How Much Does a Helicopter Weigh?

Aircraft · 5 min read · Oct 26, 2022
how much does a helicopter weigh

When it comes to helicopters, weight is a critical factor. So, it is relevant to ask the question how much does a helicopter weigh? However, that question is not as simple to answer as it may seem. In the end, we probably have heard a helicopter flying overhead, but hardly ever we will have the opportunity to see one being weighed.

Moreover, the weight of a helicopter varies depending on different aspects such as the type and size of the helicopter. Yet, there are some general guidelines that can help give an idea of how much a typical helicopter weighs.

If you want to discover more about the answer to the question how much does a helicopter weigh? keep reading as we give you the details.

Specifications to consider regarding a helicopter weight

There are several different specifications to consider regarding the weight of a helicopter.

First is the maximum gross weight, which is the heaviest the helicopter can be when fully fueled and loaded with passengers and cargo. Then, the empty weight is the weight of the helicopter without any fuel or payload.

And finally, there are weight limitations to consider, which dictate how much weight the helicopter can safely carry in various conditions (e.g., high altitudes, high temperatures, etc.). All of these factors must be taken into account when operating a helicopter, as they can affect the performance, safety, and stability of the aircraft.

Let’s see each of them in more detail.

An air rescue helicopter stationed on a helipad in sunset.

Maximum gross weight

The helicopter’s gross weight is the sum of the empty helicopter weight and the useful load. The useful load is the weight of the passengers, flight crew, baggage, fuel, and all other helicopter operating items.

The maximum permissible helicopter gross weight must not be exceeded under any circumstances. This includes both normal and emergency conditions. It is important to consider all specifications regarding helicopter weight in order to ensure a safe operation of the aircraft.

Obviously, the helicopter must be able to lift its own weight in order to take off, but also the load added. Now, the maximum gross weight of a helicopter can vary depending on the type of helicopter as we mentioned before. For example, light helicopters may have a maximum gross weight of around 4,000 pounds, while a larger helicopter may have a gross weight of up to 10,000 pounds.

It is important to consider the specifications of the helicopter when determining its maximum gross weight. Otherwise, the helicopter may not be able to take off or may not be able to fly safely.

Empty weight

The helicopter’s empty weight affects many aspects of its performance, including its lifting capacity, speed, and fuel efficiency, which is why it is so important to consider it when choosing a helicopter for specific use.

Empty weight is the helicopter’s weight without any passengers or cargo. The helicopter’s empty weight includes the weight of the helicopter itself with all its equipment already installed in place. This usually includes:

  • The fuselage, main rotor blades and tail rotor systems, transmissions, and engine(s)
  • Avionics
  • Emergency Floats (when applicable)
  • Search Lights (when applicable)
  • Hoist (when applicable)
  • Baggage Hold Extensions (when applicable)
  • Auxiliary Fuel Tanks (when applicable)
A black military helicopter with crew in flight.

Weight limitations

Clearly, the weight limitations of a helicopter will be limited by its design and configuration. Most helicopters are powered by single engines moving the main rotor blades and the tail rotor blades, but there are some twin-engine helicopters with more power that may be able to lift and carry a larger weight.

One of the main specifications to consider here is the maximum takeoff weight. So, let’s take a look at it.

Maximum takeoff weight

The maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is the maximum weight at which the helicopter can take off. This is a critical aspect to consider since surpassing this limitation may adversely affect the structural integrity of the helicopters.

The MTOW varies depending on the type of helicopter. For example, a small helicopter like the Robinson R22 has an MTOW of 1,100 lbs. In the mid-range, the Bell 206B Jet Ranger has an MTOW of 3,200 lbs while a larger helicopter like the Airbus H225 has an MTOW of 24,250 lbs.

It is important to select a helicopter with an appropriate MTOW for the intended use. A helicopter with too low of an MTOW may not be able to take off with a full load, while a helicopter with too high of an MTOW may be more difficult to fly and more expensive to operate, for example, in terms of fuel consumption.

Two helicopters banking.

Helicopters classification based on their weight

There are 5 types of helicopters based on their weight. These types are:

  1. Ultra-Lights: These are the lightest helicopters, weighing up to 254 lb / 115 kg Empty Weight. The lightest helicopter is said to be the Gen H4 Helicopter, weighing just 154 lbs/ 70 kg/ 0.07 tonnes when empty according to the Guinness book of world records.
  2. Lights: These are helicopters weighing up to 3,500 lb / 1,590 kg Maximum Gross Weight (MGW)
  3. Intermediates: These helicopters weigh from 3,500 to 7,000 lb / 1,590 kg to 3,180 kg MGW
  4. Mediums: A little above the mid-range, these are helicopters weighing from 7,000 to 12,500 lb / 3,1880 kg to 5,670 kg MGW
  5. Heavies: Here we find the heaviest helicopters weighing over 12,500 lb / 5,670 kg MGW. The heaviest helicopter is a Soviet-era heavy transport helicopter, the Mil Mi-26 with a weight of 62,000 lb/ 28,200 kg/ 28 tonnes when empty.

How much does a news helicopter weigh?

Most helicopters used by news reporters are small and slick since they only need to carry the licensed helicopter pilot, the reporter, and a cameraman. Also, they need to be quick and agile to get to their destination and cover the news as soon as possible. Therefore, news helicopters are usually “lights” range, up to 3,500 lbs MGW, with the Robinson R44 and the Robinson R66 being good examples.

How much does a hospital helicopter weigh?

Here we find bigger helicopters than those used in the news. Clearly, an air ambulance requires much more space and a higher weight capacity. A good example is the Bell 206 with some variants used as air ambulances.

The maximum takeoff weight of these helicopters is in the range of 3,200 lbs. However, larger ones like some variants of the AW109 with a maximum takeoff weight of 7,000 lbs (3,175 kg) are also used as air ambulances.

A coast guard/hospital helicopter hovering in blue sky.

How much does a military helicopter weigh?

Military helicopters are usually heavier than the previous two types since they are usually required to carry heavy armor as well as some form of artillery and special weaponry.

Two of the most popular military helicopters are Boeing’s AH-64 Apache, a twin-turboshaft helicopter with a maximum takeoff weight of 23,000 lbs (10,433 kg), and the Black Hawk with a maximum takeoff weight of 22,000 lb (9,980 kg)

Final thoughts

As you can see, helicopters come in a wide variety of weights. Of course, the smaller ones usually allow pilots better control under normal conditions. However, the largest helicopter will usually be more suitable for heavy lift and heavy duties such as rescue and military missions. In the end, it all comes down to the intended use.

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Jet pilot @NASA

1 comment

  1. Ismael says:

    There is a small typo. Under the section ‘Helicopters classification based on their weight’, ultra-light helicopters are said to weigh 254 lb / 1,15 kg, which I believe should say 115 kg.
    Great article nevertheless!

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