I once had a dream of becoming a helicopter pilot. Then life happened: married young, kids, school, career, etc. I'm working in a good career while finishing a Ph.D. in engineering. But still, I find myself wondering "what if?"

My dad was in a similar situation when he was my age (33) when he started flying (and selling to pay for the habit of flying) powered parachutes. I soloed for the first time in a PPC at 10-years-old and have hundreds of unlogged flight hours. Not a helicopter, but still, some flying experience and lots of good memories.

So my question that isn't career advice: what are the paths for getting into a helicopter flight career? And, are there any routes for people like me?

  • Military? Probably too late for me. I've heard that there are age restrictions but I'm not certain regarding the specifics. Others may be interested, though.
  • Local flight school? I'm hesitant. I know people who have gotten burned by the flight schools at local airports when the school closed and the owners disappeared with their money. These seem sort of like a Ponzi scheme anyway, IMO, since once you become an instructor, you train others, who are also becoming instructors, who are also... turtles all the way down...
  • Commercial Flight School?

Are there any grey-beards out there who can offer some perspective on the three options? Or offer other alternatives?

  • $\begingroup$ If you don't pay-in-advance, I'm not sure how a flight school can take your money. Many flight schools get payments at the end of a lesson.Also being an instructor doesn't mean they don't have additional training, getting your license and becoming a CFI are two completely different things. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Aug 5 '18 at 1:41
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE! This is a good question but it's also difficult for us to answer because there are so many possible opinions and experiences. This site is based around Q&A rather than discussion, and you might get a better response in an actual discussion forum where you can get multiple opinions, ask follow-up questions etc. It would also be helpful to know which country you're in. But I think you may be overly sceptical about flight schools: they're how most pilots learn to fly, after all (at least in the US), and even commercial schools use their own students as instructors. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Aug 5 '18 at 1:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife I am in the US and am happy to be proven wrong about flight schools; I was just relating my tangential experience. $\endgroup$ – mitchute Aug 5 '18 at 2:03
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    $\begingroup$ You are not too old to join the Army as a Warrant Officer, and your type of expertise and life experience is viewed as a virtue. Plus, right now you are more likely to get picked up than at any time I've seen before. There are two factors which are in your favor significantly. First is the fact that every single one of our military service branches are experiencing a severe shortage of pilots due to the airline pilot labor market conditions. Everyone wants to get out and live that dream. Second, did you see the DoD budget passed last week? Every service is plussing up, to include pilots! $\endgroup$ – BigNutz Aug 5 '18 at 3:15

If you really want to become a helo pilot, just begin a search for a flight school which does helicopter training. I do recommend Precision Helicopters out in McMinville, OR, but there are plenty of good schools, all with fine instructors, out there.

As with any kind of flight training, it requires three things:

Commitment: Once you start your training, be prepared to commit to finishing it. Flying will teach you a lot about your capabilities and limitations as a human being. Some areas are going to come easily to you, others you are going to struggle with. But you can persevere if you work hard at it. It is imperative for success here that once you start, you do not terminate your training or have extended delays or absences from your flying. Flying aircraft is a perishable skill and lessons learned can erode away if not regularly practiced.

Time: be prepared to budget at least three months, maybe more depending on how easily you progress, to flight training. This will encompass 2-3 flights a week with classroom prep on the side. This is an ideal amount of time as it keeps your flying regular to maintain proficiency in skills learned while allowing you to fully digest and ruminate on previous lessons. It also gives extra time should you encounter learning plateaus or other difficulties in your training.

Money: Unfortunately, no bucks, no Buck Rogers. Flying is expensive and that goes doubly so for helicopters. For a private pilot certificate with a helicopter class, I would anticipate spending an estimated \$20,000-\$25,000 on your training. That will encompass all of your costs, including dual flight time, supplies, ground school, simulator work, FAA written exams and the practical exam (checkride) in the helicopter.

The military is another good option for flight training. However most service branches require that you having been commissioned as an officer before your 29th birthday in order to be eligible for their flight training programs. You will also need good eyesight and be in excellent physical condition.

  • $\begingroup$ Hey Carlo, the US Army is up to 33 years old with waivers for older. Those waivers are heavily influenced by the education and experience of a candidate. Also, eyesight can be up to 20/50 correctable to 20/20. usarec.army.mil/hq/warrant/prerequ/woft.shtml $\endgroup$ – BigNutz Aug 6 '18 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah there are waivers here and in certain cases more accessible than others. The military is desperate for pilots right now, as are the airlines, corporate and other flying businesses. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Aug 6 '18 at 13:18

I started at a local flight school when I was 33, my wife 18 months or so later. Find a school, pay as you go if you like, that's what I did, about $600/monthm trying to get in 2 lessons a week. Took us both 10 months or so with weather delays, work delays, buying a 2 seater with a couple of coworkers, having a kid. Did a few trips in the 2 seater after my son was born a couple months before I got my license, then bought a 4 seater a little over a year later, and got an instrument license after that so we could reliably get past the clouds that occur over the low mountains west of us. Go for it - find a flight school that is close to work, or home, and start doing it.


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