Power Your Flight Training at Upper Limit with an HFI Scholarship!

HFI is offering a variety of helicopter scholarships that can help you build a career as a helicopter pilot through flight training with Upper Limit Aviation.

Upper Limit Aviation is excited to promote another great scholarship opportunity to prospective helicopter pilots hoping to start or continue working towards their helicopter certificate through our fantastic flight training program. This scholarship is funded by Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) an organization that is dedicated to preserve and promote what they call the “rich heritage of vertical aviation,” while doing whatever they can to support future rotorcraft pilots and aviation technicians. HFI is run by a board of directors who, much like our founders and instructors, are passionate about encouraging those interested in helicopters and hoping to pursue their helicopter license.

Like Upper Limit Aviation, HFI supports education and job placement for student pilots and strongly encourages safety. HFI also promotes historic preservation through it’s HFI Trailblazer series about rotorcraft pioneers and advancements.

This year, dozens of scholarships are available to both men and women, young and old aviation enthusiasts and rotorcraft students. After using the scholarship to achieve your dream of earning your helicopter certificate through Upper Limit Aviation’s flight school, both HFI and ULA will help you find a career, through direct assistance from our faculty, as well as HFI’s annual career roundtable, and the other programs ULA offers to further your career goals, such as Pilot Pathways.

HFI has two fantastic helicopter scholarships available that we at Upper Limit think would be invaluable to our students: The Commercial Helicopter Pilot Rating Scholarship and the Michelle North Scholarship for Safety. Applications for both of these amazing aviation scholarships are due by November 30th, 2017 by midnight, EST.

An HFI Helicopter Scholarship can power your flight training at Upper Limit Aviation in a Robinson R22 Helicopter.

Train in one of our awesome Robinson R22s with a professional, experienced CFI!

To apply for the Commercial Helicopter Pilot Rating Scholarship, you must already have your private helicopter certificate and be enrolled in a commercial helicopter pilot rating program such as Upper Limit Aviation. Additionally, in order to qualify for the scholarship, you should be on the track to complete this rating after January 1st, 2018

The Michelle North Scholarship for Safety is for commercial helicopter pilots interested in enhancing their aviation career by adding additional focus on aviation safety. Named after Michelle North, an industry advocate of safety, the goal is to “encourage a stronger focus on safety education and training in helicopter operations.” In addition to other rewards, the winner of this scholarship gets full-tuition to attend the HFI Safety Management course at the HELI-EXPO in Las Vegas. To apply, you must have your commercial pilot rating, and demonstrate an “outstanding aptitude for safe flying and aviation best practices.”

Any of these amazing opportunities can help you become a better helicopter pilot through Upper Limit Aviation’s thorough and career-oriented flight training at either our Southern California or Salt Lake City locations.

For more information on how to apply, visit helicopterfoundation.org/scholarships or email [email protected]. You can also take this opportunity to contact our representatives at either school location and start the path toward your private or commercial helicopter license. Call or email us today and we can also help you find the scholarships that are best for you, walk you through the scholarship application process, and receive top-level training that will enable you to enjoy a career as a helicopter pilot!

Get Started with Your Flight Training Today!

For our Salt Lake City, UT location, call 801-596-7722 or email [email protected]

For our Temecula/Murrieta, CA location, call 951-696-7722 or email [email protected].

And click here to fill out our online application!

What To Look For In a Helicopter Flight School

When looking for a helicopter flight school, here are the 3 “W’s” you should pay attention to.

Margie O’Connor

You are outside enjoying the gentle breeze of a pure, blue-sky day when up above you hear the wap-wap-wap of a helicopter as it flies overhead. For a moment, you fixate on the helicopter, amazed at the way it flies and are immediately inspired to find a helicopter flight school. The yearning to fly a helicopter is strong. And so your search begins.

Beginning your rotorcraft journey can be daunting but with a little exploration and persistence, you will find the helicopter flight school that fits perfectly with your desires, budget and time.

The “What”

Helicopters-plain and simple. Maybe you found the helicopter’s ability to hover or fly in all directions, hypnotic. Or maybe you are a fixed-wing pilot intrigued by how the helicopter flies differently. For me, it was a little of both and then some. I first felt the power of a helicopter as it landed at the same airport I was training for my fixed-wing Private Pilot’s License. Standing on the airport ramp, I felt the rush of air from the rotor blades envelop me as if calling me to join in this rapture.

Aside from aerodynamics and their unique appeal, helicopters vary in many of the same ways that airplanes do. Some have one engine, like the Robinson R22, while others sport twin engines, such as the Bell 407. A helicopter flight school outfitted with a wide range of rotorcraft, like Upper Limit Aviation, can better fulfill the pilot’s demand for advanced ratings or operations, like high altitude or mountain flight.

