Both chopper and copter have been widely used as abbreviations of helicopter since that craft became a military staple in the 1940s and ’50s. Copter was more common than chopper until the 1990s. Chopper is now more common, but copter may be making a comeback. This would be a useful development, as chopper has numerous other meanings, including (1) a tool used for chopping and (2) a customized motorcycle, and hence can cause confusion. Copter has no other definitions, so it bears no risk of confusion.
Instances of copter in current news stories are easy to find—for example:
Missile Is Fired at Copter Over Baghdad, U.S. Says [NY Times]
[T]he company issued a notice in January urging replacement of the studs, telling operators of the copter to substitute the parts within a year or 1,250 flight hours. [Globe and Mail]
Laser blinds copter pilot carrying sick patient [Sydney Morning Herald]
But chopper still prevails. Examples such as these are much more common:
A list released by his office of all the chopper trips does not include any flights to the governor’s shore house … [Washington Post]
Soldiers kept firing their machine guns into the air, to be followed later by a chopper circulating around our heads. [Guardian]
Police were waiting when they returned to the chopper and it was flown to the airport under onboard escort. [New Zealand Herald]
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