Helicopter Pilot Requirements


Being a helicopter pilot is considerably different than a pilot on an airplane. That’s because a helicopter is much more difficult to control and can be applied to more career options. You’ll need a lot of time and dedication before you can get a helicopter pilot’s license. What kind of license you get depends on what you want to do when flying a helicopter.


  • Before you look for a helicopter pilot training school, be sure you understand that flying a helicopter will be a challenging endeavor, even nerve-wracking on a first attempt. Search your local area for a helicopter training school (see Resources). Be sure to do some homework about the school before spending money on courses. Check the cost of the courses and ask if they offer financial aid. Talk with the pilot trainers and ask them how many flight hours they have and their pilot license credentials. Make sure the school has been around long enough so you can get some feedback from other students. It’s a good idea to ask the school about insurance in the event an accident occurs. Ask how many hours you’ll need to get a license so you can manage your life around the training.

Obtaining a Student Pilot's License

  • You can start training to fly at 16. You also can pilot the helicopter at that age without a license, as long as it’s only during training. Once you want to fly the helicopter solo, you have to obtain a student pilot’s certificate. There will be several requirements before you can get this particular certificate to fly by yourself. Along with being 16, you have to be able to read and speak English fluently.

    The last step is getting a medical card from the FAA to prove your health is good enough to pilot a helicopter. Find an FAA medical examiner in your local area and they’ll schedule a physical. (See Resource 2) If you’re training to be a transport pilot, you’ll get a First Class medical card. A commercial pilot trainee will get a Second Class card. Should you just be training to be a private pilot or intending to stay a student for a while, you’ll receive a medical card labeled as Third Class.

    Your training school will help you receive your student pilot’s certificate.

Obtaining a Private Pilot's License

  • For some, just flying a helicopter on their own time without it applying to a career is preferable and worthy of those hours of training. According to the FAA, 40 hours of flight time is required during your training before you can get a private pilot’s license that enables you to fly whenever you want. Some schools require 60 hours of flight time before giving a license. Within all those hours of flight time, a solo pilot will need three hours of cross-country flying of at least 25 nautical miles and one cross country trip of at least 75 nautical miles. You also need to be tested on three takeoffs and landings at a chosen airport by your training school.

    Your training school will set up a test that needs to be taken on a computer. An FAA designated examiner will come to the location of your testing and conduct a test that requires you to speak your answers. Another FAA examiner will fly with you in a helicopter to grade your skills. Once you pass these, you’ll be given your private pilot’s license.

    In total, it may cost you up to $15,000 in training fees to get this license.

Obtaining a Commercial Pilot's License

  • If you want to have a career flying a helicopter, the options are many, including test pilots, news media pilots and search and rescue pilots. You need to work toward getting a commercial pilot’s license to do that, which is more challenging than working toward a private license. Your training school will require you to fly for at least 150 hours before you can even think about getting a commercial license. Part of that will consist of 10 hours flying cross country, including three points of landing during a straight line flight within 50 nautical miles. You also need five hours of flight time at night that includes ten takeoffs and landings.

    Should you be flying with another person, the requirements are much more intense. This includes 10 hours of helicopter instrument training and cross country flights in both day and night conditions going 50 nautical miles.

    Getting this license may cost you up to $20,000 in training fees.

Certified Flight Instructor License

  • You might want to become a flight instructor. This requires you to be at least 18 years old and to also speak and read English fluently. Flight training will involve every aspect of complicated helicopter flying including spin entry, spin recoveries and stall awareness, which helps you determine air speeds for takeoff and landings. Flight simulator training is also frequently done and at least 15 hours of combined flight training is required. (See Resource 3)

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  • Photo Credit helicopter image by JASON WINTER from Fotolia.com
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