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This article is about helicopters in general. For helicopters assuming the "Helicopter" name, see Helicopter (disambiguation).
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A Maverick, a generic but common helicopter introduced in GTA Vice City.

Helicopters are recurring aircraft first introduced in Grand Theft Auto 1 as non-controllable vehicles, and available as controllable vehicles since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Helicopters complement fixed-wing aircraft, and possesses advantages and drawbacks. Due to similar attributes, gyrocopters such as the Little Willie are classified under this article, although both the helicopter and the gyrocopter fall more accurately under the rotorcraft category.

Description

Design

Helicopters are vertical take-off aircraft which utilize one or more horizontal rotors to control height and one tail rotor to stabilize the aircraft from spinning out of control from the force of the horizontal rotor(s). As a result of its construction, helicopters are more capable of executing vertical takeoff and landing, as well as hovering in the air, but is slower in speed than fixed-wing aircraft as horizontal movement is dependent on the tilt of the vehicle rather than the propulsion of the rotor.

The player can control the speed of the rotor using the acceleration and brake command, while banking, which requires the use of both the steering commands for side banks and two sets of directional commands for forward/backward leans and turning. Since GTA Vice City, helicopters in GTA typically support between one to four occupants.

With its rotors fully exposed, the blades of the helicopter itself can be effectively used as a weapon against any person on the street, killing them instantly on contact, but requires risky controlling of the aircraft. Games prior allow only the horizontal rotor to inflict such damage, while helicopters in GTA IV allow the player to kill using the tail rotor as well.

Damage

Helicopters can sustain damage and crash or explode as a result. The earliest known helicopter to possess this weakness are the Police Helicopter and Helicopter in Grand Theft Auto III, which are vulnerable to gunfire or a rocket launcher. By the time helicopters were controllable in GTA Vice City, helicopters may also suffer damage from impact on hard surfaces (with the exception of landing) or other solid objects, and cease to function outright in water if they do not have pontoons (i.e. the Sea Sparrow). The degree of damage on a helicopter is only indicated by the presence of smoke or fire appearing from the horizontal rotor.

An exception to this are the helicopters flown by the police. These helicopters are scripted to take damage differently than flyable helicopters. They do not emit smoke and fire if they are heavily damaged. However, if the helicopter sustains too much damage, it will begin to spin in circles and gravitate towards the ground. Once it hits the ground it will disintegrate immediately, and parts of the helicopter can be seen flying in random directions. Also, the entire tail boom of the helicopters can be severed with the use of powerful weapons (such as a rocket launcher), resulting in it spinning in circles rapidly.

In GTA San Andreas, the damage system has been improved when compared to its predecessors. If the player heavily damages a helicopter, the rotors will weaken in power (indicated by some loss in the ability to climb as well as a lowered pitch in the engine sound (the same applies to planes for their engines)), making flying more difficult. If the helicopter sustains even more damage, the rotors will weaken further and will emit smoke, and the helicopter starts to rotate in circles, making it even harder to control. The main rotor at this point has been damaged to the extent where the player can no longer climb. Eventually, the main rotor will either catch fire, or parts of the helicopter will explode several times. These are the game's last signs of the helicopter's imminent destruction. From this point on, the player will have almost no control over the helicopter, as most of its control surfaces have been heavily damaged. Around 15 seconds after the initial fire, the helicopter will inevitably explode violently, destroying it completely and killing the player. However, it is worth noting that the models of helicopters still remain unchanged despite heavy damage.

As GTA Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories reuse GTA III's engine, they revert to GTA III's/GTA Vice City's damage engine. This system remains unchanged until GTA IV.

In GTA IV, the damage mechanics of helicopters have been improved greatly. If the helicopter blades hit a wall too much, the blades will be ripped apart and the helicopter, devoid of its ability to maintain lift, will fall, either inflicting damage, killing the player, or both. Also, the entire tail boom can snap off if the player strikes it against a building or barrier with enough force. With the tail boom destroyed, the player has little control over the helicopter except for the altitude. As in real life the tail rotor is used for stabilizing the helicopter by providing a force against the rotational force of the main rotor as well as rotating the helicopter through the use of the rudder pedals, in GTA IV (and real life), the lack of one causes the helicopter to spin in circles rapidly. While in a helicopter, beeping can be heard once the helicopter sustains too much damage. If the helicopter sustains more damage after the beeping alert is heard, it can either explode (which will be evidenced by the engines being on fire) or the tail boom will break off. Also, though hard to make happen, instead of the entire tailbroom being severed, the tail rotor may shatter, resulting in the same realistic spin effect. There is also one type of damage that does not happen that commonly. After the chopper has sustained enough engine damage, the engine cuts out, leaving the player to glide, but upon impact the player loses health.