The “Why”

A good place to start your search is by asking yourself why you want to fly a helicopter. Quite possibly, your goals are long-term and a helicopter profession is in your future. Helicopter jobs range from instructing to more advanced, like serving the emergency medical industry.
Maybe you desire a degree to complement your helicopter flight certificate. Some helicopter flight schools offer degree programs that coincide with flight training. Specifically tailored classes, like weather or helicopter systems, augment flight line learning with some degree programs even available online.

Or perhaps you simply covet the helicopter’s freedom to traverse across the skies and whisk just above the treetops. Does the sound of the rotor blades beating the sky instill a sense of awe in you? That same wonder alone has propelled many before you to fulfill their dream of flight at a helicopter flight school.

The “Where”

Several options exist for obtaining a helicopter license but not all may be in alignment with your goals. Attending military helicopter flight training, I graduated with a Commercial Rotary Wing license in just over a year but this route requires you serve an additional 6 years following graduation, so it’s not for everyone.

Civilian helicopter flight schools, like Upper Limit Aviation, provide outstanding opportunities for reaching your goals, no matter how in-depth, with typical progression from Private through Commercial doable in under 2 years.

Not only do helicopter flight schools provide a plentiful variety of helicopters but a generous pool of flight instructors from which to choose. And don’t forget about the plethora of financial assistance or payment plans to help make your dream of helicopter flight a reality.
Paramount in your decision when selecting a helicopter flight school is quality. Where will you receive the best training, with dedicated instructors, well-maintained helicopters and opportunities for advancement? Without careful consideration of these factors, you could find yourself frustrated and spending much more than anticipated.

So, although you can find helicopter flight schools in most states across the nation, be wary of those who offer training at what seems to be ridiculously low prices (if it seems too good to be true, it probably is). Don’t sacrifice quality for cost and keep in mind that cheaper is not always better. If you save money initially yet end up having to pay for additional lessons because the quality of instruction was lacking, you could end up paying more in the end.

Look at the total package in deciding on the best fitting helicopter flight school for you. After all, you deserve the best, least frustrating path when pursuing your dreams of learning to fly a helicopter. Hopefully, your first time at the controls will instill the same euphoric sense of joy I experienced – my flight instructor said I never quit smiling for the duration of my first flight – truly nothing more awesome than flying a helicopter.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

How Do You Fly a Helicopter?

John Peltier

Helicopter flight is fairly mysterious, isn’t it? How do all of those moving parts work in concert to make the helicopter move in just about any direction you can imagine? It reminds me of a diagram I saw as a helicopter student. It showed a helicopter, surrounded by four arrows going up, down, left, and right. Instead of the arrows labeled “lift”, “weight”, “thrust”, and “drag”, they were all labeled “magic”.

Actually, helicopter flying isn’t all that difficult. It just requires a lot of coordination, and that coordination comes with practice. Lots of it. So let’s go ahead and look at some of the basics of how you fly a helicopter.

How Do You Fly a Helicopter – Positioning

Left hand. The left hand always stays on what’s called the Collective. The collective earns its name from the fact that raising and lowering this lever will “collectively” change the pitch of the blades. Raise it and the pitch of all blades increases at the same time, increasing lift. Lower it and all blades decrease in pitch, decreasing lift.

The collective lever also has a handle that twists, controlling the throttle much like a motorcycle handle.

Right hand. The right hand always stays on what’s called the Cyclic. Like the collective, the cyclic gets its name from what it does. It changes the pitch of the blades “cyclically”, that is to say giving the blades different pitch angles depending on their position around the rotation. Move the cyclic to the left and pitch is increased on one side only, increasing lift generated on the right side so that the helicopter will go left.

Feet. The feet always stay on the pedals, and they control the amount of thrust generated by the tail rotor. The pitch of the tail rotor blades is always adjusted collectively. The reason for the tail rotor, and the importance of controlling it is to counter the torque produced by the engine and main rotor.

Helicopter Controls Diagram - How Do You Fly a Helicopter?

How Do You Fly a Helicopter – Control Diagram, courtesy of Fox 52

Imagine standing on a sheet of ice, facing your friend. You push your friend. What will happen? Both of you will actually slide backwards, away from each other. The same happens to a helicopter in the air. The rotors spin in a counter-clockwise direction on American-style helicopters. This makes the fuselage want to spin clockwise, in the opposite direction.

The tail rotor produces thrust to counteract this torque and keep the fuselage aligned. It will always produce some amount of thrust to the right. You need to fine-tune the amount of thrust that it generates in response to small changes in engine power output.

How Do You Fly a Helicopter – Putting It All Together

Your hands and feet need to be connected at all times. If one of them is doing something, the others better be doing something as well. Just about every maneuver, from the most simple to the complex, requires synchronous movement between both hands and feet. And unlike an airplane, you never take your hand off of the cyclic and only off of the collective for just a quick moment!

For example, picking up a helicopter from the ground to a hover at two feet above ground.

