How to become a helicopter pilot

There are two types of pilots in this world, pilots who fly fixed-wing aircraft and pilots who fly rotary (helicopter) aircraft. The real question is, which one are you? If becoming a pilot is something you are interested in, you should know that there are different requirements for flying helicopters and airplanes. 

For now, we’re going to focus on the helicopter portion, so strap in and get ready!

Helicopter License – Private Pilot

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has specific criteria to meet to become certified as a helicopter pilot. The first license an individual can get in this process is a private pilot’s license. There are some important details you should know when it comes to pursuing a private pilot’s license to fly helicopters:

  • You must be able to read, write, and speak English
  •  Minimum age requirement is 17
  • You must maintain a log of 40 hours of flight time, which includes 20 hours of flight time with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight time
  • There is a written test, an oral test, and a practical flight test which an individual must successfully pass to complete this process.
  • Cost: It’s not cheap, the average cost ranges from $10,000 – $15,000.

Helicopter License – Commercial Pilot

If you have completed and received your private pilot’s license, you might find yourself wanting the option to fly commercially. If so, this is the path for you. The next license you’ll have to acquire is a commercial pilot’s license. What does that mean for you:

  • Hold a private pilot license
  • Be at least 18 years old, and as above, must be able to read, write and speak English 
  • Log 150 hours of flight time; 100 hours of this should be in a powered aircraft and 50 hours in a helicopter
  • You must also have at least 100 hours of pilot-in-command time (35 of these hours must be in a helicopter), 10 hours of cross-country time, and 5 hours of logged flying time at night
  • As with the private pilot license, you will also need to pass a written, oral, and practical flight test
  • Cost: this is where things start to add up for paying for flight time, the average cost for a commercial license is over $32,000.

Helicopter Ratings

If you have made it to the commercial pilot stage and want to keep going, you will need to acquire different ratings or certifications. These are privileges added to your license for you to operate in all conditions assuming you pass your certifications. Let’s take a look at what those look like.

Certified Instructor Rating

This rating will allow you to teach others how to fly helicopters. This is a great thing to have because some schools will hire their graduates in the process of accruing enough hours for commercial employment.

  •  Hold a commercial pilot license
  •  Must be at least 18 years old and read, write, and speak English
  • 15 hours logged as pilot-in-command
  • Must pass the written, oral, and practical flight test
  • Cost: this is going to cost an additional $10,000 or so to complete

Helicopter Instrument Rating

That’s right, you’re not finished yet, now you need your instrument rating. This gives you the skills to fly in conditions most pilots choose to skip, and it can make you more employable and safe should you encounter these conditions in the air. Here’s what you need to know to complete this rating:

  • Must at least have your Private Pilot License
  • At least 17 years old, and read, write, and speak English
  • 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot-in-command, with at least 10 hours while operating a helicopter. As always, you have to keep a log of these flight hours.
  • 40 hours of logged flying time under instruments only, 15 of these must be logged with an instructor
  •  Pass a written, oral, and practical flight test
  • Cost: To complete everything for the instrument rating, the average cost ranges around $13,000.

Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument

This is the certification needed so that you can teach others how to fly by the use of instruments. Here’s what you need to know in completing this next step:

  •  Hold a commercial pilot license with a helicopter instrument rating
  •  Be at least 18 years old, and read, write, and speak English
  • Pass a written, oral, and practical flight test
  • Cost: This cost isn’t so bad when compared to everything else, it’s about $2,000 for this step

Airline Transport Pilot Helicopter License

This is the major license that takes some people years to achieve. The FAA requires the following:

  • Must hold a Commercial Pilot License with Instrument Rating
  • Must be at least 23 years old and read, write and speak English
  •  A lot of flight time; 1,200 hours of pilot time to be exact. This includes 500 hours of cross-country time, 100 hours of night flying, and 75 hours of instrument time.
  • Pass a written, oral, and practical flight test
  • Cost: When people reach this step, the costs to do this independently are generally too much for the average individual. You’ll most likely need to accrue these hours as an employed helicopter pilot. Either a school or employer will be the source of paying for these hours as you will be hired to train other students or find a low paying pilot position until you get more experience.

The cost of this training can pile up very quickly, but it’s an exciting opportunity as not everyone gets the chance to do it. 

Helicopter pilots are in high demand as there aren’t enough of them, the training requires a lot of time, and it can be dangerous. So if this is something that interests you, save up and be prepared it’s a lengthy commitment but very rewarding in the end.