Read up; this will tell you everything you need to know.
I’ve been blogging since 2003 and have been writing about my experiences as a helicopter pilot since the very start. A lot of what I’ve written covers the commercial side of flying helicopters — flying for hire. I’ve also written about the helicopter job market; that post, now about three years old, remains one of the most-read posts on this blog, with dozens of comments that help make it even more valuable for blog readers.
Along the way, I’ve been accused of “shooting people down,” “destroying people’s dreams,” etc., ad nauseam. That is not my purpose. I like to see people achieve their dreams, but I am a realist. I believe that people can achieve their dreams if they work hard and smart and do the right things to make it happen.
After all, I did it. I’m a woman (which, sadly, does matter in this particular field) from a middle-class family with absolutely no aviation background. I waited until I was in my late 30s to start flight training, doing it more as a hobby than a career change. I covered the cost of training to get my private and then commercial ratings. When I realized I was hooked, I set a goal of flying helicopters at the Grand Canyon. I achieved that goal in 2004, working as a seasonal pilot for one of the tour operators there. Now my goal is to get a job as an ENG or movie pilot. I’m working on that and believe I can achieve it.
But what are the right things to do if you want to build a career as a helicopter pilot? That’s what this multi-part post will attempt to address.
Who Needs to Read This
If you are a man or woman at least 16 years old with a serious desire to become a helicopter pilot, this post might be for you. Answer these questions honestly:
I want to become a helicopter pilot because:
(A) I love to fly and want to do it as much as I can.
(B) I think helicopters are cool and being a helicopter pilot would really impress my friends.
(C) I want a job earning $80K or more a year.
I’m sure I can fly a helicopter because:
(A) Well, I’m not really sure, but I think a good instructor can teach me.
(B) I can fly helicopters on my flight simulator.
(C) It looks pretty easy.
The most important thing to learn about flying helicopters is:
(A) It’s all important, from basic maneuvers to FAA regulations.
(B) Being able to do autorotations.
(C) Knowing how to fly like the pilots in the movies.
(A) Utility aircraft designed to perform missions that airplanes can’t.
(B) Like airplanes but without wings.
(C) Built for fun.
If you knew that the “right” answer to each of these question was A, there’s definitely hope for you. You might have the right attitude to be a helicopter pilot. And that’s important because, as I’ll discuss, attitude is vital to success.
If you honestly picked B or C for any of the answers, you need to think a bit harder about a career as a helicopter pilot. You likely have some misconceptions about what flying helicopters is all about. Why not stop by your local medevac base or helicopter charter company office and chat with some of the professional pilots there? Don’t chat with folks at a flight school — they’ll simply tell you anything you want to hear. Talk to the folks who are actually flying helicopters for a living. They’ll give you the facts and set you straight.
Who Doesn’t Need to Read This
This post is for people who want to build a career as a helicopter pilot. In other words, they want to fly helicopters for a living.
If you just want to learn to fly helicopters — as a hobby or just another skill — you don’t need this advice. Just go find a flight school and sign up. That’s what I did. I never intended to fly professionally. I just got hooked and then needed to be paid to fly in order to keep flying.
If you’re thinking about flying helicopters for a hobby, be aware that it is a very expensive hobby. It’ll cost about $10K to get your private helicopter pilot certificate. Flight time in the cheapest helicopter you can find will cost at least $180/hour and likely much more. Ownership is even more expensive — especially if you don’t fly more than 100 or so hours a year. Even home-built helicopters are costly to acquire and operate.
I’m not trying to talk you out of it — I’m just pointing out the facts. I know quite a few private helicopter pilots, most of whom own their own helicopters. They’re all rich guys. All of them. I am the poor kid on the block; I need paying passengers to fly.
And if you’re interested in helicopter ownership, be sure to read this.
In the next part of this series, I’ll start providing my advice. While you might be tempted to skip one or more of the parts, don’t. Every single one will provide vital information you’ll need to succeed. Read them all; post your questions as comments on the appropriate post. I’d love to see a good discussion start — something that’ll really help you and others achieve your goals.
Oh, and by the way. I think the information you’ll find here applies to getting started in a career as any kind of pilot — even fixed wing.