The 6 Most Important Helicopters of All Time

For thousands of years, flying freely in the sky like an eagle has been a dream of humankind, and the Wright Brothers' first flight marked a significant milestone. Helicopters make it even easier and more convenient for us to soar high in the air nowadays. We’ve curated a list of the 6 most important helicopters in history. Read on!

Focke-Wulf Fw-61: The world's first helicopter

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Professor Henrich Focke from Germany made huge progress in advancing vertical flight in the 1930s with his design of Focke-Wulf FW-61. Regarded as the first functional helicopter, the outlook of FW-61 was rather peculiar - a twin-rotor configuration with three articulated rotor blades and a small propeller mounted in front of the radial. It made a name for itself when German aviator, Hanna Reitsch, flew one indoors at the Deutschlandhalle sports stadium in Berlin in 1938. She also landed Fw-61 safely in London after flying at 68 mph from Berlin.

Sikorsky R-4: The first mass-produced helicopter

Source: NASA Langley

Igor Sikorsky made helicopters more accessible with his invention of the first mass-produced helicopter Sikorsky R-4. Sikorsky's VS300 proved that helicopters could be mass-produced with its record of flying at 70 miles per hour. It eventually led to the birth of R-4, America's first practical helicopter designed with a fully enclosed cabin and side-by-side seating. The R-4 set some important milestones in the helicopter world, including a 761-mile cross-country flight and a service ceiling record of 12,000 feet. After its successful demonstration to the public in 1940, the United States Army Air Forces ordered 29 prototypes, and R-4 became the first mass-produced helicopters.

The Bell 47: The first helicopter certified for civilian use

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Helicopters are specially built or converted for use by military forces for a long time. However, Bell Aircraft developed Bell 47 for civil use while its competitors catered their helicopters for the military back in the 1940s. The prototype Bell Model 30, designed by Arthur M. Young, was the basis of the 47, which first flew in 1945. The 47 model was approved for civil use by the CAA in 1946, and its first delivery was made to Helicopter Air Transport.

Bell AH-1 Cobra: The first dedicated attack helicopter

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Bell AH-1 Cobra inspired attack helicopter designs worldwide after its use in the Vietnam War in the 1960s. It provided fire support for ground forces and escorted transport helicopters for the U.S. Army Cobra New Equipment Training Team. While the American ground forces used Bell AH-1 Cobra as a temporary solution in the war, it continued to develop after the war and became a vital role in battle tactics. Bell then fine-tuned AH-1 Cobra with a few more key features, making it the world’s first modern attack helicopter. Interestingly, the twin-engine AH-1 SuperCobra variants are still in use by the Marine Corps.

Eurocopter X3: The world's fastest helicopter

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Eurocopter is one of the pioneers of aviation. A hybrid helicopter made with an advanced vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) transportation system, X3 made its debut in 2010 with a speed record of 293 mph. It became the fastest helicopter in the world. It surpassed its own record after it sprinted to 293 mph at 10,000 feet in 2013. Based on the X3 technologies, Eurocopter will continue setting the standard for future helicopters, including combining a traditional main rotor with a pair of stub wing-mounted propellers to provide additional forward thrust.

Airbus AS350: The popular sightseeing helicopter


Known for its excellent high-altitude performance, the Airbus AS350 is a top choice for touring companies to offer helicopter sightseeing excursions. It reigns among the most popular commercial aircraft around the world. From medical, law enforcement services to military use, the model is frequently used in a broad spectrum. The AS350 can comfortably seat up to 6 passengers on a bench-style seating, and its soundproof quality offers a comfortable environment for the passengers and pilots to enjoy their conversations.