  • You need to raise your left hand to increase the collective pitch of all the blades.
  • If the helicopter is not equipped with a governor, you need to twist your left hand to add throttle as you’re raising the lever (increasing the pitch also increases the drag of the blades, which requires more power to overcome).
  • The increase in torque will make the helicopter want to spin to the right, so you need to increase pressure with your left foot (counter-clockwise blades).
  • The increase in collective pitch of the blades will also want to make the helicopter nose want to come up, so you need to move your right hand slightly forward to pitch back down.
  • All of these things happen more or less at the same time.

Another example. To decelerate in level flight, you need to do the following all at once:

  • Pull back slightly with your right hand to slow the helicopter down.
  • Pulling back will bring the nose up and climb, so you need to lower the collective pitch with your left hand to prevent the climb.
  • If the helicopter does not have a governor, you’ll need to twist your left hand to reduce the throttle as the collective pitch, thus drag, is reduced.
  • As the collective pitch is reduced, the torque will decrease and you’ll need to ease up on the amount of left pedal you’re using or else the helicopter will yaw to the left.

There’s a fun little maneuver called a “quick-stop”, where you practice stopping the helicopter from a high speed to nothing in a very short distance. You get really good at the simultaneous movement of “right hand back, left hand down, push right foot!”

How Do You Fly a Helicopter – Practice, Practice, Practice

These are all things that you can practice at home. You don’t even need a simulator! It’s called “chair-flying” and you can do it on the couch or at the dinner table – as long as you don’t mind weird looks from everyone else.

Just go through the maneuvers in your head. Say, “I’m going to pick the helicopter up off the ground and hover.” Then raise your left hand while pushing slightly forward with your right hand and pushing forward with your left foot. It’s that easy! Every maneuver in a helicopter has similar relationships.

And those are the basics of how you fly a helicopter! Don’t be intimidated by what other people say, or the perceived complexity of the machines. I’ve seen some students learn to hover during their first flight – this is the hardest thing to do in a helicopter! The analogy is that it’s like trying to balance a greasy ping-pong ball on the head of a pin.

But with an understanding of what the controls do, the maneuver, like all others in a helicopter, isn’t all that difficult.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

How Do Helicopters Fly?

Margie O’Connor

During my fixed-wing flight training, I witnessed what I thought to be a miracle – a Blackhawk helicopter landing at the same airport I was learning about the theory of airplane flight. Captivated by the powerful sound of the rotor blade, I instantly began to wonder. How did the rotor blades work to produce the lift necessary to keep the aircraft afloat? And were helicopter rotor systems susceptible to any of the same by-products of flight as the airplane?

I would soon discover the significance of words like flapping and feathering; that hunting was more than traipsing through the woods towards the nearest tree stand, and that coning and twist weren’t always referring to ice cream.
Helicopter flying has often been equated to rubbing your belly while patting your head and walking, all at the same time. There’s no doubt rotary wing flying involves a bit of manipulation unfamiliar to the fixed-wing crowd but proper manipulation of the wild yet fascinating components of the helicopter lead to the successful creation of lift, just like flying an airplane.

So how do helicopters fly? First, let’s decipher some helicopter vocabulary. Maybe in doing so, you will gain an appreciation (or at least a sense of awe, like I did) for helicopter flight.

Helicopter Rotor System Characteristics

Helicopters really come with two rotor blade systems – the main rotor system mounted above the cockpit and connected to the engine and the tail rotor, affixed to, well, the tail section (more on that in a future article). These two rotate simultaneously to produce and counteract lift, among other talents.

Like airplanes, helicopters must create enough lift to overcome weight to fly…it’s really all about balancing the forces. This vertical vector combined with centrifugal force produces a resultant force that’s not completely opposite the downward component of weight. So while your helicopter’s main rotor system is still creating lift, centrifugal force is stealing the thunder. If the goal is to take off vertically, the resultant vector needs some adjustment.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 1 - The resultant force of centrifugal force and lift.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 1 – The resultant force of centrifugal force and lift.


To make the resultant force more effective, the blades cone! Coning occurs to counteract our sneaky friend, centrifugal force. Ask and you shall receive…more lift that is. The blades flex upwards to more effectively concentrate the lift vertically. But beware – coning only augments lift to a certain point, after which it can actually degrade the amount of lift. Excessive coning can creep in at low RPMs, high gross weights, or high G maneuvers.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 2 - Blades coning.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 2 – Blades coning.

Blade Twist

Helicopter rotor blades move fast! And they create a great deal of lift but the lift is not consistent along the blade so engineers design a twist into the blade. Twisting the blade distributes this lift more evenly along the length of the rotor blade.

