Helicopters perform a range of operations: tours, geographical and environmental survey work, electronic news gathering (ENG), medical evacuations (medevac), construction and utility work, law enforcement, transport, and more.
Getting started requires deciding how to fund the training. For more information about learning to fly in the military, please contact our Jessica Kanellos, VP of Membership: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are going to fund the training yourself, the fastest and least expensive way to go is to train full-time at a flight school. While the charges will accumulate quickly, frequency of ground and flight training will allow you to build on previous lessons.
For many, it is not possible to enroll full time or relocate. You will then need to look into local flight schools. You can control your pace, but if your ground and flight sessions are spaced further apart, your progress will be slower and may cost more.
Consider whether you wish to enroll in a degree program that incorporates flight training or a flight school by itself. The degree options usually also incorporate flight certification. Some degree programs provide financial aid.
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When you go through a civilian flight school, you will complete a number of training phases. All phases involve both flight training and classroom instruction. Each FAA rating or certificate listed below includes the flight hours.
Private training allows you to fly by yourself in a helicopter in the U.S. This requires a minimum of 40 flight hours, usually closer to 50 or 60 hours.
Instrument training allows you to fly by reference to instruments. You often train in instrument-simulated conditions, rather than actually in the clouds, but this rating is critical for certain helicopter operations and is becoming an industry expectation for safety reasons.
A commercial certificate allows you to fly for hire. You need a minimum of 150 flight hours to take for the commercial practical test. You will accumulate these hours throughout your private, instrument, and commercial training.
A Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) certificate allows you to perform flight instruction.
Certified Flight Instrument Instructor (CFII) is needed if you wish to perform instrument flight instruction.
If you want to fly a helicopter for a hobby and aren’t concerned about working as a pilot, private training is sufficient, while instrument training is an added safety benefit. Many pilots start their aviation careers as flight instructors, in which case you will need a flight instructor certificate. Flight instruction is one of the few jobs you will be qualified for when you complete your training, as you will have roughly 200-250 hours.
It is common, but not a given, for a newly-certificated CFI to get his or her first job as a flight instructor at the flight school where you trained, so your training is an extended job interview.
What should I look for in a flight school? Here are questions to ask when you visit or call.
Do they have the program you are interested in and provide training for all the ratings you need?
Do they emphasize safety in every aspect of their practices?
Will they be able to accommodate your schedule?
Do they have high quality onsite maintenance? This means any maintenance issues can be addressed quickly.
Do they have several helicopters in case one is unavailable?
Are their students satisfied with their training?
Are their instructors happy?
Are there any women in the program or employed by the facility?
Do they hire instructors from their graduates?
If you are not an American citizen, can they accommodate foreign students?
How long does their program take, and how much does it cost?
Do they require you to pay a deposit? Can you pay as you go? Do they help you find financial aid?.
Do they provide discounts for buying larger blocks of hours?
What type of aircraft will you be flying? If you plan to work as an instructor, it’s useful to fly aircraft that are commonly flown in flight schools: Robinsons and Schweizers.
Do you get a good feeling in the pit of your stomach from the school?
Do your research – there are lists of flight schools in many places: Whirly-Girls website, Helicopter Association International (rotor.com – available to members), and JustHelicopters.
When may I become a Whirly-Girl?
We have student memberships under our Associate category, formerly the Auxiliary category. We can connect you with other Whirly-Girls in your area. Once you earn your private certificate, you may then become a Whirly-Girl and be eligible for our scholarships.