John Peltier

You don’t often hear much about recreational helicopter flying – nowhere near the level of recreational fixed-wing flying. It’s generally considered a hobby for the wealthy, and employment for the rest of us. Costs for licensing, insurance, acquisition, and maintenance make it prohibitively expensive for pilots who may easily have the financial means to do the same with an airplane. Should this stop you from pursuing your helicopter license? Absolutely not! The most exciting thing I ever did as a civilian flight student was taking the doors off of a Robinson 22 and landing on a mountain peak no bigger than the footprint of the helicopter skids. This led to obtaining my commercial helicopter license, followed shortly by employment as a helicopter tour pilot.

Most pilots who get their helicopter licenses do so for career opportunities. The normal progression for helicopter pilots is to get a private pilot helicopter license, then commercial license, followed by a flight instructor rating, instrument rating, and instrument flight instructor rating. Some helicopter pilots will eventually go on and obtain their airline transport pilot license.

Just a note on the requirements outlined below. These are the minimums. It is very possible, most certainly likely, that you may require more instruction than the FAA minimum. Do not take this personally at all – your instructor is only setting you up for success! For complete details on all of the requirements, specifically flight & training requirements, see the Federal Aviation Regulations Part 61.

Costs will also widely vary from location to location, and also reflect current fuel costs. You should use the following numbers as ballpark figures only.

Private Pilot – Helicopter License

It all starts here! Take an intro flight and if you like it, go on to pursue your initial helicopter license.

FAA Requirements

  • Be at least 17 years old
  • Read, write, and speak English
  • Log 40 hours of flight time, which includes 20 hours of instruction and 10 hours of solo flight
  • Pass a written test
  • Pass an oral test
  • Pass a practical flight test

Estimated Costs

  • Ground instruction & testing – $2,000
  • Aircraft rental & flight instruction – $12,000
    • Total – $14,000

A Helicopter flying over scenic terrain - All About Getting Your Helicopter License

Commercial Pilot – Helicopter License

This is the big requirement to be able to make money with your helicopter license. Some employers may require extra training. The estimated costs are in addition to your private pilot helicopter license.

FAA Requirements

  • Hold a Private Pilot License
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Read, write, and speak English
  • Log 150 hours of flight time, which includes 100 hours of flight in powered aircraft and at least 50 hours in helicopters.
  • Flight time must also include 100 hours of pilot-in-command time (35 in helicopters), 10 hours of cross-country flight, and 5 hours of night.
  • Pass a written test
  • Pass an oral test
  • Pass a practical flight test

Estimated Costs

  • Ground instruction & testing – $2,000
  • Aircraft rental & flight instruction – $30,000
    • Total – $32,000

Certified Flight Instructor Rating

This isn’t really considered a helicopter license, but rather a rating. A rating appends privileges to a license – in this case, it allows you to use your commercial helicopter license to teach others to fly helicopters.

FAA Requirements

  • Hold a Commercial Helicopter Pilot License
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Read, write, and speak English
  • Log at least 15 hours pilot-in-command in helicopters
  • Pass a written test
  • Pass an oral test
  • Pass a practical flight test

Estimated Costs

  • Ground instruction & testing – $3,000
  • Aircraft rental & flight instruction – $7,000
    • Total – $10,000

Helicopter Instrument Rating

Again, this is a rating that allows you to use any helicopter license for the privilege of flying in instrument meteorological conditions.

FAA Requirements

  • Hold a minimum Private Pilot License, or enrolled in training
  • Be at least 17 years old
  • Read, write, and speak English
  • Log 50 hours of cross country flight as pilot-in-command, 10 of which must be in helicopters
  • Log 40 hours of flight by reference to instruments only, 15 of which must be with an instructor
  • The 40 hours of instrument time can be combined with the cross country requirement
  • You may also substitute up to 20 hours of instrument time by using an approved flight simulator
  • Pass a written test
  • Pass an oral test
  • Pass a practical flight test

Estimated Costs

  • Ground instruction & testing – $2,000
  • Simulator rental & instruction – $3,000
  • Aircraft rental & flight instruction – $8,000
    • Total – $13,000

sam-cribbs

Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument

This rating will allow you to teach other helicopter pilots how to fly in instrument meteorological conditions.

FAA Requirements

  • Hold a Commercial Helicopter License with Helicopter Instrument Rating
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Read, write, and speak English
  • Pass a written test
  • Pass an oral test
  • Pass a practical flight test

Estimated Costs

  • Ground instruction & testing – $500
  • Aircraft rental & instruction – $1,500
    • Total – $2,000

Airline Transport Pilot Helicopter License

This helicopter license isn’t something you’ll just go get after your first helicopter lessons. The flight experience requirements are high and will usually take years to obtain.

FAA Requirements

  • Hold a Commercial Pilot License with Instrument Rating
  • Be at least 23 years old
  • Read, write, and speak English
  • Log at least 1,200 hour of pilot time, which includes 500 hours of cross-country time, 100 hours of night flying, and 75 hours of instrument time.
  • 200 hours of this flight time must be in helicopters. Night time and instrument time has other helicopter-specific requirements outlined in the regulations.
  • Pass a written test
  • Pass an oral test
  • Pass a practical flight test

Estimated Costs

  • Because the flight time requirements are so high, you will most likely only get this flight time through flight as an employed helicopter pilot – so you’ll be logging it on the company dime.

In Conclusion

There are as many reasons to get a helicopter license as there are helicopter pilot job descriptions. And helicopter pilots fly a wide variety of missions! Getting your helicopter license will be a challenge, but at the same time will be some of the most fun you’ve ever had. You’ll be rewarded with unique jobs all over the world if you complete the challenge.

Many helicopter schools have programs where you can combine training. For example, combine the private pilot helicopter license and instrument training. Or combine the commercial pilot and instrument training. This is a great way to cut costs and get to your end goal sooner than if you got each license on its own.

So what are you waiting for? Go get your helicopter license!

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