Lifting weight is the day job of every helicopter whether it is people or cargo. How much each helicopter can lift is based on its design and engine power. The more the helicopter can lift, the bigger the helicopter will have to be and the more it will cost to run.
Helicopters can lift either people and cargo internally, or very heavy loads can be lifted on a hook mounted on the belly of the helicopter. For example, a small 2-seat Robinson R22 can lift up to 400lbs, whereas the Mil Mi-26 can lift over 44,000lbs.
Because helicopters can lift some tremendous weight some have been designed purely as Aerial Cranes and optimized to lift as much as possible for the least amount of money per hour.
Maximum Helicopter Weights
When an aircraft is certified it will be issued a Maximum Gross Weight figure. This figure is calculated to keep the helicopter controllable during all aspects of flight and emergencies and not overstress the airframe or engine/s during flight.
This Maximum Gross Weight is the total weight of the helicopter when it is first picked up into a hover. This total weight includes:
- Empty Weight of the Helicopter
- Cargo – Internal or External
To be able to lift more, one or some of these need to be reduced. For day to day operations the first variable to be reduced is the amount of fuel the pilot puts onboard. Second, is the cargo or passengers, but no matter how the aircraft is loaded the limit is always its Max Gross Weight figure.
For helicopters optimized for aerial lifting the helicopter is stripped bare of all non-essential equipment or even go as far as designing the entire helicopter around the hook to lift as much as possible.
Most helicopters can lift the most amount of weight on a cargo hook attached to the belly of the aircraft. This is the weight limit that I based this list on.
To find out the Top 20 Most Powerful Lifting Helicopters keep on reading…
Top 20 Helicopter Lift Capacities
20. Eurocopter SA315b ‘Lama’
Developed for the Indian Army in the 1960’s by Aérospatiale this this soon got the nickname ‘The Mule’ by its pilots becuase it would carry everything!
Being great at high altitude this helicopter has been working the mountian construction sites for over 40 years. Its lightweight fuselage and powerful engine make it perfect as an aerial crane.
The Lama held the World Altitude Record (12,442m) for over 40 years until 2002 when Fred North flew to 12,954 in an AS350 B2 Astar.
|Engine:||1x Turbomeca Artouste IIIB1 Turboshaft|
|Engine Power:||870 hp|
|Max Gross Weight:||4,200 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||2,500 lbs|
Heli-Archive SA315B Website
19. Airbus H125 ‘Astar’
The latest offering of the Legendary AS350 Astar or Squirrel depending on which side of the Atlantic you live.
Originally designed by Aérospatiale, then Eurocopter, the Astar is the worlds most popular work horse.
In operation all over the globe its versatility lends itself to pretty much any form of work and now with an increased lifting capacity of over 3,000 lbs its popularity just keeps growing!
|Engine:||1x Arriel 2D|
|Engine Power:||847 hp|
|Max Gross Weight:||6,173 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||3,085 lbs|
Airbus H125 Website
18. Bell 212HP
The ‘Twin Huey’! Originally designed for the Canadian Military this helicopter has found its way into many Military’s around the world.
Becuase of its capacity to transport 14 passengers and lift 3,500 lbs this is a great machine for Heli-Skiing and Fire Fighting.
Being a 2-engine version of the Bell 205 (Below) it is heavier thus unable to lift as much, but has a second engine if the first goes quiet!
|Engine:||2x Pratt & Witney – PT6T-3B|
|Engine Power:||1,800 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||11,200 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||3,500 lbs|
Bell 212 Wikipedia Website
17. Bell 205A-1++
If you head to any of the forest fires around the world you can bet you will see a plethora of Bell 205’s working!
This latest version of the original Bell Huey is a tried & tested workhorse that is still going strong today.
Production ended in the late 1980’s but they are still going strong!
|Engine:||1 x Lycoming T53-17A|
|Engine Power:||1,800 hp|
|Max Gross Weight:||10,500 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||4,200 lbs|
Bell 205 Wikipedia Website
16. Kaman K-Max
Another one of the worlds ‘Odd Looking’ helicopters but this is the true lifting machine.
This single-engine Hulk is a helicopter that was designed around the hook!
Only room for one pilot and all designed for them to be looking down at the 6000 lb external load they are swinging around!
Used in many roles from construction, fire fighting, disaster-relief and now as an Un-Manned supply helicopter in use with the US Navy.
|Engine:||1 x Honeywell T53-17|
|Engine Power:||1,800 hp|
|Max Gross Weight:||12,000 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||6,000 lbs|
Kaman K-Max Website
15. Bell 214B-1 ‘Big Lifter’
One of the ‘Old-Timers’ still kicking around the fires, forests and construction sites around the globe.
