1. WHY ARE HELICOPTERS SO EXPENSIVE?
The helicopter is a very complex aircraft with many moving parts. Also, it requires a great deal of engineering and research to design a helicopter. There is a very strict maintenance schedule to assure maximum safety and reliability. The production rate of a helicopter is low due to its complexity, which keeps the price of each aircraft much higher than that of a mass produced vehicle such as the automobile.
2. WHAT TYPE OF ENGINE DOES A HELICOPTER HAVE?
Generally there are two types of helicopter engines:
PISTON ENGINES – These are similar to automobile engines and small-airplane engines, and run on high quality Gasoline which is refined and filtered to be much cleaner than automotive gasoline. This type of fuel is called «Avgas” and is typically 100 octanes (Low Lead).
TURBINE ENGINES – This type of engine is usually called a Jet Engine, and by design is similar to the engines on a commercial airliner (but just a TAD smaller).
A turbine engine is preferred by medium to large helicopters because it can produce a large amount of power and is light weight (But Quite Costly). Turbines use a type of fuel known as «Jet A”, which is similar to very clean Kerosene.
3. HOW FAST CAN A HELICOPTER GO?
The normal cruising speed of a helicopter varies on the amount of power available and the type of rotor system, but the typical CRUISE speed of the for mentioned two seat trainer style is about 90-105Mph. and the five seat turbine is about 130-145Mph.
(as far as MAX speed, I have been to about 155Mph in a Bell 206).
4. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A HELICOPTER?
Because helicopters can take off and land vertically, hover in one place or fly at very low speeds and rotate 360 degrees while hovering, it’s passengers can get a panoramic view of remote or confined areas virtually inaccessible by fixed-wing aircraft.
Helicopters are often called upon in medical emergencies and search/rescue because of there versatility and many law enforcement agencies use them to track down stolen vehicles or chase criminals. Helicopters are also extremely valuable for fighting forest fires that are sometimes inaccessible by the ground.
5. HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO LEARN TO FLY A HELICOPTER?
To rent a training helicopter with an instructor, the average rental rate is approximately $175 to $250 per hour depending on the model of helicopter, where you are located. The FAA requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time for the «Private” rating, but it is typically
45-55 hours. Once you add in the books, the ground school, and supplies, the average cost is about $10,000 – $12,000.
6. WHAT HAPPENS IF THE ENGINE FAILS?
To many people, there is a misconception that the main rotor blades will stop turning…. THEN WHAT???
NO – the main rotor does not stop turning
YES – a helicopter can be safely landed if the engine quits.
During an engine failure, the engine will automatically disengage from the rotor system.
With the proper control inputs by the pilot, the rotor blades will continue to turn at NORMAL operating speeds, allowing the pilot to make a Fully Controlled landing. This procedure is called an Autorotation. Unlike a conventional airplane, which can’t fly at much below 50 Mph, a helicopter that has had an engine failure is able to touch down with little or no forward movement, and in a relatively small amount of space.
Usually, a parking lot or a side street should be able to do just fine.
7. WHY DO HELICOPTERS FLY SO LOW?
The helicopter’s unique capabilities serve mankind in many ways; some of those missions involve flying close to the ground. Flying rules allow pilots the discretion they need to derive maximum utility from the machine and safely accomplish their mission. Sometimes the weather is not as good as forecast so to be safe and to comply with regulations, pilots maintain distance from clouds. Pilots are rigorously trained in making safe landings from various heights and speeds and in knowing what combinations of speed and altitude are the safest.
Human perceptions of the height of moving objects of all kinds are a very complex subject, as are definitions of what «low” means. The main things to know are that helicopters can be safely operated at all heights above ground, and pilots consider many things when selecting an altitude.
8. WHY DON’T THEY JUST FLY HIGHER?
Pilots select altitudes for a variety of reasons, including weather conditions and the mission of the flight. It’s not unusual for strong winds to exist a few thousand feet up while surface winds are calm. Most of the nation’s airspace allows pilots to select the most efficient flight route, facilitating aviation’s benefit. Areas near airports with airline flights allow less flexibility in route and altitude. Pilots in metropolitan areas like NYC frequently fly as high as Air Traffic Control will allow. ATC is required to maintain specified physical separation of aircraft. So, quite often helicopters you see are flying as high as they can, but have a job to do and are limited by other factors.
9. IS IT FUN TO FLY IN A HELICOPTER?
To fly a helicopter is a pure sense of magic. It’s a unique aerial vehicle. Many pilots are asked by new acquaintances: «so, it must be exciting to fly a helicopter?”, to which the professional pilot typically replies «actually, my job is to make sure it’s not exciting!”. The professional pilot gets an unstated compliment when the passengers are unaware they have arrived at destination.
Another way to see it is that very few people become helicopter pilots, and then stop. Many pilots who fly for a living retire from one flying job and go on to another; many, who are in good health, keep flying past the encouraged retirement age of their company because they enjoy the job so much. New pilots benefit from their knowledge, poise, and experience.
10. IS IT SAFE TO FLY IN A HELICOPTER?
Yes. Some people have a mistaken notion from somewhere that if a helicopter’s engine quits, the rotors will stop turning. Modern helicopters use a device akin to an automobile clutch, between the engine’s drive and the main rotor’s transmission input, which works automatically, mechanically, to disengage the drive from the rotor when the engine slows rapidly, as in a failure. They go by a variety of names, but it allows the aerodynamic feature called autorotation, in which, simply stated, the air flow past the main rotor allows it to keep spinning so the pilot can make a safe and controlled landing. Many helicopters these days have two engines and under many conditions can just keep flying if one fails and no longer drives the rotor.
Safety statistics are problematic to analyze, since detailed flight hour recordkeeping is not required in many cases nor systematically tracked. We can quantify incidents that occur involving injuries, fatalities, or damages. NTSB data as reported in the 2007 HAI Annual shows a drop of 6% in all civil helicopter incidents 2002-05, when 193 were recorded across the U.S. 2006 recorded 26 fatal accidents incurring 44 fatalities. An ERHC analysis of NTSB’s helicopter incident database shows there have been 0 fatal incidents involving professionally flown helicopters in NYC or on Long Island in over 10 years. Zero. Every other mode of transportation in the area, including walking, has experienced fatalities, so by this measure, helicopters are the safest mode of travel.