A rewarding career where no two days are ever the same, a job as a helicopter pilot can be challenging and not always as glamorous as people may think.
There are, however, many reasons to consider flying helicopters for a living:
- It’s a development from flying aeroplanes
- It’s the ideal career for aircraft enthusiasts
- It’s a varied, challenging career
- You’re likely to be able to travel extensively
- It’s a rewarding career, particularly if you fly in the armed forces or ambulance service
If you decide it is the career for you, there are a number of necessary requirements and steps to follow before you can qualify.
How do you become a helicopter pilot?
In order to train to become a helicopter pilot, you will need to be aged 18 or over. You will also need to hold a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL), which is issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
In order to qualify for a CPL training course, you will need to:
- Hold GCSEs in English, Maths and Science, grades A* – C
- Pass the required skills tests
- Pass a thorough medical assessment
- Hold a minimum of 155 hours flying time
If you already hold a Private Pilot Licence (PPL), you may be required to hold less than 155 hours flying time when training for a CPL.
Skills required to become a helicopter pilot
In order to become a helicopter pilot, you will need a set of key skills and aptitudes including:
- Excellent spatial awareness
- Excellent hand-to-eye co-ordination
- Strong concentration skills
- The ability to remain calm in a crisis
- Excellent communication skills
- Sound judgement
What will your job as a helicopter pilot involve?
As well as flying the helicopter itself, you will also be responsible for:
- Filing flight plans with the relevant authorities
- Communicating with air traffic control
- Checking weather conditions and any airspace restrictions on your planned flight path
- Carrying out safety checks prior to take off, during the flight and post-flight
- Working out the aircraft’s fuel requirements for your trip
- Calculating the maximum load capacity of the helicopter for the flight
- Checking the helicopter and all its instruments are functioning properly
- Completing the flight log and any necessary paperwork post-flight
Depending on the size of the helicopter, you may fly alone or as part of a larger team of co-pilots.
How much does it cost to get your helicopter licence?
Qualifying for a CPL can be costly, with the number of flight hours, plus the written and practical examinations, soon adding up.
You will need to pay for your licence yourself, unless you study for the qualification as a member of the armed forces, in which case they may contribute to or fully fund the cost of the training.
Careers as a helicopter pilot
Once you have obtained your Commercial Pilot Licence and qualified as a helicopter pilot, there are a number of career paths open to you, including:
- Private pilot
- Recreational flights/tours
- Air ambulance
- Search and rescue team
- Freight flights
Once you have the necessary experience, you could combine flying with training other prospective helicopter pilots.
How much could I earn as a helicopter pilot?
Your salary would depend on a number of factors, including your location, where you work – whether for a private company or within the armed forces – and your experience.
As a guide:
- A newly qualified helicopter pilot could expect to earn in the region of £25,000
- An experienced helicopter pilot could expect to earn in the region of £45,000
You may be paid an additional allowance for an necessary overnight stays, or flying to certain areas deemed inhospitable.