This single-engine crane is a great lifter but is slowly dwindling in numbers due to lack of parts/support, even though this is the most powerful single-engined helicopter still flying.
|Engine:||1 x Lycoming T55-08-D Turboshaft|
|Engine Power:||2,930 hp|
|Max Gross Weight:||16,000 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||6,500 lbs|
McDermott Aviation 214B-1 Website
14. Sikorsky UH-60M ‘Black Hawk’
After Boeing’s Chinook, this is one of the worlds most recognized military multi-role helicopters.
Designated UH-60 for the US military and S-70 for the global markets this helicopter comes in as many variants as it does paint jobs!
In recent years it has moved into the civilian world as firefighting and construction helicopters and are making a very good impression.
|Engine:||2 x General Electric T700-GE-701C Turboshaft|
|Engine Power:||1,890 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||23,500 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||9,000 lbs|
Sikorsky Aircraft UH-60M Website
13. NHIndustries NH90
Built by a European consortium of Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo & Fokker Aerostrcutures to meet the requirement from NATO for a multi-role medium-lift military helicopter.
In service with 13 Countries Armed Forces in either as a Naval or Tactical Transport Helicopter.
This helicopter leads the technological race as it was the first true Fly-By-Wire Helicopter.
|Engine:||2 x Turbomecca RTM 322-01/9A|
|Engine Power:||2,417 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||23,370 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||9,250 lbs|
NHIndustries NH90 Website
12. Sikorsky S61N
The civilian variant of the hugly popular Ch-3 Sea King, the S61N helicopter is a construction and firefighting premier.
Being easily configurable into a variety of roles makes it a very versatile aircraft with a huge 10,000 lb hook capacity.
Although being retired from many armed forces across the world this allows more of them to enter the commercial sector as an efficient and flexible member of any fleet.
|Engine:||2 x General Electric CT58-140 Turboshaft|
|Engine Power:||1,500 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||19,000 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||10,000 lbs|
Cougar Helicopters S61N Website
11. Airbus H225 ‘Super Puma’
The latest generation of Super Puma from Airbus Helicopters. Building on the legendary heritage or the AS332 of Aérospatiale and then Eurocopter.
This machine is a great all round helicopter. Great legs for Off-Shore Oil&Gas, Search & Resuce. Lots of cabin room for military troop transport and then power for serious lifting on construction projects and fire fighting.
In Military service with over 9 countries and 10 countries in a civilian role says it all!
|Engine:||2 x Turbomeca Makila 2A1|
|Engine Power:||2100 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||24,690 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||10,470 lbs|
Airbus Helicopters H225 Website
10. Ka-32A11BC ‘Kamov’
One of the most unique helicopters on the planet. The engineering behind the contra-rotating main rotors is phenomenal. I have seen this thing up close and even having an engineering background it blew my mind!
This machine is designed to lift from a small fuselage footprint and it can lift! Perfect for use in urban construction projects or steep mountainous terrain.
Unaffected by wind this machine offers quick turnarounds between lifts making it very cost effective.
|Engine:||2 x Klimov TV3-117VMA|
|Engine Power:||2,200 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||28,000 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||11,000 lbs|
Russian Helicopters KA-32A11BC Website
The latest heavy-utility helicopter from the Russian Helicopter Company. This helicopter was built to compete against Sikorsky’s S92 and Leonardo’s AW101.
Primarily targeted for Military, Offshore and Search & Rescue operations this helicopter can move a lot!
With an advanced composite structure, integrated avionics and powerful engines this is a great flagship for the country.
|Engine:||2 x Klimov TV7-117V|
|Engine Power:||2,800 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||34,300 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||11,000 lbs|
Russian Helicopters Mi-38T Website
8. Columbia 107-II ‘Vertol’
In 2006 Columbia Helicopters gained the FAA Type Certificate for the CH-46 from Boeing to be able to commercially use and modify the Vertol to optimize it primarily for logging & construction.
This is the smallest tandem rotor helicopter in the Columbia fleet allowing for heavy loads to be moved but at a lower cost than the Chinook.
|Engine:||2 x General Electric CT58 140-11|
|Engine Power:||1,400 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||22,000 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||11,500 lbs|
Columbia Helicopters 107-II Website
7. Leonardo AW101 ‘Merlin’
Developed under a joint venture between the UK and Italy this medium-lift helicopter has found its way into many roles not just in the military but Search & Rescue and VVIP Transport around the world.
