How to Become a Helicopter Pilot: Requirements, Training, & More

how to become helicopter pilot

Are you captivated by the idea of soaring through the sky, embracing the thrill of flight as you maneuver gracefully through the air? Whether you are looking for a career in aviation or just want to explore a passion, becoming a helicopter pilot can be a rewarding experience.

However, flying helicopters requires specialized training and certification. Before you can become a fully licensed pilot, there are several requirements and qualifications that must be met. In this guide, we’ll cover the process of how to become a helicopter pilot, including the necessary qualifications, what to expect in helicopter pilot training, and more.

Requirements for Becoming a Helicopter Pilot

First and foremost, there are some basic requirements that you must meet to be eligible to get your helicopter license. You must meet the age requirements, have proof of identity, not have any conditions that prevent you from obtaining a license, be fluent in English, and a few other details outlined by the FAA. 

private pilot license

Private Helicopter Pilot License

To obtain a private pilot license, you’ll need to be at least 17 years old and complete the following aeronautical experience requirements:

  • At least 40 hours of total flight time.
  • 20+ hours of flight training.
  • 10+ hours of solo flight time.

You’ll also need to pass a medical examination and a written test, as well as demonstrate your flight skills in the air. 

Commercial Helicopter Pilot License 

To obtain a commercial pilot license, you must be at least 18 years old and hold a private pilot certificate. You’ll also need to complete the following aeronautical experience requirements:

  • At least 150 hours of total flight time.
  • 100+ hours of total flight time in powered aircraft.
  • 50+ hours in helicopters.
  • 100+ hours of pilot in command time.
  • 35+ hours of pilot-in-command time in a helicopter.
  • 10+ hours of pilot-in-command in cross-country flight in a helicopter.
  • 20+ hours of flight training.
  • 10+ hours of solo flight time.

You must also pass a practical, written, and oral exam and demonstrate your knowledge and skill set. 

What to Expect During Your Flight Training

helicopter flight training

During your training, you will learn the fundamentals of helicopter flight. This includes pre-flight inspections, takeoff/landing, hovering, and emergency procedures. You will also learn about navigation, weather patterns, and aerodynamics, among other topics.

Ground School

Your training will begin with ground school, where you will learn the theory behind helicopter flight and get prepared to pass the exam. Here, you will learn about the basics of flying (from the ground, of course), safety conditions, and other knowledge that will prepare you to fly a helicopter. At the end of your courses, you will need to pass an exam to show that you have the necessary knowledge. 

In-Flight Training

After completing ground school, you will begin your flight training. This will typically involve dual instruction, where you fly with an instructor, and solo instruction, where you fly on your own. (You will start with an instructor, and after sufficient practice, you will fly solo.)

In-flight training will start with basic maneuvers, such as hovering, taking off, and landing. During this time, you will also learn how to use onboard helicopter systems, such as navigation, radios, and engine controls. This knowledge is critical for flying safely and efficiently.

As your training progresses, you’ll move on to more complex maneuvers, such as autorotation and sloping ground landings. You’ll also learn how to handle emergencies and other challenging situations.

Throughout your training, you will accumulate flight hours and practice the maneuvers required to pass your practical exam. It may take several months to complete your in-flight training, depending on your pace and the number of hours you are able to dedicate each week.

Obtaining Your Helicopter License

Once you have completed your flight training and met all the necessary requirements, you will be ready to obtain your helicopter license. This involves passing both a practical and written exam.

The practical exam will involve demonstrating your flying skills to a designated FAA examiner, who will evaluate your ability to operate a helicopter safely. During the exam, you will be expected to perform a variety of maneuvers – all while maintaining safe control of the aircraft.

The written exam will test your knowledge of aviation regulations, helicopter systems, navigation, and other related topics. You must pass both exams to obtain your license.

Once you have passed both exams, you can look forward to taking your first solo flight as a licensed pilot. However, keep in mind that obtaining your license is just the beginning of your journey as a helicopter pilot. You will need to continue practicing and refining your skills to become a safe and competent pilot.

