Learning To Fly A Helicopter- The Beginning Of The Adventure

View from a R22 helicopter cockpit

I have started this year focusing on trying something that has been a dream for some time now. If you are thinking about flying helicopters or planes, follow along! And hopefully, I can help you get an idea of what to do.

I hope you find this all useful. I will go over what I found most helpful in my search to start my dream of flying helicopters. I hope this will be a series of learning to fly helicopters and my good and bad experiences. Maybe, with some luck, you can learn to fly with me.

Table of Contents

Why I Want To Fly Helicopters

I want to fly because I love the freedom that comes with flying. It's like being above all the problems on the ground and seeing them from a different perspective or not seeing them.

I also like helicopters because they're just so cool. They're these giant metal machines, but they're also so delicate and elegant and graceful when you see them up close.

There's something about soaring through the air on my terms that makes me feel like anything is possible: if I just set my mind on something hard enough, it will happen—even if it seems impossible.

And I want to buy the Hill Helicopter! 1 Look at this luxury private helicopter. Can I afford it? No. Will I still buy one after years of saving up? Yes, or I hope so.

Hill Helicopter
Hill Helicopter
Hill Helicopter
Hill Helicopter
Hill Helicopter

What I'll Need For A Helicopter License

Before we get into everything, there are some basic requirements to become a professional helicopter pilot. Sadly you can't just hop in a helicopter and fly off into the sunset. You need to take care of a few things before you're cleared to start your pilgrimage to fly helicopters.

Learning how to fly helicopters takes time, patience and a few basic requirements.

Basic requirements:

  • At least 16 years old to earn your private helicopter license. However, you must be at least 17 years old to get your commercial helicopter pilot license.

  • The FAA medical exam. No, this is not a TSA security check. The FAA medical exam is required by law for all helicopter pilots. Even if you haven't yet started to become a private pilot, you can get started on the FAA medical exam by visiting the federal aviation administration website 2.

  • Along with the FAA medical exam, the FAA requires you to be fluent in English. You must be able to read, write, and speak in English. You be the judge on how good my writing ability is.

Now that we got all basic fight requirements out of the way. Let's get on with our pilgrimage to becoming a professional helicopter pilot.

Look For A Good Flight School

Choosing the right flight school is an important decision. Because selecting the right school will help you reach your goals and make your time learning to fly more enjoyable.

When I was searching for a flight school, the first thing I considered was how much time I could devote to learning to fly. If you're like me, your schedule gets in the way of fun, and you will be doing your training once or twice a week, so make sure the flight school you choose is reasonably close to where you live and work. There's no need to add unnecessary travel time to an already limited budget.

Here are some things to consider when choosing a helicopter school:

  • Is the school located close to where you live?

  • What kind of training do they offer? Do they offer anything unique?

  • How much are they going to charge? Are there any other hidden costs? How much time will it take to complete the course?

  • How easy is it to get in touch with someone at the school? What kind of support will they give you during training and beyond?

After visiting a couple of flight schools, ask yourself if this looks like a flight training organization that takes flight training seriously or if helicopter training is just an afterthought.

Please look at the helicopters used for training, and are they clean? This can say a lot about the helicopter pilots you will be working with. Most flight schools I would think would be great, but you can never be too careful.

The best thing I can tell you is to look for a school with at least two flight instructors and two training helicopters. It would also be a bonus if the flight training school had an FAA-designated examiner on staff—otherwise, there could be some trouble scheduling your practical flight test.

Helicopter License Types

License types are a big one to think about. What do you want to learn to fly as a hobbyist to do something fun and exciting on the weekends, or are you wanting to be a career helicopter pilot? There are vast differences in the helicopter training program regarding flight training requirements. So think about this long and hard. And ask yourself. What is your goal?

For me, the decision is already in front of me. I only want my private helicopter license: fewer requirements but still a lot of pilot training. I want to be open to you about this. It's not a training program to take lightly. There will be night flight training and instrument training, and you'll need to cover the cost of all these helicopter lessons.

