- 22 Jun 2021
- Tony Kioussis
- Aviation Podcasts
Helicopters, otherwise referred to as rotorcraft utilize rotor blades that propel quickly enough to provide the lift needed for flight. Unique from fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters are capable of vertical take-off and landing, making them ideal to operate into and out of tight spaces, and hovering (making them ideal for surveillance and inspection work).
A wide range of turbine helicopters and piston helicopters are operated around the world, fulfilling an equally wide range of missions. The smallest manned piston helicopters seat just two people (including the pilot), whereas the largest multi-engine turbine helicopters can be configured to carry more than 12 passengers in luxury (plus crew).
However, the key difference between turbine and piston helicopters, reflected in their name, is in their engine types…
Today’s leading turbine helicopter manufacturers include Airbus, Bell, Enstrom, Leonardo, MD Helicopter, Robinson, and Sikorsky. Buyers shopping the pre-owned market will find additional out-of-production models available, including those produced by Agusta, Eurocopter, and others. Popular piston helicopters are built by Enstrom (F-28F and 280FX), Guimbal (Cabri G2), Robinson (R22 and R44 Raven) and Schweizer (300C). Again, buyers shopping the pre-owned piston helicopter market will find additional out-of-production models available, including, for example, the Bell 47.
Turbine helicopters are popular with corporations needing business and VVIP transportation. High-net-worth-individuals also own these aircraft as personal transportation. Some of the other roles and industries Turbine Helicopters are commonly utilized in are police work, medevac, aerial surveillance, offshore, media, tourism and more. Meanwhile, Piston helicopters are very popular with flight schools. They are also used for personal, owner-flown transportation, and are useful for certain types of surveillance work, tourism, site inspection, and news gathering.
Buyers seeking a turbine helicopter will pay anywhere from just under $1m for a brand new entry-level single-engine turbine helicopter, up to approximately $15m for a heavy twin-engine turbine helicopter. Those shopping the pre-owned turbine helicopter market will find cheaper options for all models, with prices depending on maintenance condition and age. Piston helicopters, meanwhile, can cost anywhere between under $100k up to approximately $600k, depending on the model, age, and condition of the aircraft.
By Matt Harris
Both Piston and Turbine helicopters are diverse and are used across a wide variety of roles and industries. These include executive travel, emergency services, military, construction, oil and offshore, tourism, search and rescue, news and media, and a diverse range of other aerial works.
What is a Turbine Helicopter?
Generally larger than piston helicopters, turbine helicopters are powered by one or more gas turbine engines. Comprised of compressor, combustion chamber, turbine and gearbox assembly, these are more powerful and complex engines than are used on piston helis, inevitably making them more expensive to operate but broadening their appeal to market sectors piston helicopters cannot serve.
Popular turbine helicopter models on the market today carry anywhere between four and 20, -plus passengers (depending on category and configuration).
Turbine helicopters tend to be grouped by engine and weight, including Single-Engine Turbines, Light Multi-Engine Turbines, Medium Multi-Engine Turbines, and Heavy Multi-Engine Turbines.
What is a Piston Helicopter?
Generally smaller than turbine helicopters, piston helicopters operate with a piston engine (also called a reciprocating engine), with Lycoming being a leading piston helicopter engine manufacturer today. Less powerful and complex than the engines used by turbine helicopters, piston engines are also less expensive to operate.
The popular piston helicopters on the new and pre-owned market carry between two and four people (including pilot), and have a range between 160 and 300 nautical miles (per Conklin & de Decker).