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This article is about helicopters in general. For helicopters assuming the "Helicopter" name, see Helicopter (disambiguation).
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Maverick-GTAVC-front

The Maverick, a generic but common helicopter introduced in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Helicopters (also referred to as Choppers) 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 included in this article, even though gyrocopters/autogyros are distinct from helicopters. Both fall under the broader category of rotorcraft.


Helicopters, also commonly referred to as Choppers, are a recurring type of aircraft first introduced in Grand Theft Auto 1 as uncontrollable vehicles, and as controllable vehicles since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Helicopters in both the real world and the Grand Theft Auto series possess numerous advantages and drawbacks when compared to other modes of air travel. This article lists any type of helicopter and vertical rotorcraft, such as gyrocopters.

Description

Typically, helicopters feature a main body, cockpit, engine bay, tail boom and a number of blades on the main rotor. In simplest form, the principle of rotors spinning at a high speed cause lift, thus lifting the helicopter off the ground, while the angle and pitch of the blades determine the direction of the helicopter. The tail rotor keeps the helicopter stable and prevents either the clockwise or counter-clockwise rotation of the main blades from rotating the helicopter body itself.

Within the cockpit, a pilot and copilot control the helicopter. Basic controls consist of the foot pedals and the cyclic- and collective-pitch levers. Most helicopters in the GTA series seat 4 occupants; 1 pilot, 1 co-pilot and 2 rear passengers. In most cases, rear-seat passengers sit on the side of the helicopter while the rear doors are open, infamously known for by the Police in the majority of GTA games.

Behavior

3D Universe

Damage

Helicopters are relatively weak in the entire 3D Universe of Grand Theft Auto, with the exception of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. In most situations, a helicopter will sustain engine damage, before falling out of the sky and exploding. The earliest known helicopter to possess this weakness are the Police Helicopter and Helicopter in GTA 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.

GTA San Andreas improves helicopter damage realism by allowing helicopters to degrade performance-wise with heavy damage, similar to aircraft. In a manner somewhat similar to fixed-wind aircraft, helicopter rotors begin to slow down (which can be heard distinctly) when damaged severely, resulting in reduced speed and manoeuvrability. Helicopters spin and emit thick, black smoke when they are on the verge of exploding, which may develop into a fire, at which point the helicopter will explode upon impact with any surface or with enough time.

Grand Theft Auto IV

Unlike many of the 3D Universe games, Grand Theft Auto IV's helicopters are intended for use by the player and thus helicopter physics have been revamped.

Damage

Helicopters are significantly stronger and can often take multiple explosives before outright exploding. While in flight, colliding with solid objects tends to cause major engine damage, but not destroy the helicopter completely. On ground, damaging a helicopter with the use of other vehicles usually causes minor body deformation and engine damage.

The main rotor of helicopters in GTA IV can be broken if they become stuck on solid objects for too long; for example, flying too close to a building will often cause the blades to catch, with sparks indicating this conflict. Eventually, the blades will break off, seemingly disappearing, and the helicopter will plummet to the ground. The helicopter usually won't explode upon impact after an uncontrollable fall, although it is rendered completely useless. Once the player exits the helicopter, they will not be able to reenter the helicopter. A repeated bleeping noise will be played when the helicopter is damaged and will play continuously until exploded.

The tail boom of helicopters can also break off. In this situation, the helicopter will spin out of control. If the helicopter looses too much altitude, if will eventually stall and collapse to the ground. Like the lack of a main rotor, the player will not be able to enter a helicopter without a tail boom. Smoke will constantly pour from the engine bay in this situation.

AI

AI helicopters, particularly police helicopters, usually don't use the helicopter's full potential, particularly its agility and speed, and if fleeing, are relatively easy to keep up with. As with AI land vehicles, if an AI helicopter collides with a solid form, it will continue on.

Police helicopters always spawn with a pilot and two passengers sat on the side of the rear bay. They utilise snipers and repeatedly attempt to snipe the player. A single shot to the head of these occupants will cause them to fall to the ground, and the helicopter will rotate to allow the other occupant to gain vantage of the target. When both rear occupants are killed, the helicopter will fly away and another will return shortly after. The pilot of a police helicopter is protected with the glass windshield, however 1 sniper head shot will often kill them. In that situation, the helicopter will spin out of control and explode on impact with the ground.

