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Helicopter Flight TrainingFive Things to Consider When Looking at Helicopter Flight Schools
By Kyle Garrett
Learning to fly helicopters is an exciting and fulfilling experience, but decisions made early in your flight training have a noticeable effect on your enjoyment of flight training. In order to have the best possible experience learning to fly helicopters, consider these five things: eligibility requirements, training cost, training aircraft and their availability, instructor availability, and flight school stability.
Are you eligible?
The very first thing you need to know is whether you are eligible for at least a student pilot certificate and what it will take to get your private pilot certificate. Thankfully, the FAA has strict requirements that must be met and they don't keep them a secret. It is important that you understand any possible limitations you may experience early in the process. In general, you must be at least 16 years old, be able to read, speak and understand English, and hold at least a current third-class medical certificate. A medical examination at a qualified aviation medical examiner will provide you with both a medical certificate and student pilot certificate. While a student pilot certificate is not required for training with an instructor, you must have one for solo training flights and it is recommended you see the medical examiner as early in your training as possible in case any complications should arise.
More so than fixed wing flight training, the complexities of helicopters make flight training a potentially costly endeavour. It is important that you look at the costs and take stock of how you plan to finance your flight training. One important note, the FAA may requires only a minimum of forty flight hours, but you will, like most students, probably require more than 50 hours. Ask your school for a detailed cost estimate, including any additional costs such as insurance, ground school, etc. You want to make sure your training isn't interrupted by financial issues.
Talking of training costs, perhaps the easiest way to save money is consider the training aircraft available and choose something less expensive. For example, a small two-place helicopter, like a Robinson R-22 will typically rent for less than a larger more-powerful helicopter, like a Bell Jet Ranger. Even though you may not plan to fly this type of helicopter after training, learning in a smaller, lighter helicopter will save money and be simpler. You can always get transition training later.
Aircraft and Instructor Availability
Once a budget is nailed down and you've got an idea of what helicopters are available, you should consider the scheduling availability of both instructors and helicopters. Whether a particular flight school can accommodate your schedule is key to how well your training goes. If you can only fly on the weekends, but instructors, helicopters, or both are only available mid-day during the week, you will probably have trouble sticking to a schedule.
Flight School Stability
This may be a sign of the times, but flight schools are like any business and sometimes they have to close. While this is a pretty rare occurrence, you'll want to be aware of any potential issues before starting your training. You don't want to have your training interrupted by having to find a new school. Infinitely more likely is that your instructor may leave. Before you get too invested, see if there are several instructors on staff and how this transition might be handled. An instructor leaving is not the end of the world, but it can be a pretty big speed bump.
Helicopter flight training is one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences you can have, but it is important you build your training on a solid foundation. Doing your research ahead of time and ensuring that you are eligible, able to afford it and choose a stable, well-staffed, and well equipped school will provide you the best possible helicopter flight training experience.
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