It’s 6:00am when your alarm goes off. You rouse yourself out of bed for another day.
6:30am you’re driving into work thinking about the mission of the day over a cup of coffee. You call flight service to get the latest weather briefing for your flight route. Arriving at the hangar you begin pre-flighting the bird, computing the weight & balance, and gathering the passenger manifest.
Todays’ clients, including the CEO himself, arrive. They are looking forward to the survey work they’ve been waiting to perform from the air for the past month. This flight has the potential to save them millions on a possible rerouting of their cross-country pipeline construction project.
After the passenger safety briefing everyone is secured and ready to go. You’re satisfied with a final walk-around of the aircraft and find your place in that familiar seat.
Working through the start-up checklist you hit the starter and hear the turbine whine to life. You introduce fuel and she growls to life making a sound that only going from 150C to 700C in two seconds can make. The sound and the smell of burning jet fuel never gets old.
15 Minutes into the flight you witness a sunrise that only a pilot would take for granted and one your passengers will never forget. Some days you have moments like these, days where you remember why you sacrificed so much to get to where you are. Your friends thought you were crazy, but who’s the crazy one now?
Becoming a professional helicopter pilot will be one of the most rewarding, challenging and fulfilling adventures you will ever embark on. There will be days, as there are with any goal that takes everything you’ve got, have in you, that will leave you feeling defeated, tired and wanting to give up. But every time you dig deep and challenge yourself to stay the course you get one more step closer to realizing your full potential. You want to do this for a reason. Not everyone has the dedication it takes to become a professional helicopter pilot. It takes a passion for learning about aviation to be truly great. You can’t get through it with simple heavy lifting.
Your journey starts with an introductory flight. This flight is your first flight lesson and gives you the opportunity to experience controlling the helicopter in flight and see if the bug truly has bitten you. That being said it isn’t uncommon to feel a bit overwhelmed in the beginning. Flying in a helicopter much let alone flying a helicopter can be an assault on the senses. There’s a lot to keep the brain occupied so know that it’s perfectly normal to return feeling a bit excited!
After the introductory flight you will start working towards your Private Pilot Certificate (sometimes referred to as PPL). During this course of training you will learn all of the basics involving flight and aviation in general. On average, this training course will require about 50 hours of flight time and 60 hours of ground instruction. Upon completion you are a rated pilot in helicopters, allowing you to fly for your own pleasure and even take your friends and family members along for a flight!
The next certificate and rating you will acquire will be the Commercial Pilot Certificate (CPL) and Instrument Rating, which allow you to operate as a commercial pilot for hire. The instrument rating isn’t required to act as a commercial pilot but has become a standard requirement among employers in the industry.
Your commercial certificate is best looked at as a certificate that qualifies you to pursue the CFI or Certified Flight Instructor Rating. Unfortunately, gaining employment with the low flight experience (registered in total flight hours) you will have at the end of your commercial training is mainly limited to Flight Instruction. There are exceptions to fly tours as a lower time pilot but we advise all of our students to gain their Flight Instructor ratings to make themselves as marketable as possible.
Upon completion of the Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) you will be prepared to enter the industry in the same way that many of us came up, by gaining experience while teaching others to fly. As a flight instructor, you will log all flight instruction time given to your student while continuing to hone your teaching and piloting skills.
Once you’ve have achieved between 1000 and 1500 flight hours (one to two years of instruction) you are ready to begin seeking your first “turbine” job. For the most part, turbine helicopters fly the same way as a piston and in many ways are easier to fly then some of the smaller aircrafts you will train and teach in. The reason you need this high level experience to qualify is simply that there is much more on the line in a larger aircraft. More people, more expensive ships all add up to more liability which operators and insurance companies want to mitigate with experience. Thus the skills and concepts that you teach and reinforce as a flight instructor will form the foundation from which your flying abilities and judgment making will be based on.
Midwest Helicopter believes in the concept of working forward through our students and instructors to provide the safest and most sound decision-making qualities possible as pilots. Simply put, your first hours are your formative hours and we instill these qualities in you from day one.
I too started with that introductory flight, went on to get all of my ratings, built experience as a Flight Instructor, went on to become a Captain with a charter operation and eventually made it to the position of Chief Pilot. I’ve been where you are, about to start your journey and I know that being a pilot is special. Being a pilot will some days feel like a privilege.
Do you think you have what it takes to have wings?
Chris Bailey – Chief Instructor, Chief Pilot
Midwest Helicopter / Fostaire Helicopters