 9,480 lbs, has a maximum service range of 409 mi, and is powered by 2 × Turbomeca Arriel 2C2-CG turboshaft engines which enable it to reach speeds of 210 mph.
6. Stunt Helicopters
The movie industry employs a ton of helicopters and pilots to help bring all manner of action film scenes to life. The helicopters that are used for this purpose are typically on the fast and lightweight side, and
The Bell 206 was for decades one of the most prominent examples. Different versions of Bell Jet Rangers can be found in the James Bond films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, and For Your Eyes Only.
You can also find one in Terminator 2. The Bell 206 enjoys leather interiors and is powered by 1 x Rolls Royce 250-C20J engine, which can enable it to reach an average speed of around 134 mph.
7. Transport Helicopters
These helicopters are the heavy lifters on this list. They require a ton of storage capacity and, for that reason, are typically among the heaviest helicopters employed for civilian use. That said, given their heavy duty nature, they often have military backgrounds.
The Chinook CH-47 is a perfect example of this. Despite its Vietnam-era origins, it has enjoyed an afterlife as a heavy transport helicopter, carrying massive amounts of supplies on relief missions to Singapore in 2004 following a tsunami as well as after the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake in Northern Pakistan.
The Chinook has a crew of 3, can house 24 stretchers and 24,000 lbs of payload in relief roles, measures 98 ft, is powered by 2 × Lycoming T55-GA-714A turboshaft engines and has a maximum speed of 200 mph and an operational range of 460 mi.
8. Agricultural Helicopters
While we typically think of crop dusters when we think of agricultural aircraft, helicopters can serve that purpose as well. In fact, recent years have seen helicopters be used more for hydro seeding and other fast-planting purposes.
For example, the Mi-8ATS, a variant of the Soviet-made Mi-8 series, is used for agricultural purposes. However, there is some controversy surrounding agricultural helicopters and other crop dusters due to concern over pesticides drifting over a broader area.
The Mi-8ATS has a crew of three, can typically carry between seven and nine passengers, while the helicopter itself measures 60 ft 4 in. long and features 2 × Klimov TV3-117MT turboshaft engines, and a top speed of 160 mph.
9. Oil Rig Helicopters
Flying from platforms to rigs to land and back again is no easy task, but oil rig helicopters are up to the challenge. They are designed to help with everything from scouting out locations to pipeline patrol duty to cargo lifts.
Turnaround time between missions can be short, so operators of these helicopters have to work quickly to get them ready. Once again, Airbus provides some of the most popular models for this industry, with the H135 being among the most used today.
The H135 measures 33 ft 6 in., can carry up to seven passengers (or four for an ambulance variant), has a maximum takeoff weight of 6,415 lbs, a range of 395 mi, and is powered by 2 × Turbomeca Arrius 2B2 or 2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206B turboshaft engines capable of 178 mph.
10. TV News Helicopters
News choppers have the difficult task of having to be fast and maneuverable to get to the scene of breaking news while still being steady enough to allow camera crews to get a good shot. It’s only fitting, therefore, the first TV news chopper was a helicopter TV made famous.
One of the first TV news helicopters was a Bell 47 leased to Los Angeles TV mainstay KTLA in 1958. Few helicopters in American history are more iconic than the Bell 47, with it appearing in the iconic opening of M*A*S*H. Since the Korean War, it’s been used as a TV news chopper.
The H-13 variant of the Bell 47 measures 31 ft 7 in. x 9 ft 8 in., has a gross weight of 2,952 lbs, is powered by 1 × Lycoming TVO-435-A1A six-cylinder which enables it to obtain a top speed of 105 and a cruising speed of 84 mph.
11. Party Helicopters
The lifestyles of the rich and famous take to the skies in these models. They are typically outfitted to be especially spacious, offering expanded cabin space so as to fit more people for bigger airborne parties.
The interiors are typically given extra attention, with leather seating and opulent designs. They can also feature extra features for added comfort, such as cabin heaters and defoggers. Models such as the Robinson R-22 are also quite easy to transport.
The R22 measures 28 ft 8 in., is powered by 1 × Lycoming O-320-A2B or -A2C 4-cylinder air-cooled horizontally-opposed piston engine, has a top speed of 117 mph, and a service range of 241 mi.
12. Multipurpose Helicopters
Some helicopter designs are versatile enough to be used for a variety of purposes. These offer a mixture of speed and power, and are often among the most “balanced” civilian helicopters in terms of their overall capabilities.
For example, the AStar Eurocopter has been used in several of the jobs listed above, from transport to firefighting to TV crew work. In fact, it was an AStar, piloted by Zoey Tur, which was used to capture the O.J. Simpson police chase with the LAPD in LA in 1994.
The AS350 variant of the AStar Eurocopter can house six passengers, measures 35 ft 10 in., has a rotor diameter of 35 ft 1 in., and is powered by a 1 × Turbomeca Arriel 2B turboshaft engine which can reach a top speed of 178 mph.
13. Utility Helicopter
These are the Swiss Army Knives of the helicopter industry. They are typically light in build and can fulfill a wide range of roles, from search and rescue and medical assistance.
In addition, these often tend to rank among the more experimental copters. Take, for example, the HAL Light Utility Helicopter, which has been in development for years, and finally saw prototype demonstrations on September 9, 2020 around the Siachen Glacier. A Final Operational Clearance Test is scheduled for 2021.
The HAL Light Utility Helicopter will be able to house six passengers, measures 37 ft 8.25 in., is powered by 1 × HAL/Turbomeca Shakti-1U turboshaft engine, has a main rotor diameter of 11.6 m, and is anticipated to have a maximum speed of 155 mph.
14. Site-to-Site Transport Helicopters
These are something of a combination of private/party helicopters and utility options. While they are often quite comfortable, they aren’t designed with the eye toward opulence as party copters. Instead, they are more for getting to areas that might be otherwise inaccessible (for example, traveling between island archipelagos).
Even so, these copters are often quite comfortable. These helicopters are often employed for everything from transport systems to regional tours. The McDonnell Douglas MD 900 is an example of a helicopter that has been employed in this fashion.
The MD 90 measures 32 ft 4 in., has a maximum takeoff weight of 6,250 lbs, and is powered by 2 × Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206E turboshaft engines, which can reach a maximum speed of 160 mph and give this model a range of 337 mi.