So You Want to Be a Helicopter Pilot, Part 4: Choose a Reputable Flight School

Get what you pay for.

The quality of your training will be determined by your flight school. And believe me, you want the best training you can get.

Some Basic Tips

Here’s a bunch of tips for choosing a flight school; sadly, most of them are “don’ts” because of the kinds of marketing tactics some schools use:

  • Don’t be lured by ads for cheap training with promises of jobs at 300 hours of flight time. These schools are not interested in turning out quality pilots. They’re interested in attracting as many wannabes as possible to fill out their bottom line.
  • Don’t get fooled by schools that make verbal promises about hiring all graduates as flight instructors. A verbal promise isn’t worth more than the paper it’s written on. Many flight schools will tell you anything you want to hear to get you to sign up. Besides, wouldn’t you rather get trained at a school that chooses the best CFIs as instructors than the one who takes any CFI as an instructor? And do you really think they can hire all of their graduates? What happens when graduates hired as CFIs outnumber students? How many hours of flying will you get then?
  • Don’t look at the biggest or smallest schools. Look at schools somewhere in the middle. These are the ones where you’ll have the benefit of several CFIs on staff while still getting some level of personal attention.
  • Check into the experience of the training staff. Find out how many hours of flight time the chief flight instructor and some of the other flight instructors have. Find out whether any of them have real-life flying experience. Flight schools that offer tour and charter services also offer opportunities for their CFIs to get the kind of experience they’ll use in future jobs.
  • Once you’ve got the flight schools narrowed down to one or two, talk to some of the students and flight instructors there. See what they think. Try to get the contact information for one or two graduates who have moved on to see whether they thought their training at the school helped them succeed.

Don’t be lazy and take shortcuts here. Your future starts with your training. Do your homework. You’ll be amazed by what you learn.


Learn to Fly Here SignThere are a lot of people who make a big deal over the kind of equipment used for flying. There are three basic helicopters used for training: Robinson R22, Schweitzer Schweizer 269/300 (which has a bunch of other names), and Enstrom F28F and 280FX. News flash: They’re all good.

The R22 is an extremely “squirrelly” helicopter. It really takes all of your attention to fly. Its two-bladed system makes it unsafe for aggressive or low-G maneuvers, but ground resonance is not an issue. Robinsons are widely respected and widely used in flight schools.

I can’t speak firsthand about the Schweitzer Schweizer since I’ve never flown one. I know that as a helicopter with a fully articulated rotor system, it’s capable of performing far more aggressive maneuvers than a Robinson. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. It is susceptible to ground resonance. I have heard that its glide slope in autorotation is steeper than an R22 but can’t back that up with facts and figures.

I have flown an Enstrom and, in all honesty, I wasn’t impressed. The excessive vibrations really turned me off, but that could have been caused by the blades being out of balance or some other maintenance issue on that particular aircraft. It also has a fully articulated rotor system, but I can’t recall hearing anything about one getting into ground resonance. I don’t know enough about its flight characteristics to pass judgement on it.

Most pilots favor the helicopter they trained on. That’s true with me. Not only did I learn in an R22, but I owned an R22 Beta II for four years and put at least 1,000 hours on it. But who knows? If I’d trained in a 300, I might have all kinds of love for it instead.

I’m hoping that folks reading this who have more knowledge about the other two aircraft will comment on their experiences. (Warning: I will not allow an equipment-bashing comment thread to form for this post. Present facts about what you know; not hearsay about what you don’t.)

I certainly don’t think you should pass up a flight school because of the brand of its equipment. The age, maintenance quality, and condition is far more important. You want a flight school with its own hangar and maintenance facility. You might even want to take a look at it to make sure it’s relatively neat and clean and the mechanics look like they know what they’re doing. A place with friendly mechanics who are willing to talk to you when you have a mechanical problem or question will certainly help you get more out of your flight training.

There’s one other thing to keep in mind. Some flight schools have one or two turbine helicopters on hand that they use for charter work or even training. When trying to get you to sign with them, they might hint or even promise that they’ll give you a certain number of hours of turbine flight time. Get any promises in writing. It is not uncommon for flight schools to give students the impression they’d get turbine transition training in a package deal and then, for some reason, not provide it. Either the aircraft was down for maintenance or there were too many other pilots queued up for time in it or there was an additional fee that was never discussed. If a turbine aircraft is dangled like a carrot in front of you, get all the facts about flying it before signing up.

