A helicopter can hover in place for as long it has the power required and the fuel to keep the engines running.
While how long this is depends on several factors, the longest time a helicopter has ever hovered is 50 hours and 50 seconds.
This record was set by four pilots who took turns piloting a restored 1946 Bell 47B in the parking lot of Anaheim Stadium in California (now known as Angel Stadium).
Generally, though, a helicopter can hover anywhere between 2- 5 hours on average before it needs to be refueled.
The length of time depends on the type of helicopter, the efficiency of the engines and main rotor system, as well as the kind of hover a pilot wants to hold.
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4 Factors That Influence How Long a Helicopter Can Hover in One Spot
The factors that influence how long a helicopter is able to hover are a combination of and the interplay between the pilot, the environment, and the helicopter itself.
Hovering a lightweight helicopter in calm conditions is the ideal scenario.
But attempting to hover a helicopter when the pressure is on during a rescue attempt, over a ship, in a blizzard, or otherwise in any other scenario or conditions that are stressful to the pilot or the aircraft is a very different proposition.
As you might expect, a highly skilled pilot with years of training will be able to do a better job at being able to effectively hover a helicopter than a recent flight school graduate.
Depending on how modern or old and thus how automated the helicopter is can play an important role. This is because pilots need a surface reference point when attempting to hold their hover position.
If a helicopter doesn’t have the appropriate automation features, a pilot will have to either be able to see at least a piece of what he is attempting to hover over, or have a crew member to advise him and keep a running commentary.
The temperature of the engine has a direct effect on how long a helicopter is able to hover in one spot.
A helicopter pilot must monitor the temperature and be aware when it starts to creep up, so he can take the necessary measures to maintain the temperature at a safe level to avoid loss of power, excessive oil consumption, detonation, and serious engine damage.
On a hot summer day, the engine temperature will be higher and more fuel will be consumed, resulting in a shorter hover time. The same applies when the engine is put under any additional stress for any reason.
Finally and perhaps most obviously, is the fuel capacity of the helicopter. A helicopter is only able to hover for as long as it has the fuel to do so.
Considering that helicopters use more fuel when hovering as the engine needs to apply more power to overcome drag, some helicopters are able to hover longer than others.
Fuel tank size can also vary greatly. Take the popular Robinson R-22, for example, which has a fuel tank size of 26 gallons compared to the Mil Mi-2 that has a fuel tank size of 212 gallons.
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.