A helicopter can fly across the Atlantic – and this has been achieved several times. The first transatlantic helicopter flight took place in 1952. The first non-stop transatlantic helicopter flight took place in 1967.
However, other than to set a record, there is no good reason for a helicopter to fly across the Atlantic. This is due to the many pitfalls and challenges associated with such a long flight, including refueling, inefficiency, inconvenience, and cost.
A Short History of Helicopter Transatlantic Flights
The first transatlantic helicopter flight took place in 1952. Capt. Vincent H. McGovern and 1st Lt. Harold W. Moore piloted two Sikorsky H-19 helicopters over a total distance of 3,410 miles. The journey from Westover, Massachusetts, to Prestwick, Scotland spanned 16 days and took 42 hours 25 minutes. Several stops were required over the course of the 16 days.
The first nonstop transatlantic helicopter flight was achieved in 1967. Two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters – piloted by Major Herbert Zehnder and Major Donald B. Murras, and each with a crew of five – took off from Floyd Bennett Field, New York, and landed at the Paris Air Show. The flight took 30 hours, 46 minutes, spanned 4,271 miles, and nine in-flight refuelings were required from Lockheed HC-130P Combat King tankers.
3 Reasons Why Flying a Helicopter Across the Atlantic is a Bad Idea
Long Flight Time
There are several reasons why an airplane is a much more efficient mode of air transportation than a helicopter. One of the most important, though, is the faster speed a plane is able to travel at, which is down to the way in which lift is generated by each aircraft.
A commercial jet can fly at a speed of 500 knots per hour. If we compare this to the Sikorsky X2, which actually holds the record for the fastest helicopter in the world at 260 knots, a helicopter is almost twice as slow.
A plane has no problem flying across the Atlantic without having to stop to refuel. In fact, we can go all the way back to 1919 to see the first nonstop transatlantic flight, which was achieved by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown in 16 hours. Today, it typically takes 6-8 hours for a midsize commercial airplane to fly across the Atlantic.
A helicopter, on the other hand, would have to stop several times to refuel or refuel in midair. This is hardly the most efficient or cost-effective use of flight time.
Even if we were to ignore the long flight time and associated discomfort it would take for a helicopter to fly across the Atlantic, there’s also the discomfort of traveling in such a loud aircraft.
The cabin noise of a commercial airplane is approximately 80 dB. But a helicopter can be considerably louder, reaching a noise level as high as 100 dB. Considering that a decibel is a logarithmic unit of measurement, this is a significant difference in noise.
A passenger would likely have to wear a great aviation headset when traveling in a helicopter, which wouldn’t be required in a private jet or commercial airliner.