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How Much Fuel Does a Helicopter Burn? Get Your Visa Card Out!

Filling the fuel tank on any aircraft can get expensive especially if you are the owner or are have to pay for the fuel at a remote location. The larger the helicopter, the bigger the engine and the more engines it has will dictate how much fuel it burns each hour.

When I have to fuel up from a supplier that the company does not have an account with it is a great way to collect points on my visa! But be sure so have room on the card, especially if you are in a remote airport!

Read on to find out some cool facts and figures on helicopter fuel!

How Much Fuel Does a Helicopter Burn?

Helicopters all vary in size and the number of engines they have. The bigger the helicopter, the larger its engine or engines and the more thirsty they become.

One of the first questions I often get asked when I’m flying is “How much fuel does your bird burn“?
My current machine is a Eurocopter/Airbus AS350 B2 which is a single-engine helicopter and is one of the most popular and versatile machines used across the globe.

Source: Rick James

This helicopter burns on average around:

  • 180 Litres per hour
  • 47 US Gallons per hour
  • 315 Pounds per hour
  • 143 Kilograms per hour

Helicopters burn the most amount of fuel when using the most power and this occurs at two places in the ‘Power Required Curve’.

The First place is when the helicopter is hovering and full of people, lifting a heavy load off the ground with a longline or slings or hovering high in the mountains. This is at the Zero Airspeed point of the curve.

The Second place is when the helicopter is traveling at high speed and having to overcome the drag created by the fuselage (Parasite Drag) and the drag created by the higher pitch angle of each rotor blade as it moves through the air (Profile Drag).

Helicopter Fuel Burn Rates:

Helicopter TypeAverage Fuel Burn
Robinson R228 gph
Robinson R4415 gph
Bell 206 Jetranger III27 gph
AS350 B3 Astar50 gph
Bell 212HP100 gph
Bell 205A-1++90 gph
Sikorsky SK61170 gph
Sikorsky SK92180 gph
Boeing Chinook CH-47400 gph
Mil Mi-261100 gph

How Much Fuel Does a Helicopter Hold?

Everything is aviation is all about compromise. A helicopter that can fly for long periods of time needs a lot of fuel, but that fuel takes up space and weight.

Also, the aircraft designers try to keep the fuel as close to the main rotor mast as possible to stop the aircraft’s center of gravity drastically changing as the fuel tank empties.

Most helicopters will have a fuel tank that will last approximately 21/2 – 3 hours of operational flying with a 20 min reserve. Which is good because after 2 hours I’m ready to stretch my legs!

Some of the larger helicopters that are used to fly to offshore oil & gas platforms can have additional fuel tanks fitted in then. The Sikorsky S92 and the Agusta A139 are prime examples of this.

Sikorsky S92 with Additional Fuel Tanks – Source: Ronnie Robertson

As helicopters begin to fly further, the oil & gas platforms begin to spread further in greater numbers. The farthest rigs can only be serviced by boat or by refueling the helicopters at other platforms before continuing on.

What Type of Fuel Does a Helicopter Burn?

There are two types of fuel that helicopters burn depending on the type of engine it has. Small helicopters like the Robinson R22 & R44, Guimbal Cabri, Schweizer 300 all use piston engines and they use a fuel similar to your car. This fuel is called AvGas, short for Aviation Gasoline.

AvGas is a high-octane gasoline fuel with a higher refinement which provides for a cleaner, filtered fuel that is also used in most small planes.
The most common AvGas used in aviation today is 100LL. This is 100 octane Low Lead and it is dyed Blue to ensure pilot has the right fuel before filling up their aircraft.

Jet Fuel is the second type of fuel used in helicopters. This is the same fuel used in the large airliners you fly on to go on vacation. It is used in all aircraft that have a gas turbine engine.

Most helicopters that can carry 5 passengers or more will have a gas turbine engine. For a piston engine to create enough power to lift a heavy helicopter it would be very large and weigh a lot. The gas turbine engine provides much more power for its weight.

