Helicopter Pilot Career Center - Learn What it Takes to Launch Your Career
The fast-growing helicopter industry is an attractive goal for many aspiring pilots today. Helicopter pilots perform a huge variety of tasks because helicopters themselves are so specialized.
Some common helicopter pilot jobs include flight instruction, law enforcement, firefighting, search and rescue, aerial photography, transporting medical patients, and sightseeing tours.
However, there are many more tasks helicopter pilots perform, and you could find yourself flying crews to offshore oil rigs, delivering cargo to mountaintops, flying pipeline, and power line patrol, dropping off skiers or hikers on mountain peaks, or gathering news for a local television station.
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
- flight school stability
Helicopter Pilot Basics
In a helicopter pilot career, you can expect to work a variety of hours and long days, but most nights, you'll be back at home.
Some helicopter pilots fly set schedules as is the case with tour operators, helicopter commuter flights in big cities, and in most oil rig operations, but the majority of helicopter jobs will be less structured.
In fact, you may not know exactly what you will be doing from day to day, especially if the company you're working for is contracted for its services.
Helicopter Pilot Salary - How Much Do Helicopter Pilots Make
How much do helicopter pilots make? The short answer is, it depends. A helicopter flight instructor, flying a two-seat piston trainer is going to make a lot less than a pilot flying a twin-engine turbine-powered Sikorski executive transport.
The good news is that aside from the very lowest end of the scale, a helicopter pilot salary can provide a pilot with a very good living.
The median salary for a typical helicopter pilot in the United States is upwards of $80,000 (according to salary.com). Get more information about helicopter pilot training.
Helicopter Pilot Salary
The type of helicopter you fly, your seniority with the company, and your rank all play a role in determining your pay. Helicopter pilots, by definition, are "commercial pilots" according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), because they get paid to fly.
According to 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, commercial pilots (which includes both helicopter and non-airline fixed-wing pilots) earned a median annual income of $73,280, with the middle 50% earning between $53,050 and $96,810.
At the lowest end of the scale, 10% of commercial pilots earned less than $38,520, while the top 10% earned more than $134,990. Working conditions also affect the pay scale, as the more dangerous jobs or those that require pilots to spend a lot of time away from home tend to bring higher salaries.
The chart below shows commercial pilots' mean annual salary by industry (for those industries with the highest levels of employment):
Helicopter Pilot Benefits
Benefits for helicopter pilots vary tremendously. In your first job as a helicopter flight instructor, for example, you might not expect to get the best health insurance or life insurance.
But as you move up in flight hours, rank, and seniority during your career as a helicopter pilot, you should be able to earn an excellent benefits package, along with potential bonuses.
Many helicopter pilots work for large companies or government agencies, and it's in these types of jobs where you'll find the best benefits. Overall, the jobs outlook for the helicopter industry is quite promising. Learn more about helicopter pilot jobs.
Is a Helicopter Pilot Career Right For You
If you're looking for an exciting job performing a variety of tasks each day, a helicopter pilot career could be right for you. A "typical" day for a helicopter pilot could be anything but typical.
For example, in the morning, you could be flying passengers on aerial tours, in the afternoon, you could be "long-lining" a cargo drop, and in the evening, you could be fighting fires with a bucket, scooping water out of local lakes, ponds, and even swimming pools. Find more helicopter pilot training.
Which Helicopter License and Ratings Will You Need?
Before starting your helicopter license training in the USA, aspiring pilots must first get an airman medical certificate from a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designated medical examiner.
The medical exam is to ensure you're in good health, have good hearing, have 20/20 corrected or uncorrected vision, and don't have any other impairments that could prevent you from operating a rotorcraft.
During training, you'll need to have a third-class medical, but to fly as a commercial pilot, you must maintain a first or second class medical.
Next, as a minimum, helicopter pilots must earn both a private pilot license and a commercial pilot license. Many people choose to earn their private in airplanes because it can save some money.
If you go this route, you'll still need to take helicopter-specific training, testing, and check rides to earn your rotorcraft category private pilot license.
To earn a commercial pilot license, you need to have a minimum of 250 flight hours and be eighteen years old, so you'll need to build up flight hours after your private pilot license. Learn about helicopter pilot training.
Transitioning to CFI
After earning the commercial helicopter license, many helicopter pilots go on to get their certified flight instructor (CFI) certificate.
With the CFI in hand, you'll be eligible to get a job as a flight instructor either at the school you attended or in your local area.
A job as a flight instructor allows you to build up the hours you need, and get paid in doing so, to move on to your next helicopter pilot job.
Helicopter Pilot Specialty Training
Specialty training for helicopter pilots usually includes turbine transition training. Since many helicopters flown for hire are turbine engine-powered, most pilots need specialized training on normal procedures, systems, and emergency procedures.
