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
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
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!