Helicopter Pilot Job Opportunities

commercial pilot license

Once you obtained your license, you may be wondering where to look for potential job opportunities. Commercial helicopter pilot jobs may include such roles as:

Tour Pilot

Tour pilots fly helicopters that provide aerial tours of popular destinations, such as national parks, cities, or landmarks. They provide passengers with a unique perspective and experience, allowing them to see and explore from a bird’s-eye view.

These helicopter pilots are responsible for ensuring the safety of their passengers, as well as providing a high-quality and enjoyable experience. They must have excellent communication skills to provide information about the locations being visited and answer any questions that may arise during the flight.

The salary for tour pilots can vary widely, depending on the company, location, and experience level. But the average annual salary for a tour pilot is around $70 to $90k per year.

TV News Pilot

TV news helicopter pilots are responsible for flying helicopters to cover live news events and breaking stories. They must be able to operate the aircraft safely and quickly in order to find the best vantage points for filming and taking photographs of the scene. TV news pilots also need to work closely with the news team to provide updates and coordinate the flight plan.

These helicopter pilots often work irregular hours, as breaking news can happen at any time of day or night. However, the job can be exciting and rewarding for those who enjoy the fast-paced nature of news reporting.

The average annual salary for a TV news helicopter pilot can range from $70k or more, depending on the market size and experience level.

Emergency Medical Services Pilot

EMS (Emergency Medical Services) helicopter pilots are responsible for transporting patients who require urgent medical attention to hospitals and medical facilities. They work closely with medical personnel to ensure patients receive the necessary care during the flight.

EMS pilots must be able to fly in a wide range of weather conditions and terrain, as emergencies can arise anywhere at any time. They must also be able to handle stress and pressure, as the lives of patients are often at stake.

The salary for EMS pilots can vary widely depending on the location and employer. However, the average annual salary for an EMS helicopter pilot is around $100k to $120k per year.

These are just a few of the many career opportunities that helicopter pilots have. From aerial tours to emergency response and even firefighting, helicopter pilots can find a rewarding career in any number of fields.

Tips for Becoming a Successful Helicopter Pilot

helicopter pilot success tips

There are a few things that you can do to increase your chances of success as a helicopter pilot. These include:

Passion and Dedication

Successful helicopter pilots are passionate about the job! They don’t just do it because they want to make money. Instead, they truly love the experience of flying and take pride in their work. Dedicated pilots are dedicated to becoming the best pilots they can be and making sure that each flight is as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Continual Learning

Helicopter pilots must be lifelong learners. They should constantly research and learn about the latest safety, best practices, and technological advancements. Additionally, they must stay up to date on the aviation regulations and laws in their region.

Network and Build Relationships

Like most professions, networking and building relationships within the industry are essential for success. Helicopter pilots should join aviation associations and organizations, attend events, and connect with other pilots to build a strong network of contacts. This helps them learn from experienced professionals and take advantage of any potential business opportunities that come their way.

Safety-First Mentality

The most important thing for any helicopter pilot is to always have safety as their top priority. They must remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings during every flight, as well as familiarize themselves with the terrain and weather conditions in the area.

Additionally, pilots should always inspect their aircraft before each flight to ensure everything is working as it should. By having a safety-first mentality, helicopter pilots can greatly reduce the risk of an accident or incident occurring.

Ready to Start Your Journey to Becoming a Helicopter Pilot?

As you can see, there is a great deal of knowledge and experience required to become a successful helicopter pilot. If you think you’re up for the challenge, now is the perfect time to take that first step.

At Helicopter Pro Flight Training, our goal is to provide aspiring pilots with all the necessary tools, resources, and guidance to help them become certified helicopter pilots. Whether you’re looking to obtain your private license or your commercial rating, our experienced instructors and state-of-the-art training facilities are here to assist you in reaching your goals. Contact us today to learn more about our helicopter pilot training courses.

Mark Montgomery

Mark Montgomery

Mark is the Owner and Instructor at Helicopter Pro. He is an FAA Certificated Instructor in both Helicopters and Airplanes and has thousands of Pilot-in-Command flying hours. If you want to become a helicopter pro, he can help you accomplish your goals.