Beware of Package Deals

And that brings up the topic of package deals. My advice is this: Do not sign with a school that forces you to enter into a contract for all training and pay them a bunch of money up front. (This was also pointed out by Damien in comments for Part 2 of this series, which discussed funding your flight training.) You do not want to be contractually tied to any flight school (at least not without a contractual way out that won’t cost you anything) and you certainly don’t want them getting money upfront (beyond reasonable prepayments) for services yet to be rendered.

If there’s anything the Silver State debacle taught us, it’s that flight schools aren’t always around forever. If they fold with your money, you’re out of luck.

Equally important is that if you decide after a few weeks or months of training that you don’t like the flight school and want to continue training elsewhere, you have the freedom to do so. And believe me; this happens more often than you think.

Networking Potential

Keith, who has far more experience flying far more equipment in far more places than me, pointed out in comments to my earlier post about age:

I know several aspiring pilots who I have counseled about the helicopter business but I hesitate to recommend a school to them. My usual advice on schools has been pick the best ranked school that provides the greatest possible chance to get that first job.

It is a little discouraging to me to have to tell an aspiring career pilot that all the good grades, excellent flight reviews and mind numbing study may come to not if they don’t make that first job happen for themselves. Perseverance helps but choosing the right place to train and the connections and recommendations that come from certain schools and/or instructors might make all the difference. It is still a small industry where more positions are gained through personal recommendations and associations than any quantity of paper credentials. Your reputation in this industry begins at day one and for good or bad will follow you your entire career.

This is excellent advice for career pilots. I know of at least once school — now defunct — that had a terrible reputation for training. It got so bad that many employers would simply not consider any pilot that had that flight school listed on a resume. That’s a difficult hurdle to jump when you’re just starting out.

But I think what Keith’s saying goes beyond just choosing a flight school. I think it also has to do with how you represent yourself throughout training and your first few jobs. That’s attitude and I’ll cover that next.

54 thoughts on “So You Want to Be a Helicopter Pilot, Part 4: Choose a Reputable Flight School

  1. I learned to fly at a military aero club in Hawaii. All of my instructors were very experienced. (One was a Hawaiian Airlines co-pilot. Another was a Navy lieutenant and one was 75 years old!) Most were instructing as a side job (Hawaii is expensive), and they were not trying to make a living at it. I benefitted greatly from their advanced experience, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

  2. The above comments refer to my initial flight training in fixed wing aircraft. Many helicopter pilots elect to get their fixed wing certification first in order to build time less expensively. Much of this time counts toward future helicopter ratings.

  3. Good post Maria. I hope that aspiring career pilots follow your advice and do some leg work and research before committing to any school, but its been my experience that most pilots will spend more time researching their next car purchase than their next career choice.
    I don’t know why that is? There are enough resources including the information you are providing to arm any potential wannabee pilot with the questions they need to have answered when they check out a potential flight school.
    You wouldn’t buy a car solely based on the salesperson and the dealerships close proximity to your residence would you? Make no mistake about flight school personnel, no matter what their title and expertise, salesperson is part of what they do.

  4. Well put Keith. That’s why blogs like Maria’s are so important. Maria, regarding which aircraft is better for training, I can only offer the following. I received my initial helicopter training in the Hughes 269 and 300. I took my instrument training in an R-22. I also went through ag school in the Bell 47. I love flying the 300 and autorotations are a breeze. No stress. The Ground Resonance issue is really a non-issue with me. It’s easy to avoid and easy to get out of. If you have the opportunity to learn in a Bell 47, don’t count it out. It is, in my opinion a classic beauty, and will do a pretty extreme ag turn. Good with autorotations and more forgiving than the R-22 in that regard. The only drawback is that as soon as you sit in it, the theme from M*A*S*H keeps running through your head. Oh well. The R-22 did not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling, but I have a very experienced R-22 pilot friend that swears by it. I have never flown an Enstrom, so can not comment on it. All and all, picking an instructor in my opinion is more important than picking an aircraft.

