How to Become a Helicopter Pilot

Nov 10, 2021

Flying helicopters takes precision and skill. Their speed and maneuverability hold a certain fascination and they can fly in ways that fixed-wing aircraft can’t. If you’re intrigued by the challenge and excitement of becoming a helicopter pilot and the variety of career options it offers, here’s how to get started.

Female student in a helicopter cockpit learning to fly.


Becoming a Helicopter Pilot

To complete flight training for any aircraft and become a licensed pilot, you need to meet minimum Federal Aviation Authority requirements. You must be:

  • 16 years old for a student helicopter pilot certificate, 17 years old to get a recreational or private helicopter pilot license
  • Proficient in the English language, able to speak, read, write and understand the language fluently
  • Medically fit and able to pass an FAA medical exam

If you meet all criteria, you’re on your way.


Helicopter Flight Schools

Begin by finding a flight school that fits you and your goals. Are you thinking of flying helicopters only for leisure? Or are you invested in making a career of flying? Are you willing to go somewhere new and train full-time? Or would you prefer to stay on the home front and take flight lessons as you’re able?

There are many reputable, certified flight schools around the country. The type of school you choose depends on your goals and availability. If you are interested in training for a career as a helicopter pilot, a Part 141 school with full-time, structured instruction is likely for you. If you want to fly helicopters for pleasure or your schedule only allows for part-time training, a Part 61 school can provide the training you need

Getting a helicopter pilot license is more expensive than a fixed-wing license. Helicopters are costlier to fly and maintain than fixed-wing aircraft (something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of helicopters as a hobby.) However, many flight schools offer financial assistance, pay-as-you-go, and scholarship programs to make training more accessible.

When you’ve narrowed down your choice of flight school, make an in-person visit. Talk to instructors, tour flight facilities, and ask questions to get a feel for the program. And be sure to take a Discovery Flight with a certified instructor for a first-hand taste of sky-high experiences to come.

Before enrolling in any flight school, weigh everything including its reputation, location, program, instructors, and cost. If everything aligns with your goals and needs, you are ready to apply and take the next steps.

View from inside the helicopter during flight training.

Helicopter Pilot Certification

Next, submit your application for a Student Pilot Certificate through the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application website. By beginning the process early, you can avoid delays and have your certification in hand when you are ready to fly solo.

You’ll also need a third-class (non-commercial) FAA Airman Medical Certificate proving you are physically fit to fly solo. You can obtain your “medical,” which tests vision, hearing, cardiovascular and neurological health, with an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).

Helicopter Pilot Training

Flight training has two parts to it: ground school, and flight lessons. At ground school you’ll receive foundational instruction in helicopter systems and operations, navigation, regulations, emergency systems, weather, chart reading, flight planning, and more, culminating in a written knowledge test.

With flight school, you’ll begin in a flight simulator and then work with a flight instructor who will give hands-on instruction in how to maneuver and fly a helicopter. This is when the excitement truly begins. You’ll learn how to operate the aircraft, talk with air traffic control, and do other vital tasks. You will begin to fly dual with your flight instructor and, when ready, fly solo.

As you accumulate flight time and demonstrate proficiency, you’ll perform check rides and tests, and upon completing the required minimum hours, the big day will come. You’ll be ready for your final check ride as a helicopter pilot. It’s an exciting time!

Upon successfully completing your FAA Private Pilot Practical Exam with an FAA examiner, you’ll receive a certificate granting you privileges to fly. Congratulations. You’re officially a licensed helicopter pilot.

Helicopter with licensed pilot ready to take off.


Helicopter Pilot Jobs

The thrill of flying a helicopter is unparalleled. A helicopter’s agility and ability to take off, fly, hover, and land in ways and places fixed-wing aircraft cannot provide a unique flying experience.

There are many interesting, rewarding, top-paying careers available to experienced commercial helicopter pilots. From search and rescue to military operations to pleasure tours to flight instruction, you can choose from a variety of fun and exciting ways to get behind the controls of a helicopter, put your skills to work, and get paid for what you love to do.


Pureflight Helicopter Flight School

Qualified graduates of reputable helicopter flight schools are set up for success. At Pureflight, we connect students with vital career opportunities. Learn about our helicopter pilot training program, financing, and skill development at our respected training facility in the Great Northwest. We help build helicopter pilot careers. Questions? Get in touch today.