Weaponry

Some helicopters feature weaponry. The Annihilator features dual miniguns which are usable to the player and to NOOSE at 5 star wanted levels. The Buzzard features both miniguns and missile pods.

Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V greatly improves helicopter behavior, seemingly becoming more realistic.

Damage

Helicopters in GTA V are weaker in multiple aspects. The average helicopter takes much less bullet resistance before the engine is damaged, and a single explosive will destroy the helicopter completely. What's more, helicopter collisions with solid objects at high speed will more often than not explode the helicopter, killing all occupants, however to compensate for this, the handling of helicopters has been drastically improved, becoming more responsive on command.

Like in GTA IV, the main rotor of all helicopters is able to be destroyed, however allowing the blades to catch on solid objects while in mid air is much more difficult, as the helicopter will force itself away or towards the object. On ground, as with before, smaller helicopter's blades catching on objects will break them, however some, larger helicopters will often behave differently, such as the Savage, which usually spins out of control erratically, even when on ground.

The tail rotor of helicopters is also sustainable to damage. A shot in the right place, often easier when shooting the side the rotor is mounted on, will instantly break off the rotor, and the helicopter will loose control. The tail rotor will seemingly vanish, and a small explosive-like effect will display in its location. The helicopter will then fall into uncontrollable descent and a loud scream of warning noises and the helicopter blades speeding up will play until impact, at which point the vehicle will explode.

Controls

The controls of a helicopter allow the player to control speed of the rotor using the accelerator and brake commands, while the pitch and roll are controlled by the steering direction command, and roll controlled by additional commands.

Weather

Much like fixed-wing aircraft, the weather has a noticeable effect on helicopters in GTA: San Andreas and GTA: Vice City Stories. 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 accidents by flying at higher altitudes, where there is plenty of room to maneuver.

Usage as a weapon

Vehicularcombat-GTAVC-helicopter-blades

The player using the blades of a helicopter to kill soldiers in GTA Vice City.

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, Buzzard and Savage. 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 pedestrians. Until GTA IV, players could not kill themselves using the blades of their own helicopters or police helicopters, though GTA IV and GTA V now allow this to happen (which makes it advisable to wait until the blades come to a stop before exiting a helicopter in some awkward-landing scenarios). Games prior allow only the horizontal rotor to inflict such damage, while helicopters in GTA IV and GTA V allow the player to kill using the tail rotor as well. Kills using the blades of the helicopter do not warrant the player attention from the police in the 3D Universe and GTA IV. GTA IV introduced additional damage with the blades by being able to collide with vehicles and throw them around using them.

In GTA V, not only the main rotor blades can kill an NPC or another player, but the tail rotors can do it as well, with the exception of some Fenestron-style tail rotors (a protected tail rotor of a helicopter operating like a ducted fan). However, rotors are still sensitive to contact, so with enough use, they can break off as well.

Helicopter Sniping Tricks

While rocket launchers and machine guns are generally used to take down helicopters, some GTA games also implement helicopter sniping tricks that allow players to take down helicopters through the use of Sniper Rifles in order to help them save some ammo for the other weapons. Each GTA game has its own different sniping tricks as follows.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

The helicopters in GTA San Andreas can be shot down by sniping on any part of the chopper's roof, regardless whether it hits the rotor blade or not. It only requires one shot from a sniper rifle if done properly, and players can perform this trick both from the ground or on top of a roof. This is usually done against Police Mavericks in the game.

However, doing this trick from the ground might be difficult since the helicopters will always float above the player, thus making it impossible to snipe the chopper's roof. The only way to make the helicopters exposing their roof is to make them chasing the player. The helicopters will tilt forward, thus exposing their roof, and follow the player from behind. At this rate, players must aim their sniper rifle quickly for the chopper's roof and snipe it to shoot them down.

Grand Theft Auto IV

The helicopters in GTA IV have increased armor, making them very resistant to small arms (except RPGs), repeatedly firing at the hull will eventually cause it to smoke, but this can be difficult and time consuming. However, the cockpit of a Maverick has large glass panels and the pilot is clearly visible, if you can shoot the pilot with a sniper rifle, the helicopter will be sent into a death spin and crash. This can also be done with the Annihilator, but the front wind shield is much smaller and higher up, making a shot from the ground more difficult, but still possible. In addition, killing the two cops who are shooting at the player from the side doors of the helicopter will cause the helicopter to retreat, spin a bit out of control, or temporarily give up. This will give the player time to outrun the helicopter.

