How to Become a Helicopter Pilot

by | Mar 20, 2023 | Career Advice

Helicopters are incredible machines that can take off and land vertically, hover, and make intricate maneuvers in tight spaces. As a result, helicopter pilots have exciting, unique jobs that involve transporting passengers, fighting fires, policing, and conducting search and rescue operations. Many aspiring pilots are interested in learning how to become a helicopter pilot, and in this blog we’ll provide a comprehensive overview of the steps needed to embark on this thrilling career path. 

Prerequisites

Before you start the process of becoming a helicopter pilot, you’ll need to make sure that you meet the minimum requirements. The requirements vary based on which aviation authority you plan to fly under, but some of the most common include: 

• Be at least 18 years old 

• Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English 

• Hold a current third-class medical certificate

• Pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) written exam 

Education 

One of the essential steps required to become a helicopter pilot is obtaining the necessary training from an accredited school. Helicopter pilot training most often includes flight simulator training, ground school, and flight training. Ground school helps prepare you for the FAA written exam and will cover topics such as aviation regulations, safety, emergency procedures, and weather. Simulator training typically occurs in an enclosed mock helicopter in which you’ll practice maneuvers such as hovering, autorotations, survival strategies, and basic flying techniques. Flight training involves completing several hours of physical flight time in which you’ll gain experience in a variety of tasks related to day-to-day helicopter operations.

Choosing the Right Flight School

When choosing a flight school, it is important to research and compare the different options available. Look for schools that are accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and have a good reputation in the industry. Consider factors such as location, cost, and available resources, such as flight simulators and experienced instructors.

Obtain a Private Pilot License

To become a helicopter pilot, you must first obtain a private pilot license (PPL). This involves completing ground school, flight training, and passing a written and practical exam. You will need to log a minimum of 40 flight hours, including 20 hours of solo flight time.

Get Your Commercial Pilot License

After obtaining your PPL, you can start working towards your commercial pilot license (CPL). This involves completing additional flight training, building more flight hours, and passing another written and practical exam. You will need to log a minimum of 150 flight hours, including 100 hours of pilot-in-command time.

FAA Exam

Once you’ve completed your flight training and obtained the necessary hours, you’ll also need to pass the FAA written exam in order to qualify for your private pilot or commercial pilot certificate. This exam covers a variety of topics related to helicopter operation and includes both multiple-choice and scenario-based questions. In some cases, the exam may also include an oral portion. Most students complete this exam after their first 50 hours of flight training, although it may be done earlier if you have additional experience or knowledge of aviation.

Certificates & Ratings

After successfully completing your FAA written exam, you’ll need to obtain the necessary certificates and ratings for helicopter flying. Depending on your intended application, you’ll need either a private pilot or a commercial pilot certificate. Private pilots are allowed to fly for personal use only, while commercial pilots are allowed to fly for compensation. Additionally, depending on the type of operations you plan to be involved in, you may need to add additional endorsements and/or ratings to your license, such as mountain flying, instrument flying, night flying, and more.

Additional Training & Experiences

In addition to the basic requirements, there are a few steps that you can take to make your resume shine and boost your chances of landing the helicopter pilot job of your dreams. Many employers look for pilots who have additional training or experience with specialized operations such as mountain flying, external load operations, and night flying. Additionally, if you’re interested in military or law enforcement flying, obtaining a flight instructor rating can also be beneficial. 

Essential Skills for Helicopter Piloting

Helicopter piloting requires a unique set of skills and abilities. In addition to technical knowledge of flying and navigation, helicopter pilots must also have strong situational awareness, problem-solving skills, and the ability to remain calm under pressure. They must also be able to communicate effectively with air traffic controllers and other pilots.

Jobs & Salary

Many aspiring helicopter pilots wonder how much they can expect to make once they’ve obtained their license. The exact salary will depend on the type of job you obtain, but most pilots can expect to make anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 a year depending on their experience and job duties. 

In addition to the salary, helicopter pilots also enjoy job satisfaction and unique opportunities to showcase their skills. There are a variety of industries that employ helicopter pilots, such as news stations, oil and gas companies, tourism and travel operators, hospitals, fire departments, and more. 

Conclusion

Becoming a helicopter pilot is an exciting and rewarding journey that requires dedication and perseverance. While the process may seem lengthy, in reality it can be completed within a short amount of time with the right education and preparation. We hope this blog has given you helpful insight into the process of becoming a helicopter pilot, so that you can start taking steps towards reaching your goals today.

Commonly asked questions regarding pursuing a career as a helicopter pilot

What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Helicopter Pilot?

To become a helicopter pilot, you will need to obtain a private pilot license (PPL) and then a commercial pilot license (CPL) with a helicopter rating. You will also need to pass various medical and physical tests and meet specific requirements for flight hours and experience.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Helicopter Pilot?

The cost of becoming a helicopter pilot can vary greatly depending on the school, location, and type of training. On average, it can cost around $75,000-$100,000 to obtain the necessary licenses and ratings.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Helicopter Pilot?

It can take anywhere from six months to two years to become a helicopter pilot, depending on the training program and the amount of time you can dedicate to training.

What kind of Jobs Can I Get as a Helicopter Pilot?

As a helicopter pilot, you can work in various fields such as emergency medical services, law enforcement, firefighting, search and rescue, tourism, and corporate transportation.

What Are the Job Prospects for Helicopter Pilots?

The job prospects for helicopter pilots can vary depending on the location and the industry. However, the demand for helicopter pilots is expected to grow in the next few years, particularly in industries such as emergency medical services and offshore oil and gas operations.

What Skills Are Necessary to Become a Helicopter Pilot?

To become a helicopter pilot, you will need to have strong communication skills, good hand-eye coordination, and excellent situational awareness. You will also need to be able to work well under pressure and have a high level of concentration.

How Safe is it to Fly a Helicopter?

Flying a helicopter can be safe, but it also involves some risks. It is important to receive proper training, follow safety protocols, and stay up-to-date on best practices to minimize the risks involved.

Is There a Minimum Age Requirement to Become a Helicopter Pilot?

To obtain a private pilot license, you must be at least 17 years old. To obtain a commercial pilot license, you must be at least 18 years old.

Can I Become a Helicopter Pilot if I Wear Glasses or Contact Lenses?

Yes, you can become a helicopter pilot if you wear glasses or contact lenses, as long as your vision meets the necessary requirements.

Can I Become a Helicopter Pilot if I have a Medical Condition?

It depends on the medical condition and its severity. Some medical conditions may disqualify you from becoming a helicopter pilot, while others may require a special medical certificate or additional testing. It is best to consult with a medical professional and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to determine your eligibility.

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