Here is the complete list of helicopter licenses: 3

  • Student pilot license - You need this to start anything. Still, no one mentions it other than the federal aviation administration website, which sends you to read all the code of federal regulations content 4 is an excellent read for those that can't sleep at night. A student pilot's license means a person who has received an endorsement to fly a helicopter.
  • Sport Pilot license - Only authorized to fly light-sport aircraft with a single seat.

  • Recreational Pilot license - Can fly an aircraft up to 180 horsepower and four seats in the daytime for enjoyment only.

  • Private Pilot license - Can fly for enjoyment or personal business, generally without compensation.

  • Commercial Pilot license - Can fly with some restrictions and fly for money.

  • An Airplane Transport Pilot license (ATP) - Is a pilot license for a commercial airline.

I'm only going to cover the private helicopter and commercial helicopter pilot licenses. For all the other pilot licenses, you can again fall asleep reading the content of the federal regulations on the Robinson helicopters 5 and how they fit into helicopter flight training. I get sleepy just writing about it.

The Private Helicopter Pilot License

The private helicopter pilot license is a big step toward becoming a helicopter pilot. It allows you to rent a helicopter, fly passengers, and fly a helicopter for your enjoyment. In addition, this private certificate will enable you to fly helicopters for charitable events and search and rescue flights. The private helicopter pilot license will be the first of many certificates you can earn if your goal is to get a commercial helicopter pilot license.

The very basic FAA Requirements that you'll need to qualify for a private pilot license are as follows:

  • 40 hours of flight time

  • 20 hours of flight time with a certified flight instructor

  • At least 10 hours of solo flight time in a helicopter

  • A minimum 3 hours of cross country flight time training in a helicopter

  • One cross country flight training of over 50 nautical miles total distance

A minimum of 3 hours of flight training with a certified flight instructor in a helicopter

  • Ten take-offs and ten landings to a complete stop (done at an airport with an operating control tower)

  • A minimum 3 hours of night flight training

  • At least one cross country flight of a minimum of 50 nautical miles (at night)

  • A minimum of 3 hours of flight training preparing specifically for the practical flight test

  • At least one solo cross country flight of at least 100 nautical miles total distance, with landings on at least 3 points, and one segment of the flight being a straight-line of more than 25 nautical miles between take-off and landing.

  • Three take-offs and three landings to a complete stop at an airport with an operating control tower

  • Pass a written flight test.

  • Pass an oral flight test.

  • Pass a skills flight test given by a certified flight instructor

  • Must hold a third-class medical certificate

What they left out to be a helicopter pilot is patience.

I'm sensing It's not just about learning how to fly a helicopter—it's also about managing a helicopter safely and how to manage your mental health and stay safe in stressful situations. You've got to know how to avoid distractions and focus on the task. Learning to fly a helicopter will be a great experience. Let's hope you and I can get there.

The Commercial Helicopter Pilot License

The commercial helicopter pilot license is the next step up from the private pilot license. This license allows you to do everything you could with your private pilot license, allowing you to make money as a helicopter pilot.

If you want to be a career helicopter pilot, this is the license you'll like. If I had a commercial helicopter pilot license, the first thing that comes to mind would be movies! As you can fly passengers, carry cargo, and fly Bear Grills out to a location for one of his crazy adventures. Just think of all the helicopter flying you could do!

The very basic FAA Requirements to qualify for a commercial helicopter pilot license are as follows:

  • Hold a current private pilot license.

  • Must log at least 150 hours of flight time as a pilot6

  • Of the above 150 hours – 100 hours must be in a helicopter.

  • A minimum 5 hours of instrument training solely by reference to instruments

  • At least one cross-country flight of at least 2 hours in a helicopter on a day with good flight conditions. (i,e, nice and clear weather) Must consist of at least one straight-line distance trip of more than 50 nautical miles (about 57 miles) from your starting point.

  • A minimum of one cross-country flight of 2 hours in a helicopter at night. With good flight weather, consisting of a total straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles from the original point of departure.

  • Three hours in a helicopter in to prepare for the practical test.

