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How do I Become a Commercial Helicopter Pilot?

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  • Written By: Vicki Hogue-Davies
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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Commercial uses for helicopters include flying passengers on sightseeing trips, assisting in search-and-rescue operations and patrolling oil pipelines, to name just a few examples. If you want to become a commercial helicopter pilot, first you typically must earn your private pilot's license, then fly additional hours to become a commercial helicopter pilot. You must be at least 18 years old to obtain a commercial helicopter pilot's license.

If you have made the decision to become a commercial helicopter pilot, you must first find a flight school where you can take lessons in piloting a helicopter. Flight schools can be found through local airports, online and in the telephone book. Before you commit to a full program of lessons, it can be a good idea to take a test lesson in a helicopter to make sure that you like flying in the rotor-powered vehicles. When selecting a school, ask about the credentials of instructors, what kinds of helicopters they fly, how many helicopters the school has and how long the school has been in operation.

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After you begin pilot training, it isn't all about being in the air. You'll have to take courses on safety and other topics before you leave the ground. A minimum of 40 hours of helicopter flight time and a student helicopter pilot certificate — which you’ll need in order to fly solo during testing — is required if you want to test for a private pilot’s license. To fly solo, you must be at least 16 years old. You can get your private pilot’s license when you are at least 17 years old.

After you have obtained a private pilot's license, you will need at least 150 hours of flying time before you can test for a commercial helicopter pilot's license. In the United States, it also is necessary to get a second-class medical certificate through a Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA) medical examiner. Looking for work in the field can be difficult at first because for the higher paying jobs, you'll need even more flight time. To earn additional flight hours as a novice commercial helicopter pilot, you might consider getting a pilot teaching certificate.

With enough hours and experience, you can look for jobs with charter companies, tourism and sightseeing organizations and other places that use helicopters in their operations. Some employers might also expect their pilots to have some level of college education. Classes in aeronautics, physics and related areas might be helpful if you want to become a commercial helicopter pilot. Other qualities that will help you become a commercial helicopter pilot include the ability to stay calm under pressure, the ability to solve problems quickly and a tendency to put safety first. Some employers might have weight restrictions for commercial helicopter pilots, so being in good physical shape also could help.

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