19th Ave New York, NY 95822, USA

How Do I Become a Helicopter Pilot?

View from helicopter cockpit

The thrill of flying helicopters can be hugely rewarding to anyone looking for a bit of excitement and adventure but can also lead to a career well outside of the mundane 9-to-5. Flying helicopters requires the pilot to exercise precise physical and mental coordination and there is great joy in mastering the skill and being able to enjoy flying – there’s no experience like it.

What does a helicopter flight involve?

Student training to become a helicopter pilot

The main responsibilities before a flight typically include:

  • Checking weather conditions and airspace restrictions along planned routes.
  • Filing flight plans with authorities.
  • Calculating fuel requirements and maximum loads.
  • Maintaining and checking helicopter equipment and instruments.
  • Carrying out safety checks.
  • Gaining clearance from air traffic control to take off.

During the flight helicopter pilots use a range of instruments to navigate, control height and speed and communicate with air traffic controllers.

After landing, post-flight paperwork is completed before preparations for the next flight begin.

Before committing any significant sums of money it would be a good idea to take a Trial Flying Lesson with us to make sure learning to fly is something you really want to do. You will get a full pre-flight briefing and introduction to the basic principles of helicopter flight, and get the opportunity to have all the questions you have answered and best of all a one-on-one experience with one of our instructors, in a dual control helicopter.

What License do I need to fly helicopters

Helicopter lesson in the classroom

Pilots across Europe are required to be licenced by the European Safety Agency (EASA) before they can fly any aircraft, apart from when on a recognised training course. In the UK these licences are issued and enforced by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Hummingbird Helicopters is registered with the CAA to train student pilots for their Private Pilot’s Licence (Helicopters) (PPL(H)).

The salary of a helicopter pilot is heavily weighted on experience, or flight time. As in any profession, this increases with time and experience.
You must be 16 before you can fly solo, 17 to be awarded your PPL and 18 to get your Commercial Pilots Licence. You can begin training at any age, so long as you can reach all of the controls comfortably.
You can fly for as long as you can hold an aviation medical…. And can fly commercially up to 65 years old and be an instructor and private pilot beyond that.

There are a number of things you can do with your PPL(H), e.g, you could decide to take friends of family away for the weekend in the helicopter of your choice, learn to fly different helicopter types by doing a type rating conversion (with us), and gain more flight time and experience (you are required to fly a minimum of 2 hours per year by the CAA). You cannot get employed as a helicopter pilot until you have gained your Commercial Pilots Licence CPL(H). The minimum age to get a CPL(H) is 18.

The PPL(H) is a prerequisite for being able to gain your CPL(H). It makes the perfect stepping stone to a potential career as a helicopter pilot as the hours of flight time you gain from doing the PPL(H) count towards the 155 hours flight time you must have completed before you take the CPL (H).

Salaries for a newly trained commercial helicopter pilot operating in the North Sea, servicing oil and gas rigs, start at £55,000 and can rise to over £100,000 at senior level. According to My World of Work the average UK salary for pilots is £112,840; with a 5 year job forecast of +9.25%, which shows the industry is on track for healthy growth. Gaining experience can involve taking ‘fetch and carry’ jobs transporting people and cargo from A to B. 1000 flying hours is a benchmark many helicopter pilots aspire to achieve which can open the door to more job opportunities.

What does the Private Pilot’s Licence (Helicopters) (PPL(H)) involve?

Helicopter interior dashboard

During the PPL(H)) you will get plenty of hands-on experience flying in our R-22 or R44 helicopters which you can learn more about here.

  • You will complete a minimum of 45 hours flight instruction
  • at least 25 hours of which will be dual instruction
  • you will need to complete 10 hours of supervised solo flight time
  • including at least 5 hours of solo cross-country navigation
  • one of these solo cross-country flights must be 100 nautical miles or more
  • you will learn, practice and perfect 30 flying exercises

There’s also a lot to learn to ensure you are confident and safe flying and you will have to demonstrate that through written and practical tests. All exams are completed in-house at Hummingbird.

  • you will complete 9 multiple choice written tests (Air law, Human performance, Meteorology, Communications, Principles of flight, Operational procedures, Flight performance and Planning, Aircraft General Knowledge & Navigation) which have a pass mark of 75% and lastly an oral radio exam
  • you will take your flying Skills Test which we can do through our in-house examiner, to demonstrate that you can competently carry out the procedures and manoeuvres that you have been taught, while acting as Pilot in Command (PIC).

The medical requirement for the PPL(H) is a Class 2 medical which will be issued by an AME (Aviation Medical Examiner). We will put you in touch with an AME.

For more information please see our downloadable PPLH Guide.

Why Choose Hummingbird Helicopters?

Hummingbird Helicopters staff

Hummingbird Helicopters is a one stop shop for all your training needs. We have in-house flight and ground examiners with over 6000 combined flying hours and will assign you with one flight instructor throughout the duration of your training.

We are also based at an international airport (as opposed to a ‘grass strip’ airfield). This gives you the additional bonus of regular interaction with Air Traffic Control right from the start…and they are a very helpful and friendly bunch here which makes for a relaxed learning experience.

There has really never been a better time to train to become a helicopter pilot. The industry is steadily growing in all areas including Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS), Search and Rescue (SAR) and Oil and Gas and your EASA Pilot’s Licence is highly regarded across the globe and will open many doors to you especially in Europe, the Middle East, and the US.

Still not convinced? Hear what Mike has to say:

If you have any questions our team would be happy to answer them and give you advice around learning to fly helicopters or to discuss our Introductory (trial) Flight. You can get in touch using our contact form on our website or by calling +44 (0) 1302 802221.