How Long Does it Take to Become a Helicopter Pilot?
You’ll take roughly 2 years to become a helicopter pilot, though the time can be shorter depending on the program you enroll in.
During the two years, you’ll undergo a learning curve that involves getting the training, learning the skill, logging the required flight hours, and taking the test to earn the certificate/license.
Let’s get deeper into all the basics of becoming a helicopter pilot…
How long it takes to become a helicopter pilot
As we have just mentioned above, you’ll take about 2 years to become a helicopter pilot. However, the exact period will depend on the individual as well as the training program you plan to enroll in.
Learning to fly helicopters for personal enjoyment
If you’re planning to learn to fly a helicopter as a personal hobby, then all you need is to get a private pilot license and some level of proficiency.
In this case, the training process isn’t as rigorous and you can get your license in months. The FAA requires you to do 40 hours of a flying helicopter, with 20 of these hours being with a certified flight instructor and 10 hours being solo.
However, these hours are just the minimum requirement and different individuals might need to take more time to become safely proficient.
The more days you fly in a week, the faster you can meet the required hours. For instance, if you fly 2 days per week for approx. 2 hours for each flight, then you’ll be there in just 10 weeks. But if you fly for up to 5 days per week, then you’ll meet the minimum number of hours in 2 weeks.
Since this is a cause you’re paying handsomely for, we suggest that you go for more flying time, with fewer breaks in between the flights. This will help you develop a more intuitive feel for how the aircraft controls work while greatly minimizes the possibility of forgetting the procedures.
Flying only once a week is an easy way to forget everything you learned when you came back after 7 days. In the end, you might end up more to get more lessons for you to become a fully qualified pilot.
Learning to fly helicopters as a career
If you want to earn a commercial license and become a fully licensed helicopter pilot, then you’ll have to spend more time and gain more experience than for private license. You’ll need to earn a private license, commercial license, and instrument license. You might also need a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) and CFII (Certified Flight Instructor Instrument) licenses.
The civilian companies would even require you to have up to 1000 hours of a helicopter pilot in command (PIC) time to hire you.
To achieve this, you should first get a private license and then continue with the training to become a certified FAA flight instructor (CFI). After earning the CFI rating, start teaching budding pilots how to fly and in so doing you’ll build up flight hours for next level of helicopter flight while getting paid.
No matter what path you take, earning a commercial license will take you a couple of years to become proficient. You can reduce the years and achieve the 1000-hour mark quicker by flying more often.
How long does it take to become a helicopter pilot in the military?
You can also become a helicopter pilot by going the military path. If you go with this option, first you’ll need a college degree which will take approx. 4 years to complete.
If you already have a degree, you can go straight to applying to one of the military services. They take around 6-12 months to respond to your application and an additional 6 months in the Officer Candidate School (OCS) before you can obtain your commission.
Flight training will start right after being commissioned. The training period to become a helicopter pilot will take 1½ to 2 years, after which you’ll earn your wings. The next step is an obligated service for 8-10 years, depending on which service you joined.
The good thing about going the military path is that you’ll be earning a good salary while you learn a skill that other folks out there are paying lots of money for. You’ll also gather a lot of experience under your belt during the 10 years of service.
The downside is that during those 10 years, you will have to give up your normal life for a decade for the service. You should keep this in mind before you opt for the military path.
What qualifications do you need to be a helicopter pilot?
For your application to go through in flight training school, you must meet a certain set of requirements. You should be at least 16 years old if you want to get a private helicopter license. And for a commercial helicopter license, you should be at least 17 years old.
Here are the full requirements to become a private helicopter pilot:
Requirements for commercial pilot license:
NOTE: The medical exam MUST be completed by an FAA-approved physician. The goal of this exam is to ensure you’re physically fit to fly a helicopter.
