Weaknesses of Helicopters

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The disadvantages of helicopters are balanced by their agility and maneuverability.
The disadvantages of helicopters are balanced by their agility and maneuverability. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Helicopters are useful in a number of situations. For short, precise flights that require maneuverability and ease of take off and landing, helicopters are the perfect vehicle. However, in some situations, the weaknesses of helicopters are revealed. It is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of helicopters before you try to use one.

Functional Range

Helicopters cannot travel nearly as far as a traditional airplane on a single load of fuel. Helicopters require a great deal of power in order to fly, as all of the lift is being provided by the rotor blades. This means that fuel is used at a rapid rate and that the amount of weight added by a full load of fuel needs to be considered by helicopter designers. Fuel limitations and consumption rates create a vehicle that is only suited for shorter range travel.

Top Speed

Helicopters are not capable of reaching the cruising speeds at which airplanes regularly fly. The design of helicopters and the physics of aerodynamics prevent designers from being able to design helicopters that fly much faster than what is currently on the market. Average helicopters fly just above 100 miles per hour for typical cruising speeds. The fastest a helicopter can possibly go given current engineering is 250 miles per hour. Factors like drag, dis-symmetry of lift and the resistance of air compression limit the helicopter engine.

Cost

Private helicopters are also more expensive than fixed-wing aircraft. Compared to a typical airplane, helicopters have a great deal more mechanical parts. Components are more expensive than those used on most airplanes and they take longer to assemble. In addition, maintaining them is much more time-consuming due to the complexity of the machine. A private helicopter starts at around $150,000 whereas an private, fixed-wing airplane can be had for much less. Only on highly advanced equipment such as military helicopters and jets do helicopters become more affordable.

Military Vulnerability

An article from "Australian Aviation" in 2005 highlighted the military vulnerabilities of helicopters. The final conclusion was that helicopters are the most vulnerable aircraft used by military forces. The problem with most helicopters is the very missions they are designed for puts them at high risk. Compared to other aircraft in military use, they fly missions at low altitude and move very slowly. Enemy forces can target a helicopter more easily than they can target other military aircraft.

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