Helicopter 2.0

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 Like the engineers that are continuously resetting the standards for helicopter aviation, today’s pilots believe that records exist to be broken.

No longer the sole province of covert operatives and emergency rescue missions, helicopters are the accessory par excellence for those who live the haute life. Busy executives continue to opt for these propeller-powered aircrafts for short trips ranging anywhere from 50 to 500 miles in distance while the social set use the crafts to avoid the traffic snarls on the Long Island Expressway on a Friday evening. Their vertical take-off and landing capability allows helicopters to alight virtually anywhere that has enough space to park an SUV, meaning rooftops, beaches, yachts, and backyards are all fair game. Helicopters are upping the ante for entrance makers all over the world while evading the rules of earthbound transportation. When it comes to the ultimate chopper, it doesn’t get much better than Sikorsky’s S-92, the model that put luxury helicopter travel on the map. Its predecessor, the S-76 (named after the year it was born), was the first to combine the comfort of business travel with a propeller-powered aircraft. While the S-92 is comparable to the earlier model in capabilities and appearance, the key difference is size. With the least spacious layout, the S-92 can accommodate up to 24 people. When the interior is configured in a more executive-friendly layout-complete with swiveling leather captain’s chairs, a galley, wet bar, flat-panel TVs, closets, and bathroom-the aircraft comfortably seats nine. Due to the grand size and $18 million price tag, there are only a handful of private owners in the United States.

For personal travel, medium sized aircrafts are more popular. The Bell 429 helicopter is this year’s most anticipated release in the mid-sized category. Three hundred models have been preordered and are due for delivery this summer. Only the sound-insulated luxury interiors rival the helicopter’s superb level of technology, which ensures extra smooth landings and makes it one of the fastest models in its size category. The speed capability was a key deciding factor for a number of emergency medical service outfits that are eagerly waiting to add the Bell 429 to their fleets.

Like the engineers that are continuously resetting the standards for helicopter aviation, today’s pilots believe that records exist to be broken. In February, Virginia businessman Scott Kasprowicz completed the fastest transcontinental helicopter flight from Los Angeles to New York in a standard-model AgustaWestland Grand. Not one to rest on his laurels, he is currently preparing for his next challenge. This July, he will attempt to set the speed record for an around-the-world helicopter flight in the same model used during the successful February mission. According to Kasprowicz, he would not attempt his upcoming voyage without the unprecedented fuel-efficiency and reliability that the Grand delivers.

In this industry, function drives form. Yet as technologies become more sophisticated and the number of private helicopters increases, aesthetics gain a higher level of importance. Thus, two of the world’s foremost fashion houses have designed helicopters in the spirit of their brands. In 2007, Eurocopter partnered with Hermès to complete a special version of its EC-135 model, aptly named l’Hélicoptère par Hermès. The EC-135 is a twin engined multimission helicopter with a spacious cabin that can accommodate up to five passengers, a pilot, and several pieces of luggage. L’Hélicoptère par Hermès is technically a standard EC-135 but is made complete by guidance from Eurocopter’s engineers alongside utlraluxe finishings that are distinctly Hermès. The interior features calf leather seats and leather-trimmed controls; the cabin is wallpapered with the house’s Toile H canvas; and, as with all Hermès goods, no detail is overlooked; the craft even comes equipped with binoculars so that passengers can take full advantage of the eagle eye view. The exterior is white with a ribbon of the house’s signature orange along the fuselage. The limited-edition helicopter is available for private purchase beginning this summer.

Hermès was not the first fashion house to put their eye on the sky; Versace designed an interior for the AgustaWestland AW139 last summer. In atypical Versace fashion, it is a monochromatic black and white, though the craft is lined with the Medusa heads that are ubiquitous to the brand.

Some helicopter owners opt to take aesthetic concerns into their own hands. Challenged to find an eye-catching color for his Bell UH-1H for an air show, Northwest Helicopter owner Brian Reynolds found inspiration in his yellow Viper SRT/10 Coupe. The popularity of this matching set confirms the helicopter’s well-deserved place in the pantheon of must-have lifestyle accoutrements. The flashy duo certainly served its purpose at the show; it turned so many heads that there is currently a nine-month wait for similar customization.

Helicopter enthusiasts caught a glimpse of the future when Bell/ Agusta launched the first civilian tiltrotor craft, the BA609. This hybrid combines the vertical launch capabilities of a helicopter with the speed, altitude, and comfort of a fixed wing airplane. This is the ultimate executive’s dream machine; it seats up to nine passengers in its incomparably quiet fuselage and moves at twice the speed of helicopters of a similar capacity. The availability of the BA609 comes as good news for the chronically overbooked. Conceivably, one could take off in London, attend meetings in Paris, Milan, and Geneva, and be back in London in time for dinner, giving new meaning to the phrase “upward mobility,” and changing the way most companies and individuals perceive private aviation.

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