What is the typical range and top speed of various helicopters?

Bear with me, here. I was having a random thought (not unusual for me, really) about plans to fly across the United States to visit someone. But the night before I left, I discovered I had some medical condition that prevented me from flying at normal flying altitudes for commercial jets. I have unlimited funds, but the cure for my condition relies on unobtanium, so I’m screwed. And I still need to get to my destination in a matter of hours, not days, so the train or Greyhound just isn’t an option.

Can I charter a helicopter to fly me from LA to New York in a matter of hours? Would a typical news chopper type be fast enough to get me there over the course of, say, sixteen hours or less? And if so, how many times would we have to refuel on the way? Or would I need a military-caliber copter? What are my options?

A Bell 407 - kind of your standard but quite nice commercial helicopter – has a max airspeed of 140 knots and a range of about 330 miles. So you’re looking at 7 or 8 refueling stops, and nearly 20 hours of flight time.

You’re not going to find military helicopters that are that much different in terms of speed or range, except for maybe some experimental ones, or a V-22, but then you’re talking about altitudes just like an airplane.

You’d probably need at least a couple of pilots - flying a helicopter is tiring. The world helicopter speed record is held by a specially modified Westland Lynx (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynx_helicopter) which was 199.92 mph, so assume “somewhat less than that”. Choppers just do not fly very fast - for an explanation as to why, look up “retreating blade stall”

Commercial helicopters cruise at around 80 to 100 mph or round those sorts of speeds, so slightly faster than a car arrowing along a highway - the major benefit is being able to go as the crow flies.

They are thirsty beasts. A turboshaft-driven chopper can fly about 400 miles - they are usually bigger so have bigger tanks. A piston engined helicopter, like a Rotorway or a R22/44 is about half that range, but it does burn regular gasoline so you don’t have to stop at an airfield for aviation fuel. A common news chopper is something like a Bell Jetranger - it has a max range of 430 miles, and can fly at 140 mph if you really push it.

Google maps suggests that driving from LA to NYC is about 2700 miles, so even entering the unlimited fuel cheat code into the helicopter’s flight controls (up, down, left, right, increase collective pitch, squawk 7734) that’s 27 hours of flight time if cruising at 100mph.

Better to charter a Cessna.

If you want to go all out the world record without landing for helicopter flight is 3561.55 km, by comparison the distance you are travelling is 3932.8 km so you won’t be able to make it in one trip.

Interestingly the record for helicopter range was set in 1966, the laws of physics be a cruel mistress!

Is your question, how fast and how far can I go in a helicopter, or is it how can I travel a long way quickly at low altitude?

The altitude a commercial jet’s cabin is pressurised to is around 8,000 feet which is in the range of altitudes that light aircraft fly at. Having said that, you’d be far better hiring a fixed wing aircraft and flying at low level, it will be faster and have a better range than a helicopter. As an example, you could do it in a Dash 8 in 10 hours with one stop (refuel time included in the 10 hours.) There are plenty of other aircraft that would be faster but might not have the range, so it’d be a matter of juggling speed while flying against the time lost in refuel stops.

A piston engine Shrike Commander could do it in 16 hours with 2 stops.

Back to helicopters, a Black Hawk cruises at 150 knots with a ferry range of 1200 nm. That would get you there in about 14.5 hours including 1 stop.

I was thinking more like 5,000 feet maximum. If there is still a better (and FAA legal) method for doing that than a helicopter, I’m interested in the alternatives, as well.

I definitely appreciate the feedback so far.

At 5000 feet above sea level, there aren’t too many routes through the Rockies, so you probably can’t take a great-circle route; you might have to detour through southern New Mexico or something. Also, below 10000 feet (above mean sea level) there’s an FAA speed limit of 250 knots, and there are various classes of controlled airspace that would require more detours. But you could probably charter a business jet to fly near that speed (and probably with better range than a helicopter) at a pretty low altitude; jets fly high primarily for fuel economy, not because they can’t fly low. I’d guess that there are some business jets that could make the trip nonstop, but I don’t know.