  5. @Keith
    I’m convinced that people are looking for the easy way out. They’d rather have someone — even a stranger on a forum! — tell them which flight school to attend (or not attend) than to do their homework and pick the school that’s best for them.

    And I definitely agree that everyone who works for a flight school is involved in sales. You really can’t believe much of what they tell you and MUST get all promises in writing.

  6. @Mike Muench
    I really do want to try a 300 now. Need to track one down in Phoenix and book an hour of dual. What the hell, right?

    A good friend of mine owns a Bell 47G in pristine condition. I think it’s Serial Number 2. Does a lot of survey work with it. It’s the prettiest thing with that beautiful bubble. I have a photo around here somewhere; will have to dig it out. I got an hour in a Bell 47 years ago when I was still a pretty new pilot. Didn’t really experience it the way I could these days. Need to talk my friend into taking it out for a joy ride one day this spring.

  7. Thought I’d give you my 2 cents on things. First, I’m a student pilot, and I’ve only flown a 300. Ground resonance is something you want to keep in mind with any fully-articulated rotor system, I’ve never experienced it firsthand. The ways to prevent it are to keep the oleo’s in good condition (preventing it on startup) and to not slam the skids into the ground (preventing it when landing). As long as your setdowns are good, and you are ready to pick back up (if you do get into ground resonance) you’ll be fine. As far as autorotations go, from 1000 feet, the 300 will come down about 1/2 mile from where you’re at. I also plan to try to get a few hours in both enstroms and 22’s as well. Just to see what I’m missing out on. Though, your story about the shaking of the enstrom makes me a little more hesitant about it.

  8. @Duncan
    Thanks for adding to the discussion. I really do want to get some stick time in a 300 now.

    As for the Enstrom — I’m definitely not saying to skip it. I’m thinking that the one I flew must have been poorly balanced. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to fly such a rattletrap. If they were all like that, no one would fly them.

    I think it’s a great idea to get stick time in as many aircraft as you can — even if it’s just an hour or two. Being able to compare multiple aircraft is a great thing. I’ve only had time in R22, R44, B206L, Hughes 500C, Rotorway Exec (really!), that Enstrom, and a Bell 47. Of those, I only feel qualified to talk about the first four. The R22 is nimble but squirrely. The Long Ranger flies much like the R44; the Hughes 500 was “heavy” as hell because no hydraulics. Interesting to compare.

  9. I forgot to mention the Hiller UH-12E. I have about 1100 hours in one and I love it. Stable as a rock. I can’t speak for the earlier versions like the C and D models. The E model has the Lycoming VO-540 which is a strong engine. There are places still around that teach in them. I can strongly recommend it.

  10. @Maria Langer
    First, a REPLY! Nice to know you actually read the comments.

    One big difference I completely forgot to mention, is the lack of a governor. There is a correlator linking collective and throttle (as collective goes up, throttle increases) but it is not fantastic. I think it definitely increases pilot workload as any power change has to be anticipated with some throttle, and then the rpms fine-tuned once the new power setting is established. Makes it very easy to overspeed, unfortunately. As far as I know, enstroms are the same. Definitely worth pointing out for new pilots.

    Now, I do think that learning in a non-governored ship has its benefits, I think having a governor does as well, by letting the student focus on learning basic control of the helicopter easier, when they are ready, they can always turn off the governor and get the benefit of learning to anticipate power changes with throttle.

  11. @Duncan
    Yep, I read the comments. I also moderate them and prevent a lot of the childish nonsense that goes on in many forums. I do have to say, other than the occasional spam that gets through the filters, there’s seldom any comments that need to be rejected as inappropriate.

    The Robinsons also have a mechanical correlator, but its the electronic governor that does the fine-tuning work. You can actually feel it making slight adjustments in your hand as you fly.

    It’s interesting to note that the R22’s original lack of the governor, coupled with its low-inertia rotor system, is part of what prompted SFAR 73, which has additional training requirements for Robinson pilots. Apparently, when the helicopter first came out, it was a big hit with Vietnam era vets and other experienced pilots (as well as inexperienced pilots, of course) who weren’t used to the unforgiving rotor system. They’d let the RPMs droop beyond what they could recover from and the helicopter would drop out of the sky. The governor was added as an option and then became standard. The low rotor RPM warning system, which I illustrated with a video here, activates at 97% RPM; I think that early warning is a throwback to those days.

