The helicopter, by modern standards, is far from a flawed platform when operating to its strengths. It forms a vital part of the USAF, RAF, and PLAAF, to name a few air forces, and its relatively low cost and versatility makes it appealing even to the poorest of militaries. Combat helicopters are also one of the few aircraft that serve with armed forces and ground troops more than they do with air forces. Before the 1950s, however, the helicopter was seen as an ambitious design at best and unnecessary at worst. Aircraft required short runways that didn't necessarily need to be in good shape (and most of them were not, especially in the Pacific and North African theatres), and themselves were never a strain on countries coffers. This especially proved true during the Second World War, when many aircraft were able to take off in very short distances, and large numbers could be bought and assembled with relative ease. While people realized an aircraft that could take-off/land almost anywhere and perform the duties of fixed wing aircraft at a lower cost, and sometimes with greater efficiency, was useful, the helicopter's disadvantages far outweighed any of the benefits offered. Low range, velocity, and cargo capacity essentially made an aircraft useless no matter where it could operate from. With Messerschmitt BF-109s, ME-110s and Mitsubishi A6M Zeros over axis skies, slow moving aircraft flying at low altitudes were an easy target, and even if helicopters could survive the predators overhead, they could hardly navigate the mighty Pacific and Atlantic oceans without resorting to aircraft carriers whose decks were filled to the brim with fighters.

The first practical combat helicopter designs came from two countries with famously innovative aviation industries, the United States and Nazi Germany. Igor Sikorsky, a legendary helicopter designer, built the VS-300 in 1939 which would inspire the world's first successful production helicopter, the Sikorsky R-4. Able to carry out observation and search-and-rescue missions with relative ease, it became popular with the USAF, USN, and countless civilian operators after the end of the war. German Focke-Wolfe Corporation also dabbled in rotary-wing craft, producing the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 Drache twin-rotor helicopter which actually entered service, and even drawing up a design for a VTOL fighter complete with jet engines on rotating wings. Even then, it wasn't really until the early 1950s that the combat helicopter proved its worth. With the advent of the jet fighter came longer runways, more expensive fixed-wing aircraft, and aircraft gradually became more and more specialized.

As militaries realized its potential, helicopters began to equip armed forces everywhere, and made their first major combat debut in the Korean War. The most successful early helicopters were transports and utility aircraft, such as the infamous Piasecki H-21 "Flying Banana" that provided American troops in Korea with a workhorse and troop transport. The Soviets were also interested in the helicopter as a combat tool, and designs such as the Yakovlev Yak-24 "Horse" and Mil Mi-24 Hare emerged. Vietnam would see the dawn of the armed assault helicopter, when Mil Mi-8 Hip and Bell UH-1 Iroquois (More commonly known as the "Huey") helicopters sped across Vietnam loaded with troops, guns, and rockets, providing effective ground support and defence suppression for North Vietnamese and American troops.

It was in Vietnam that the world's first production attack helicopter, the Bell AH-1 Huey Cobra, made its debut, where it used TOW missiles, "Thumper" grenade launchers, and miniguns to devastate NVA troops and armour. The Mil Mi-24 Hind attack chopper which arrived soon after from the USSR was unique in that it carried enough equipment and weapons to classify itself as an attack helicopter, but it could also carry a moderate compliment of troops. The assault helicopter, a utility, cargo or transport modified to carry troops into battle, became a common sight over Vietnam, and soon began to use munitions and operate like attack helicopters. American UH-1 Hueys armed with rockets and miniguns were tasked with flying in large formations towards key installations, where the troops would depart while the Hueys dispatched enemy hostiles or armour that may have posed a threat. OH-6 Cayuses and other observation helicopters kept an eye on troop movements, calling in reinforcements when targets of opportunity such as tanks and convoys were spotted. Meanwhile, transport helicopters brought supplies and equipment to frontline bases and evacuated soldiers to field hospitals where they could recuperate. The NVA (North Vietnamese Army) found that the Soviet Mil Mi-8 "Hip" helicopter was optimal for use as an airborne command post in addition to a transport helicopter, and used it to accurately direct troop movements, creating a serious threat for American forces.

Of all the wars helicopters participated in, the well-known Soviet war in Afghanistan demonstrated the strengths, and faults, of the helicopter more than any other, even Vietnam or Operation Desert Storm. Shortly after invading Afghanistan, the Soviets decided to modernize and optimize the Mil Mi-8 "Hip" helicopter, since many took unnecessarily large amounts of damage from insurgent AK-47s and other light infantry weapons. The product was the Mi-17, the ultimate Mi-8 transport variant and an armed assault helicopter capable of defending itself from any target which posed a threat. Special attention was also paid to the Mi-24 Hind, which by the time of the Afghanistan invasion, was much more improved than the earlier "Hind" models had been, incorporating small bubble canopies which didn't restrict a pilots view, and also existed in specialized gunship variants with massive loads of weaponry. Hinds used cannons and even rockets to devastate civilians and insurgents in the "killing fields" (as the Soviets and Afghans referred to the battlegrounds, the latter with distaste). Gunships also proved capable of operating alongside aerial assets, and were used to mop up survivors after attack aircraft such as Su-25 Frogfoots made their strike. However, in an effort to cripple the Soviets without indirect involvement, the United States supplied first medical equipment to the rebels, and later ammunition. Eventually, after many requests from Afghan insurgents that the United States contribute offensive weapons, Stinger and Milan II missile launchers were allocated to the freedom fighters, and they proved beyond effective against Soviet attack helicopters. Operating in pairs or small teams, Afghans concealed themselves in scrubland, rocky terrain, and even urban centers, and if Soviet helicopters (especially Mi-24s) drew near, the guided missile launchers were used to drive them off.

Written by: Pace51