Surprisingly, yes, helicopters can fly upside down. But, the catch is that they can only do it for a few seconds.
While some helicopters can perform inverted flight, especially if they’ve undergone modifications, the vast majority of helicopters are incapable of such a feat.
As inverted flight isn’t easy and has numerous safety risks attached, you’ll only ever see helicopters flying upside down as a stunt.
How Long is a Helicopter Able to Fly Upside Down For?
Being able to fly upside down requires helicopters to undergo certain modifications.
Even after these modifications are made, helicopters are only able to fly inverted for short time periods, like a few seconds.
Military and acrobatic pilots use inverted flight for performing loops and rolls. These maneuvers are not used in practical settings like in military combat or medevac.
3 Helicopters That Can Fly Upside Down
The following 3 helicopters are the most famous and capable models that are known for flying upside down.
The Eurocopter AS350, now updated to Airbus H125, is a light, single-engine utility helicopter that has three rotors.
This chopper is known for performing well at high altitudes, so its frame can withstand the high load of negative G force experienced during inverted flight.
This ability allows the AS350 to fly upside down and perform inverted loops, but only for short periods of time.
The Westland Lynx was developed in the UK as a multi-engine military helicopter, but it also has acrobatic abilities.
The Westland Lynx can perform loops and rolls in the air because it’s an agile chopper that flies at high speeds. Even the Blue Eagles and Black Cats helicopter teams use Westland Lynxes.
Its improved acrobatic abilities allow the Westland Lynx to manage sustained flight, but only for very short time periods.
The Westland Lynx can’t support sustained inverted flight longer than a few seconds.
The Apache AH-64D is an American military helicopter that has a 4-bladed rotor system.
The AH-64 Apache can perform loops and sustain inverted flights for a few seconds.
Like all other choppers, the AH-64 cannot sustain inverted flight.
How is a Helicopter Able to Fly Upside Down?
Helicopters work by having their rotor blades generate vertical thrust.
Theoretically, if we change the angle on rotor blades, when a helicopter is inverted its rotor blades will continue to produce that thrust.
When inverted, the rotor blades would generate the thrust downwards, keeping the helicopter from falling.
Presently, helicopters are not designed to maintain inverted flight for longer than a few seconds due to the lack of benefit of inverted flight.
But, it is possible to design a ‘belly-up’ helicopter that flies with its rotors attached to the aircraft’s bottom.
Achieving this would require entirely redesigning the joint that connects the helicopter’s rotor blades to the fuselage.
Why Don’t Helicopters Fly Upside Down More Often?
Helicopters use their rotor blades for remaining airborne.
These rotor blades generate the lift needed to maintain the helicopter’s altitude.
Theoretically, if a helicopter were inverted, it should fly just as easily, only with inverted controls. Yet, in reality, inverted flights are often difficult and dangerous due to the difficult position it places the pilot in.
For that reason, inverted flight is mostly used on model radio-controlled helicopters instead of actual choppers.
There have not been widespread attempts to make inverted flight easier because of the lack of benefits.
Is the Helicopter Flying Upside Down in Spectre Real?
The Spectre trailer and movie features a helicopter, with James Bond in the cockpit, completing a 360° corkscrew stunt.
Specifically, the trailer shows a MBB Bo 105 helicopter completing this maneuver.
This stunt was real, and it was achieved by Chuck Aaron, who is one of only four pilots in the world that is licensed to perform aerobatics in a helicopter.
What Other Stunts Can a Helicopter Perform?
In addition to inverted flight, helicopters can perform the following stunts:
- Funnels/Die Dashes
A helicopter flies into a circle, sideways, either nose-up or nose-down.
It’s a difficult maneuver because it requires positioning a chopper’s fuselage vertically.
- Death Spiral
The helicopter’s fuselage is positioned parallel to the ground. The helicopter then spirals concentrically towards the ground.
It’s referred to as the ‘death spiral’ due to the difficulty of successfully completing it.
The helicopter completes a seesaw motion in a vertical position.
The helicopter achieves this by cycling between the 10 and 2 o’clock fuselage positions.
While the Tic-Toc is also regarded as a difficult and potentially dangerous stunt, it’s not as dangerous as the death spiral.
- Pirouetting Flip
The helicopter does a flip while its tail spins in place.
There’s also a variant of the pirouetting flip called ‘chaos’ where the helicopter’s nose changes orientation while flipping.
- Pirouetting Globe
The helicopter completes consecutive loops while pirouetting and changing its flight paths to appear like a globe.
- Tail Slide
A helicopter flies at a higher altitude so that its fuselage is perpendicular to the ground.
The helicopter then falls down with its tail pointed downwards.
Sometimes pilots will also roll the helicopter sideways during this stunt.
The helicopter executes a set of left and right turns that keep it in the same direction.
In conclusion, yes, helicopters can technically fly upside down, but they can only do so for a few seconds due to the safety risks involved.
So while inverted flight is technically possible and has been achieved, it is neither beneficial nor desirable, so is something that is very, very rarely done.