Most folks usually pass this exam, unless you have any underlying health condition that could lead to lapses in consciousness e.g. heart problems, physiological disorders, and a history of drug abuse. You’ll also be examined for hearing, vision, and the ability to perceive color. The FAA official website has more details about this medical exam.
Even if you have a medical condition that you think might disqualify you from becoming a pilot, the best thing is to get examined. You never know, you might end up passing the exam!
If you meet the qualifications listed above and have passed the medical exam, here are the next steps you can take to start your helicopter flying career:
A step-by-step guide to becoming a helicopter pilot:
Step 1. Choose a flight school
You’ll need to start by looking for a place where you’ll learn how to fly a helicopter. Here, you’ll have two main options—go for a non-degree flight school or go to a flight school with a degree (most probably be a school attached to a university).
Going for university flight school comes with a pack of benefits for a helicopter pilot. By the time you’re done with your training, you’ll also have a university degree. While it is not a requirement for a helicopter pilot, an aviation degree will put you above your competition and help you easily score management positions in your career.
Studying at university also means earning advanced certification in addition to your private and commercial licenses. These will also set you ahead of your competition and make you ready to fly in various situations. The advanced certifications include mountain operations, external load, turbine flying, and night vision goggles—there are sure to prepare you for the best career paths in the helicopter industry.
After you have decided on a flight school, send them an application as soon as possible so that you can get enrolled and start training.
Step 2. Get funding
You’ll need to look for funding once you get accepted to the flight school of your choice. You should expect to pay $10,000-$15,000 for pilot certification exam plus $18,000-20,000 for commercial license.
Flight time with an instructor costs 200 per hour. Solo flying or ‘soloing’ will cost you $160 per hour.
Come the part of the written exam. These must be approved by an FAA-approved testing company and will cost you between $200-300. The flight exam will run up to $500.
As you can easily see from these figures, flight school is quite an investment and you want to ensure you have a funding plan. Some schools might require proof of funds before enrolling you.
Again, the benefit of attending university flight school is that you can easily get funding through financial aid, scholarships, or student loans.
TIP: If you’re a qualified veteran, you’ll not need to pay anything to learn how to flow a helicopter as your VA benefits will most likely cater to your education. With sufficient research, you can easily find schools that accept your benefits for a private license.
Step 3. Get flight experience
Now, this is the part where you study and train hard. As you go on with your studies, you’ll discover that it takes a lot of dedication to become a helicopter pilot.
For each certification you will earn, you’ll need to undertake ground labs and flight hours. The labs will teach you the correct flight procedures and best flying practices. Flight hours mean spending a lot of time in the air perfecting your art of flying.
How soon you expect to be in the air will depend on the school you enroll. Some schools will put you in the air in a matter of weeks while others might make you wait a bit longer before you can start flying.
TIP: The sooner you can start flying, the faster you’ll get your license and the more prepared you’ll be.
Step 4. Pass private license exam
You’ll also have to pass a few tests before you can become a fully qualified pilot. You need to pass official written and practical tests to get that pilot license. For the practical exam, you should expect an oral exam plus flight exam (check ride) for all your certifications.
Step 5. Get a helicopter pilot job
Once you’re done with your training and have passed all the tests, you’re now a fully qualified helicopter pilot. You can now start looking for jobs and start earning for simply doing what you love—flying helicopters!
However, note that at this point you’ll not have much experience and will get entry-level jobs that don’t pay that much. But as you continue building your flight hours and gaining valuable experience, you’ll start making more money as a pilot. (More about how much pilots earn coming up—keep tuned in!)
The fact that the aviation industry is widespread in all the corners of the world means you have a pretty high chance of finding a job in just any industry you want to work in.
Is it worth becoming a helicopter pilot?
As a pilot student, one of the questions that will cross your mind more often is whether the idea of becoming a helicopter pilot is really worth it. This is absolutely normal since it’s something you’ll most probably do for the rest of your life.
So, is it really worth it?