Well anything can fly at 5000’, even a commercial jet, they just use a lot more fuel and go a bit slower.

Fixed wing is definitely better for range and speed at any altitude, the question is just which one to choose and how much do you want to pay?

It’s very difficult to get accurate data for this type of thing as the maximum cruise speed quoted in places like Wikipedia may be either optimistic, based on high altitude performance, or both. Also the quoted max range might not be attainable at the quoted cruise speed and/or the altitude you want to go at.

I gave figures for the Dash 8 and Shrike Commander because I happen to know them. There may be other aircraft that are more suitable but it helps to have the flight manual available to check the actual performance you can expect for what you want to do. Helicopters on the other hand are designed for low level ops so the performance figures quoted in places like Wikipedia are more likely to be relevant to your scenario.

Giving this some more thought, the best way to get the most performance out of an aircraft doing what you want is to fly in a pressurised aircraft at the highest altitude it can operate at with the cabin pressurised to 5000’. Using a Dash 8 again as an example, just because I’m familiar, not because it would be the best option, you should be able to fly it at 22,000 feet which is only 3,000 below its service ceiling. You could then do it in 8.2 hours but it is just beyond the max range. You could get there but you’d be landing on fumes which is illegal of course. That would be using a Q200 model. There are a small number of Q300 models with long range tanks fitted to the cabin. Using one of those you could go all the way in one hop but the Q300s fly slower so the time taken ends up being the same.

Q200 8.2 hours flight time plus time for one stop, call it 8.9 hours.
Q300 8.9 hours non-stop.

Something else to consider, the Q200 aircraft are readily available while the modified Q300s are not, there are five of them and they’re all in Australia.

Finally, if the aircraft had a pressurisation problem you may end up, depending on your medical problem, being a dead man. Given that the Q200 can do the trip at low level, unpressurised, with one stop in about 10 hours, that’s what I’d be doing. That’s an extra hour transit time with a guarantee that you arrive alive.

This is all assuming you can actually fly LA to NYC at 5000’, I have no idea what the terrain is like between those places. If you can’t do it at 5000’ in a straight line then you might have to go with the pressurised aircraft flying with the cabin at 5000’ and risk possible death.

On preview I see that Omphaloskeptic has addressed this.

It would be interesting to find out the low level performance of some other commercial aircraft.

I’m not sure even that would work. I-10 (easily the east-west Interstate with the lowest high point) manages to reach around 5050’. Suffice it to say some serious ground-hugging will be needed.

A helicopter thread, and most of the questions have been answered!

A fixed-wing aircraft goes faster the higher it goes. Helicopters slow down the higher they go. Why? Retreating blade stall. I’ll leave it to you to read the article for a full explanation, but the gist of it is this: The retreating blade must produce as much lift as the advancing blade. As altitude increases, air pressure decreases. (I’ve forgotten which Law that is.) As pressure decreases, the helicopter must slow down so that the retreating blade can generate enough lift.

When I was actively flying helicopters, I generally flew about 400’ AGL. I can’t remember ever going higher than 2,500’ MSL over Southern California’s coastal range.

I love helicopters. But they’re not good for long cross-country flights. Airplanes go faster and carry more and have a greater range on the same power.

Flying a GA aircraft will always be more expensive than flying commercially. But since commercial flying involves going to a specific airport, going through security, and often spending a lot of time cooling your jets until flight time, GA flying can be faster for flights under (Semi-WAG) 400 miles depending on where you are and where you’re going. L.A. to Las Vegas is ~300 miles, and Southwest flies (or did fly) there every half hour or so. In that case, commercial will not only be cheaper, but faster as well.

The fastest fixed-gear, single-engine, FAA-certified piston aircraft is the Cessna (Columbia) 400 at 235 kts. The Mooney Acclaim Type S will do 242 kts, but it’s a retractable – more complex, higher insurance. My dad, a Standards & Evaluation Officer in the Civil Air Patrol at the time, once flew a Cessna 207 Stationair (max speed 151 kts) from Yonkers, NY to someplace in the Southwest. (I don’t remember if it was Southern California or Arizona.) It took him three days.

