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What Can Helicopters Do (That Airplanes Cannot)

Helicopter flight is based on different principles than airplane’s, and each aircraft has different advantages over the other. Some people will argue the question whether helicopters are supposed to fly at all. It’s obvious that both aircraft have different strengths and weaknesses, and both serve different purposes. Let’s get into the strengths of helicopters and find out what it is that helicopters can do but airplanes can’t.

What Can Helicopters Do That Airplanes Cannot?

Just what advantages do helicopters have over airplanes? Most of them have to do with the relatively small size of the helicopters, because helicopters can hover, land and take off in a vertical position, and get in and out of confined spaces more easily than airplanes can. In fact, there are numerous things helicopters can do that airplanes can’t.

  • Hover
  • Takeoff and land vertically
  • Fly forwards, backwards, and sideways
  • Get closer to objects and structures
  • Lifting objects in and out of places
  • Rescue people from secluded places (troops)
  • Fly in between skyscrapers
  • Fly at super low altitude
  • Muster cattle
  • Autorotate to the ground in case of engine failure
  • Precision-extinguish (forest) fires
Quote by Igor Sikorsky
Editorial Team Quote by Igor Sikorsky

The Many Purposes Of Helicopters

In addition to hovering and the special ways they can take off and land, helicopters can get closer to many objects and structures than airplanes can due to their size.

Airplanes are also unable to go up and down like helicopters can, which makes traveling to certain areas much easier for helicopters.

Helicopters are used for a variety of purposes by both the military and the private sector. They help lift trees out of logging areas, place air-conditioning units and radio transmission towers on top of tall buildings, and help rescue people from remote and secluded places.

Chinook assisting troops in dinghy
Editorial Team Chinook assisting troops in dinghy

They can also take tourists around the city they wish to explore, transport medical equipment and patients to hospitals, explore traffic conditions for television and radio stations, and even help combat wildfires in certain areas of the country.

Helicopters have been used for search-and-rescue operations and to transport military equipment and supplies, as well as to assist certain businesses such as construction, fire-fighting, and law enforcement.

All of these things are virtually impossible for an airplane to do, regardless of its size or design.

Helicopter Fighting Forest Fires
Editorial Team Helicopter Fighting Forest Fires

The Main Advantages Of Helicopters

So, if you’re wondering, what advantages do helicopters have over airplanes?, these are but a few of them, and there are others as well. Think of it this way: a helicopter can fly forwards and backwards, hover in the air for a period of time, and can land in places that airplanes cannot.

All of these things mean one thing – that you can utilize a helicopter for far more than you can use a standard airplane. The military, in particular, uses helicopters to make their jobs easier with tasks such as conducting aerial attacks on ground targets and even transporting troops and supplies to areas where a landing strip isn’t available.

Speaking of landing strips, helicopters can land in much smaller spaces than airplanes can, meaning they can be truly invaluable in the case of an emergency. While certain rules still apply, emergencies can be much more maneuverable with a helicopter than they are with airplanes.

Troops being lifted of a roof in mountainous region
Editorial Team Troops being lifted of a roof in mountainous region

Helicopters can also reach areas that airplanes cannot reach, including mountains, rooftops, ship decks, and even the water. They can get into most narrow or tiny spaces that usually can’t accommodate even smaller airplanes.

Of course, what all of this means is that helicopters are now being used by some of the world’s largest companies and governmental institutions, most notably NASA, which developed a 4-lb. helicopter that it plans to send to Mars in 2020.

Since Mars has much thinner air than the earth does, this helicopter will spin 10 times faster than it does here, and the plan is to survey Mars to see what can be learned about the planet. The helicopter has been named the Mars Helicopter Scout.

Mars Helicopter Scout
Editorial Team Mars Helicopter Scout

Other Advantages

Helicopters are also able to maneuver with low airspeeds and, therefore, they can be used for tasks that are too time- and work-intensive to handle on the ground.

Aerial helicopters have long cables connected to them that can be used to lift and transport items that are even bigger than the helicopters themselves.

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These helicopters, such as the Russian MIL mi-26, are some of the largest helicopters in the world and specifically designed to lift heavy loads out of hard-to-reach places.

When you think about it, using helicopters instead of airplanes not only means that more functions can be performed, but they can also be performed for longer periods of time and usually in a less expensive manner. If the task requires speed or places of unusual sizes, a helicopter is what you want to choose.

Helicopters have also been used for these purposes for a lot longer than many people realize. If you can think of a certain war, the chances are good that the helicopter played an important role in its success, especially when you think of army and navy helicopters.

Often the civilian world and the military world work together to accomplish a certain task, including the rescue efforts in disasters such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

It is easy to see why helicopters often provide the services and conveniences that airplanes simply cannot provide, so if you’ve ever asked, what advantages do helicopters have over airplanes?, you now have some answers.

Drawbacks Of Helicopters

Everything has its pros and cons, and for all of the pros helicopters have over airplanes, there are a number of drawbacks as well.

The first would be the limited flight range. Airplanes can easily cross the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, whereas helicopters won’t be able to do that as helicopters can usually fly somewhere between 250-600 miles.

Generally, helicopters have lower top speeds than airplanes, and are more complex to fly.

Helicopters are also more complex mechanically, they need more maintenance which makes them more expensive to operate and maintain than airplanes.

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