While not as fast as planes, helicopters are far from slow – and they offer a lot more flexibility than their fixed-wing siblings.
Helicopters or rotary aircraft have several advantages over their fixed-wing relatives able to operate in confined areas without the need for lengthy runways including maritime operations from smaller naval vessels.
This flexibility has its drawbacks, with their maximum speed limited by the rotors themselves unable to exceed Mach 1. There have been exceptions or at least temporary solutions with the adoption of experimental rotor tips and more recently the development of the tilt-wing aircraft.
The success of the V22 Osprey has led to the development of other tilt-wing aircraft though these are still in the design and development stages.
10. NH Industries NH-90 – 186mph
NH Industries represent the joint NATO collaboration to develop and manufacture a medium-sized battlefield support helicopter that can also be utilized in maritime roles. From the first design stages to the operational introduction would be a lengthy 22-year period due to the various requirements of the various operators causing teething issues.
Eventually introduced in 2007, the NH-90 features a fully fly-by-wire control system a first for a military helicopter. Equipped with twin Rolls-Royce Turbomeca engines each rated at 2327hp provides the NH-90 with its 188mph top speed and range of 485 miles.
9. Boeing CH-47 Chinook – 188mph
Instantly recognizable for the twin-rotor design and distinctive rotor sound the CH-47 Chinook is the most successful heavy-lift helicopter in service, currently in use with 22 overseas operators.
Introduced in 1962 the Chinook with its oversquare fuselage is powered by twin Lycoming T55 turboshaft engines rated at 2200hp, in the event of a failure the remaining engine is capable of powering both rotors. Despite its size, weight, and aerodynamics the Ch-47 can still reach a sustained cruising speed of 188mph.
8. Augusta Westland AW101 – 192mph
Developed jointly between the United Kingdom and Italy as a medium-lift multi-role helicopter the AW101 (EH101) Merlin first flew in 1987 finally entering service in 1999.
Unusually for a helicopter, the Merlin uses a triple engine configuration utilizing the BERP modified rotor blades produces a maximum take-off weight of 32,187lbs and a maximum safe speed of 192mph. Flexible internal load configurations allow a payload of 12,000lbs or 30 fully equipped troops.
7. Augusta Westland (Leonardo) AW149M – 193mph
Augusta Westland provides aircraft for both military and civilian operators alike often adapting designs to fit each market.
Designated a medium-lift military helicopter the AW149M is capable of ranges of 500 miles and speeds up to its maximum 193mph. During normal operating conditions with a full complement of 12 troops pilots operate the AW149M at a more sustainable cruise speed of 173mph.
6. Mi-35M Hind E – 193mph
Essentially a renamed version of the Hind D, the Mi-35 Hind E shares the same physical specifications as its predecessor with only minor electronic and cosmetic updates.
Dubbed by its pilots the “flying tank” due to its weight and size the Mi-35 E weighing 25,300lbs fully loaded can reach 193mph over a combat range of 300 miles due to the engine performance capabilities. Fitted with twin TV3-117VMA turboshafts each producing 2200hp enable operations in high-altitude support roles up to its ceiling of 5400 meters.
5. Kamov KA-52 Alligator / Hokum-B – 196mph
Frequently cited as one of the most capable attack helicopters in the world the Ka-52 helicopter has some interesting design features, adopting the twin-rotor layout and incorporation of the pilots’ ejection seat.
Unlike Western designs, with their tandem cockpit, the Ka-52 features a more traditional side-by-side arrangement making a broader profile without impacting performance. Power comes from two VK-2500 turboshafts each generating 2400hp resulting in a climb rate of 12 meters per second and a top speed of 196mph.
4. Sikorsky UH60 Blackhawk – 222mph
Since its introduction in 1978, the UH-60 Black Hawk has seen extensive service throughout the world in the utility/transport roles proving to be both robust and reliable.
Often deployed on special operations carrying up to 11 fully equipped troops making good use of its 222mph speed to quickly insert and retrieve allied forces. Fitted with twin General Electric T700 turboshafts combining to give the UH-60 4000hp and its impressive range and ceiling of 304nm and 19,000ft respectively.
3. Boeing AH-64 Apache – 227mph
Few helicopter gunships are as well known as the AH-64 Apache, one of the first designs based on a narrow tandem cockpit layout. Featuring a narrow frontal profile offers dual benefits, with the narrow profile harder to spot by enemy forces and the bonus of less aerodynamic drag.
With 17 operators around the world, most opting for the General Electric T700 powerplants rated at 2000hp, with on the only exception being the UK operating the Apache with Rolls-Royce engines.
2. Westland Lynx – 249mph
Excluding tilt-rotor aircraft, the Westland Lynx remains the holder of the Helicopter speed record set in 1986 with a top speed of 249mph. First flown in 1971 showing promise with early high-speed records, the type entered service in 1977 with military operators around the world.
Early development models were fitted with BS360 engines before the design was later replaced with Rolls-Royce GM42-1 units rated at 900hp. Attaining the speed record in 1986 required the Lynx to be fitted with experimental BERP rotors and updated GEM 60 engines, with the rotor tips reaching Mach 0.97
1. Bell Boeing V22 Osprey – 310mph
Combing the versatility of a helicopter with the high-speed abilities of a conventional fixed-wing aircraft the V22 Osprey holds the outright speed record for a rotor powered aircraft with a top speed of 310mph.
Utilizing the lift generated from the rotors for the take-off phase the wing-mounted engines sweep through 90 degrees to propel the Osprey forwards in flight. Power comes from twin Rolls-Royce AE1107C engines each producing 6150hp turning the 11.6-meter rotors to generate enough lift for a maximum take-off weight of 52,000lbs.