    Of course, Robinson pilots do train for low RPM recovery — as any helicopter pilot should — but thinking about RPMs and throttle is simply not a major part of the pilot’s workload. I also have mixed feelings about this. Although I love having throttle manipulation handled for me so I don’t have to deal with it and can enjoy flying just a bit more, I agree that there are some benefits to training without a governor. Back when I had about 500 hours of flight time, all in R22s, I had a governor failure and was a nervous wreck for the full 30 minutes it took me to ferry the aircraft to a mechanic who could fix it. (For the record, there was no problem doing it manually, especially with the correlator to help.) If I’d been trained on a governorless ship, I wouldn’t have been nervous at all.

    • Maria,
      I wish I’d learned about your blog earlier. I was going to reply to someone else’s post but when you mentioned low RPM recovery, I had to reply to this one. I started training in a 300 a few weeks ago. I’m getting recurrent in helicopters as I was formerly an Army pilot many years ago. I’ve never before had to manage power so carefully! The 300 feels like a solid machine but that correlator and manual throttle have been a challenge at times. I’m used to an always-on governor to manage RPMs. But so far in all my training with this school (we’ve done the full gamut of commercial maneuvers) I’ve never been trained on low RPM recovery. That’s a concern as I’ve had a few needle splits in the training. The CFI usually recovers it for me but I’m pretty sure I should be trained more about this and be able to do this myself. Correct?

      About schools, mine has a handful of instructors. I began to sense a negative opinion of my performance as a student but no one really came right out and said anything. My instructor and I had disagreed on an aspect of a maneuver but I confessed I was likely dealing with primacy issues. Then, I asked one of the instructors if mine had any complaints. The instructor informed me ‘we talk trash about our students all the time’ as if that’s just the way it is (do CFI pools just do this to vent?) Ever since that, I now wonder if all the questions about my prior service were more patronizing than anything else and I now sense out-right disdain from a couple of these instructors including mine. For the sake of reputation mentioned above, should I do everything to repair my relationship with this school or just bite the bullet and move to another school?

    • Yes, you should definitely be trained to perform a low rotor RPM recovery — especially in an aircraft without a governor.

      I don’t know what CFIs do — I’ve never been one. But I suspect they do “talk trash” — especially about students they either don’t like or find troublesome. My experience with young helicopter pilots coming up the ranks is that many of them are pretty full of themselves and that they often help support that feeling by pointing out the weaknesses in others. I could imagine them enjoying having a target that’s older than them. Very sad to see an attitude like that among pilots who don’t even have 1,000 of flight time and little or no real world experience.

      I can’t advise you on what to do about your situation. Perhaps you might try going on an “intro flight” with another flight school and get feedback about your performance from that CFI?

      Good luck to you!

  12. I love the 269/300 series as an owner/operator as it lets us do many tasks fairly cheap. The US Army having operated 800 of them for 24 years helped make the design very robust with great time limits on the components. Please don’t take offense… but it’s spelled SCHWEIZER. :) No worries, because it is now a Sikorsky. I hope Sikorsky doesn’t drop the ball and the design suffers as I do see signs of that currently.

  13. I flew a 300 for around 800 hours. I love the 300. I would take it over a 22 anyday (I have flown one). They are nice for the extra speed but for maneuvers, the 300 is lovely. It is a much more stable platform than a 22. I have had ground resonance about 3 times but as Mike said above, it was a non issue. Pick it up gain and set it down a little more gently than the student did :).
    Autos are great in it. Having done every type imaginable and taught them all too. One thing about the 300 is that in hot weather, snapping the throttle shut has caused numerous amounts of them to have an engine stall. Therefore, having to perform real full downs. I experienced this in Bakersfield on a very hot day.
    Overall, the machine is great and it is a better choice for those who are heavier and taller.

    I have never flown an Enstrom.

  14. @Damien: Thanks for sharing this.

    It’s great that so many pilots are filling in the blanks of my original post with comments about their own experiences in different aircraft. I think it’ll really help students to see that all of the training aircraft have fans.

