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10 Types of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)

1. Compound Helicopter 2. Single Main Rotor Helicopters 3. Tandem Rotor Helicopters 4. Tiltrotor Helicopters 5. Coaxial Helicopters…
10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)

  • The helicopter is likely the most versatile flying machine ever invented. Since its creation, the helicopter has advanced significantly and become essential in our modern world.
  • Helicopters have transformed aviation with their unique abilities. They can hover, take off, land in small spaces, lift heavy loads, and fly at low altitudes. These features make them highly adaptable and useful for many specific purposes.
  • Helicopters are now common worldwide. They monitor traffic, police communities, and transport cargo. These aircraft have become a key part of modern infrastructure, providing valuable services in various roles.

1. Compound Helicopter

10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)
  • A compound helicopter uses a propulsion method different from traditional helicopters for forward motion.
  • Traditional helicopters move forward by tilting the main rotor forward, which pushes air back and down to propel the aircraft forward.
  • An additional propulsion method helps drive a compound helicopter forward, allowing for much faster speeds.
  • One configuration of a compound helicopter uses a tail-mounted propeller for forward thrust. More commonly, a turbojet engine provides forward momentum.
  • The main rotor can slow down during cruising while the other propulsion method takes over. This allows for faster and more fuel-efficient forward flight, which increases the helicopter’s range.
  • A key feature of compound helicopters is the addition of small, fixed wings on the fuselage that provide extra lift during forward motion.

2. Single Main Rotor Helicopters

10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)
  • Early helicopter designs used multiple main rotors to lift and stabilize the aircraft. Most modern helicopter designs have eliminated multiple main rotors except for specific applications and have opted for a single main rotor accompanied by a vertical tail rotor.
  • Helicopters with this single main rotor configuration are also known as “monocopters” because of the single main rotor.
  • All single-main rotor helicopters need an anti-torque, vertically mounted rotor on the aircraft’s tail. The single main rotor generates torque, which makes the helicopter’s body want to spin in the opposite direction to the main rotor.
  • The tail rotor is required to counteract this torque spin and balance the torque forces, keeping the aircraft’s body straight. The drive for the tail rotor is usually supplied by the same engine that powers the main rotor. This takes some power from the main rotor, reducing the helicopter’s lift power and speed.
  • Some monocopter models have a separate motor powering the tail rotor, which increases the power the main motor can deliver to the main rotor. This will increase the helicopter’s lift capacity and speed.
  • The Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma is an example of a single-rotor helicopter with a vertical anti-torque tail rotor.

3. Tandem Rotor Helicopters

10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)
  • A Tandem rotor helicopter is a name given to helicopters that employ dual main rotors in a specific configuration. There are other dual-rotor helicopters, but the configurations of the rotors are different.
  • Tandem rotor helicopters have two main rotors and no anti-torque tail rotor. One rotor is mounted at the front of the helicopter, and the second rotor is mounted at the rear, slightly higher than the front rotor.
  • Spinning in opposite directions, the two rotors showcase a brilliant engineering feat. They cancel out each other’s rotational torque, eliminating the need for a tail rotor. The height difference between the rotors is meticulously designed to prevent collision, even under heavy load, demonstrating the efficiency of this configuration.
  • The rotors are also tilted slightly towards each other, which provides greater vertical control of the aircraft when hovering.
  • This dual-rotor configuration, a testament to the ingenuity of helicopter design, is most commonly used in large helicopters that carry heavy loads. Each rotor has its engine, and with no tail rotor, each engine’s full power goes into the main rotor. This power gives these aircraft incredible lifting capability and superior speed, making them indispensable in various industries.
  • Examples of tandem-rotor helicopters include the Boeing CH-47 Chinook and the Bristol Belvedere.