Although it is not primarily an external load lifter, it can lift up to 12,000 lbs on the hook if required by any of the 13 Navy’s that it sees operation with around the world.
|Engine:||3 x General Electric CT7-8E|
|Engine Power:||2,527 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||34,400 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||12,000 lbs|
Leonardo AW101 Website
6. Bell Boeing V-22 ‘Osprey’
The first Tilt Rotor Helicopter to go into mass production for the US Military. This unique heavy lifter can fly far and fast!
Leading the development into smaller commercial variants this troop carrier really enhances the range over the CH-47 Chinook with only a 10,000lb reduced hook lift capacity.
The rotor wash from this machine, especially with an external load is intense and you best have a good footing when it arrives!
|Engine:||2x Rolls-Royce AE1107C|
|Engine Power:||6,150 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||52,600 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||15,000 lbs|
Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey Website
5. Boeing CH-47F ‘Chinook’
One of the most globally recognised helicopters on the battlefield this latest generation ‘F’ variant is a real asset to the world’d military’s.
Whether it is carrying troops, slinging heavy equipment or being used as a Medevac ship this beast is a true multi-role helicopter.
With continuous design development and avionic & engine upgrades this helicopter will be around for decades to come.
|Engine:||2x Lycoming T55-GA-714A Turboshaft|
|Engine Power:||4,700 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||50,000 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||24,000 lbs|
Boeing CH-47 Chinook Website
4. Erickson S64F ‘Skycrane’
Originally designed for the US Army by Sikorsky to help move heavy equipment and downed aircraft in Vietnam.
It was originally named ‘Tarhe‘ after a 18th Century Ohio warrior who’s nickname was ‘The Crane‘ a. To this day it still goes by the name ‘The Crane’ within the industry.
Made famous for its global construction & firefighting roles with a female name painted on each nose, the Skycrane is a true workhorse!
|Engine:||2x Pratt & Whitney JFTD12A-5A|
|Engine Power:||4,800 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||47,000 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||25,000 lbs|
Erickson S64F Skycrane Website
3. Sikorsky CH-53K ‘King Stallion’
The latest generation of this military moving monster.
The ‘K’ variant is currently in service with the United States Marine Core with additional contracts to supply Germany and Israel.
This immense helicopter can carry 55 troops at 170kts! That is some serious firepower unloading out the back!
|Engine:||3 × General Electric GE38-1B Turboshaft|
|Engine Power:||7,500 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||84,700 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||27,000 lbs|
Sikorsky CH-53K Website
2. Columbia 234UT ‘Chinook’
The largest helicopter in the Columbia fleet this modified, light-weight Chinook is a common sight at large construction projects around the world.
Just like the Vertol, Columbia Helicopters also gained the FAA Type Certificate for the CH-47 from Boeing to be able to commercially use and modify the Chinook to optimize it for logging, construction and firefighting among many other other roles.
|Engine:||2x Honeywell AL5512|
|Engine Power:||4,075 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||51,000 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||28,000 lbs|
Columbia Heicopters 234UT Website
1. Mi-26T ‘Halo’
The absolute behemoth of the helicopter world and only the Russians can produce something of this size!
The Mi-26T from Russian Helicopters is the latest generation of this giant of the sky. With record breaking specifications throughout its entire fuselage this is the Worlds Biggest Load Lifting Helicopter able to take over 44,000 lbs (20,000 kg) on the hook!
|Engine:||2 × Ivchenko-Progress|
|Engine Power:||11,400 hp each|
|Max Gross Weight:||123,450 lbs|
|Max Weight On Hook:||44,100 lbs|
Russian Helicopters Mi-26T Website
The amount of weight a helicopter can lift is tremendous and finding the right helicopter to lift the weight required is simple considering and range of helicopter types.
All the data given in this article as based on Sea-Level. The higher the helicopter goes, the lower the air density becomes so it will not be able to lift as much. In this case, you may have to get a bigger helicopter to lift the same load at a higher altitude.
If you found this article interesting and would like to keep reading, I highly recommend the following articles from my blog:
- Can You Land a Helicopter Anywhere? What Will Get You Busted!
- How Do Helicopters Turn? Easy Yet Complex!
- How Much Fuel Does a Helicopter Burn? Get Your Visa Card Out!
- How Far Can You Go In a Helicopter? Top 5 Civilian Endurance Machines
- How High Can You Go In a Helicopter? Can You Land On Mount Everest?
MD500 Slinging in High Voltage Insulators – Source: Western Area Power