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What Is a Helipad?

Helicopters can land safely on helipads.
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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2014
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A helipad is a location where a helicopter can safely land. In larger cities, a helipad may be located on the roof of a building. In rural areas, one might be typically located in a clearing free from overhead wires and trees. The helipad is easily identified by a large "H" inside a circle on the landing surface.

Helicopters are able to take off and land in a minimum of required space. This makes them especially important for emergency flights, such as to the scene of an accident or disaster. The largest and most dangerous obstacle the helicopter is forced to overcome are obstacles in the landing area. When flying at night, the helicopter is especially vulnerable to unseen overhead wires as well as undetected guide wires on the ground.

Many larger hotels, hospitals, corporations and even factories have a helipad. The helipad makes emergency and even routine helicopter trips a time-saving option for them. Large outdoor venues such as automobile and horse races, concerts and other sporting events often have one or more helipad stations available for VIP and emergency services.

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Perhaps the first helipad was designed and built in Korea during the Korean conflict. This was the first U.S. war to use the helicopter to evacuate wounded from the front line battlefield to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals or MASH units. The helicopter was credited for saving thousands of soldiers on both sides who would not have made it to the hospital in time using conventional modes of transportation. The mountainous and treacherous terrain of Korea made a perfect testing ground for the helicopter.

Helipads became major pieces of transportation in other subsequent wars as well. The Vietnam War became perhaps the largest deployment of helicopters ever. Used to ferry troops and supplies into and out of the various battlefronts, chopper pilots became very adept at getting the helicopter in and out of tight spots — often taking incoming gunshots the entire time they were on site. The helipads helped pilots to quickly identify where to land.

Buildings and fields are not the only places that a helipad can be found. Many large ships, both commercial as well as private, have a provision for landing a helicopter on board. Military ships use helicopters for rescue vehicles and often have more than one stationed aboard. Private yachts use the helicopter to shuttle in guests as well as to provide transportation for the owners should a business opportunity arise or the desire to simply go sight seeing.

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