Yes, a helicopter can do a barrel roll, though it can be difficult to perform.
More importantly, though, a barrel roll can be challenging to recover from, which could lead to catastrophic consequences.
Only expert helicopter pilots with years upon years of training should even attempt one – and only in a suitable helicopter too.
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How a Helicopter is Able to Barrel Roll
Whether you’ve seen a helicopter barrel roll on YouTube, in a movie, or you’ve been lucky enough to see a helicopter pilot perform one in person, you know that it is quite the sight to behold.
But how exactly is a helicopter able to barrel roll anyway?
Well, it’s important to know that to the helicopter, it doesn’t actually know that it isn’t participating in level flight.
This is because if properly executed, +1 G is maintained throughout the entire barrel just as it is throughout level flight.
This, therefore, means that helicopters which do not utilize traditional semi-rigid rotor systems are unable to perform barrel rolls, as they would be unable to handle negative G maneuvers.
If a barrel roll is attempted in such a helicopter then it would result in a crash as the rotor system will flex and contact the tail boom.
List of Helicopters That Have Performed Barrel Rolls
There are only a handful of helicopters that have actually been seen to barrel roll.
- Westland Lynx
- MBB or BO-105
- MBB or BK-117
- Eurocopter EC120 Colibri
- Boeing AH-64 Apache
Why Barrel Rolls Should Probably Be Avoided
Barrel rolls sure look cool, but they should be avoided for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, there is of course the danger aspect to consider.
If a barrel roll isn’t executed correctly, it could lead to catastrophic consequences.
The other thing to consider is how it affects the aircraft’s value.
The manufacturer’s warranty would likely be voided as soon as the stunt is performed because it would exceed the helicopter’s theoretical operational limits.
Getting insurance to cover such a stunt would also be challenging enough in its own right, not to mention expensive.
Is the Barrel Roll in Spectre Real?
The James Bond films are no stranger to some truly impressive, gravity-defying stunts.
But was the barrel roll in the opening sequence of the movie Spectre real, or was it all CGI?
The answer is yes, it absolutely was real.
The barrel roll was performed by Red Bull aerobatic helicopter pilot Chuck Aaron who is somewhat of a legend in the aerobatics world.
He is in fact one of only four pilots in the world who holds a helicopter-aerobatics certification.
He performed the stunt in a modified Messerschmitt-Bölkow Blohm BO-105.
Why didn’t the producers just use CGI?
Well according to Aaron himself, “They hired me, so they wouldn’t have to use special effects as much.”
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.