If you want to buy a helicopter, the internet has become a great source of information and contacts. Many manufacturers have websites describing their helicopter models in detail, and sometimes rare bargains can be found when helicopters are sold at government or police auctions.
New helicopters range from around $200,000 for a small chopper with two seats, to a larger, multi-passenger model for $400,000 and more. Used helicopters for sale vary in size, price and year. It depends on whether you are looking for a domestic or work helicopter or if you desire a used military helicopter. If you find buying a new helicopter is a bit beyond your budget, you might consider leasing one, or looking for an auctioned one. Some benefits of leasing are: enjoying benefits of ownership without a huge expenditure. However, leasing incurs significant running and insurance costs, and the helicopter technically does not belong to you.
Some of the most widespread and popular helicopters include the Robinson R22 and R44 series, or Bell and Hughes helicopters for those with a larger budget. Helicopter auctions often also feature used military and police helicopters such as the Bell UH-1. More generally, light civil helicopters can be divided into three categories:
Light piston-engined types – if you want a cheap personal helicopter for two, the Schweizer 300 or the Robinson R22 would be your choice. They can fly at about 80-110 mph. With a minimal seating capacity and small size, these helicopters are light, easy to fly, and easy to maneuver. Surprisingly, the light piston-engined helicopters use a more expensive fuel than that of the kerosine based turbine engines but they consume less fuel. However, the Schweizer 300 or the Robinson R22 are less interesting for for charter and corporate use. They are more popular, however, for training and personal use.
Light turbine helicopters – McDonnell Douglas 500E, Eurocopter Squirrel and the (Agusta-) Bell Jet Ranger are widely used around the world because of their practicality, comfort, size, speed, and versatility. Their look is sporty and their performance is pretty good, however they are usually substantially more expensive than their piston-engined relatives.
Twin-engined helicopters – Stronger, safer, faster and more versatile helicopters include the likes of the Dauphin, Sikorsky S-76, Agusta 109, and Eurocopter Twin Squirrel. These are powered by 2 engines and have flight capabilities above those of single-engine helis. These are the preferred choice for the high-end market with a much higher price bracket.
Helicopters from all of these categories can be found at auctions. Helicopter (and general aircraft) auctions are typically held by the government (federal or state), the police, IRS, or sometimes also banks who seize helicopters as collateral. An auction may be a great chance to save a lot of money while getting a quality helicopter. However, there are some tricky issues and pitfalls to them as well, which one should pay attention to.
– when purchasing a helicopter at an auction, start by observing. Attend the preview (usually held a while before the auction, and open to the general public). Stay cool during the auction, and decide what you want to bid beforehand. Never get into a bidding war, it’s a surefire way to buyer’s remorse.
– do not be too hasty. Looking at some auctioned helicopters, you may get the feeling of a once-in-a-lifetime bargain, but in fact the market is pretty large and great opportunities are around all the time. It is best to observe a few auctions first to get a feel of the process, and only actively start bidding once you have a good idea of the market.
– beware of any too-good-to-be-true claims. At an auction, odds are they are just that – not true. Liability for a seller at a public auction is relatively low, and two powerful words – “AS IS” – basically free the seller of any responsibility. It is up to you to pinpoint them on essential statements and be wary of any outrageous promises.
– should you win the bid, insist on a written contract, and ask that all important figures and claims are mentioned (e.g. about prior owners or repairs, engine hours, or the timespan until you get the plane). Don’t forget that the price you will pay is usually higher than the winning bid. Most auctions include a 5-10% buyer’s premium.