Can a Helicopter Carry a Car? In Hollywood Yes, But in Real Life?

Carrying a car under or in a helicopter is a pretty cool thing! – Talk about the ultimate way to travel! Fly in from the Hamptons in the helicopter, land at West 30th St Heliport, unhook the limo then head straight to the office!

A helicopter can lift a car provided the car weighs less than the lifting capacity of the helicopter. A Ford Explorer weighs around 4,100 lbs which can be easily lifted by any Blackhawk, Chinook, or large twin-engine helicopter.

Being able to lift a large weight is one of the most popular features of larger helicopters as it makes them perfect for use as aerial cranes. With a skilled pilot at the controls the precision work that can be accomplished is truly jaw-dropping – And trust me it is HARD to fly and precisely place a load on the end of a 100-150ft Long-Line!

How Do Helicopters Lift Heavy Weights?

Helicopters become airborne by creating more lift than the aircraft weighs. Gravity pulls it to the ground and that lift overcomes the gravity.

Each main rotor blade creates a negative air pressure on the top of them, essentially sucking each rotor blade into the air and the helicopter follows. This is just how a plane wing works, except a helicopter’s airfoils are its main rotor blades turning through the air.

For a helicopter to lift a heavy weight it needs to create more lift from its rotor system than the helicopter and its load weighs combined. The lighter the helicopter, and the more power it has, the more weight it can lift. Helicopters can lift more weight when mounted to an external cargo hook.

For any helicopter to be useful it needs to be able to lift more than just the weight of the helicopter, it also needs to lift its fuel, its pilot/s, its passengers, and any cargo. The larger the helicopter, the more it is designed to transport, both inside it and dangling below it. Especially military helicopters.

The higher in altitude, the hotter the air or the more humid the air, the less the helicopter will be able to lift due to air density and the reduced number of air molecules the rotors have to work on and the engine/s use to burn.

A helicopter lifting 4,000lbs at sea level, when it’s 75°F will not be able to lift the same weight at 10,000ft and 75°F!

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* How Much Can a Helicopter Lift? 20 Helicopters Compared!
* What Are Helicopters & Planes Dropping On Wildfires?

Which Helicopters Can Lift a Car?

Helicopters lift weight so let’s start by looking at the weight of a selection of vehicles:

VehicleWeight – lbsWeight – kgs
Mini Cooper3,4401,560
Ford Edge4,3651,980
Cadillac Escalade58452,650
Lincoln Town Car Limo4,5002,040
U.S. Presidents Limo
‘The Beast’

Starting out with the Mini Cooper, this could easily be lifted by most Medium helicopters like:

  • Bell 212HP – Max Hook Weight = 3,500 lbs
  • Bell 205A-1++ – Max Hook Weight = 4,200 lbs

When the weight of the vehicle starts getting up to that of the Humvee you start getting into some serious iron.

Helicopters able to lift a Humvee would be:

  • Sikorsky UH-60 ‘Blackhawk’ – Max Hook Weight = 9,000lbs
  • Airbus H225 ‘Super Puma’ – Max Hook Weight = 10,470 lbs
Airbus H225 ‘Super Puma’ – Source: lasta29

When you get up to the weight limits of the Beast then you are looking at the Heavy Lifters in the industry:

  • Boeing CH-47 ‘Chinook’- Max Hook Weight: = 24,000 lbs
  • Erickson S64 Skycrane – Max Hook Weight: = 25,000 lbs
  • Sikorsky CH-53 ‘ King Stallion’ – Max Hook Weight: = 27,000 lbs

All the hook weights on the machines listed above are based at Sea Level with an ambient air temperature of 60°F. Being able to lift the weight of the Humvee, for instance in the 110°F deserts of the Middle East will require going up a helicopter size!

One of the most famous and recent events of a helicopter lifting a car was when an Agusta AW139 flew an Aston Martin Vanquish onto the helipad of the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai as part of Aston Martin’s Centenary Celebrations.

What Else Can a Helicopter Carry?

Helicopters are not just limited to cars, but technically any weight that it can safely lift for the given weather conditions and the Max Gross Weight limit for that helicopter.

Helicopters are used every day all over the world as aerial cranes. Even the smallest 2-seat helicopters can be utilized to lift a few hundred pounds. Construction and firefighting are two of the most common uses for helicopter’s lifting strength in the civilian world and in the military, it is troops, supplies, and machinery.

Not only is cargo slung from the helicopters, but helicopters are also passenger-cargo buses that transport most of the world’s Off-shore Oil & Gas workers on a daily basis. Moving up to 19 workers at a time, a helicopter is one of the fastest and most efficient ways of changing crews after their 3-week tours on a rig.

When helicopters get large like the Chinook, King Stallion, or even the mighty Mi-26 then you can begin to fit enormous loads into the belly of the beasts.

The Mil Mi-26 is BIIIIIG!!

Most helicopters are able to lift more on the hook of the helicopter due to the weight being concentrated on a single point on the fuselage. Most hooks are mounted directly under the mast of the main rotor to keep the Center of Gravity within limits.

When multiple hooks are used, like on the Chinook and King Stallions the hooks are placed at reinforced parts of the fuselage to help spread the load according to the design of the airframe. This way they are able to lift larger loads compared to just a single hook arrangement. Most of the larger military helicopters will have the option of either a single or multiple hook lift operations.

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When the load is placed inside the aircraft it has to be distributed over the entire cargo/passenger area of the fuselage so generally less weight is able to be accommodated. It requires far less structural weight to reinforce a single area like a hook mount compared to an entire cargo/passenger compartment.

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* Why Can’t Helicopters Land on Mount Everest – Yet?
* Police Helicopters: All Your Questions Answered!

For a great collection of helicopters lifting heavy objects check out this gallery:

Header Image:
Mil Mi-10 at the 1965 Paris Air Show – Source: RuthAS

Rick James

I am an aviation nut! I'm an ATP-rated helicopter pilot & former flight instructor with over 3500 hours spanning 3 countries and many different flying jobs. I love aviation and everything about it. I use these articles to pass on cool facts and information to you whether you are a pilot or just love aviation too! If you want to know more about me, just click on my picture!

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