Helicopter Training for Foreign Students Coming to the US

May 11, 2024

Learning to pilot a helicopter — especially if you’re going to an international flight school — is a huge adventure! But it can also be full of complexities.

This post will help you ditch the overwhelm and confusion many foreign students encounter when considering US flight schools. We’ll discuss:

  • What it takes to get accepted into an American flight school
  • The kinds of programs that are offered, including costs and financing
  • The student and post-graduate experience

Understanding Helicopter Training in the US

There’s a reason (many, actually) why so many would-be and foreign-license pilots come to US flight schools. Here are some compelling advantages of being an international flight school trainee here:

  • You’ll get a top-quality education.
  • You’ll benefit from training in a range of geographic, meteorologic, and regulatory environments.
  • Your American private pilot certification is internationally recognized.
  • You can tap into an incomparable global network of aviation professionals and peers.
  • You’re expanding your career options and eligibility.
  • You’ll experience valuable cultural and English-language immersion.

Your Future in the Skies Starts with Pureflight

Eligibility & Admission Requirements

You must fulfill certain standards and prerequisites in order to become a student in the US and to ultimately get your private pilot license. Let’s break it down.

What It Takes to Be an Aviation Student & Helicopter Pilot

It really doesn’t take much for you to be able to jump into your flight training and private pilot certification journey. 

  • You can start learning to fly at any age. However, to enroll as a student at most US flight schools (and get a student pilot license, which you’ll need before you can fly solo), you must be at least 16 years old. You also need to be able to communicate efficiently and effectively in English.
  • To get your private pilot’s license, you have to be at least 17 years old. Additionally, you must have an official medical certificate, pass your tests and exams, get approval from your flight instructor, and have a minimum of 40 hours of flight time.

Extra To-Dos for Non-Americans 

As an international flight school attendee, though, you have a few more gates to get through.

You’ll also need to:

Training Process & Curriculum

You’ll quickly discover that flight school is comprehensive. It’s composed of both classroom and piloting experiences. Depending on the kind of program you’re doing, what’s included will vary.

School Structure 

US flight schools are categorized by the FAA regulatory framework they follow. This then impacts the curricula and training requirements for students.

Part 141 schools predefined curricula while Part 61 schools can offer more flexible, personalized training plans. Foreign students are required to attend Part 141 schools if traveling on a student visa, which Pureflight happens to be.

Ground School, SIMs & More

The ground school equips you with the knowledge to fly a helicopter safely. It covers topics like FAA regulations, helicopter science, navigation, weather, performance limits, load balancing, radio procedures, and emergency response. This is all fundamental material that students must master before they can get their private pilot license.

Some flight training programs may include using a helicopter flight simulator. (Others, like Pureflight, don’t.)

Helicopter Flight

In-aircraft flight training is what usually gets people’s rotors spinning. 

You’ll start with simpler maneuvers like taking off, hovering, basic flying, and landing. Then, as your skills and confidence grow, you’ll progress to more complex exercises that incorporate aspects like airport operations, navigation, and night flying.

Pureflight students get 100% of their flying lessons in helicopters (as opposed to SIMs). Our students love and appreciate this and derive exceptional value from the extensive hands-on practical experience.

Costs & Financial Considerations

As a foreign student, you may have expenses and financing options that American students don’t face. Understanding these up-front is sure to help you avoid turbulence later.

Helicopter pilot training programs in the US start at about $18,000 but averages around $30,000. On top of this, foreign students must pay to travel to the flight school, secure short-term lodging, and so on. Generally speaking, foreign students need to secure funding to cover all their costs prior to starting flight school.

Financing alternatives are likely to be different for foreign students as well. You might have access to financing in your home country that Americans can’t take advantage of. On the flip side, there may be domestic financing options that’re only open to American citizens. We encourage you to explore all possibilities, including payment plans, grants, and scholarships.

Despite the potential for additional costs and financing challenges, flight training at a US flight school may still prove to be the most cost-effective approach to pilothood for you. International flight schools are often more expensive when you factor in tuition, fees, cost of living, exchange rates, available financing, etc.

Moreover, there may be opportunity costs if you don’t get your private pilot license in the US. Your career prospects may be significantly limited without an FAA-recognized pilot’s certificate and the diverse connections you’ll make during training.

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to investing in your whirlybird dreams. But, it’s certainly worth doing!

Life as a Student Pilot in the US

While coming to America to train may induce a bit of culture shock, it can also be an unbeatable period of adventure and growth!

Pureflight Supports You on the Ground & in the Air

At Pureflight, we do our best to help ease the transition.

  • Before you arrive, we provide plenty of information about the Klamath Falls and Newberg, Oregon, area. You’ll have a good idea of the climate, geography, things to see and do here, etc. We also help ensure you have everything you need to get into the US and begin your flight training.
  • Once here, we’re here to support you as you settle in to your housing, get accustomed to daily routines as an international flight school student in the Pacific Northwest, and forge new social and professional connections.

A Day in the Life

Every US flight school and program is different. However, we think we can give you a basic outline of a day in the life of a student who’s pursuing a private license to operate a helicopter, based on what you could expect at Pureflight.

When you first arrive, you’ll get situated. This means finding and moving in to your accommodations, taking care of any administrative tasks at the school, making sure you have all the gear and supplies you need for your lessons, and so on.

Then, your training gets off the ground. All aviation students are required to do a combo of ground school, classroom-based lessons, and in-air flight training.

You’ll spend the first few days of your program with both feet touching Earth (current curriculum has you flying within the first week!). In your coursework, you’ll be learning about things like weather and climate, aviation laws and regulations, aircraft mechanics, and emergency and safety protocols. This is a really important phase of your training because the knowledge you gain will make you a better pilot. Plus, it’s material you’ll be tested on and must know before you can get your private pilot license.

Later in your training, you’ll allocate more of your time to getting flight instruction and practice. After all, flying is the best way to rack up flight experience! You’ll be able to log much of the time you spend operating the helicopter, which is helpful as you work to accrue flight hours

Understanding Helicopter Training in the US

Helicopter Career Opportunities & Pathways

Many people come to US flight schools to earn their FAA-approved pilot certificate. This is because access to much of the aviation job market is closed to those with foreign licenses.

So, is it worth it? Absolutely!

Demand for helicopter pilots is strong and growing. Chopper pilots are needed for a range of positions in essentially every industry. Because of this, job openings abound and salaries and benefits tend to be above national averages.

You can learn more about the prospects for helicopter pilots in these helpful posts:

Your Future in the Skies Starts with Pureflight

Hopefully, you’re even more eager to hop on a plane and start your helicopter pilot training at a US flight school. If you’re looking for a stellar international flight school, Pureflight’s it. Contact us today — we’re here to answer your questions, support you through the application process, and teach you to fly.