How Far Can a Helicopter Fly?


How Far Can a Helicopter Fly?

You might be curious how exciting it would be to ride in a helicopter and enjoy the view from above. If you have not experienced this yet, then I know you are wondering so many things about helicopters. You might also be thinking, when helicopters fly, how far can it go? It’s pretty straightforward.


How Far Can a Helicopter Fly?

Few people know that helicopters can fly for an extended period or a considerable distance before stopping or refueling. Typically, before helicopters need to stop and refuel, they can actually fly for about 2.5 to 5 hours or travel for about 250 miles. But of course, not all helicopters can do that. The distance or time a helicopter can fly will depend on many factors, such as the type and size, among others.

Helicopters are a great way to explore a destination. For example, a Grand Canyon helicopter tour will give you a memorable park experience you could never experience from the ground.


What Affects How Far a Helicopter Can Fly?

Type of Helicopter

Knowing the types of helicopters will be able to tell you how far they can go, how much weight they can carry, as well as the fuel tank size. These factors can determine how far helicopters fly until they need to stop and refuel. Most of the helicopters can fly up to 5000 feet up in the air for about 600 miles when it runs out of fuel reserve.

There are different types of helicopters, such as military, private, and commercial. With these, no one can really tell the exact distance or time a helicopter can travel continuously. For instance, a military helicopter can travel faster than a civilian one, which can only move 150 to 175 miles an hour. The CH-47F Chinook helicopter, owned by the military, currently has the fastest speed to record. It can travel for about 170 knots or approximately 195 miles an hour.

The Airbus Helicopters’ H155 is the fastest civilian helicopter to date and can travel as fast as 200 miles an hour or about 174 knots. With a speed of approximately 295 miles an hour or around 255 knots, the Eurocopter X3 is the fastest among all the helicopters combined.



The Maximum Gross Weight limit for helicopters depends on their design and the manufacturer. On top of that, we need to add other variables, such as the total weight of everyone aboard, all the cargo, and fuel. 

As a general rule of thumb, if the helicopter is heavy, the more power it needs to fly, the more fuel it burns, and the shorter its air time. On the other hand, if the cause of extra weight is additional tanks, you get additional airtime and more extended range with the extra fuel on board. 

It’s a give-and-take scenario to know how far can a helicopter fly. A decision has to be made between cutting the weight to fly longer or having everything and everyone but flies the helicopter for a short range. 


Fuel Tank Size + Additional Fuel Tanks 

With bigger tanks, you would expect the longer the range a helicopter can cover. While this is true to some extent, we also have to consider the efficiency of its engine. You’ll be surprised by some significant differences between helicopters, especially the one that people usually think would have more extended airtime (we’ll get to that in a bit!). 

Units with additional fuel tanks also tend to fly longer as long as there’s no additional weight from extra passengers or cargo. There are also heavy helicopters that can let go of extra tanks to cut down weight and gain more speed and range. 



It is a tricky factor that affects how far can a helicopter fly. Models with efficient engine/s consume less fuel than is usually needed to fly a certain distance. It makes tank size slightly less relevant when calculating which helicopter will offer more range with the least fuel consumption. 

We’ll give you a quick comparison.


Model Tank Capacity




Fuel Needed 

(1000-mile Range)

Robinson R22 26  250 104 gallons
Bell 206 JetRanger 70  385 182 gallons
MIL MI-26 3,000 497 6,036 gallons


That’s a massive difference! 

At a glance, it’s easy to see that Robinson R22 is fuel efficient, mainly due to its small carrying weight capacity compared to the MIL MI-26 that hauls a military supply of up to 13 tonnes in one flight. It’s down to model and purpose. 



Wind, rain, and other weather conditions can take a toll on how far a helicopter can fly. When going against strong headwinds, it will need more power (meaning more fuel consumption) to stay afloat and on the path. But if it’s a tailwind, you’re in luck. It will push the aircraft and assist with more speed and range. 

Let’s say you’re flying at 160 knots with headwinds of 20 knots. You’re at 140 knots to stay afloat. But if it’s a tailwind of 20 knots, you’re flying at 180 knots. 

The helicopter’s range cuts down even more when there’s snow involved. Safety also becomes an issue, so it’s recommended to skip flying when snowstorms and hurricanes unless it’s a military aircraft like the C-130 or Dolphin HH-65A. 



You might think that the faster an aircraft goes, the more range it covers. Meh! On the contrary, since you need more power for the speed, it consumes more fuel, effectively eating away some range. But then again, engine efficiency comes to play. It’s why manufacturers inform pilots of stats such as which speed will cover which distance. 

For example, small multi-purpose helicopters like the Bell 412 can cruise as fast as 140 knots or 160 mph with 609 miles range. That would earn 3.8 hours of fly time at its top speed but slowing down to 100 mph will double its distance covered. 