Dissymmetry of Lift

A look at dissymmetry of lift is necessary to lay the groundwork before moving forward. Dissymmetry of lift is essentially the difference in the lift between the advancing half of the rotor disk and the retreating half. When the speed of the blade combines with the airspeed of the helicopter (wind affects both here), The advancing blade pulls ahead in the race as it moves much faster and acquires greater lift. Conversely, the retreating blade slows down and loses lift. And the closer you get to the tip of the blade, the faster the blade moves!

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 3 - Dissymmetry of lift as viewed from above.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 3 – Dissymmetry of lift as viewed from above.

Although lift is a good thing, if half the helicopter has more than the other half, the aircraft may end up in a rolling situation (literally rolling over). To prevent the advancing blade from overpowering the retreating blade, we have to equalize lift. Several mechanisms exist to counteract this undesirable condition.


As the main rotor blades travel, they want to fight off the dissymmetry of lift while having some fun. So they climb (flap up) as they advance around the right half of the rotor’s path and dive (flap down) as they round out the left side. This is flapping. They can do this because they teeter on a hinge. You can see this when the helicopter is sitting on the ground, not running. The blades actually droop (and no, not because they’re sad).

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 4 - As viewed from the back of the helicopter – advancing blade flaps up while retreating blade flaps down.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 4 – As viewed from the back of the helicopter – advancing blade flaps up while retreating blade flaps down.

The advancing blade flaps up, eventually decreasing its angle of attack. Conversely, the retreating blade flaps down, eventually creating an increase in the blade’s angle of attack and winning the battle against dissymmetry of lift.


Feathering, like blade flapping, has a role in countering dissymmetry of lift. Feathering is the rotation of the blade about its span wise axis, by collective or cyclic inputs, which causes a change in blade pitch angle.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 5 - Feathering rotates the blade around the span wise axis.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 5 – Feathering rotates the blade around the span wise axis.

Primary feathering occurs when you manipulate the cyclic, which in turn moves the thrust vector in the direction of movement (left, right, forward).

Leading and Lagging (also known as Hunting)

While the blade flaps up, the CG moves closer to the rotor mast. Why does this happen, you ask? Well, it’s all about Coriolis force. If you’ve ever watched ice skaters, you are familiar with Coriolis force (which simply states that as a mass moves closer to the center of rotation, it gains speed). So when the ice skater moves her arms closer to her body as she spins, her speed increases. The same thing occurs on a spinning rotor blade.

The faster blade also experiences a change in pitch and an increase in drag. If these stresses continue too long, the rotor blades risk excessive bending. Leading and lagging can give the blades some room to relax and unwind from their overstressed condition.

During leading and lagging, the rotor blade moves fore and aft (or hunts) in the plane of rotation. But this feature only frequents fully articulated rotor systems, so you may not encounter this when first learning to fly a helicopter.

In Conclusion

If the thought of learning to tackle a new, yet challenging mode of flight involving rotor blades seems intriguing, then maybe the time is ripe for you to leap into the world of helicopter flying.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.


Dole, C. E. (1994). Flight Theory for Pilots. Redlands: Jeppesen Sanderson.

Headquarters, Department of the Army (2007). Fundamentals of Flight. Washington, D.C: U.S. Government Printing Office.

The Requirements for Getting Your Private Helicopter License

John Peltier

Don’t helicopters look fun to fly? Well, they are! You can take them anywhere and do anything with them. Okay, that may be a stretch and there are some limitations. But when compared with airplanes, helicopters can do anything.

If you’re interested in learning how to fly helicopters, take an introductory flight. Get some time on the controls and see what it’s like to fly one of these complex machines. If you have fun (and you mostly likely will), you should pursue your private helicopter license!

Why You Should Get Your Private Helicopter License

Obtaining your private helicopter license is the first step in going on to fly helicopters for a career. We do need to discuss the cold, hard truth of helicopters first: they’re expensive to fly.

Many pilots who get their private fixed-wing license do so because they want to take their families on little vacations on the weekends, or to travel faster than if they were driving. And in airplanes, you don’t need to be rich to do this.

The same doesn’t hold true for helicopters. Operating costs for a two-seat piston helicopter can be between two to three times the cost of a four-seat piston airplane. A four-seat piston helicopter can be between $500-$600 per hour to rent. This makes “renting a helicopter for the weekend” a hobby for the wealthy as it quickly adds up.

If money is a non-issue for you, then by all means, recreational helicopter flying will soon become one of your favorite hobbies!

But for the rest of us, getting a private helicopter license is a stepping-stone to future employment as a helicopter pilot.

What You Can Do With Your Private Helicopter License
R22 Helicopter flying at dusk

Photo by Steven Yeh

As previously mentioned, you’ll be able to rent helicopters and fly on your own once you have your private license. The FAA does place some restrictions on what private pilots can do.