4. Tiltrotor Helicopters

10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)
  • Tiltrotor helicopters are unique hybrids of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
  • These helicopters have two rotors, each mounted at the end of a wing resembling a regular fixed-wing aircraft wing. The rotors and engines are on nacelles at the wing tips, which can rotate from a vertical position, like a helicopter, to a horizontal position, like a fixed-wing aircraft.
  • The rotors provide vertical lift in the vertical position, similar to a helicopter. When rotated to the horizontal position, the rotors act like propellers on a fixed-wing aircraft, providing forward or horizontal thrust. In this configuration, the lift comes from the aircraft’s wing shape.
  • These aircraft were mainly developed for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) on aircraft carriers and other ships.
  • This rotor setup lets the aircraft carry heavier loads during takeoff and reach higher cruise speeds than traditional helicopters.
  • A tiltrotor helicopter example is the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey.

5. Coaxial Helicopters

10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)
  • Coaxial helicopters are a type of dual main rotor helicopter where the rotors are positioned on the same axis, one above the other.
  • The rotors spin in opposite directions, canceling out each other’s torque. This eliminates the need for a tail rotor on these helicopters.
  • This rotor design provides several advantages, such as quieter operation and the ability to carry heavier loads. Coaxial helicopters are also more compact because they don’t have a tail rotor, making them capable of maneuvering into tighter spaces compared to conventional helicopters.
  • As a result, these helicopters are favored in marine settings, where they need to land on the limited space of a ship’s deck or other marine structures like oil rigs.
  • One drawback of coaxial helicopters is their more complex rotor drive and mountings compared to other helicopters. This complexity involves more moving parts in the mechanics, which increases the likelihood of mechanical issues.
  • Examples of coaxial helicopters include the Kamov Ka-27, a Russian helicopter, and the Sikorsky S-97 Raider from the USA. These helicopters feature dual rotors spinning in opposite directions on the same axis, offering unique flight capabilities.

6. Intermeshing Rotor Helicopters

10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)
  • Intermeshing rotor helicopters are another type of dual-rotor aircraft where the rotors are positioned side-by-side on angled pylons. These helicopters are often called synchropters because their rotors rotate in sync.
  • Each rotor is mounted on a mast or tower angled outward from the helicopter’s center. The synchronized rotation of the blades ensures they do not collide, resembling the meshing of gears.
  • The two rotors spin in opposite directions, canceling out their torque and eliminating the need for a tail rotor.
  • Most intermeshing rotor helicopters have two blades per rotor, though some, like the Kellett XR-10 from the USA, have three blades per rotor.
  • These helicopters are prized for their stability and capacity to carry heavy loads despite the reduced lift efficiency caused by the angled rotor setup.
  • Another example of an intermeshing rotor helicopter is the Kaman HH-43 Huskie, formerly used by the US military but now retired.

7. Air Ambulance Helicopter

10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)
  • Helicopters have significantly impacted medical emergencies by transforming outcomes for critically injured or ill individuals. Their ability to hover, land in tight spaces, and operate at low altitudes has made them ideal for use as air ambulances.
  • A medical helicopter, an air ambulance, is equipped similarly to a ground ambulance with advanced life-support medical equipment. These helicopters must have enough interior space to accommodate the patient and medical staff during the flight.
  • In emergencies, these helicopters have saved countless lives by providing timely medical care for the patient’s survival.

8. Troop Carrier Helicopter

10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)
  • Since its inception, helicopters have been pivotal in military operations worldwide. Armed forces recognized their value in swiftly deploying troops to battle zones or launching rapid assaults.
  • This troop deployment method, known as air assault, allows soldiers to reach frontline positions directly, bypassing the need for traditional airstrips and ground vehicle transport.
  • Helicopters designed as troop carriers range from large-capacity transports to nimble, specialized strike-force carriers catering to diverse military needs and missions.
  • Helicopters are versatile in deploying troops. They can either land directly or hover just above the ground to drop them off. Alternatively, troops can rappel from helicopters hovering at higher altitudes. This flexibility is especially advantageous in dense forests or areas with tall trees where conventional landings are challenging.