If it has always been your dream to fly, then becoming a pilot is totally worth it. If you get excited by the idea of spending hours in the cockpit as you cruise thousands of feet above the ground while you enjoy beautiful views, becoming a helicopter pilot is a worthy shot for you.
But what you need to keep in mind is that pilot is a career like any other and it has its hurdles and benefits. Preparing yourself mentally for this fact will help you easily sail through the entire process without feeling like you made a mistake dipping your feet into it in the first place.
One of the benefits of becoming a pilot is that they’re always in high demand and you’ll never go without a job. Currently, the helicopter pilot industry worldwide is facing a shortage of over 40,000 pilots. And this demand is expected to rise even higher in the coming years.
You can also make some good money. The average salary of helicopter pilots is up to $90,000 a year (Source).
You’ll also have a variety of jobs to pick from. Not to forget, you’ll be flying (traveling) around the world and learning new cultures while getting paid to do so—that’s just the coolest part of being a pilot!
As for the downsides, learning to fly isn’t an easy thing; the training process is also rigorous and quite demanding. You’ll also need to invest a significant amount of money during the learning phase. And as you log those hours, you don’t expect to get a good payment.
Is it difficult to become a helicopter pilot?
Let nobody lie to you…learning to become a helicopter is not a walk in the park. As we have just hinted above, a pilot is a career like any other and comes with its highs and lows.
You’ll need a lot of practice to become a successful pilot who can fly a helicopter on his own. Don’t expect to enroll in a flight school and start flying that aircraft in the first few days. It doesn’t work like that. You’ll need to pump in hours and hours of practice and dedication to earn that pilot license.
But don’t freak out.
Learning to fly only feels tough at the beginning. As you continue putting effort into the training, eventually you’ll start to see results. After you move past that challenging part of keeping a helicopter steady, you’ll grow more confident and you would be ready to take on any flying challenge.
By the time you’re ready to graduate and get your license, you’ll be boasting hours of flight and you’ll have all the necessary experience and qualifications to get a job as a pilot.
How much does a helicopter pilot earn a year?
A helicopter pilot is a well-paying job. But it only gets better with time. In the beginning, when you’re a new pilot, you’ll attract low-paying jobs. Getting high-paying jobs requires more flight hours (more experience).
We advise you to use this time to concentrate more on building your experience rather than concentrating on how much you earn. Build your flight hours and get valuable experience. And when you hit the magical number—1000 hours—getting the high-paying jobs won’t be a problem.
Simply put, you start by building your experience and then look for high jobs. This isn’t anything different from what you get with other careers, is it?
Let’s take you through a breakdown of how much you should expect to earn as a helicopter pilot…
Once you have gotten your commercial helicopter license and have minimal flight time, the best paying job you can get at this time is as a flight instructor. The average salary of a helicopter flight instructor is about $30,000 a year. This is why we highly advise you to get your CFI rating along with the commercial helicopter pilot license.
After logging up to 1000 hours and you get a commercial helicopter license, you can be assured of earning a mid-range helicopter pilot salary. For a tour pilot position, you can about $40,000-$50,000.
In case you get lucky and land an emergency services role, you can expect to earn anything from $50,00 to $90,000 a year.
Firelight helicopter pilots earn up to 75,000 per season, making them one of the best paid seasonal employees.
The sweet spot for helicopter pilot salary is flying business executives, VIPs, celebrities, offshore oil rigs, or private companies. This category will earn you an attractive salary of up to $100,000 or more a year.
While you might not land the high-paying jobs category of a helicopter pilot, one thing you should keep in mind is that the demand for pilots is always high and the salary is better than most careers.
Becoming a helicopter pilot can be one of the most rewarding careers in your life. You get to travel to different places on the planet and learn about new cultures while still getting paid a good salary. However, you’ll need to undergo a learning curve for you to become a helicopter pilot. The process will take roughly 2 years. This guide has offered you all the basics you need to know before you commit to any flight school to ensure you have a good understanding of what awaits you.