  • You have to pay at least your fair share of operating costs when flying with other people. Meaning, if you end up paying $600 for the rental and fuel, and there are three of you, you need to pay at least $200 of that.
  • You can only fly in connection to a business if the flight is incidental to the business, i.e. you’re not specifically hired to fly for that business. You’re also prohibited from carrying passengers or cargo for hire.
  • You can fly for charitable events. Sometimes non-profits will auction off rides for charities for example, and you can do this as a private pilot.
  • One of the neat things about helicopters are their search-and-rescue capabilities. You can be reimbursed for your operating costs (but not for your time) if you participate in a search under the direct control of the agency in charge.
Steps in Getting Your Private Helicopter License

Selecting a school is one of the most important things to do in getting your license. You shouldn’t go to the school that’s the closest, or the cheapest. They may seem like the best choice for you, but they’re not the right reasons.

You need to do some research. Make a list and visit some schools if you can. At a minimum, call the school and talk to an instructor. Ask about their safety record, financing options, graduation time and rate, time-building opportunities, and job-placement opportunities. Once you are satisfied with the answers, then you can ask about price.

Be prepared to temporarily move if you need to – nothing will set you up for success more than selecting the right school!

Once you decide on a school, they’ll give you a list of the books and supplies you’ll need to purchase. Then you can start training!

Here are the requirements for your private helicopter license, straight from the Federal Aviation Regulations:

  • Be at least 17 years old
  • Be able to read, speak, and write English
  • Be endorsed by an instructor who certifies that you are prepared for the written knowledge test
  • Pass a written knowledge test
  • Be endorsed by an instructor who certifies that they conducted your required training and that you are ready for the practical test (the check ride)
  • Meet aeronautical experience requirements outlined in the regulations (flying time and conditions)
  • Pass the practical test (check ride)
  • Hold at least a student pilot certificate (medical clearance)
  • Comply with all applicable Federal Aviation Regulations
An R44 instrument panel

Photo by R44Flyer

You can complete your academic training via a home study course or in the classroom with an instructor. The latter is recommended because it’s much easier to ask questions as they come up, or have things explained differently. Knowledge areas that you’ll need to learn and will be tested on include physiology, emergency procedures, helicopter systems, weather, chart reading, navigation, and regulations.

A private helicopter license requires 40 hours of aeronautical experience. These 40 hours must include:

  • 20 hours of training from an authorized instructor
  • 10 hours of solo flight training to include
    • 3 hours cross-country
    • One cross-country over 100 miles with landings at three points
    • 3 takeoffs and landings at an airport with a control tower
  • 3 hours of cross-country flight training in a helicopter
  • 3 hours of night training to include a cross-country over 50 miles and 10 takeoffs and landings
  • 3 hours of training within 2 months of the practical test

Remember that these numbers are minimums! Only a few pilots will actually get their license right at 40 hours. Most pilots will require somewhere around 50 hours before they’re ready for the practical test.

Costs for Getting Your Private Helicopter License

This is usually the first question that potential pilots will ask about their training. It’s a difficult question to answer because of all the different variables involved with helicopter flight training.

First, operating costs vary from school to school. This is a function of fuel costs at different locations, hangar & office rental costs, employee wages, etc.

Second, you are a big variable in the cost. Your motivation and dedication to your training will help keep costs down! And as mentioned earlier, many pilots don’t complete their training right at 40 hours. So it’s difficult to say how much training you will need, and this makes a difference on the total cost.

Make sure to be consistent in your training. Don’t take breaks for weeks at a time if you can avoid it. There’s that saying “two steps forward and one step back” – this is what will happen if you take large breaks during your training. You’ll have to go back and revisit some things that you already completed. Training a few days a week is an optimal pace. It’ll cost you more money upfront but will save you money in the long run. Training as the money becomes available isn’t a good choice.

But to give you a ballpark figure for an R22 (a two-seat training helicopter), a private license should run you between $12,000-$15,000.

After You Get Your Private Helicopter License

Build time when you can so that you can reach the ultimate goal of getting a commercial license! Ways to build time include pursuing your instrument rating or going flying with another pilot and splitting costs.

Never stop studying. You’re a brand new pilot now, and there’s a lot of knowledge to maintain! Not only that but a lot of it will be changing – the FAA changes airspace and regulations every year. Stay on top of it! A good idea to stay disciplined about this is to have one study topic per week. Make a calendar and tackle this topic throughout the week. This won’t just make you a better pilot, but your life could depend on it!

It’s never too early to start researching potential employers. Don’t get too hung up on one because it’ll still be a few years before you have the experience necessary to apply for these jobs, but it’ll give you a good idea of what’s out there and what you want to focus on during your training.

Getting your private helicopter license is an achievement that you should be very proud of – you worked hard for it and put aside part of your life to pursue this dream. You’ll never have more fun flying than during your helicopter training. Make the most of it!

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

The Differences Between Helicopter Flying and Airplane Flying

Margie O’Connor

When asked how helicopter flying is different from flying an airplane, my response has always been the same: it’s much more difficult to eat a sandwich while flying a helicopter, whereas, in a well-trimmed airplane, light finger pressure on the yoke is enough to hold the aircraft straight and level while eating a sandwich with the other.

