There probably isn’t a little boy or girl on the planet who doesn’t dream of one day becoming a pilot. Few of us ever actually do it, though. Most people really don’t know what to expect from flight school, but you really can start learning to fly in a short amount of time. And whether you want to simply earn your private certification, or actually pursue a career in aviation, it can help motivate you just to know what you’ll actually be learning on your way to becoming a bona fide, certified pilot.
Learning Paths for Prospective Pilots
There are actually several levels of certification that you can reach as either a helicopter or airplane pilot, ranging from a private certification all the way up to an airline transport pilot certification. Either way, everyone starts out as a beginner.
Private Pilot Certification
A private pilot basically has a recreation certificate. You can take family and friends on individual flights. You can use this certificate as an introduction to flying and gain more serious certifications later on.
Your actual training lays the groundwork for understanding the principles of navigation, radio procedures, as well as airport and heliport operations. Hands-on training usually involves learning the most basic maneuvers, then moving on to actual flights, including night flights and cross-country flying. You’ll need to build up to the FAA’s required 35 hours of flight training in a helicopter (plus 35 hours of ground training), though it usually takes longer than that to complete actual flight time requirements, depending on your pace. For airplane training, only 30 hours of ground training are required.
Eventually, you’ll go through the FAA’s practical exam with an approved examiner. Once you pass the test, you’ll receive your Private Pilot Certificate. Initially, you’ll be limited to flying in fair weather conditions. If you want to fly under more adverse weather conditions, you’ll need to achieve what’s known as an “instrument rating,” which means you’ve been trained to be able to fly the helicopter or airplane using only your instruments. This is a natural next step if you plan on moving on to get your flight instructor rating or commercial pilot certification.
Commercial Pilot Certification
If you plan on a career as a commercial pilot, you must achieve your commercial certification, which takes you beyond the mere private pilot training. You’ll learn about advanced aerodynamics, how to accommodate passengers, and the laws and regulations related to commercial aviation. Commercial pilots also need to be able to fly more advanced aircraft, fly them more precisely, and at higher altitudes.
The minimum flight-hours requirement for a commercial pilot certificate is 35 hours of ground training (30 for helicopter certifications) and 120 hours of flight training. Commercial helicopter pilots need to complete 115 hours of flight training (at least 20 hours with an instructor).
Additional Ratings and Certifications Helicopters
On your way to commercial certification, you may opt for special training to learn about flying while carrying external loads, how to fly turbine helicopters, navigating mountainous terrain or extended cross country flying. The highest level of helicopter pilot certification is the Airline Transport Pilot Certification, and it requires a lot of hours of flight time to achieve (over 1,200 hours). This certification authorizes you to pilot an aircraft that weighs over 12,500 pounds, and carry more than nine passengers.
In preparation for commercial pilot certification, you will want to achieve additional ratings in multi-engine aircraft flight and flight instructor training, which are, in turn, good training in preparation for Airline Transport Pilot certification. No matter what your pilot training path, you can plan on spending a lot of time in the cockpit. And if you find that you really love to fly, it’s not unlikely that you’ll keep coming back for more training and more hours in the air. Hannah Edwards