Jet fuel is a kerosene-based fuel that mainly comes in two types. Jet-A and Jet-A1. Jet-A1 is an improved fuel over Jet-A in that it can be used down to -47°C (-40°F) rather than -40°C (-53°F) of Jet-A. Another addition to Jet-A1 is that it contains an anti-static additive to help prevent electrical static build-up to make it safer.

Jet fuel is clear and smells like diesel. When filling up a helicopter it is very easy to instantly tell what kind of fuel you have before putting it into your tank. Putting AvGas into a gas turbine helicopter or vice versa is a sure-fire way to make the aircraft engineer see red, especially if you have ran the engine with it before realizing your mistake!

Gas turbines burn fuel at a much higher rate compared to piston engines so their fuel burn rate is much higher and thus the fuel cost to operate a turbine-powered helicopter is much higher.
This is the main reason that small, piston-engined aircraft are popular for training and private ownership.

Robinson R44 – One of the Worlds Most Popular Privately Owned Helicopters – Source: Flickr

Whenever a pilot goes to fuel an aircraft, especially from an unknown source like another airport, remote fuel bowser or fuel drums there is a simple acronym drilled into us at flight school – COWS

C = Color – Blue (100LL AvGas) or Clear (Jet Fuel)
O = Odor – Diesel Smell (Jet Fuel) or Gasoline Smell (AvGas)
W = Water – Water in Fuel is a No-No
S = Sediment – Sediment in Fuel is a No-No

How Much Does It Cost To Fill a Helicopter?

Just like regular gas for your car, the price of both AvGas and Jet fuel fluctuates and can cost different prices in different places.

In 2020 the price of fuel in the lower 48 is as follows:

100LL AvGas = From $4.60 to $5.34 per gallon
Jet A Jet Fuel = From $3.90 to $4.54 per gallon

The thing to consider is the more remote the fuel cache, the more the fuel will cost. When flying up in the Northern Arctic regions and refueling from airports it can be expensive.

For Example:

PABR – Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport – Barrow, Alaska
100LL = $11.40 per Gallon
Jet A1 = $5.90 per gallon

When working in an even more remote location and drums of fuel have to be brought out by helicopter, then the fuel price can get even crazier!
It’s not unheard of to have drummed Jet A fuel at $30 per gallon and 100LL AvGas close to $50 per gallon!

Cost Example

Let’s look at how much fuel alone would cost you if you had to pay the fuel bills on the machines listed above:

AvGas based on an average of $5.00 per gallon
Jet A1 based on an average of $4.20 per gallon

Helicopter TypeAverage Fuel BurnFuel Per HourCost To Fill
Robinson R228 gph$40/hour$132
Robinson R4415 gph$75/hour$233
Bell 206 Jetranger III27 gph$113/hour$383
AS350 B3 Astar50 gph$210/hour$600
Bell 212HP100 gph$420/hour$903
Bell 205A-1++90 gph$380/hour$925
Sikorsky SK61170 gph$715/hour$2,750
Sikorsky SK92180 gph$755/hour$4,200
Boeing Chinook CH-47400 gph$1,680/hour$4,342
Mil Mi-261100 gph$4,620/hour$13,315
All Prices in USD
This is why the Mil Mi-26 costs so much to fill up!!! – Source: Rick James

If you wish to know how much fuel many of today’s modern airliners carry and how much it costs to fill them please check out this article:

How Much Fuel Do Airplanes Carry? (With 15 Examples)

To Finish

Most helicopters will all have around a 21/2 – 3 hours useful flight time and depending on the speed of that helicopter it can cover hundreds of miles in that time.

The bigger the aircraft, the more fuel it will burn, and the more the fuel bill will cost you. If you are looking at learning to fly then the Robinson R22 and the Guimbal Cabri are two of the best, and cheapest helicopters to fly.

I for one would much prefer the fuel bill of a Robinson R22 over that of a Bell 205 A-1++. They are both single-engine helicopters, but they both have very different roles and capabilities with prices to match!

Further Reading

If you found this article interesting and would like to keep reading, I highly recommend the following articles from my blog:

Header Image:
Refuelling a HH-65 Dolphin Helicopter – Source: US Navy

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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