  15. Back in the 60s, Cessna realized that when someone buys an airplane, the vast majority purchase the make that they learn in. Wisely they opened a nationwide network of Cessna pilot centers. This would be the perfect opportunity for a leader like Sikorsky to do something similar with the 300. I understand that they may want to do one thing right. Manufacture. But at least partner with a school. I wonder why they don’t. For all that Silver State did wrong, they did show that there is a demand.

  16. When I was at Bristow instructing, we had the top 15 executives from Sikorsky, including Jeff Pino, come down there for 5 hours of flight training each. I was lucky enough to be one of the instructors and they were with us for about 3 days. They had their S92 with them too. A great experience.

  17. With regards to the choice of equipment to train in. If your intent is to be a career pilot and the first job you will likely have is as a flight instructor then one needs to consider the job market and what aircraft is the most used for flight training. If you train in the Robinson which I beleive represents the biggest job market you do not legally require much additonal training to instruct in another make. However the reverse is not true due to the SFAR requirements to give instruction in a Robinson.

    • Dan: This is a really good point. But I like the squirrel argument: R22s are so squirrelly that if you can fly one, you can fly anything else.

  18. I would just like to first say that these blogs you offer are great and provided me with much food for thought on taking flight lessons.

    I saw you listed the R22 here, but not much on the R44. I have taken one flight lesson so far (1hr) in an R44 Raven II. It is considerably more expensive than the R22, and so I am wondering if there is any real advantage to learning in the R44 as opposed to the R22. The person running the flight school said that most pilots will use the R44 as opposed to the R22 once out of flight school, and that in order for the insurance companies to cover flight of the R44, the pilot must have a certain number of hours in an R44. He went on to state that it would be the same, if not cheaper, to train in the 44 as opposed to training in the 22 and then getting hours in the 44 later.

    Anyone have any insight on this matter? Thanks in advance for any advice.

    • I think the person running the flight school is pulling your leg, trying to get you to buy more costly flight time. If you can fly an R22, you can pretty much fly any helicopter. Hell, I went from an R22 to a Long Ranger — and switched back and forth from one to the other daily for a whole summer.

      As for most pilots using the R44 right out of flight school — I don’t think that’s true at all. Most pilots who build the 1,000 or so hours they need to get a job (other than as a CFI) will be flying turbine aircraft. And CFIs are far more likely to fly R22s than R44s.

      And as for it costing the same or less to get your ratings in an R44, he’s either outright lying to you or smoking something that would fail a drug test. How many R44 hours does he think you’ll need to fly an R44? SFAR 73 requires 10 (I think) to carry passengers and 20 (I think) to do flight instruction. While some insurance companies — for example, Pathfinder, might require more for commercial operations, do you really want to spend all that extra money to set yourself up for a job as a Robbie pilot? For not much more, you can probably get a turbine transition that’ll get you further in your career.

      Talk to another flight school and see what they say. Good luck.

  19. Jon, It sounds like you got a short answer. Explain to the person running the flight school that you didn’t completely understand his answer and could he sit down with you and outline the pros and cons of learning in the R-22 as opposed to the R-44. BTW, you don’t have an overweight instructor, do you?

  20. Having reluctantly trained someone for their add on CPL rotorcraft in a Bell 407 I can say that I believe that person would have perhaps taken twice the flight time hours to pass their check ride had the training been conducted in an R22. There are many who feel the same about the R44 in that there will be less hours required to reach proficiency. I am not so sure that is a good thing since part of the problem is you need to acquire a number of hours of flight time in order to be gainfully employed. With respect to the SFAR requirements to act as an Instructor in the Robinson you must have 200 hours total helicopter time and 5o hours in the R22 or the R44 as appropriate. You can “count” 25 hours of R22 time toward the R44 time requirements therefore reducing the R44 requirements to 25 hrs. You can NOT however do the reverse by counting R44 time toward the 50 hours R22 time. So in 200 hours flight time you could have 175hrs in an R22 and 25 hours in an R44 and all of your ratings and qualification to instruct in either aircraft. If you chose the R44 as the primary aircraft you would then fly 150 hours in an R44 and 50 hours in an R22 to accomplish the same thing. I think the math is clear as to which is the less expensive route. Even if you only flew the first 50 hours in the R44 and then switched to the R22 for the last 150 hours it would still be the more expensive route. As I pointed out in a previous post the largest job market is going to be in the Robinson as a flight instructor and most initial instruction is still occurring in the R22 simply from the expense stand point. IF your training is not career oriented then I would train in what you intend to fly such as the person did in the Bell 407. I do think there is some validity to the statement of less flight time in the R44 compared to the R22 to reach the same level of proficiency. Enough to cost the same, I doubt it.

