Surviving the Project Zomboid Helicopter Event
It’s happened to us all. You’ve survived for about a week. You have your base, a wealth of supplies and weapons, maybe an outpost or two. At this point, what could possibly stop you? Many a new player has reached this point, brimming with hope at their survival ability. Only to have it dashed by the whirring harbinger of the horde.
The first encounter is always the worst. Perhaps you were doing some interior decorating, or perhaps you were out on a supply run. Either way, being surprised by the helicopter almost certainly consigned you to the ranks of the dead. If you escaped the event unscathed, well done. If you died, as is more likely, and would rather avoid a similar fate in your next run, don’t worry. I’ll be going over the Project Zomboid helicopter event in full, how to prepare for it, and ultimately, how to survive.
What is the Project Zomboid helicopter event?
In case you haven’t experienced the helicopter event beforehand, I’ll give a summary. It is a type of “metagame” event, which is essentially something the game uses to shuffle zombies around the map. The helicopter comes roughly around the week mark, give or take a couple of days.
The helicopter will fly around the general area of the player, attempting to spot them. If it does, it will hover over them for some time, following their movements. While it is flattering that someone out there cares for us so, the deafening noise produced by the helicopter serves as quite the dinner bell. Before long, you can expect to meet with the horde, and if unprepared, join it.
How to prepare for the Project Zomboid helicopter event
Surviving Project Zomboid’s helicopter event is tied to preparation. Getting caught with your pants down just in time for your wellness check isn’t going to feel good. But, if you anticipate its arrival and prepare accordingly, you’ll likely get through it fairly painlessly.
Your main priority in preparing for the helicopter is finding radios. Radios are a handy tool to have generally, but for the helicopter event, they serve as an early warning system. With a bit of luck and perseverance, you will come across a radio with the automated emergency broadcast system (AEBS) channel. This is randomized at the start of each game, though you might get lucky guessing the frequency. Once you find one, check in each morning and listen for an “air activity detected”. This is your early warning.
Almost equally important to the radio is a vehicle and some fuel. You’ll probably want to skip town once the helicopter arrives, so unless you plan on a hiking trip, it’s time to look for wheels. Finding a car should be fairly easy. For ones in decent condition, check driveways and parking lots.
Once you find a suitable vehicle, you’ll need a way to start it. Check the car for keys, then the nearby house if there aren’t any. If you’re still coming up empty-handed, there is a somewhat cheesy trick you can employ. By luring zombies inside the house, then killing them, the game treats them as an ex-resident, putting the house and car keys into the loot pool. With enough corpses, you should have your keys.
An easier method is to learn how to hotwire. It is a skill burglars start with, making them a good choice if you want easy access to vehicles. For other starting occupations, you’ll need to raise your electronics skill to level 1, and your mechanics skill to level 2. Once you can hotwire, hop into the car and hit V to access the radial menu, then hit hotwire.
The final step is gas, assuming the vehicle doesn’t have any. You’ll need to find gas cans first, which are fairly common in warehouses, storage lots, and car shops. With one, you can siphon gas out of fuel pumps at gas stations, or from other cars. Fuel up yours and you’re good to go.
This is obvious, but not an aspect you should underestimate. You’ll be away from home for some time, so unless you like wondering where your next meal will come from, prepare a bug-out bag. You should include a few priority items, like food, water, a can opener, and extra fuel. Anything else is up to you. I’d recommend bringing some camping equipment, like a tent and fire equipment, alongside books, spare weapons, and a fishing rod. Make a vacation of your hasty retreat.
The arrival of the helicopter
Once you’ve gathered your preparatory equipment, all that’s left is to await the dreaded helicopter. As you close in on the 7-day mark, check your AEBS each morning before anything else. Having a few hours headstart is indispensable. Once you hear that message, you essentially have two options.
Take a vacation
In the vast majority of cases, this is the recommended action, especially if caught unawares. If the helicopter surprises you, run. Don’t stick around your base, as the pilot will definitely have spotted you. For whatever reason, this sadist will do at least two passes, leaving you to defend against onslaught after onslaught. Instead, grab whatever is close at hand, then scarper into the wilderness. The zombies will follow you, sure, but it beats getting cornered in an urban area. When the helicopter goes for good, take a particularly scenic route home.
If, however, you were able to both prepare for and anticipate the arrival of Project Zomboid’s helicopter event, then you can take a well-earned trip to the countryside. Once you hear the air activity warning, grab your bag of supplies, load up your car if you haven’t already, and hit the road. Your best bet for survival is to simply head to a rural area. Woodland cabins, farms, lakes, coasts, anything like that is a good location to weather the storm. Crack open a cold one, grab a book, and chill out for the next few days. You’ll need to give the zombies some time to disperse.
An alternative, provided you have a car, is to wait around for the helicopter and act as a lure. Say there’s a place you want to explore or fortify, but it’s usually swarmed. Once the helicopter comes, you can use it to guide the dead away. Wait for it to ring the dinner bell, then relocate your neighbors somewhere more suitable.
Wait it out
If you don’t like the idea of abandoning your home, there is a risky alternative. On the morning of the helicopter event, close any blinds, curtains, or anything else that gives a view into your base. The pilot is looking for signs of survivors, and a healthy-looking human peering out a window is as good as it gets. If you do get seen, you’ll have to run. The helicopter will hover above you for most of the day, and the chances of surviving in a town are slim. If you aren’t seen, the helicopter will only stick around for an hour or two, then head out. It may come back though; assume you aren’t out of the woods until nightfall.
This tactic is best in a rural setting. The helicopter will make its rounds, calling an awful lot of zombies from all over. In an urban area, you’re bound to get at least some unwanted visitors. If they break down a barricade and you get spotted, good luck. As such, you’re far better off cutting your losses and skipping town. You know what you’re getting into if you stay.
If you survive until the evening, you can unwind. If the helicopter isn’t around at roughly 6 pm, it won’t be coming back at all. You will have survived Project Zomboid’s helicopter event, and your experience as a fugitive is over. The consequences remain, however. If you head home too early, you will encounter the same horde you fled in the first place. Give it a couple of days, let the horde shamble on. Then take a long drive home.