How far a helicopter can fly depends on the type of helicopter it is, the capacity of its fuel tank, its ability to refuel in-air, and the flight path flown. Generally, though, a helicopter can fly for around 2.5 – 5 hours before it needs to stop and refuel. This means that a helicopter can fly for approximately 250 – 400 miles on one tank of gas.
Factors That Determine How Far a Helicopter Can Fly
Type of Helicopter
Helicopters are used by the military, commercially, and privately, with each prioritizing certain aspects of its design.
A military helicopter might want to prioritize being able to carry heavy cargo over great distances, whereas the priority for a helicopter used by very wealthy individuals might be to ensure a luxurious and comfortable flying experience.
Fuel Tank Size
Generally, a helicopter that uses a smaller fuel tank and therefore cannot hold as much fuel is unable to fly as far as a helicopter that uses a much large fuel tank. However, there’s also efficiency to consider too.
A helicopter like the Robinson R22, which is considered the world’s most economical-to-operate helicopter, has a fuel tank capacity of just 26-gallons. The Bell 206 JetRanger, which is the most popular turbine single-engine helicopter in the world, has a 70-gallon fuel tank. Then there’s the MIL MI-26, which has a fuel capacity of over 3,000 gallons.
You may logically think that the MIL MI-26 can fly the furthest, while the Robinson R-22 flies the shortest distance before needing to refuel. While this is true the difference may surprise you.
The Robinson R22 has a range of 250 miles, the Bell 206 has a range of 385 miles, and the MIL MI-26, with its fuel tank capacity that is 100x greater than the R22, has a maximum range of 497 miles.
Such a large difference is explained by the type of helicopter and its purpose. As the MI-26 is able to lift and transport 13-tonne (29,000 lb) military equipment, it very much needs such a powerful engine while the Robinson R22 certainly does not.
As you have probably worked out, a helicopter can only fly as far and as long as it has fuel in its tank. When the fuel runs out, a helicopter will either have to stop and refuel or refuel in-air.
The problem with refueling in-air is that it is expensive and complicated. Not all helicopters are capable of air-to-air refueling (AAR) either. Civilian helicopters are not designed for such a feat. Only military helicopters such as the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion and HH-60G Pave Hawk are able to refuel in-air.
If a helicopter is flying over busy areas, needs to take off and land often, or otherwise operates in any scenario in which it is unable to continually fly at maximum speed for a large amount of time, its fuel efficiency will suffer.
Additionally, when a helicopter is hovering, it also uses up a large amount of fuel. Of course, when hovering, a lot more fuel per mile is used, but due to the nature of how a helicopter is designed and works, the engine needs to apply more power to overcome drag, which ends up using more fuel.
Maximum Distance a Helicopter Can Fly
The following 10 helicopters, which consist of both military and commercial helicopters, have the longest range ever seen. Some of these helicopters are still in operation while others are retired.
- Lockheed AH-56A Cheyenne- 1,225 Miles
- Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey – 1,011 Miles
- Bell Agusta BA609 – 852 Miles
- Sikorsky X2 – 808 Miles
- Airbus H175 (EC175) – 782 Miles
- Sikorsky S-62R – 779 Miles
- Westland Sea King HAS Mk5 – 764 Miles
- AgustaWestland AW139 – 742 Miles
- Kaman UH-2 Seasprite – 670 Miles
- Sikorsky S-92 – 621 Miles
Can a Helicopter Fly Across the Atlantic?
A helicopter can fly across the Atlantic. The first time this was ever achieved was in fact as far back as 1952, though it took 16 days. The first non-stop transatlantic helicopter flight took place in 1967 and required nine in-flight refuelings.
In short, there is no good reason why a helicopter would ever want to fly across the Atlantic except to attempt to set a record. Flying a helicopter across the Atlantic would very much be inefficient, inconvenient, and expensive thanks to the long flight time, and hassle of refueling. A fixed-wing aircraft would be much better suited to the task.