    • Thanks for clarifying this, especially about the SFARs. I think you have a good point in that it’s easier to reach proficiency in an R44. An R44 is definitely easier to fly than an R22 — having just flown an R22 again for the first time in 6+ years, I can speak from recent experience.

      But let’s also be realistic about the kind of school that would make a statement like that to a potential student. Is that the kind of flight school that’ll let the student take a check ride with the minimum required number of hours with proficiency? Or the kind of school that sells a package including XX number of hours and bills more for hours needed beyond that if the student doesn’t have the skills to pass a check ride? And then determines whether the student has those skills?

      Let’s face it: there are too many flight schools out there that see a student strictly as revenue. Some schools will keep a deep-pocketed student in the system as long as possible — I know because it was done to me. A school that’s trying to sell a new student on training in a more expensive aircraft than needed strikes me as one that doesn’t have the student’s best interests in mind.

      What’s the going rate for dual in an R44 these days? $500? $550? The R22 I just flew went for $250/hour dual. Is it worth twice as much per hour for primary training to do it in an R44? I don’t think so. And I question the ethics of any flight school that claims it is.

  21. I happened accross this website while doing research on my future helicopter challenges (lets face it, I wouldnt be doing it if i thought it was boring). I’m currently a A&P about to seperate from the Military and decided I would love to be the guy breaking it instead of the guy fixing it (a little mechanic humor, sorry pilots) I showed this site to a few pilots I know, it gave us a great conversation to build off of, and i’m sure will help me break into it. a year later this is still helping people such as myself. So thank you, writer and posters.

  22. Hi Maria, first off I’d just like to thank you for all the information you’ve made available. It’s really helped me get a better idea about the helicopter industry and what it takes to progress in it.
    I’m wondering if doing the entire training on a turbine machine equalling 100 hours when finished would have benefits making it worth the extra costs? The training would be done on a Bell 206B and without taxes would cost 87,150.00 Canadian dolars without taxes and includes 100 Hours Flight Time @ $ 850.00/Hr plus the costs of some flight material and ground school.

    Thanks in advance for any help!

    • Well, it would be nice to start out with turbine time, but no matter how you slice it, a U.S. employer is going to want to see at least 1,000 hours of PIC time before putting in a turbine ship. You mentioned Canada — I don’t know what employers there are looking for.

      In general, I’d say NO, it’s not worth the extra money — unless you’re rich and money is no factor! Maybe paying for some turbine time via a transition course when you have 500+ hours would pay off, though. It’s something to consider.

      Good luck, no matter what you decide.

      And by the way: if anyone here disagrees, please speak up. I don’t profess to know everything.

  23. I agree, Maria.
    Sebastian, I would recommend starting with piston helicopter even if you have money to go full turbine. Piston engines are the basic. If you’ve never flown them you may be at a disadvantage if you ever wanted to give basic instruction, because everybody learns in a piston, with the exception of the military. The money would be better spent on building hours. Once you get your commercial license, I would recommend that you take a specialized training course such as fire fighting, external load or aerial application. With an external load, or firefighting certificate, an employer may waive some of the required minimum flight time and hire you as co-pilot until you build hours. With an Ag school certificate you may get hired to load pesticide. Get all the experience you can get in different jobs. EMS is experiencing a pilot shortage right now. Air Methods just bought out a helicopter tour company in order to have a place for future EMS pilots to build experience. While you are building time, I highly recommend you get your helicopter instrument rating and at least your Private Pilot Airplane rating. Good Luck!

  24. Air Methods bought out a tour company? Which one?

    And I do agree about the Instrument rating. That’s the one I really wish I’d finished up. With luck, I’ll get that one done within the next year; I think it will really increase my marketability for winter jobs.

