There are several helicopters that can land on water. These models, which are also known as amphibious helicopters, have played and continue to play a very important role in aviation, from air-sea rescue and anti-submarine warfare to supporting special forces operations.
However, not all helicopters can land on water. Only helicopters with specially designed & sealed fuselages, or those fitted with fixed or emergency popout floats are able to. Without this proper equipment and design, a helicopter will topple over
Table of Contents
How Helicopters Are Able to Land on Water
Helicopters designed to land on water are either equipped with fixed utility floats, or emergency pop-out floats. Each of these flotation systems has its own unique strengths and weaknesses.
Utility floats, which are primarily used for light helicopters, feature two airbags on the front and two airbags on the back. They have the advantage of being easy to install and remove, and are designed to ensure that a helicopter can land on water without any chance of it overturning.
However, utility floats can reduce the speed of a helicopter, and limit the amount of cargo that can be carried.
Emergency pop-out floats are similar to the airbags found in cars in the sense that they are tucked away in a hidden compartment and can activate when necessary. They can be activated either by the pilot himself via a button, or automatically when water is detected.
Once activated, there should be enough time for a pilot and his passengers to land on the water and get into a life raft. However, due to the way in which emergency pop-out floats are designed, whereby there is little room between the floats, there’s a possibility that a helicopter can overturn in rough water.
List of Helicopters That Can Land on Water
In 1941, Igor Sikorsky, the legendary aviation pioneer, fitted utility floats (also called pontoons) to the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300. The following year this helicopter was modified into the Sikorsky R-4, which became the world’s first mass-produced helicopter.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the popular Bell 47, Bell 48, and the Sikorsky R-4 and R-6 were all fitted with utility floats.
Related: When Was the Helicopter Invented?
Boat Hull Design
Introduced in 1961, the single turbine engine-powered, Sikorsky S-62 Seaguard was the first amphibious helicopter made with a flying boat hull.
It was such a hit that throughout the decade, boat hull-designed helicopters were produced in large quantities for military and civilian operators. This was for good reason as amphibious helicopters were invaluable in providing greater safety and success for rescue operations.
In the following decade, in the 1970s, the tide began to turn against amphibious models due to their high development costs. They were replaced by helicopter models unable to land on water, though these helicopters cost less to buy.
Limited Water Capability
Many helicopters previously were and currently are designed to withstand limited contact with the surface of a body of water. This includes the CH-46 Sea Knight that started to be used in the United States Marine Corps in 1962. In calm waters, it can land and rest for up to two hours.
The twin-engined Boeing CH-47 Chinook (aka “The Boat”) that was introduced in 1962 and still in service was designed to be watertight enough to land on water for short periods and carry out special military and covert operations.
The Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion is another helicopter that is capable of limited water landing.
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.