Helicopter License

Pilots · 6 min read · Apr 28, 2022
helicopter license

Most of the time, people think about a big commercial airplane when they hear the word aircraft. Therefore, something similar happens when they hear about getting a pilot license and immediately think that what the person is getting is a commercial pilot license to fly with an airline.

However, the truth is that there are many different types of airplanes, and licenses are required to fly them. Of course, that’s the case with the helicopter. Anyone who wants to become a helicopter pilot will be required to get a helicopter license.

So, if you want to learn what it takes to get a helicopter license to become a helicopter pilot, keep reading as we disclose all the details.

Pilot license

A pilot license is required in a similar way as a license to drive motorized vehicles. Depending on the type of motorized vehicle, certain criteria will be applied, and the driver will need to meet those requirements in order to be granted the corresponding license.

So, the same happens with aircraft. There are different requirements depending on the aircraft you want to fly, and you need to meet those requirements to be granted the corresponding license or certification as the FAA calls them.

For example, there are specific requirements to get a private jet license, and once you get it you can go through more demanding ones to become a commercial airline transport pilot.

In general, the process is very similar when it comes to getting a helicopter pilot license. Briefly put, you first need to get into a flight school to get both the theory and flight training, so you can then take the corresponding tests to get certified.

Let’s take a look now at the details of the process.

An orange and black helicopter standing on a helipad in a field.

Helicopter flight training

As anyone should expect, to get a helicopter license, one of the most important requirements is receiving flight training. The flight training program you take will depend on the type of pilot license you will be looking forward to getting.

The first one to get when starting your helicopter pilot career will be the private pilot helicopter license which is described as the foundation of your flight training by Corporate Helicopters Flight Training Academy since it is the pilot license required to fly helicopters for recreational purposes and to build the flight time towards the next steps in the process.

However, before you get into a helicopter flight training program, it is important you make sure you meet the eligibility requirements set by the FAA to get a pilot license to fly a helicopter.

What are the eligibility requirements for a helicopter pilot license?

The eligibility requirements to get a pilot license to fly a helicopter will depend on the level of the licensed helicopter pilot you will be. This means that the first level, the private pilot license will have a set of requirements, and after you get it, the next level will have another set, and so on.

Therefore, to make sure you get the whole picture, we will describe each level including those requirements here below.

Private pilot helicopter license

As it was mentioned above, the private pilot license is the first step in your career and the foundation of your flight training. When starting, and before getting into a private pilot certificate program, you should make sure to meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 17 years old.
  • Be capable of speaking, reading, and writing English.
  • Be able to provide proof of identity.
  • Undergo a physical examination with an FAA Approved Medical Examiner (AME) to obtain a 3rd class FAA medical certificate.

The last two requirements in the list above will provide you with the first two certificates you will need while flying during your training, the student pilot certificate, and the corresponding medical certification.

Now, to obtain the private pilot helicopter license you will need to complete ground training as well as flight training. Ground instruction is completed with a written test on different relevant areas such as the aerodynamics of flight, flight controls and systems of a helicopter, weight, and balance, flight maneuvers, and emergencies, among others. According to the FAA requirements, the minimum ground school hours is 40.

On the other hand, flight training is completed after recording a flight time of at least 40 hours, distributed in a minimum of 20 hours with a certified flight instructor, and at least 10 of solo flight time. However, the average student usually takes between 60 and 80 total hours of flight time to prepare for the final step, the check ride. The check ride is an oral exam and a practical test with an accredited examiner.

Commercial helicopter pilot license

Upon obtaining a private helicopter license, helicopter pilots usually seek the commercial pilot license to be able to fly people or some kind of cargo while getting paid for it. Of course, the first requirement will be having a private helicopter pilot license. The rest of the eligibility requirements are very similar to the previous ones. These are:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Be capable of speaking, reading, and writing English.
  • Be able to provide proof of identity.
  • Undergo a physical examination with an FAA Approved Medical Examiner (AME) to obtain a 2nd class FAA medical certificate.

While flight school is not specifically required anymore since ground training is not obligatory for this license, the pilot still needs to log some flight time while flying with a certified flight instructor. And this is usually done at a flight school offering helicopter flight training courses.

The minimum flight time required for the commercial helicopter license is 150 flight hours. Interestingly, out of those 150 flight hours, 100 can be recorded while flying any type of powered aircraft. Yet, at least 50 must be in a helicopter. Again, a minimum of 10 hours of solo flying is required, together with 20 hours of flight training, and 100 of pilot-in-command.

Again, a practical test is required to obtain the commercial helicopter license.

A helicopter flying over a bay in Brazil.

Other pilot licenses

The two pilot licenses above are the minimum you will need to start your career as a helicopter pilot. However, to make sure you have more opportunities and you show yourself as more valuable to a prospective employer, you may want to consider getting at least one of the other pilot licenses available. Here are some relevant ones.

Instrument rating

More than a license, this is some kind of improvement to a private pilot license or a commercial pilot license. It refers to a pilot having the qualifications to fly under Instrument Flight Rules or IFR. Of course, having any of the pilot licenses mentioned before is mandatory.

Certified flight instructor

As the name implies, this is a certification for pilots to become flight instructors and get a job in a flight school preparing their students for the practical test. Having both private and commercial licenses is mandatory.

Certified flight instructor instrument

Perhaps this might be required by the flight school you will be working for since this certification allows you to instruct on IFR so new students can get the instrument rating or keep it.

Airline transport pilot license

This is as high as a helicopter pilot license can get. At this level, you are required to have a commercial license, an instrument rating, and 1500 flight hours if you are not a pilot coming from the military.

This helicopter pilot license is so demanding because it is the one that will allow you to become a professional pilot, acting as a pilot in command of aircraft flying with a crew and a maximum gross weight of 12,500 pounds.

A yellow helicopter flying past bridge suspense in the Netherlands.

Some common questions about helicopter pilot’s license

We are glad you have read this far, but we do not want you to leave without sharing the answer to these frequently asked questions.

How much does it cost to get a helicopter license in the USA?

While this is variable, the national average fee for a private pilot’s license is between $10,000 and $15,000.

How much does a helicopter license cost in the UK?

If you want to get your pilot certificate in the UK, you can expect to spend about £12,000 for the private one, and up to £50,000 for the commercial one.

Is it hard to learn to fly a helicopter?

The most honest answer is that some maneuvers will require hard work. However, as happens with many other skills, this will eventually become natural. In fact, some pilots claim that it is like riding a bicycle, once you master it, you will never forget it.

Is it easy to get a job as a helicopter pilot?

The short answer is yes. The truth is that the helicopter industry offers different positions for pilots. You can become a pilot for emergency medical services, a flight instructor, or work with a tourism company offering flyovers. The fact that it is easier to find takeoff and landing locations with a helicopter rather than an airplane, among other advantages, makes it a preferred choice for many different situations.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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