If you’re interested in training to be a helicopter pilot, the following will give you an idea of the steps required. These will be similar regardless of which school you choose, although each school has its own unique approaches to training and timelines that may vary somewhat.
Pilot Training ~ Private Pilot
Once you’ve selected a school, a start date for your training will be decided and a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) will be assigned to work with you.
You and your instructor will discuss your availability, preferred training times and goals, and based on this, a training schedule will be established. You will also need to undergo a medical exam to confirm that there aren’t any health issues that would prevent you from flying safely and apply for an FAA Student Pilot License.
Once training begins, it will fall into three stages:
Stage 1: 15-20 hours of flight time
Stage 1 includes reading, studying, classroom work as well as flight time. You’ll be learning basic flying skills, basic knowledge such as airspace rules and map reading, and radio skills, and prepare for your first solo flight.
Some students find this stage of preparation for their first solo flight somewhat overwhelming — it’s kind of like trying to drink from a fire hose. There’s a lot to learn, both on the ground and in the air. Your instructor will be working with you closely and will be able to help if you’re struggling — they were a student once too, so they understand what you’re going through.
Once you and your instructor feel you’re ready, you’ll be administered a pre-solo written test to assess your mastery of the material. You’ll also participate in a stage check with another instructor at the school to assess whether you’re ready for your solo flight. The stage check, with an instructor you haven’t flown with before, starts to prepare you for the experience of your FAA check ride with an unfamiliar examiner. The stage check will also serve as an opportunity for another instructor to evaluate the CFI working with you, to ensure that you are well-versed in all of the required knowledge.
When you have successfully completed your stage check, you’re ready for your first solo flight! You will fly with your instructor first to make sure you’re comfortable, review emergency procedures, and do a final review.
Then, alone in the aircraft, you will fly a minimum of three trips in the pattern — three takeoffs, three approaches, and three landings.
When you’ve successfully soloed you’re ready to move on to Stage 2 training!
Stage 2: 15-20 hours of flight time
In Stage 2 you’ll continue developing your flying skills, learn remaining maneuvers that are more complicated, work on more solo flying and your cross country flying requirements, and study to take your FAA written exam.
The goal of Stage 2 is to prepare for your next stage check, similar to the one in Stage 1, but including all new material covered since the beginning up to this point and to also complete your FAA written test. Main reason we want your written test completed, is so moving forward into stage 3, all of stage 3 is focused on the FAA check ride. Again, successful completion of your stage check allows you to move to Stage 3.
Stage 3: 15-20 hours of flight time
Stage 3 is all about finishing. You and your instructor are prepping for your check ride and oral exam with the FAA examiner.
The check ride is a full evaluation of your preparation as a helicopter pilot, and also an evaluation by the FAA of your school and your instructor — so your CFI will make sure you’re fully prepared and able to succeed before scheduling this important exam.
Once you’re ready, it’s Check Ride Day! Your test will include an oral exam (3-4 hours) covering all the material you’ve learned. Once you’ve passed the oral exam, you will embark on your flight check ride with the FAA examiner or Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE).
The check ride usually takes about an hour & a half. After the ride, you will debrief with your examiner and instructor to discuss what went well in the oral exam and the flight, areas of weakness and opportunities for improvement.
Once you’ve successfully passed your check ride, you’re a rated helicopter pilot! Congratulations!
Moving forward as a Private Pilot, you’ll need to participate in a flight review with an instructor from a flight school every two years to maintain currency of your rating. If you are pursuing additional ratings, such as your instrument or commercial rating, flight instructor, you’ll go through each of these stages to complete each rating.
To go through an entire program of training to become an industry rated pilot, it can take approx. 16-22 months or more, training full-time (3-5 days per week) to complete training through your flight instructor rating. Your instructor will develop your training program that best meets your needs to move you through your training as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Flight Instructor Training
Once they’ve completed their flight training (achieving private, instrument and commercial ratings), many pilots wish to pursue a career as a commercial pilot. Because these positions require anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 total flight hours (which can take up to three years to accumulate), many pilots work as flight instructors to gain the experience and flight time.
In order to work as a flight instructor, you’ll need to undertake CFI training. Like the rating training process described above, CFI training has three stages:
Stage 1: Learning to be an instructor
As a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), you’ll not only have to know how to fly — but you’ll have to teach others to fly as well. Developing your skills as a teacher is an important and fundamental component of your CFI training.
Unless you’ve already received a teaching certificate in another aspect of your work, you’ll participate in the FAA Fundamentals of Instruction course. You’ll learn to create lesson plans, keep your students focused, and impart the knowledge they’ll need without overwhelming them with jargon. CFIs serve as a combination of instructor, safety pilot, psychologist, mentor and coach, and your skills will be developed in all these areas.
You’ll fly with your CFI, but this time you’ll be in the instructor’s seat, then hear your CFI’s feedback. You’ll practice teaching other instructors in the classroom and in the cockpit and work to improve based on their comments. You’ll also be creating all your needed lesson plans that you will use as a guideline to use with your future students.
Stage 2: Preparing and taking written exams
In this stage you’ll prepare for two written FAA exams:
– Fundamentals of Instruction, covering the rules of teaching
– Helicopter Knowledge Test, which is similar to the test you completed to receive your commercial rating.
You’ll also continue to fly, teach, & refine your lesson plans. Working 2-3 hours on the ground for every hour that you fly.
Stage 3: Finishing and preparing for check ride
The check ride for your CFI certification will require about 1.5 hours, but the oral exam is much longer — often 6-8 hours long. There is a lot of material to cover during this examination. Testing all your abilities to become an instructor.
Working in the Industry
So you’ve completed your training and have been probably working as a CFI for a year or two. Once you’ve accumulated 1,000-1,500 hours of flight time, you can begin looking at piloting opportunities in a range of industries — tourism, transportation, utilities, law enforcement, health care, news, government, TV and movies, and the military.
Each position will have pros and cons with regard to pay structure, schedule, location, additional certifications and regulatory requirements. Additional time working as a pilot, and additional flight hours, can position you for higher-level positions and salaries.
Canyon State Aero offers a full suite of training, from your initial private pilot rating thru instrument, commercial, CFI, CFI-Instrument Instructor & Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) training. We’re happy to discuss your goals and how our training program could work for you. We look forward to helping you become the helo pilot you want to be!