Why is this? Well, helicopter flying, although an adrenalin mounting endeavor (and the one I prefer), requires the use of both hands simultaneously on the controls. Does this mandate a white-knuckle grip, through all phases of flight, to keep the helicopter flying? Quite the contrary. Helicopter pilots are typically taught to place their hands and feet on the controls and then simply “think” about flying the helicopter or applying very small, smooth movements via the flight controls. But both hands are still occupied.

Aerodynamic Forces

Helicopter and fixed-wing flying use the same aerodynamic principles – just applied in slightly different ways. Lift, weight, thrust and drag play a role in the movement of both aircraft.

Thrust must be greater than drag to cause forward movement in an airplane in flight. In helicopter flying, these same forces act as vectors to accommodate the condition of flight (i.e., left, right, up, down, etc.). For example, in forward helicopter flight, lift acts as the vertical component of the Total Aerodynamic Force (TAF) and drag takes up the position opposite and perpendicular to the TAF. Or using a different visual, lift makes up the vertical component of the total lift vector with thrust acting perpendicular and opposite to lift in the same vector – thrust either acting forward (in forward flight) or left, right or to the rear (in the corresponding direction).

In steady state, un-accelerated flight in an airplane, lift equals weight and thrust equals drag. In a hover (in a no wind condition) lift and thrust combine into one force and are equal to and act opposite the sum of weight and drag.


While these same forces come into play in both helicopter and airplane flying, the airflow is slightly different. In an airplane, the air flow over the wing speeds up as the aircraft’s speed increases. Helicopter flying incorporates both the helicopter’s speed and the speed at which the rotor blades move through the air.

How do we manipulate all these forces? Well, in an airplane, the pilot uses the control yoke or column and rudder pedals. In helicopter flying, the collective, cyclic and antitorque pedals control the forces in flight.

Controlling the Forces

In helicopter flying, the pilot’s left hand controls the collective and sometimes a throttle, depending on the aircraft. The collective is a bar or stick, if you will, parallel to the floor of the helicopter, when in the down position. As the pilot lifts the collective, the corresponding change in the rotor blade’s pitch angle increases lift and thus helps “lift” the helicopter up. The collective controls the up and down of the entire helicopter.

The pilot’s right hand controls the cyclic, positioned between the pilot’s legs. The cyclic runs somewhat perpendicular to the floor of the helicopter and provides pitch and roll about the lateral and longitudinal axes, respectively. The cyclic essentially works by changing the tip path plane of the rotor allowing you to maneuver in directions impossible for the fixed-wing pilot. So, yes, you can actually fly backward (without help from an excessively strong headwind) or hover over a fixed location!

While collective and cyclic keep your hands busy, the antitorque pedals demand your feet participate, as well. In a single rotor system, like those found on many trainer helicopters, pushing on the right pedal, turns the helicopter to the right while pressure on the left pedal, rotates the aircraft left. But that’s not the primary function of these two pedals on the floor. Their main purpose in life is not to add yet another required movement to flying a helicopter but rather to counteract torque.

Torque is the force that causes rotation and is countering the main rotation of the rotor blades. In aircraft flown in the United States, rotor blades rotate counter-clockwise, as viewed from above the rotors. Based on Newton’s third law of motion, torque imparts the tendency for the nose of the helicopter to move right. Antitorque pedals exist then, to counter torque.

So there you have it. Flying helicopters differs from flying airplanes mainly in the controls you will use… and that it may be slightly more difficult to eat a sandwich. But I’m still partial to helicopter flying: there’s nothing quite as awesome as hovering.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.


Center, U. S. (1996, July). Theory of Rotary Wing Flight. Fort Rucker, Alabama, United States of America.

Dole, C. E. (1994). Flight Theory for Pilots. Redlands: Jeppesen Sanderson.

Harp, P. (1996). Pilot’s Desk Reference for the UH-60 Helicopter. In P. Harp, Aerodynamics (pp. 6-18, 6-21, 6-32). Enterprise: Presentation’s Plus.

Michael J. Kroes, J. R. (1993). Aircraft Basic Science. Westerville: Glencoe Division of Macmillan/McGraw-Hill.

How to Become a Helicopter Pilot

Learning to Fly Isn’t as Hard as You Think

Wondering how to become a helicopter pilot? The first steps to getting into a cockpit are clearly defined, and most people qualify to start training immediately. Here are the details you need to know.

You’re watching the quintessential over-the-top car chase scene and the star is making a getaway so fast the police can’t catch him. No back street short cut combination will put the cops at a great enough advantage to cut the hero off. Then the helicopters enter the high-speed chase. There’s no more hiding for the poor car. Air power is simply better. You think to yourself, “That would be a cool job. How do I get a job like that?” The answer: start flying helicopters. Get some experience. Then apply for the job.