You can expect 10 hours of ground training and 10 hours of flight training in your turbine transition course.
Pilots flying large helicopters having a certified gross takeoff weight exceeding 12,500 lbs. will also be required to earn a type rating for that specific rotorcraft.
Additional specialized training after earning your helicopter license can include high-altitude training, long-line / external load training, NVG (night vision goggles), and Part 135 tour operations.
Helicopter Pilot Currency
Helicopter pilots must also keep their licenses current by taking a bi-annual flight review with a CFI, and may be required to take recurrent training and FAA check rides depending on the type of operation in which they work. Learn more about helicopter pilot jobs.
Tips on Getting the Most Out of Helicopter Training
Flight training of any sort is a difficult and often expensive undertaking. It is also a collection of some of the most rewarding experiences you will have.
For these reasons, it is important that you strive to get the most from your training experience. As they say, your pilot's license is a license to learn and you should always do what you can to enhance your knowledge. Three easy things you can do early in your training that will improve your training exponentially are fly often, take your written exam early and train to high standards.
The easiest and most fun of the three is to fly often. All it requires is flying as much as you can. That's all there is to it. How will this improve your helicopter flight training? In a number of ways.
The primary improvement is that the more you fly the more comfortable you feel. You aren't so stressed and you start to internalize things. Before you know it, preflights that used to take 30 minutes are easily completed in 10 minutes.
The secondary improvement, which plays off the first, is that you will require less time to solidify new skills. You will find that you remember more from lesson to lesson and you spend less time trying to "get the feel" for something.
Take the Written Test Early
The second thing you can do that will drastically change your helicopter flight school experience is taking the written exam early. The results are good for 24 calendar months, so you shouldn't run into problems with completing your training at that time.
How does this improve your training? Primarily through allowing you to become familiar with the theories behind things you learn in flight training. For example, your ground training will feature a section on cross-country flight planning.
After your initial phase of flight training, you will then conduct a number of cross-country flights based on the planning principles you learned in ground school. At its most basic, taking the written early means you will already have a basic understanding of everything you need to know for your check-ride. From that point, your training will be about perfecting your flying skills.
Train to High Standards
That brings us to the third and likely most difficult thing you can do, training to higher standards. The FAA publishes a practical test standards document for every rating and certificate. These documents specifically detail the standards you must meet in order to pass your practical examination.
Essentially, these documents are the outline of the examiner's test. While it is beneficial to know that you can't be held to any higher a standard on the practical examination, or check-ride as it is often called, you shouldn't settle for scraping by.
Instead, try to over-achieve. For example, if the test standards call for hitting an altitude within 100 feet, shoot for something like 50 feet. This will allow you a wider margin for error on the day of your exam.
As you can see, these three tips are relatively easy to understand, but they will drastically improve the quality of your training. At the very least, applying them during your training certainly won't hurt you. F
ly as often as you can, strive to meet higher standards, and get your written exam done early. That's all it takes to really excel during your time at any helicopter flight school.
What Does the Future Hold for Helicopter Pilots?
The entire helicopter industry is rapidly expanding and the number of helicopter pilot jobs continues to rise.
Helicopter pilots serve a variety of vital functions, including emergency medical services, firefighting, forestry management, search and rescue, law enforcement, corporate/executive/private transport, TV and radio news, aerial photography, agricultural spraying, offshore companies, tourism, and utilities (pipeline and power line).
Until recently, many helicopter industry jobs were filled with Vietnam War-era pilots who were trained in the military and had a huge number of flight hours in their logbook when they returned from overseas.
Employers, always wanting to hire pilots with the most experience, had their choice of who to hire, and getting a job as a helicopter pilot was more difficult. Read more about helicopter pilot salaries.
Helicopter Pilot Job Demand
Today, many of those experienced pilots are retiring and the helicopter industry has grown. As a result, new helicopter pilots are in much higher demand.
Pilots entering the workforce are finding they are becoming more employable as the number of "high time" pilots decreases.
Employers have also reduced their hourly requirements from several thousand to sometimes as low as 500 hours for hiring eligibility.
This means that newly minted helicopter pilots with just a few months of flying as an instructor may be eligible for some entry-level helicopter pilot jobs.
Helicopter Pilot Job Growth
The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts job growth for all pilot jobs for the foreseeable future. Careers for commercial pilots of both fixed-wing and rotary aircraft are expected to increase by up to 21 percent between 2010 and 2020.
Helicopter pilots with the most training, hours, and education will have the easiest time getting jobs, so you'll need to prepare yourself accordingly. Research helicopter pilot training.