    • Wow. They’re based in Vegas and do tours to Grand Canyon West. I think I dropped off a resume there in November. (Lot of good it did me; my timing is always wrong.)

  25. Thank you both Mike and Maria for your invaluable information! It is much appreciated. As far as the type of aircraft training is done on in terms of piston helicopters would there be much difference in training on a Bell 47 vs the R44?

    • Who’s training in Bell 47s these days? I’d pick the R44 (or even R22 to save money). The R44 flies remarkably like Bell 206 aircraft (JetRanger and LongRanger).

  26. So far I’ve flown a 300C, 300CB, R44-1 and Enstrom 480B and F28F. By far the most comfortable, easy to fly aircraft was the Enstrom 480B. It is extremely smooth, except on startup there is a definite wobble that is “normal”. The 300C is what I have the most time in, and I know it inside and out, I do love it’s rugged frame and handling. If you fly in winter… It leaks cold air like a sieve. The R44-1 I’m not sold on. I have 50+ hours in it, and it’s handling in a hover is about 3x as sensitive as a 300 and 4x as sensitive as the Enstroms, and t/r just feels weird compared to the others I’ve flown. Maybe it was the way I was trained, but I can auto a 300 on a postage stamp surrounded by trees, but the R44 glides about 200 yards at 50′ before settling… it seems to require a larger landing area clear of obstacles. The SFAR is probably necessary, but completely annoying and has been a real frustration to me. I love your blog!

  27. There is a ton of great material that you’ve put together here Maria, both in your original posts and also in the numerous comments left by so many others. Thank you for your efforts!

    I’d like to chime in as a current student working on my commercial and CFI certificates. I currently have just over 80 hours and finished my private about a month ago. My plan is to complete the “standard route” of becoming a CFI, hopefully at the school where I am training, and then move on to the industry when experience allows.

    I spent a lot, a WHOLE lot, of time milling over the options for training. Different schools, different machines, even different countries, and most of the other things that many posters have brought up in their comments. I was very lucky to have several helicopter pilots to pester with questions and this was extremely valuable. So I’ll start by backing up two things already mentioned: do lots of research (there are so many different schools) and then find some pilots and ask them questions. The more you ask the better.

    In regards to all the fuss over which helicopter to train in I don’t really see why there is much discussion. The bottom line is that if you want to become a CFI you have to learn in a Robinson. Yes, there are exceptions, but they few and far between. If you are willing to put in the extra work to find one, go for it! Otherwise, it all goes back to SFAR 73. You will not be hired to fly in a Robinson unless you have 50 hours of flight in Robinson helicopters. And if you can’t fly in a Robinson you’ve just ruled out the vast majority of job prospects after completing your training. Why start your career by shooting yourself in the foot?

    I’ve also seen many posts online about how to save money on training. Some say to train fixed-wing first and some say that you should not train in a R22 so that you’ll learn faster and thus save money. But in the end you’ll still need 200 hours in helicopters and 50 of those in Robinsons. Fixed wing hours will not help you meet these requirements. And what if, thanks to training in some incredible machine, you finished your private, commercial, and CFI with the bare minimum of 150 hours? You still need to have the 200 with 50 in Robinsons for the majority of CFI jobs out there. Considering the extra money you paid to train in something else, and the 50 you’ll still pay to fly the R22 in the end, why not just fly the R22 from the get go?

    In the end I don’t believe there are any shortcuts out there. The training is expensive and the best way to save money is to commit yourself to it one hundred percent. You can save plenty by working hard and training as much as possible. Fly the Robinson, it’s as cheap as helicopter flying gets, it’s a great aircraft, and you’ll leave yourself as marketable as possible at the end of your training. Enough said.

    For arguments sake are there better helicopters to fly than the R22? Probably. And I’m sure we’d all love to fly them from day one if we could. But that has nothing to do with saving money or making it as a career pilot.

    For anyone who is interested in learning more about what it’s like to actually be in training I have a weekly blog that I am keeping.

    Have a look here:

    With any luck, and lots of hard work, it will show my own personal path from dreamer to professional.