In GTA V, the tail and rotors can break as they did in GTA IV, but now a helicopter crash is usually lethal, as they will now usually explode upon impact with a solid object, much like a plane will. This also makes an emergency ejection harder, as the player will usually be caught in the explosion as they jump out.

Weather

The weather has a noticeable effect on helicopters in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories and Grand Theft Auto IV. In windy or rainy conditions helicopters will bank and sway in the direction of the wind, which makes flying at low altitudes dangerous. Players can avoid impacts with buildings and trees by having a high altitude, where there is plenty of room to maneuver back into position. In GTA V, helicopters sway more in the wind, making them harder to control.

Usage as a weapon

Helicopters can be used as a weapon. Since GTA III, police helicopters will shoot at the player if the player receives a wanted level of three or more.  In GTA IV, actual police officers will shoot from the helicopters instead.

Mounted weapons may be available on certain models, including the Sea Sparrow, Hunter, Annihilator and Buzzard. From GTA III to GTA Vice City Stories, mounted guns can auto-aim at targets to a certain extent while rockets need to be aimed by the player. Since GTA IV, mounted guns can no longer auto-aim and has to be manually aimed. In order to make aiming easier, holding the spacebar (PC version) switches to a first-person aiming mode with crosshairs in the middle. However, the helicopter must be physically pointed towards the target, and since pitching the nose up and down causes the helicopter to move forwards and backwards, actually hitting targets with any accuracy can be difficult.

The main blades of the helicopter can be used to instantly kill any people. Until GTA IV, players could not kill themselves using the blades of their own helicopters or police helicopters, though IV and V now allow this to happen (which makes it advisable to wait until the blades come to a stop before exiting a copter in some awkward-landing scenarios. Kills using the blades of the helicopter do not warrant the player attention from the police. GTA IV introduced additional damage with the blades by being able to collide with vehicles and throwing them around.

Trivia

  • Despite the fact that most real-life helicopters are piloted from the right-hand side, all flyable helicopters in GTA are piloted from the left. Although the choppers are modelled with dual controls as in real life, they cannot be flown from the right-hand seat in the game. Furthermore, in The Ballad of Gay Tony mission "Dropping In", when Luis exits the chopper, Timur shifts from the right-hand seat to the left to take over the controls.
  • In the original PS2 version of GTA Vice City, entering a Pay 'n' Spray in a helicopter will result in the helicopter acquiring wheels.
  • In GTA Vice City, shooting at certain places on the skids will make a pop sound, as if shooting out a car's tire.
  • Also in Vice City, when the "invisible cars" cheat is enabled, the helicopter will appear with a set of wheels, just like all other vehicles. In this case, the wheels are generic car wheels.
  • Again in Vice City, there is a second variant of the Police Maverick (internally named "chopper", the normal variant is named "polmav") which is flown by the police. When spawned, however, it is invisible. As it is technically a remote-controlled vehicle, entering it will crash the game. Even if it is controlled, it has no acceleration and is therefore useless.
  • In GTA IV, when you have a three star wanted level, if you can shoot the chopper pilot while the chopper is over water causing it to crash into the water, it will remain there and no other choppers will appear until you leave the area (tested on PC and Xbox version).
  • In GTA IV, all helicopters are scripted, and will only spawn to fly over a small set distance before disappearing. However, a bug exists: if you have a Wanted Level, the Helicopter will sometimes break from its script to chase and threaten you as if it were a Police Helicopter at 3 stars. If you don't have a Wanted Level, doing something like shooting a Helitours Maverick will cause it to act as a Police Maverick and it will hover over you, as if it had Police Officers in it. Despite the fact it isn't owned by the LCPD, it will give you a 3 star Wanted Level if you shoot and kill the pilot, just like if you were killing a cop. All this works with Helitours Mavericks and Annihilator.
  • Since GTA IV, Helicopters rotor blades and tails now come off when crashing and if the tail but not the rotor blades come off, then the helicopter will spin whilst gaining height.
  • The glass on the sidedoors on the Annihilator is bulletproof. However, if the player steals it, they will break the glass.
  • The helicopter from Grand theft Auto III and on (besides Chinatown wars) all appear on the left hand square in the game covers
  • In GTA San Andreas, there's a glitch, that occurs frequently when the helicopter catches smoke, it causes the chopper to instantly explode upon player's attempt to leave it making it impossible to eject and parachute down. The only way to survive is to land in water (doesn't work with Sea Sparrow and Leviathan), which actually prevents the helicopter from exploding. Therefore, the slow main rotor movement is already the last warning for the player to avoid being trapped inside.
  • There is a rare glitch with HD universe helicopters, sometimes when taking off in one, it may automatically accelerate backwards or forwards without the player controlling it. It is unknown why this happens.

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