  • 10 hours of solo helicopter flight training

  • Pass a written exam

  • Pass an oral exam

  • Pass the practical flight test given by a certified flight instructor

To get your commercial helicopter pilot license, you'll need to meet even higher training and safety standards. Commercial pilot training requires a significant commitment. It could be worth something, though. The average salary for a commercial helicopter pilot in Utah is $97,181 3. And maybe even more if you get into movies and television.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Helicopter Pilot License?

Through my research, I have found many different periods of how long it takes a student to earn their helicopter license, but I have found that it comes down to two significant factors.

  • How much time do you have to devote to a flight training program?

  • What type of helicopter license are you looking to have?

If you're like me and want to be a helicopter pilot, let's be honest: We don't have much time. You've got a family and a job, and maybe you even have other responsibilities in your life (like school) to juggle. So how can you and I make this happen?

We have to dedicate as much time as possible to get it done. Pilot training takes time, and that is okay. As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day. Learning to fly a helicopter takes time and a lot of patience.

Consider Being A Helicopter Flight Instructor

Keep in mind that you, too, can become a flight instructor 7 as you are going after a pilot license, and that way, you can earn money as a flight instructor instead of spending it. Flight instructors seem to have the best of both worlds learning to fly and not having to pay for it. Training many student pilots would get you the flight time you need and more time in front of the flight controls. However, I'm not sure this is the best route. I'm just seeing it everywhere as I go after this goal.

What Is Associated With Learning To Fly A Helicopter?

More of this content to come as I experience it. From the testimonials that I have asked other aircraft pilots in training is. When you first start flying a helicopter, you're sweating, strained, and exhausted, and that's okay! The feeling of exhaustion and the fact that you have to control the helicopter-like nothing you've ever done before makes it so much fun. Because it's something new and different, right?

Both your hands and feet are needed to fly a helicopter. There is the collective pitch control, throttle control, antitorque control, and cyclic pitch control. These control the pitch, the RPMs, and the tail rotor.

Helicopter cockpit instruments

Helicopter Instrument Rating

I point out the helicopter instrument rating because it's a rating, not a license. It's not a requirement but very useful as the instrument rating allows pilots to operate IFR equipment (instrument flight rules), which will enable the helicopter pilot to work in adverse weather conditions, night flying with no visibility, and so on.

Here is a summary of the requirements 8 for the helicopter instrument rating:

  • Hold at least a Private Helicopter Pilot License or be in training to earn one.

  • At least 50 hours of cross-country flight time, with at least 10 hours in a helicopter

  • A least 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time

  • 20 hours of the above time may be logged with the use of a flight simulator

  • Pass an oral exam

  • Pass a written exam

These flight controls and instrument rating tests can help you understand everything going on in the helicopter. You can take the helicopter instrument rating test simultaneously or after a private pilot certificate or at any time. If you choose to go on and get a commercial helicopter pilot license, it will most likely be required, or you won't be able to find a job.

Overview Of Flight Training

If you've ever wanted to become a helicopter pilot, now's your chance—the sky's the limit. (Yes, I said it, haha.) Helicopter pilots, airplane pilots, you name it! Professional pilot or not, all are in high demand. A recent Boeing 9 study estimated a shortage of 59,000 helicopter pilots through 2038. For the next 20 years, helicopter pilots and airplane pilots will be in high demand in an ever-growing industry.

  • Speak English

  • Decide on the type of pilot training you want.

  • Get your Medical exam.

  • Find a flight school.

  • Dedicate time to fly (a lot of time!)

  • Fly, fly, fly and fly. Also, add some flight simulator training in there.

  • Instrument rating requirements and flying a helicopter safely in adverse weather.

  • Study and pass the oral exam and written test

  • Pass the practical flight test

  • Dance Party after everything is all done. And don't stop flying!

R44 Helicopter in open field

Your First Ground Flight Lesson

Everyone starts with ground instruction, and I'm sure it is because of how many students have crashed the little R22.