    • Excellent point about training in a Robinson. Since most of the flight schools fly Robinsons it makes sense to learn in one so you’re more marketable. Sadly, there are a lot of Robinson haters out there — for whatever reason — and those folks just aren’t willing to look past their opinion about the aircraft.

      I don’t believe in shortcuts either. The only way to build a solid career and get ahead is to work hard and smart. Very few people can go the route I went — buying a helicopter and just flying it all over the place. The CFI route is not only accepted but usually preferred.

      Best of luck to you!

    • Thanks Maria!

      I also find it strange that so many people are averse to the Robinson. Just think of the hours flown in these machines by the highest risk group of pilots out there, students and CFI’s. If anything were seriously flawed about these machines we’d be seeing it.

      Thanks again for the blog and best of luck with the continued construction of your home.

    • Hi Mike. The quick answer is reputation. But there were a few other things that influenced me to a large degree.

      One was the design and content of the website. It sounds silly, but while most school’s websites were flashy and talked about the money you’ll make, how cool the job will be, and how easy financing is MLH offered a dose of realism. I appreciated that honesty. The other thing I really appreciated was the way I was treated when I contacted the school. After my initial chat with the school’s general manager my follow up questions were all handled by the president of the school. That kind of personal attention was a very positive sign in my mind.

      Another influence was that two of the helicopter pilots I know trained at the school. Talking to former students who have had a good experience is generally a good sign and interestingly not all the pilots I talked to recommended their own personal paths as the best one. On top of these personal accounts of MLH I searched the internet and found no negative comments about the school. This is almost unbelievable since you can always find negativity on the internet.

      While the things I just listed were the main reasons for my decision there were other factors as well. Good flying weather and good terrain were important to me. A school big enough to realistically offer employment and actual work at the end of my training was important. Not being in a pilot factory was important.

      And what I will put last on my list is the thing that most people put first, money. Why? Not because I’m rich or come from a wealthy family. Just like everyone else at first my only concern was how much it would cost. It was after turning over the numbers in my mind a lot, and looking at the differences in schools and what they claim the total cost will be, that I finally saw that the important outcome was success in a new career as a pilot, not saving some money. While it sounds appealing to save $10K or maybe even $20K by attending a “cheaper” school if you cannot covert that training into a job then the savings are pointless.

      As we all know, we get what we pay for, and with an investment as serious as flight training I wanted to know that I was getting the best for me. So I stopped thinking about the money after the first couple months of the decision process. Then it all boiled down to which school would offer the best fit. And that was why the other criteria became so important.

  28. Good reply, Orin.
    Another point is that there are tour operators in the islands that might be willing to accept lower total time from someone that has local flying experience. I leaned to fly on Oahu and when I applied for a job there years later, that was one of the most appreciated qualifications, or so it seemed. Good luck, Orin. You’ll do well.

    • Thank you Mike!

      I totally agree about the tour operations. We recently had a guy (he was right at 1,000 hours) move from CFI to a local tour company. Now he’s flying 500’s 20-30 hours a week.

      I’ve seen a handful of tour jobs elsewhere for lower time pilots too. Last summer for example I saw an R44 job in South Carolina that only required 500 hours. Just another reason to learn in the Robbie, without meeting SFAR 73 jobs like that are not an option.

    • That’s a really good point about having local flying experience. I’d love to get a job doing ENG work, but learning a whole new city seems like quite a hurdle to jump. It seems to me that a pilot who learned to fly in say, Seattle, would stand a better chance of getting a job as a pilot there.

    • Maria, I flew ENG in Philadelphia and with modern GPS it’s not hard to shoot to the nearest intersection. Your camera operator punches it in and you just go. Cab drivers in New York have to just about memorize the streets to pass the test. If you see a job offer, don’t be afraid to go for it.

    • After a very dry cherry season, I’m thinking that maybe I should start looking for a job elsewhere. I was planning to try flying in the Phoenix area again this winter, but I have my doubts about success. A seasonal fill-in ENG pilot would be perfect, but I’m not fooling myself: if those jobs exist, they don’t go to 50-something Robbie Rangers. :-(

  29. After reading this article, can you recommend a flight school in Cleveland?? I’m having some issues trying to a school and even reviews for a school…

What do you think?