It is also possible to shoot the pilot of an Annihilator through the glass at the bottom of the cockpit, although it would take multiple shots since players are only able to hit the character's feet, rather than the body or head.

Sniping the pilot when the helicopter is low also comes in handy to obtain the helicopter, this comes in handy to obtain the Police Maverick in Grand Theft Auto IV because there is no other way to obtain the vehicle.

Grand Theft Auto V

In GTA V, the concept is mostly the same as GTA IV, but now police pilots can take up to three shots depending on the amount of armor they carry. A helicopter (Maverick only, untested on others) can now be taken down with two shots to the tail rotor so the sniping technique may be slightly less useful than before. Since helicopters are much sensitive to hard impacts, it is not possible to make one fall to obtain it with the same methods as in GTA IV (and rather unnecessary, since the Police Maverick can be still obtained in some Police Stations with helipads).

Trivia

General

  • Despite the fact that most real-life helicopters are piloted from the right-hand side, all flyable helicopters in Grand Theft Auto 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. Similarly, in the case of the Hunter and the Savage, these are piloted from the co-pilot gunner seat while the rear seat is not able to control the vehicle, opposed to their real-life counterparts.
    • However, the same Hunter in Grand Theft Auto Online (renamed FH-1 Hunter) follows the correct layout of pilot on the rear seat and gunner in the front seat.
  • On game box art from Grand Theft Auto III onward (besides Grand Theft Auto Advance and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars) a helicopter is always depicted in the top-left corner.

3D Universe

  • In the original PlayStation 2 version of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, entering a Pay 'N' Spray in a helicopter will result in the helicopter acquiring wheels.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, shooting at certain places on the skids will make a pop sound, as if shooting out a car's tire.
  • Also in GTA: 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 GTA: 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 Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, there is 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 (does not work with Sea Sparrow and Leviathan), which prevents the helicopter from exploding, or to pitch it downward to reach a sufficient speed in order to bail out. Therefore, the slow main rotor movement is the last warning for the player to avoid being trapped inside.

HD Universe

  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, while having a three-star wanted level, if the player 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 they leave the area or when destroyed with a grenade (if the player is able to throw one), since the game still register the vehicle and cannot spawn another vehicle with the wanted level restriction (one active helicopter at three and four stars and two on five and six stars).
  • In GTA IV, all helicopters have scripted flight patterns, and will only spawn to fly over a small set distance before disappearing. If the player follows the helicopter that spawns on the bridge, the NPC helicopter will start to gain altittude indefinitely, until it reaches the maximum height limit.
    • For some reason, helicopters are scripted to spawn a police officer inside. If the player cause a wanted level (by shooting at it, for example), the helicopter will sometimes break from its script to chase and threaten them as if it were a police helicopter at three stars. Being either a Maverick or a Helitours Maverick, they won't appear on the radar as with police-controlled civilian vehicles. Killing them is the same result as killing a cop, resulting in a three-star wanted level.
  • 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.
Savage-GTAO-Front2

An example of the wheels issue on the Savage. Seeing the helicopter is centered in the picture, the front wheel appears to turn on a side.

  • There is a rare issue in the HD Universe helicopters where some wheeled helicopters, when moving sideways, the wheels seem to become "stuck" or "turn" for a brief moment before returning to their normal positions. This is rather hard to notice, as not all helicopters have focus on their wheels with the cinematic camera, and usually require exhaustive observation for the issue to become apparent. It seems to only affect the front wheels.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, it is not possible to pop the tires of a wheeled helicopter by shooting at them or attempting to burn them. In Grand Theft Auto V, however, it is possible to pop the tires of a wheeled helicopter, except the Skylift.
  • In Grand Theft Auto Online, as of patch 1.17, players flying a helicopter will be indicated on the minimap by a special helicopter icon. It is the same as the Police Maverick HUD icon, but white.
  • Oddly, all helicopters in GTA V are able to land in the water if still piloted and if not forced to land. While it is not dangerous, some helicopters, such as the Police Maverick, tend to lose their tail rotors when the sea is very turbulent, as the waves will cause damage to the tail rotor, similar to when forcing them into a building.

References