Some people think that all pilots are a bit interchangeable. This is because they think of flying as a kind of universal skill: that if you have flown one vehicle, you might as well have flown them all. This statement is actually very far from the truth. For instance, take the helicopter pilot and the airplane pilot. They both fly expensive hardware, but their experiences are very different.
The big differences between these kinds of pilots starts with their education. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between helicopter pilot education and airplane pilot education!
The first thing to know about helicopter pilot education is that individual employers have different expectations for their employees. So while there are many universal aspects of helicopter pilot education, there are many things that may vary from employer to employer.
Take education, for instance. There is no formal schooling requirement to learn how to fly: private employers may offer to train employees, and the military trains its pilots from the ground up. However, many employers prefer for their pilots to have an associate’s degree, and some may insist on a bachelor’s degree. However, these degrees typically don’t have to have anything to do with flying.
However, having a degree in a relevant or related field can help a pilot to land a job. Some academic majors make a lot of sense for a pilot: those with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, for instance, may have an easier time understanding flying than the average graduate. And while math may not make you think of flying, the truth is that math majors are uniquely equipped to perform the kinds of math necessary for both basic flight as well as helicopter fuel economy.
Those who want the best shot at getting a job as a helicopter pilot can take special aviation courses from local colleges and universities. These can help give students the background they need to be a successful pilot.
Regardless of academic background, all pilots must get a private license from the FAA. This requires hours of flight time and passing a written test as well as providing the FAA with a medical certificate.
Those who wish to fly professionally must obtain a commercial license. After their private license, these pilots must complete additional flying hours and additional FAA testing.
Compared to helicopter pilots, airplane pilots have a more formalized educational track. For instance, they must either go to flight school or get a degree in aviation. Each option requires a significant amount of flight experience: those attending flight school must get at least 1,500 hours of experience, while those attending flight school only have to complete 1,000 hours. Whichever educational path pilots choose, much of their future career success hinges on finding mentors and building a network that helps them get an “in” with any local companies that are hiring.
Both flight school and academic aviation programs will help students become fully licensed as airplane pilots. While it can be daunting to complete all those hours of training, students can look forward to entering into the career field as soon as they graduate. This is a more streamlined process than helicopter pilots, as they must obtain a private license before they can obtain a commercial license.
So, all of this brings us back to the central question: what are the differences between the education of helicopter pilots and airplane pilots? And what are the similarities, if any?
We touched on one of the big differences: the educational requirements for airplane pilots are much stricter and more formalized than the requirements for helicopter pilots. It is possible for helicopter pilots to often get a job with “only” an associate’s degree. Meanwhile, airplane pilots are forced to complete either a bachelor’s in aviation or flight school. In this way, airplane pilots have a longer educational path to look forward to.
There is also a significant difference in the amount of flying hours required to get licensed. For helicopter pilots, they must have 40 hours of flight time for a private license and an additional 140 hours of flight time to get a commercial license.
By contrast, airplane pilots must complete a minimum of 1,000 hours of flight time to become a first officer if they complete an aviation program and 1,500 hours of flight time to become a first officer if they attended flight school.
With that being said, there are still some overlaps in the education that airplane pilots and helicopter pilots experience. First is that both groups answer to the FAA: despite the differences in their training, each group has strict FAA requirements that they must follow.
Broadly speaking, many of the principles of flight are the same for helicopter pilots and airplane pilots. Each group must consider factors such as fuel economy, how aerodynamic their vehicle is, and how to handle choppy weather that disrupts their flight.
Each group requires flight time before the pilots can be licensed. And despite the differences, each group must demonstrate a variety of flight time experience: the ability to fly solo and with other people is important, and so is the ability to handle flights in different conditions and for different lengths of time.
A final positive note that each group shares is solid job prospects: commercial piloting is a growing field, and those who receive the training to become a professional pilot should not have much difficulty finding a job once they are fully licensed.
One last question for prospective pilots: which kind of pilot do you want to be?
Ultimately, flying a helicopter and flying an airplane are pretty different. And each one has its own environment that you may or may not be drawn towards.
Generally speaking, airplane flights are longer and more “social:” you will meet more coworkers and passengers. Helicopter flights are generally shorter and smaller, though some pilots swear that the smaller vehicle makes it all feel more exciting.