It’s also worth noting that a helicopter burns more fuel while hovering since it requires more power to stay in place. 


Flight Path 

An aircraft’s flight path can affect its range dramatically. When it needs to do lots of turns, landing/take-offs, and hovering, it will consume more fuel to perform these tasks, decreasing how far a helicopter can fly. If it travels a straight flight path without interruptions, it will need less power and consume less fuel. 


Longest Range Helicopters

Here are some helicopters with the longest range known that are still in production: 


Model Manufacturer/s Engine Range (nm)
V-22 Osprey Bell Boeing Rolls-Royce T406 1,011
BA609 AgustaWestland Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 852
Leonardo AW101 AgustaWestland Turboshaft 810
Sikorsky X2 Lockheed Martin LHTEC T800 808
Sea King HAS Mk5 AgustaWestland Rolls-Royce Gnome H1400-1 764
Leonardo AW189 AgustaWestland General Electric T700 651
Airbus Helicopter ACH175 Airbus Helicopters, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, Harbin Aircraft Industry Group Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 613 
Leonardo AW139 AgustaWestland Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 573
Sikorsky S92 Lockheed Martin General Electric T700 546


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How Can a Helicopter Increase Its Range?

As mentioned, how far  helicopters can fly is based on many factors, like the amount of fuel needed and the weight of the cargo they carry. Since it is expensive to refuel in-air, most pilots have to land and refuel. Again, the average time a helicopter can fly before it refuels is about 2 hours up to 5 hours. The EC155, aside from Sikorsky S92, can possibly travel at about 600 miles before it requires refueling. At the same time, an Apache Attack helicopter, a chopper, can go for as far as 1200 miles before it stops to refuel.


Legal Requirements For Helicopters’ Flight Range

Helicopters must follow specific government rules and regulations when flying, like airplanes. These rules may not be applicable at all times and may change to suit several cases:

  • Operation in commercial airports or populated areas.
  • Operation on a business area or a private property
  • Weather – either good or bad
  • Operation in state borders or from one country to the other
  • Standard or special customs licenses

These legal requirements mean that helicopters can’t just simply fly anywhere they want. Certain legalities bind them, and they must conform to these laws.


How High Can a Helicopter Fly?

Considering safety, an ideal range of 500 feet is generally regarded as the standard height at which helicopters can fly flexibly. For special-purpose helicopters, it can go as high as 10,000 feet. If it exceeds that range up to 14,000 feet, an oxygen supply would be needed for passengers to survive.

For those who are curious, Fred North got the record set of flying a helicopter in 2002 that reached a range of about 42,000 feet while he was inside the AS 350 B2 Squirrel helicopter.

To know the approximate distance a helicopter can fly, here are some fascinating information available

  • Hughes OH-6 Cayuse chopper has traveled the longest helicopter flight in the record, about 2213 miles.
  • Every 15 minutes, helicopters with a single rotor usually travel about 40 to 50 miles.
  • Helicopters have a typical speed of about 150 to 200 miles every hour.
  • Usually, it costs about $200 up to $750 per hour for maintenance and fuel, among others, to operate a helicopter. The cost will depend on gear and other factors.

The fuel tank’s size is one factor to consider in determining the ability of the helicopters to operate and fly, as well as the speed, distance, and range they can travel. Clearly, larger tanks can have more fuel, thus making them fly and travel for a long time before there is a need to refuel. It can also allow it to travel faster at a higher range.


With this information, you can now understand how far, how high, and how fast helicopters can travel depending on numerous factors. Calculating range will require you to consider its engine efficiency, flight path, weather, and overall weight with all the passengers and cargo included. Small models can clock a few hundred miles, while bigger ones can cover over a thousand. 

For those exotic places to small landing spaces, a helicopter makes it possible to experience places that most airplanes can’t take you to. Plus, it’s a more personal experience since passenger numbers are limited. 



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How Far Can a Helicopter Fly?

There are various factors that affect how far a helicopter can fly. These include:

  • Type of Helicopter
  • Weight 
  • Fuel Tank Size + Additional Fuel Tanks 
  • Engine 
  • Weather 
  • Speed 
  • Flight Path 

You can also read our guide to learn more about How far a Helicopter can fly.


How Can a Helicopter Increase Its Range?

Additional tanks are the most convenient way to increase a helicopter’s flight range. The additional weight of the tanks will need to burn extra, but the distance they add is worth it. On the other hand, some big helicopters take them out to cut weight and increase range to some degree. 

You can also read our guide to learn more about How far a Helicopter can fly.



  1. Wow, I never knew before that refueling in-air is actually possible for helicopters. My brother is planning to start his own private helicopter touring business soon so I’m a bit curious about the kinds of things that are essential to operate such a business. Perhaps learning more about helicopter maintenance tooling would point me in the right direction.

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