Anyone can buy a discovery flight in a helicopter. A discovery flight is essentially an introduction lesson for you. Much like an introduction to martial arts class or an introduction to painting, you can buy an introduction lesson to flying. The lesson normally lasts about two hours. In that time you would get a basic introduction to the parts of a helicopter and how they work. You also get to fly with an instructor for about half an hour. The discovery flight is normally a short flight just around the airport. If you are savvy enough to point the way and you don’t live very far away from the airport, you could even ask the instructor to fly over your house.

You’ll need to find a school that teaches flying in order to buy a discovery flight in a helicopter. These schools aren’t usually the local high school or recreation center. A school that teaches flying can be found at your local airport. You are likely familiar with the international airport near you; these are the airports where airlines operate. In some cases international airports are too busy for learning to fly, but many flight schools do operate from these airports. Flight training also happens at local airports, which are likely closer to you. An online search for airports near your city will reveal the small local airports in your area. You can also use this (av-info.faa.gov/PilotSchool.asp) search engine on the Federal Aviation Administration website to find the address of flight schools in your state.

Once you find the flight school nearest you, simply walk in for a visit. Be sure to visit the flight school before buying the discovery flight. You’ll want to see the aircraft and meet at least one instructor. Though appointments aren’t typically required, you may want to call and make an appointment with the school. This will ensure you don’t have to wait around to talk to someone once you get there. In addition, it helps the school be prepared for your visit.

If you like what you see, ask to schedule a discovery flight. The cost should be anywhere from one hundred to two hundred dollars if the school has smaller aircraft. You’ll be charged for the aircraft hourly operating expenses as well as the flight instructor hourly fee. The aircraft cost can be negotiable if you are willing to reduce the time you spend in the air. Consider paying for half an hour instead of an hour in the air if you are strapped for cash. The instructor hourly rate is likely not negotiable. You’ll be charged for the amount of time you spend with the instructor whether on the ground or in the air. Be prepared to pay the bill for the discovery flight prior to takeoff or immediately upon returning to the airport from your flight.

If the flight is enjoyable, you may want to consider scheduling your first lesson immediately. You’ll be required to verify your citizenship prior to starting training with two forms of identification. Generally, you’ll need your instructor to teach you for twenty or so hours before you are ready to go it alone. Before your instructor gives you permission to fly alone in the helicopter, he’ll check your abilities to ensure you can fly a helicopter alone safely.

All pilots must also complete a medical evaluation. Before you can fly by yourself you’ll need to visit an aeromedical doctor to get a certificate stating you are healthy enough to fly. The doctor will check your vision to be sure you can differentiate between a red and green light and have 20/40 vision or better, with glasses if you need them. The doctor will speak to you from across the room at a conversational volume to find out if you can hear well enough to fly. You’ll also need to provide a urine sample for basic testing. Neurologic, mental, diabetic, and cardiovascular conditions may require a more extensive review by your doctor.

As you can see, the first steps for getting into the cockpit are pretty simple. Most people qualify to start training immediately. Find a school near you and schedule a visit and a discovery flight. If you like it, sign up for training. And don’t worry too much: a pilot medical evaluation for a pilot in training is far from intimidating.

So, now that you know the first steps on how to become a helicopter pilot, what are you waiting for? Get started today!

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Helicopter Pilots: Landing a Good Job Includes Networking

What is your industry network and who is in it? If you don’t know, you need to know. For helicopter pilots, landing the best job is all about pilot skills, experience, AND networking. Of course, you will need a good resume, the right type of experience, and some very good people skills. But even more important, you must be known by those who have influence in the industry. Helicopter pilots get hired because they have good connections with reputable people within the industry. Essentially, they know somebody. If you are not known, you might struggle to find good jobs that pay well.

The absolute best “networking” opportunity is to attend Heli Expo presented by Helicopter Association International. Another great opportunity can be found at the Heli Success conference in Las Vegas. Both conferences are incredible opportunities to meet prospective industry influencers.

Being “professional” is a serious matter, and you need to be a serious pilot. However, having a good personality is just as important. Always be approachable, humble, and courteous. Be willing to smile, laugh at appropriate times, and be comfortable being yourself. If you struggle with “people” (too shy or too aggressive) work on your people skills during flight training. Both “piloting skills” and “people skills” will advance your career, or hold you back. Again, landing the best pilot job is all about networking.

Networking is not about passing out business cards. In the helicopter aviation world networking is work. You must be authentic, genuine, conscientious, alert, and passionate about the helicopter industry. It helps if you like people, or at least enjoy meeting new people. When networking with the influencers of the helicopter industry remember that they have the same interests you have – flying helicopters. Learn to enjoy the process and maximize your opportunities. Always remember, first impressions are important so take it seriously.

Networking – What is it?

