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Top 9 Ways to Build Flight Time

So you’ve qualified as a helicopter pilot? Here are the best ways to build up your hours. So what are you waiting for?

Graduating as a helicopter pilot is one of the proudest moments of your life. But now you are faced with a new challenge and it’s not an easy one. No matter whether you plan to fly privately or commercially, the period that follows your PPL (H) qualification is a crucial time in which to build up hours and continue to work on your skills and grow in confidence.

Hour building will expose you to more time in the air and transform you from a novice private pilot to one with enough experience to take your commercial licence. 

Here, we’ll cover some of the top ways to build up your flight time.


1, Fly Cross Country

Helicopter Pilot Training

Start by doing cross country in your local area and focus on mastering the basic skills to build up your confidence. Plan some shorter trips and build up to longer journeys to the west country, Wales, or Scotland. The point of hours building is not to reach an arbitrary number, you should be learning valuable skills and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, learning in-flight navigation skills, airfield procedures and more along the way.

You could take a friend along once you are feeling comfortable and stop off for breakfast at a local aerodrome cafe, or just enjoy taking in the scenery and each other’s company. A little cross country flying will set you up well and is a prerequisite for your CPL (H).


2, Get another type rating

Chances are you’ll have learned to fly in the Robinson-R22. It’s the helicopter of choice for most training academies, Hummingbird Helicopters included. Once you’ve passed your PPL (H) you may wish to learn to fly in the larger Robinsons-R44, which is the four-seater version of the R-22, with a more powerful fuel injected engine. Meaning that you can fly with up to 3 passengers and get to grips with the hydraulic assist and extra weight of the ride. 

At Hummingbird we encourage all our PPL (H) graduates to give it a go as their next step in our very own Robinson R-44 Raven II. It’s a perfect way to introduce yourself to a more commercial type of aircraft whilst building hours.


3, Get your night rating

When buying flight time, it’s a good idea to make them count by putting them towards obtaining a new certificate or rating. The night rating is a perfect choice as it’s a prerequisite for the CPL (H). If you are building hours for your CPL (H) after passing your PPL (H) and you’ve already got 100 hours of flight time under your belt (including at least 60 as PIC and 20 cross country) then you may as well put it to use and obtain your night rating. 

The night rating will allow you to fly both day and night which is particularly useful when the days get shorter in the winter months. We recommend booking your night rating course when British Summer Time ends or about the first week of September.


4, Get regular practice in

Hummingbird helicopters helicopter r22 interior

Keep your eye on the prize. The commercial flying course is demanding and will test your skills to the limit – so make sure you are ready for it. One way to do this is to incorporate flying drills and exercises into your flight time to keep you fresh and is something you should do throughout your career. Here at Hummingbird Helicopters our flight instructors can guide you through the different elements required during your CPL (H). Occasionally jumping in with an instructor will help keep you on track and allow you to practice manoeuvres in safety.

5, Fly to a busy airport

It’s very good practice to fly between larger airports such as Leeds, Newcastle or Bradford. Hummingbird Helicopter’s headquarters is based at Doncaster Sheffield Airport which allows our pilots to gain their PPL (H), doing so out of an international airport. This gives our pilots a headstart when it comes to developing good radio skills and grasp of air traffic procedures and the confidence to approach the larger airports. You may wish to take an instructor (who better than one of our own) for company and assistance and telephone ahead to give a heads-up if it’s your first time in.


6, Fly The London Heli Lanes

Why not use your time building hours to experience something novel in the helicopter world by flying the airspace over the capital? Presuming you haven’t learned to fly in one of London’s flight schools this will be a challenging and unique adventure. The airspace surrounding London can be some of the busiest in the world and for that reason there are very specific flight routes mapped out which helicopters must follow. It is essential that you take an instructor with you and pay close attention to the brief on how the zones work and the radio calls to make. This is incredibly challenging and should be approached with the utmost professionalism. The experience you’ll gain will be priceless, all whilst taking in views of London’s skyline whilst flying along the River Thames and all while building hours in control.


7, Cross the channel to France

Want to take it a step further? Le Touquet is a great destination for pilots building flight time. It’s a popular first-time water crossing destination and their Air Traffic Service are familiar with pilots flying to France for the first time. You will need to submit a comprehensive flight plan and take into consideration a lot more factors than you are used to. If you require any guidance Hummingbird Helicopters can help guide you through this and explain the flight plans/GAR forms and various other paperwork items to be completed and procedures to be followed prior to taking off across the water. Applying for a landing permit will allow you to land off-airfield and take in many of France’s stunning chateaus. It’s well worth it for the warm weather and kudos of having successfully flown to mainland Europe and talked with French air traffic control all by yourself – it makes a great weekend away! 


8, Get used to taking passengers

Providing you’ve gotten the prerequisite type rating you could start taking passengers for rides in the Robinson R-44. There’s nothing wrong with a pilot who’s gained their PPL (H) from taking friends and family on rides to share the views. Taking passengers puts you in a position of responsibility and forces you to take into account additional concerns such as taking precautions to ensure that flights are smooth and careful. If you are fortunate enough, there’s nothing wrong with passengers contributing to the direct cost of your flight, so long as you do not make a profit.


9, Buddy up

are helicopters safe

Looking to build hours and split the cost? Why not find another recent PPL (H) graduate to share the journey with, after all some of the best flights are with good company. You could enquire about block booking time which may net you a discount and split the cost. Not only will this save you money but it’s important to have people at your level you can relate to and share stories with. Another viable option is to join a flying club where you will benefit from discounted rates on flight-time and other membership perks as well as having access to annual events where you’ll get to meet lots of fellow pilots.

How will you build your hours?

Having a plan or structured programme for your hour building is crucial to ensure that you get the most out of your hours building so that you are prepared to continue towards your CPL (H), Commercial Pilot Licence. 

If you take some of the tips which will help you progressively build confidence and experience, you will be well on your way towards having being fully prepared for you CPL (H).


Want to discuss your post PPL (H) options? You can contact us on via our website, or give us a call on 01302 802221.

Good luck building your hours! And if you have any ideas about how you’re going to build yours or anything we’ve overlooked please let us know in the comments.