What Are the 6 Different Types of Helicopters?
Helicopters are an especially fascinating aircraft that capture the imagination of everyone from wide-eyed toddlers to grizzled military veterans. They are versatile, maneuverable, and capable of performing a wide range of tasks, from search and rescue to military operations. However, not all helicopters are created equal.
In fact, there are six different types of helicopters, each with a unique rotor design and set of features that make them suitable for very specific applications. So, whether you’re a helicopter enthusiast or just curious about these incredible machines, join us as we explore the different types of helicopters and discover what sets them apart from the rest.
1. SINGLE ROTOR HELICOPTER
Single-rotor helicopters are by far the most common type of helicopter in use today. They have one main rotor located directly above the cockpit for vertical lift and—when tilted—provides forward motion. This main rotor can have anywhere from 2 blades (as pictured above) to 7 blades, as you’ll find on the Sikorsky Sea Stallion. They also have a smaller tail rotor to control the direction and provide stability. These typically use blades as well, but newer technologies—such as the anti-torque system used on MD Helicopters’ MD520N—allow for variability in tail rotor selections. Single-rotor helicopters are very reliable, maneuverable, and can easily hover in place, making them ideal for a wide variety of tasks such as aerial firefighting, search and rescue, and helicopter tours.
2. TANDEM ROTOR HELICOPTER
Tandem rotor helicopters consist of two main rotors, one located directly in front of the other (as pictured above). The two rotors counteract each other’s torque, providing greater stability and lifting capacity. Tandem rotor helicopters are typically larger and more powerful than single-rotor helicopters, making them ideally suited for military operations and heavy lifting.
3. COAXIAL HELICOPTER
Coaxial helicopters have two main rotors that rotate in opposite directions, mounted on the same axis above the cockpit. This design eliminates the need for a tail rotor, simplifying the helicopter’s mechanics and reducing its overall noise level. Coaxial helicopters are highly maneuverable and are often used for military operations, search and rescue, and aerial filming.
4. COMPOUND HELICOPTER
Compound helicopters effectively combine the best features of airplanes and helicopters. They have a main rotor for lift and a tail rotor for stability, but that’s where the similarities end. Unlike a traditional helicopter, they utilize an additional propulsion method—typically either a tail-mounted propeller or a jet engine—to achieve increased air speeds. In addition, many models are equipped with a small set of wings to help sustain forward flight. This design allows compound helicopters to fly faster and farther than traditional helicopters, making them ideal for long-range transportation and military operations.
5. TILT ROTOR HELICOPTER
Tilt rotor helicopters are the natural evolution of compound helicopters, with rotors that can swivel from a vertical position for takeoff and landing into a horizontal position for faster forward flight. These hybrid helicopters combine a fixed-wing construction with tandem rotors, one mounted at the end of each wing. This unique, tilting rotor design allows them to take off and land like a helicopter, but fly through the air like a plane, making them ideal for both civilian and military transportation.
6. INTERMESHING ROTOR HELICOPTER
Intermeshing rotor helicopters, also known as synchropters, have two main rotors that spin in opposite directions and overlap with each other. Each rotor mast is mounted at a slight angle, allowing the blades to intermesh without colliding. However, this means neither rotor provides perfect vertical lift, which decreases the overall efficiency of the aircraft. The intermeshing rotor helicopter more than makes up for this inefficiency with its ability to operate in incredibly tight spaces. Intermeshing rotor helicopters are often used for military operations, search and rescue, and transportation in rugged terrain.
As you can see, each of the helicopter types we covered has its own unique features and capabilities, making them perfectly suited for a wide range of tasks. From highly maneuverable single-rotor helicopters to compound helicopters that can fly faster and farther, there’s a type of helicopter for every mission imaginable. By understanding the six different types of helicopters, you can better choose the right one for your specific needs.
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