The R22 is a small, compact helicopter that's pretty easy to fly (so they say). It's got a lot of power and can quickly lift you in the air, but it's also got some quirks. The R22 is simple, flies fast, and is somewhat easy to fix. Robinson Helicopters 10 wanted the R22 to be a commuter helicopter. However, if you are like me, you bought a car to drive to work, and the R22 didn't fit its market. Because of this, the R22s were priced relatively cheap, so schools bought them to teach students how to fly a helicopter. The downside of these helicopters is that they are zippy and have a low inertia rotor system. In other words, you better have a flight instructor that can move fast in the event of a student mistake.

The other training helicopter is another Robinson helicopter called the R44. Everything in this helicopter happens slower because this helicopter has a higher inertia and a much heavier rotor. However, most schools will charge more to use the R44 as it is a much larger helicopter and requires more fuel.

Your First Air Flight Lesson

Once again, this starts with ground instruction, and it will take some time. The preflight inspection of the helicopter comes first. You will probably spend about half an hour on your preflight check ride. When it comes to the R22, not much is hidden. The most critical pieces are visible underneath the bodywork. Everything is out in the open, like a popup book that you only need to flip up to see what is underneath.

You will then practice the most challenging helicopter maneuver; hover taxiing. If you can do this on your first try, you better be screaming from the room tops as this takes about 5 to 6 hours of flight training and is exhausting.

Everything is easier said than done. Helicopter flying takes a lot of time and practice. There is no kidding about that. And your first flight lesson will help you get some of the wiggles out.

Costs Of Learning How To Fly Helicopters

All my research has been around Utah and its flight lesson training programs. So your search could be a lot different. However, I did find most schools to be comparable in price.

Also, note most schools do allow you to pay over time. You can also get a scholarship or a sponsorship from a company that needs helicopter pilots.

The national average for helicopter pilot training, according to Lessions 11 :

  • \$150 to \$200 per hour

  • \$10,000 to \$15,000 to earn a private helicopter license

  • Once again, another great reason to get estimates from helicopter instructors and flight schools, and not just go with the first one you find on the internet.

Is Becoming A Helicopter Pilot Worth It?

There are a few ways to look at this.

  • You get to fly high in the sky.

  • You can get a job flying around celebrities or business executives. (Think Bear Grills)

  • You can get a chance to be a good pilot and help with search and rescue.

I'm hoping that becoming a helicopter pilot can be one of the most rewarding things I'll get to do. I'll get to spend my days flying! And if this turns into a job, my office will be thousands of feet up in the sky!

To Be Continued

I still have many questions, and I want to fill in most of them as I learn to fly. Here are a few I hope to answer.

  • Should I also become an airplane pilot?

  • Should I buy a helicopter at some point?

  • Can I travel by helicopter?

  • How hard will the oral exam and written test be?

  • How much is it costing me?

I'm excited about the future possibilities I'll have if I become a helicopter pilot and will share my story as it unfolds. I'll do my best to keep a positive attitude and am excited for my journey ahead.

Keep following along to see how it all turns out.

Photo Credits

Helicopter Cockpit photo by Jon Grogan on Unsplash

Helicopter R44 photo by Poseidon X on Unsplash

Hill Helicopters photo by Hill Helicopters


  1. https://www.hillhelicopters.com/

  2. https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/medical_certification/get/

  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilot_certification_in_the_United_States 2

  4. https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-14/part-61#61.3

  5. https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-14/chapter-I/subchapter-D/part-61/appendix-Special%20Federal%20Aviation%20Regulation%20No.%2073

  6. https://rgl.faa.gov/REGULATORY_AND_GUIDANCE_LIBRARY%5CRGFAR.NSF/0/F18E724C353E3EAD86256959004C047F

  7. https://pilotteacher.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-become-a-helicopter-pilot-your-guide/

  8. https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/61.65

  9. https://investors.boeing.com/investors/investor-news/press-release-details/2018/Boeing-Forecasts-Unprecedented-20-Year-Pilot-Demand-as-Operators-Face-Pilot-Supply-Challenges/default.aspx

  10. https://robinsonheli.com/r22-beta-ii-specifications/

  11. https://lessons.com/costs/helicopter-pilot-training-cost