9. Attack Helicopter

10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)
  • An attack helicopter is a type of helicopter designed for strategic combat operations. Its capability to hover, fly at low heights, and utilize ground features for protection makes it well-suited for military purposes.
  • Early prototypes of attack helicopters could transport a small number of troops. However, modern attack helicopters typically do not have room for passengers or soldiers and are operated by a two-person crew, often seated in tandem with one behind the other.
  • In an attack helicopter, the pilot occupies the rear seat, while the co-pilot, who also serves as the gunner, sits in the front seat. The co-pilot operates the targeting systems and controls the helicopter’s weapons.
  • Attack helicopters are valuable for providing precise ground support to troops with effective ground fire. They also target strategic enemy locations like base camps, supply convoys, and stored ground resources.
  • Attack helicopters have proven highly effective against tanks and are frequently deployed to neutralize these armored ground vehicles.
  • Attack helicopters have also demonstrated effectiveness against other fixed-wing military aircraft by concealing their presence using radar clutter from ground terrain, such as trees and topography.

10. Gunship Helicopter

10 Types Of Helicopters Explained (Complete Guide)
  • A gunship helicopter is sometimes used interchangeably with an attack helicopter but also has a distinct role.
  • Some smaller troop-carrying helicopters, like the Huey, were modified with heavy weapons such as machine guns and rocket launchers. This allowed them to deploy troops to the frontlines and provide air support during battles.
  • The machine guns on these gunships are typically large-caliber, like .50 caliber, with a high firing rate. Combined with rockets, they are effective against enemy troops, vehicles, buildings, and fortified positions.


understanding the diverse types of helicopters provides valuable insight into their specialized roles and capabilities in aviation. Each type, from light utility to heavy-lift and attack helicopters, serves distinct purposes tailored to specific missions. The evolution of helicopter technology continues to innovate, enhancing performance, safety, and efficiency across various industries, including defense, transport, and emergency services. As these aircraft evolve, so does our ability to meet the growing demands of modern aviation challenges.


Q1: What are the main types of helicopters?

Ans: The main types include light utility, transport, attack, reconnaissance, medevac, search and rescue, firefighting, offshore oil rig support, heavy-lift, and experimental helicopters.

Q2: What are light utility helicopters used for?

Ans: Light utility helicopters are typically used for personnel transport, light cargo delivery, aerial photography, and law enforcement.

Q3: What roles do transport helicopters fulfill?

Ans: Transport helicopters are designed to carry passengers, troops, and cargo over longer distances, supporting military operations, humanitarian missions, and commercial transport needs.

Q4: How are attack helicopters different?

Ans: Attack helicopters are specifically armed and armored to engage ground targets, provide close air support for troops, and conduct anti-tank warfare.

Q5: What capabilities do reconnaissance helicopters have?

Ans: Reconnaissance helicopters are equipped with sensors and cameras for intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.

Q6: What is the purpose of medevac helicopters?

Ans: Medevac (medical evacuation) helicopters transport injured or critically ill patients quickly to medical facilities, where they provide emergency medical services.

Q7: How do search and rescue helicopters operate?

Ans: Search and rescue helicopters are equipped with specialized equipment, such as hoists and thermal imaging, to locate and extract people in distress, often in remote or hazardous environments.

Q8: What role do firefighting helicopters play?

Ans: Firefighting helicopters drop water or fire retardant from buckets or tanks to combat wildfires and assist ground crews in controlling and extinguishing fires.

Q9: Why are offshore oil rig support helicopters important?

Ans: Offshore oil rig support helicopters transport personnel and equipment to offshore platforms and rigs, ensuring operational continuity in the oil and gas industry.

Q10: What defines heavy-lift helicopters?

Ans: Heavy-lift helicopters can lift large and heavy cargo, such as construction materials or military equipment, using specialized lifting systems and powerful engines.

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