Ever since the power of flight was introduced to the world, the military has consistently pioneered and developed the use of planes, jets, helicopters, and other flying vessels. In this article, we’re going to briefly cover the different types of military helicopters used by the armed forces and then rank specific models based on their use and popularity. In less than a century, helicopters have facilitated countless rescue and transport operations, without which, countless more brave American soldiers might have lost their lives.
Types of Military Helicopters
Military helicopter models fall into a number of categories, depending on what they’re designed to do and who might be using them. Military helicopters aren’t just designed for air use; they play critical roles in land and sea missions as well. The frame, weight, and size of any given helicopter has been specially crafted to fit the environment and demands of the vehicle’s mission.
Attack helicopters are used to engage tanks and provide air support to forces on the ground. The United States military has developed 41 attack helicopter models. The first of these was the AH-1 Cobra, conceived in the Vietnam era. The Cobra’s was the first modern attack helicopter design to seat the weapons officer and pilot beside each other and to attach missiles and rockets to the stub wings. This set-up has since become standard for most attack helicopters today. These close air support choppers need to be equipped with state-of-the-art radar and targeting sensors. Other armed helicopters are designed to take off from naval ships and are fitted with anti-submarine weaponry.
Transport helicopters are popular in the military because, unlike planes, they can land and take off expeditiously without a runway. Or if conditions don’t permit the helicopter to touch the ground, they can hover while they’re quickly loaded with personnel or cargo via specialized rope lines or rescue hoists. Any form of air assault is going to rely on the availability and speed of transport helicopters. Air assaults are not to be confused with airborne assaults; while airborne assaults are primarily carried out by aircraft, air assaults revolve around ground battles and depend on the rapid resupply of men and cargo via air transport.
Before armed aircraft, any use of flying objects in the military was for reconnaissance. Nowadays, helicopters are an optimal choice for observation missions given their ability to both quickly enter or exit an area and to remain for a longer period of time. Observation helicopters are equipped with sensory technology mounted to the exterior frame, such as lasers, forward-looking infrared cameras, and low-light level television.
Rescue and Medical Helicopters
Outside their military use, helicopters are probably most associated with rescue missions and medical transport. The Coast Guard uses these helicopters to search out ships or individuals in distress and deploy rescue divers. And in combat zones, helicopters are used to retrieve wounded personnel from the battlefield.
The 5 Best Helicopter Models
Here’s our list of the 5 best or most popular helicopter models used by the military today:
5. The Bell AH-1 Cobra
Like we mentioned earlier, the Cobra is the pioneer of the modern attack helicopter. Several nations besides the United States have adopted and elaborated upon its design. A twin-engine version of the AH-1 is the Marine Corps’ primary attack helicopter, and other versions are used to fight forest fires.
4. The Boeing CH-47 Chinook
The CH-47 Chinook is a heavy-lift helicopter with twin engines and a tandem rotor. It’s primarily used to transport reinforcements, supplies, and heavy artillery, both by storing them inside its cabin and by hooking loads to its three external cargo hooks. Despite its size, the Chinook is faster than most lighter-weight attack models of the 1960s.
3. The CH-53 Super Stallion
Another heavy-lift transport helicopter, this aircraft belongs to a family of Sikorsky 3-65 transporters. These were originally designed for the Marine Corps and have been used in massive multi-national evacuation exercises.
2. The Boeing AH-64 Apache
The Apache is a four-blade attack helicopter fitted with externally-mounted sensors, night vision, and targeting equipment. Under its forward fuselage is mounted a 30 mm M230 Chain Gun, and it is also armed with Hydra 70 rocket pods and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The AH-64’s internal systems are backed up to ensure the helicopter can take a lot of flak in combat situations and still function adequately.
1. The Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk
Perhaps the most famous military helicopter is the UH-60, also known as the Black Hawk, featured in the war film Black Hawk Down. Designed for tactical transport, UH-60 won the United States Army’s Utility Tactical Transport Aircraft System competition in 1976. Over the years, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard have all employed variations of the UH-60 in combative and non-combative missions around the world.
Saluting Those Who’ve Served
If you’ve served in the military, chances are you know a lot more about these military helicopters than we do. What do you think of our ranking? Let us know in the comments section.