I wasn’t sure either, but I checked a topo map and there’s a route at about 4700 feet max, mostly following I-8, I-10, and I-20 through AZ, NM, and western TX (occasionally following parallel railroad lines instead, since those are even flatter than I-10). Some of that may be restricted airspace, though.

You couldn’t really fly much of anything at 300 feet AGL (to stay within the 5000 MSL limit) unless you’re taking off or landing, could you? I don’t really know what I’m talking about (the only piloting I’ve done has been in X-Plane – I’ve crashed a lot of 737s), but it seems unlikely.

Johnny, that would be the Ideal Gas Law: pV = nRT, although the atmosphere is a long way from what I would call an ideal gas, it’s close enough for jazz.

Retreating blade stall also affects airspeed, since if the helicopter is moving forward very quickly it slows the retreating blade’s speed relative to the oncoming air, reducing its lift.

There’s nothing physically stopping you from flying at 300 feet. Some pilots spend hours on end flying lower than 300’. Whether or not it’s legal depends on why you are doing it and the laws of the country.

Yeah, sorry, I was referring to the legality. I realize it would physically work. But even if legal, it would make me REALLY nervous, since there are many buildings and radio towers that are substantially higher than 300 feet, not to mention groundlevel changes. You’d have to be in the middle of nowhere and paying very close attention to do it safely.

FAR 91.119 (emphasis mine):

Yes, there are obstructions. I was taught to fly over high-tension pylons. I assume that the instructor meant at a higher altitude than the pylons, but I flew over the tops. That’s the highest point of a string of high-tension wires. Wires are often very hard to see, and they have brought grief to many heli pilots. I’ve seen footage of a helicopter taking off from a birthday party in England that was ‘clotheslined’. Couldn’t seen the wire on the video; the R22 just suddenly flipped over.

But it’s really not that difficult to avoid obstructions. First, there aren’t really that many of them. In a city there are buildings, but those are easy to see and avoid. (Best practices would dictate choosing your route such that there is a place to land in case of a power failure. Downtowns are often not such places.) One thing I noticed while flying over the Mojave Desert is how my perception of altitude changed. Over a city there are a lot of visual cues. Over the desert, it’s flat and there aren’t that many things to use for scale. I can imagine that if one weren’t paying close enough attention he might fly into the ground (CFIT). My ex-fiancée was a Black Hawk pilot in the Gulf War. She said she hated flying over the desert at night. Apparently depth perception goes down the toilet when using night vision devices.

:smack: Of course now that you mention the Ideal Gas Law it’s obvious!

I’ve mentioned retreating blade stall as a speed limiting factor in other threads. Something else people might be interested in is dissymmetry of lift, which occurs in non-hovering flight. (I was going to say ‘forward flight’, but of course a helicopter doesn’t have to fly forward.) Dissymmetry of lift is compensated for by flapping and feathering. There’s a lot going on up there!

Incidentally, I asked about obtaining a copy of the current Fundamentals of Flight, FM 3-04.203 a while ago. Apparently, unlike my earlier edition, it’s not available as a physical book. But I did download the .pdf and had it printed and bound. Now I just need to find the time to read it! (Why do I have so much less time now than when I was younger? :confused: )

If anything you’d want to go with a Pavehawk (The Air Forces Blackhawk) because it has axillary tanks to add more fuel and the ability to refuel mid-air, so you’re only limited to how long the pilots can fly.

Something to consider in your planning. Most small planes have limited range, but can usually exceed your bladder’s limitations. You’re gonna have to do something about that problem in your trip.

I bring this up because I and a friend are doing the X-country planning for a long trip over the Rockies. We’ve got our routes planned, our portable oxygen calculated and purchased, and plenty of range (7+ hours) in the tanks. But as old farts, bathroom stops will actually be our limiting factor as we hop from airport to airport.:rolleyes: