Helicopter Mileage

Not the most fuel-efficient ride.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day about the fuel burn rate and “mileage” of my helicopter. It’s actually an interesting calculation.

First, consider my “best range” cruise speed. According to Robinson Helicopter Company (RHC), the best cruise speed for a Robinson R44 Raven II is 100 knots or 115 miles per hour.

Now consider the fuel burn rate. RHC claims 14 gallons per hour, but I’m getting closer to 16 these days. When you do the math (115 ÷ 16), you come up with 7.19 miles per gallon.

Now that doesn’t sound very good, but there’s another calculation to do to equate this to car miles. That’s the “straight line” factor — as I like to call it. RHC, in its Operating Costs document, estimates that because a helicopter can fly in a straight line and roads over long distances are seldom straight line routes, each air mile is equal to 1.5 road miles. I think this is pretty reasonable as an average. On certain routes, that number would be smaller while on other routes, it would be much larger. So if you do the math (7.19 x 1.5) you come up with 10.79 miles per gallon.

This isn’t much worse than my redneck truck, which gets about 15 mpg.

Of course, 100LL fuel, which the helicopter burns, costs anywhere from $4.50 to $7.00 per gallon. Regular gasoline, which my truck burns, is currently about $3.50 per gallon.

I just flew from Wickenburg, AZ to Seattle, WA by way of the California coast. We covered the estimated 1,500-mile distance in about 13 hours of flight time. I spent over $1,000 on fuel. Not exactly a cheap trip, but with highlights like an overflight of the Golden Gate as the marine layer moved in, it’s one I’ll remember for a long time.

3 thoughts on “Helicopter Mileage

  1. Great comment! My smileage is great when I fly!

    Right now, I’m kind of sad, though. I dropped the helicopter off for its annual in Seattle. On the way home, I realized that I won’t fly until the first week in June, when I go pick it up and take it east for the cherry drying season.

  2. Bob Lawrence explains perfectly why turbine helicopter hours are so hideously expensive.

    But Maria, your R44 is giving much better mpg than my old neighbour’s Studebaker Commander with a big V8. He claims 7.0 (urban) just about 10.0 on a good ‘run’.
    It is a very old car; was probably more efficient when new.

What do you think?