Becoming A Helicopter Pilot...

I can’t help you much with this but I’m sure when you figure out how to become a pilot you will definitely succeed. Good Luck!

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Generic reply…

Not sure about the US system but as a former helicopter instructor I can give you a rough overview of the differences between the two and the common pitfalls encountered during conversion ASSUMING you are a qualified ATP/ATPL level fixed wing pilot!

(P.S. the only real gentlemans flying club is the Navy, neither the Air Farce or the Mud Movers really hack it! ;) )

Back to the thread. As I’m a ‘damn Brit’ the paperwork is different (read more confusing and costly) this side of the pond. For EASA there are separate exams covering performance, operational procedures, air law and performance for commercial licences. (PPL H is pretty much covered if you hold an existing commercial licence)

Once the paperwork is done (during the process as well) the conversion course can take place. This will be the flying required to bring you up to the standard required for a skills check and IR with a flight checker. Depending on how slick you are I would recommend that this could be anywhere from 20-30 hours.

What are the main differences for those coming to rotary from fixed? Many and varied! The controls being the primary one. If you have flown a stick aircraft then the cyclic will be more familiar to you. Where it really goes haywire is that all three (tail rotor, cyclic and collective) are completely interlinked and necessary! (no more rudder pedal footrests I’m afraid!). Push the cyclic forward you tilt your lift vector forward, reducing your vertical lift component introduces a descent, pull power with the collective increases drag therefore requiring a throttle response thus increasing torque needing tail rotor input. All together now!

This takes a bit of time to get used to! You will need all of these in the hover for example!

Transition to and from forward flight takes time as well. Translation lift and inflow roll take a bit of getting used to and the point where the controls go from being left right up down in the hover to a more conventional fixed wing setup in forward flight can take a few pilots a bit to get used to.

Operating to sites that aren’t runways or dedicated aviation facilities can often take a bit of time as well. The principle of treating all non aviation sites as ‘confined areas’ is a very sensible way to go. Even an open field may have hazards at the edge if you need to bug out with an engine failure (twin obviously). Small things like trees, bushes, houses, buildings, power cables, windmills, masts etc. etc. have a greater relevance in the helicopter world!

Vibration also makes choppers a bit more tiring to fly. In my time we only had very rudimentary (if any) auto pilot systems and height holds. They have become better over time as far as I’m aware.

Instrument flying is also a bit more tricky in helo’s due to the inherently unstable nature of the machine. Factor a bit more time in here as the primary helicopter flight/navigation aid is the window!!! Take that away and things divert from the norm quite quickly in my experience!

Finally night flying takes on a different aspect as well as the dark transition from forward flight to a 10’ hover over a lit ‘T’/Helipad takes quite some getting used to. Historically I’ve had students who ended up sailing past the ‘T’/Helipad at 30+ kts or coming to the hover whilst still 100’ up in the air. From my experience having both A and H licences, night flying is probably the trickiest for former fixed wing pilots as the lighting and ambient lighting (operating to a small relatively dark helipad) is significantly less than the run onto a well lit runway. The need to assess range by sight picture is essential as your peripheral vision is often useless to you. Especially when landing at unprepared sites at night. (MEDEVAC)

I realise this is a generalisation of what you should be looking at for conversion rather than a ‘look at this document, read, rinse and repeat’ but I don’t know the FAA system. However having done conversions for pilots coming from the US I can confirm that what I’ve posted above is a rough guide to what throws most pilots from fixed wing therefore where most of your time/money will go.



Thank you very much for the information. I am not a private pilot yet. I’m just a student pilot, I’m still exploring different aviation opportunities.

No worries. In which case I would suggest you get a little experience in one or the other under your belt before branching out.

The skill sets required for both are similar but not identical and one can interfere with the other if you are just starting out.

Also rotary can be hellishly expensive if you want to go down the gas turbine route which you will need for commercial ops.

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