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I've been on my fair share of commercial helo rides, primarily in Canada. Over the course of more than ten rides in three different kind of helos (Bell 407, 412, and I think one other) there was only one time when the pilot wasn't wearing a helmet.

It's worth noting that these flights were taking off and landing in very remote areas of the Selkirk mountains, usually on glaciers.

At the same time, I have been around (US) flight schools since I was 15 years old, and I've never seen an instructor or student helo pilot (flying R22s and similar) wear a helmet. Also, fixed wing pilots don't wear helmets.

Why do commercial helicopter pilots wear helmets, when instructors and students don't?

It's a little hard to see, but here's a photo of one of the choppers, and you can see that the pilot is wearing a helmet. enter image description here

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The same reason as anyone would wear a helmet - to protect their cranium in circumstances when there is the possibility of damage to that area of the body.

Helicopter operations are often low level, sometimes over dangerous terrain and, unlike fixed wing aircraft, they do not have the option to glide away from an engine failure. Low-level operations may not afford the pilot the altitude required for a successful autorotation landing so there is the possibility that they will be going down hard and fast.

Taking an example of low-level flight over forestry resulting in a forced landing, this may be survivable, but the pilot will be thrown around quite a bit as the aircraft is buffeted by the trees as it goes down. Some head protection would be important to the survivability of this crash.

There are a few other reasons I could think of apart from the main one above

  • Some helicopters operate with doors open, up where the birds fly around. A seagul to the head would not make for a happy flight
  • Noise - helo's can be louder than Fixed wing and the helmets could provide better noise cancelling
  • Specialist helo operations such as S&R use equipment such as night vision, which could be mounted on a helmet
  • Habit - ex-military helicopter pilots could just be in the habit of wearing a helmet, and carry this over to civilian operations.
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    $\begingroup$ True Story: One day out on LRRP patrol, my unit heard over the radio that our evac chopper was grounded due to an in-flight emergency; they'd suffered a bird strike. Turned out our Colonel had been hit by a Kestrel. Our Col carried a pet ferret in the cockpit and the Kestrel had evidently waited until he banked the chopper hard over preparatory for a dive down to follow terrain into the lz; the Kestrel chose that moment to dive in for the damned rodent. Bird 0 Ferret 1; Pilot had severe lacerations of his right arm. He caught hell for years and his call sign ended up changing because of it. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Nov 10 '14 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ @kjmccarx Student pilots have the lowest accident rates since they are accompanied by an experienced instructor how can take control as needed. They only fly solo when ready and then only in "easy" conditions and flights. Mid-time PPLs are the next most at risk followed by commercial pilots who simply by virtue of them spending significantly more time in the air and more time in the areas of hazardous operations that PPLs do not enter or if they do, only for short periods of time. $\endgroup$ – Simon Nov 11 '14 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby we fly with the off during training because its hot, especially hovering in a glass bubble in 100F heat for an hour. usually only the door on the opposite side of the tailrotor is taken off, to prevent, say, a chart from hitting the TR $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 4 '15 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ Not having a place to auto into is not a failure of the helicopter, any more than not having a place to land in a low-level failure of a FW. It's a pilot failure. Secondly, many copters doing low-level operations are twins, unlike FW. $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 5 '15 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ I've purged a bunch of comments. Further discussion of this answer (and Stack Exchange policies on editing in general) should take place on Meta, not in the comments. $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 5 '15 at 17:07
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You have 2 distinct questions. In answer to the "Why do commercial helicopter pilots wear helmets, when instructors and students don't?" as well as the implied "Why do Canadian Pilots Wear them when American pilots do not"

From what I can tell, a large part of the American industry is either "lower risk", Multi-engine flight from airport to airport, or passenger oriented, i.e. Tour pilots, Offshore pilots. In Canada, while there are still Tour pilots, and pilots flying airport to airport, both will, over the course of their job, fly over much more remote terrain, routinely preforming off airport landings in remote, unprepared landing spots. One of the techniques used in Canada more often than other countries is Long Lining. Not only do the doors often come off for better downwards visibility when doing this it also is more risky than normal flight.

As to the part of your question regarding why some pilots do not wear helmets, rotary wing aircraft have a significantly higher chance of crashing than a well maintained commercial fixed wing aircraft. As far as American flight instructors not wearing helmets, it is probably down to culture, I have read some people arguing that the instructor wearing a helmet scares potential customers. Inversely I am aware of at least 1 Canadian flight school witch provides students helmets as part of there commercial training. There may also be a link to the fact most Canadian Instructors are experienced Pilots, while the US industry uses mostly brand new pilots as instructors.

Jamiec's Reasons are the answer to the question in your title

Reasons not to wear a helmet might include:

  • Uncomfortable and/or Hot
  • Cost: about $1500 and up
  • Looks [worry’s about intimidating customers]
  • Simple belief they are not necessary
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  • $\begingroup$ I was wondering if simply "the loudness" is a reason to wear a helmet - do they help block noise (even more than large over-the-ear headsets?) $\endgroup$ – Fattie Sep 12 '17 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ Having now tried a helmet in a helicopter, as well as a few over ear headsets, the helmet is no better at blocking normal noise than a good set of noise canceling headphones, some say its actually worse. an exception would be when needing your head outside the aircraft where the helmet blocks wind and to some extent the much high pitched turbine noise. $\endgroup$ – wanna-beCanadianPilot May 29 '18 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ cool info ! cheers.. $\endgroup$ – Fattie May 29 '18 at 10:39

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