There is nothing quite like flying. In many ways, it’s like experiencing your childhood dreams of being a superhero. After all, this is the closest that anyone comes to touching the sky! If you’re going to fly, one of the best ways to do so is to become a helicopter pilot. However, many would-be pilots “stall out” (so to speak) because they don’t know how to go about becoming a helicopter pilot.
That’s where we come in! We’ve put together a definitive guide to everything you need to know about becoming a helicopter pilot. Want to learn how to touch the sky? Keep reading to discover our guide.
There are many specific educational and licensing requirements when it comes to becoming a helicopter pilot. However, you have some flexibility to the exact path you choose.
Arguably, the most important part of this is the licensing: all pilots, even private operators, must be licensed by the FAA. To get a private license, you’ll need to pass an FAA test and get an FAA medical certificate. You must also log at least 40 hours of flight time, with 10 of those being solo hours. Finally, these 40 hours contain very specific practice, including cross-country flights and landing the plane.
To get a commercial license, you must already have a private license. You must then pass additional FAA testing (including written, oral, and practical examinations) and complete additional flight time. This includes 100 hours of flying as the pilot in command, 20 hours of dual flight training, and an extra 10 hours of solo flight training.
While the exact educational requirements vary from employer to employer, most employers want their helicopter pilots to have an associate’s degree, and some require a bachelor’s degree. The most logical bachelor’s degree to pursue is aviation, as this degree path will also help students successfully complete their required licensing training. Employers may also favor helicopter pilots with degrees in fields such as math, physics, or aeronautical engineering: each of these disciplines gives the pilot a strong base of skills for what they will have to do professionally.
Once you are fully trained and licensed, it is time to find a job. How do you find a job as a helicopter pilot? The same way you find other jobs: by using a combination of skill and luck.
You may find job opportunities posted online. Many employers use sites such as Indeed.com to advertise their open positions. This makes it convenient for pilots to both browse positions and apply to them online.
There is also the “old-fashioned” way: pilots can call the employers they are interested in working for and ask about any job openings. This approach can be beneficial because it may help you discover opportunities before they are posted for the world to see. It also gives you a chance to talk to someone at the company, and that’s more than just submitting an online resume will do for you.
Speaking of which, the best thing you can do for your future career as a helicopter pilot is to start networking as soon as possible. That means talking to flight instructors and other mentors about anyone they know that might be hiring.
The more industry-related people you know, the more webs you have out into the world of helicopter piloting. Not only does this help you find out about job opportunities before others do, but you’ll have a network of people that can potentially serve as references and write letters of recommendation for you. And if you get really lucky, they can introduce you to someone who is hiring.
Once again, it’s good to start a conversation with someone at the company whenever possible instead of just submitting another faceless application.
So far, we’ve focused a lot on how helicopter pilots must pursue licensing and education and then try to find a job. However, a blunt question you may be wondering: is this really worth it? Just how much can I expect to be compensated once I begin my career?
The equally blunt answer: it depends. The average salary for a helicopter pilot is around $73,000. However, you may start out by making less than this and ultimately end up making more.
For instance, better pay and better job opportunities are typically available to those with more hours of flight time under their belts. So, you may start out your career as a flight instructor. This position may only pay around $30,000, which is far less than that $73,000 we mentioned. However, jobs like flight instructor are important in helping you get even more hours of flight time as you train others.
With 1,000 hours under your belt, you can start getting better jobs such as turbine pilot. Depending on company and job location, this may pay as high as $50,000. If you want to aggressively pursue a higher salary, you can apply to be an emergency pilot–they make as much as $90,000 per year, though some of this work may effectively be seasonal.
Finally, there are the six-figure flying jobs. These usually involve flying for various offshore oil rigs or possibly serving as a pilot to important VIPs for a major company.
As you can see, compensation can vary wildly depending on what you do and even where you are doing it (as salaries may also reflect the cost of living for that area). Ultimately, it comes down to this: the more you fly, the better pilot jobs you can apply for.
Here is a brief timeline of your career. At the bare minimum, you start by pursuing a private license and then a commercial license. If you are pursuing a degree in a field like aviation, they may help you complete your license while you are going to school.
Next, you apply to a kind of starter job. This includes positions like flight instructor for small companies. After getting more experience and networking, you can apply to jobs such as turbine pilot. From there, you have many options: this ranges from working for emergency services to even starting your own business (some people make a killing giving helicopter tours of major tourist areas, for instance).
No two pilot career paths are exactly the same. And that, of course, is a big part of the fun!