Due to the operating characteristics of the helicopter—its ability to takeoff and land vertically, and to hover for extended periods of time, as well as the aircraft's handling properties under low airspeed conditions—it has been chosen to conduct tasks that were previously not possible with other aircraft, or were time- or work-intensive to accomplish on the ground. Today, helicopter uses include transportation of people and cargo, military uses, construction, firefighting, search and rescue, tourism, medical transport, and aerial observation, among others.
Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane lifting a prefab house
Bell 205 dropping water on fire
AgustaWestland Apache attack helicopter
HH-65 Dolphin demonstrating hoist rescue capability
Sikorsky S-76C+ air ambulance
A helicopter used to carry loads connected to long cables or slings is called an aerial crane. Aerial cranes are used to place heavy equipment, like radio transmission towers and large air conditioning units, on the tops of tall buildings, or when an item must be raised up in a remote area, such as a radio tower raised on the top of a hill or mountain. Helicopters are used as aerial cranes in the logging industry to lift trees out of terrain where vehicles cannot travel and where environmental concerns prohibit the building of roads. These operations are referred to as longline because of the long, single sling line used to carry the load.
Helitack is the use of helicopters to combat wildland fires. The helicopters are used for aerial firefighting (or water bombing) and may be fitted with tanks or carry helibuckets. Helibuckets, such as the Bambi bucket, are usually filled by submerging the bucket into lakes, rivers, reservoirs, or portable tanks. Tanks fitted onto helicopters are filled from a hose while the helicopter is on the ground or water is siphoned from lakes or reservoirs through a hanging snorkel as the helicopter hovers over the water source. Helitack helicopters are also used to deliver firefighters, who rappel down to inaccessible areas, and to resupply firefighters. Common firefighting helicopters include variants of the Bell 205 and the Erickson S-64 Aircrane helitanker.
Helicopters are used as air ambulances for emergency medical assistance in situations when an ambulance cannot easily or quickly reach the scene, or cannot transport the patient to a medical facility in time. Helicopters are also used when a patient needs to be transported between medical facilities and air transportation is the most practical method for the safety of the patient. Air ambulance helicopters are equipped to provide medical treatment to a patient while in flight. The use of helicopters as air ambulances is often referred to as MEDEVAC, and patients are referred to as being "airlifted", or "medevaced".
Police departments and other law enforcement agencies use helicopters to pursue suspects. Since helicopters can achieve a unique aerial view, they are often used in conjunction with police on the ground to report on suspects' locations and movements. They are often mounted with lighting and heat-sensing equipment for night pursuits.
Military forces use attack helicopters to conduct aerial attacks on ground targets. Such helicopters are mounted with missile launchers and miniguns. Transport helicopters are used to ferry troops and supplies where the lack of an airstrip would make transport via fixed-wing aircraft impossible. The use of transport helicopters to deliver troops as an attack force on an objective is referred to as Air Assault. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) helicopter systems of varying sizes are being developed by companies for military reconnaissance and surveillance duties. Naval forces also use helicopters equipped with dipping sonar for anti-submarine warfare, since they can operate from small ships.
Oil companies charter helicopters to move workers and parts quickly to remote drilling sites located out to sea or in remote locations. The speed over boats makes the high operating cost of helicopters cost effective to ensure that oil platforms continue to flow. Various companies specialize in this type of operation.
Other uses of helicopters include, but are not limited to:
- Aerial photography
- Motion picture photography
- Electronic news gathering
- Reflection seismology
- Search and Rescue
- Tourism or recreation
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