  • Building professional relationships
  • Introducing yourself and meet people known
  • Find people with similar backgrounds and interests
  • Get known
  • Join industry associations and be willing to serve
  • Listen, learn, and be receptive

What networking isn’t

  • Schmoozing, brown-nosing
  • Appear needy, pushy, disingenuous
  • Whipping out business cards
  • Connecting online without a proper introduction
  • Shot-gunning blind resumes

Your First Connection Comes From Your Flight School – Choose Wisely

The first important connection you will establish comes from the helicopter flight school you attend. This connection can help you, or hurt you. It depends on the quality of the helicopter school and the type of training you receive. The top schools will prepare you for industry, including helping you to development leadership skills (people skills).

Moreover, the best helicopter flight schools can help you get your first job. First, the better flight schools hire their top graduates (CFI). Second, the best flight training programs are networked with Tier 1 employers, and, therefore, are positioned to help graduates get their first industry job outside of flight instruction. Tier 1 employers will recruit pilots from the best flight schools. Your reputation as a pilot will be tied to the school you trained with.

You will hear that the “helicopter aviation industry is very small”. You will hear this over and over again. Why? Because it is true. Helicopter pilots build their reputations over time, both good and bad. If you stick around long enough, people in the industry will know you by reputation before they meet you. You certainly do not want to burn any bridges or fail an employer. Negative “nicks” on your reputation will follow you everywhere. If you are a good pilot, people will know. If you are jumping from job-to-job, they will know that too. If you are “networked,” a great communicator with good people skills, AND you are a good pilot, your resume will be at the top of every stack.

How are your people skills? Do you need leadership training?

Helicopter pilots with good people skills naturally know how to build strong connections with industry leaders. The question is: “How are your people and leadership skills?” Are you coachable? Are you teachable? Do you listen? Do you communicate well? Do you follow instructions? Do you submit to authority? Do you get along well with colleagues and customers? If not, you need help. Your pilot career will only go so far, and regardless of your experience you will be overlooked and left behind.

If you are a great communicator with good people skills, it will be easier for you to build strong connections with industry leaders. If not, get some help now. Find a school that will teach you flight training AND people skills. We are not suggesting that you become a “brown noser” – that never works and will always backfire. We are referring to an authentic desire to learn from the best. Be a good student, never be a know-it-all, and be hungry to learn while working very hard. Be dependable, flexible, courteous, respectful, and fair. Always be willing to learn from every situation. Treat everyone with respect, honor, and protect their dignity – just like you would want to be treated. Essentially, be a professional in every way.

Industry experts will tell you to find a mentor

The helicopter industry experts will tell you that you need to find several mentors early in your career. Find several people who have risen to the top of the aviation industry. Reach out and establish a professional relationship. At the right time, in the right moment, ask them to help you to be the best all around pilot. Don’t be intrusive, or arrogant, but simply say, “how did you get here (industry leader) and can you help me craft my career?”

Attend industry conferences and meet people face-to-face. Be patient. It may take dozens of conferences before you can connect with industry leaders. Once you have established a connection, never “name drop”. Never exaggerate your experience. Be humble and appreciative. Show prospective mentors that you are serious about professionalism, and be willing to develop real relationships. Never let your mentor down and do not soil his/her reputation by acting like a bonehead – you might not recover.

The time to develop a network starts before you start flight school

The time to develop your industry connections is now. Before you choose a flight school, do your homework. Call Tier 1 employers and ask them for a recommendation on flight schools. If you have chosen a school, before you sign on the dotted line, call around and find out if they have a good reputation for producing quality helicopter pilots for the industry.

Networking Tips for Introverts

  • Network one-on-one rather than in big groups
  • Work toward creating valuable, deep relationships with a handful of approachable influencers
  • Prepare in advance – anticipate key topics and have questions ready to get a conversation going
  • Help someone else network, or pair up with someone you know to get an introduction

5 Tips to get your foot in the door

  • Discipline yourself and make a plan
  • Stay alert – look for opportunities to be around the right people at the right time
  • Don’t hijack conversations or outstay your welcome
  • Be open to new ideas and alternative plans
  • Utilize the people you already know

The Network Code of Ethics

  • First impressions are everything
  • Everyone you meet will be evaluating you – be smart
  • Helicopter aviation is a small industry – people talk
  • Think about proper business attire – if in doubt, overdress
  • Take out piercings and cover tattoos
  • Be smart with alcohol – don’t get sloshed
  • Know your career plans
  • Get rid of negative attitudes or sense of entitlement
  • Social Media can sink your ship

HAI – Heli Expo Networking Opportunities

  • Pilot Mentoring Panels
  • Industry Job Fair
  • Rotor Safety Challenges
  • Welcome Reception
  • Annual Membership Breakfast
  • Committee Meetings
  • Salute to Excellence Awards Dinner
  • Heli Expo Exhibitor Booths
Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

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