How to Become a Helicopter Pilot in Five Easy Steps

Have you ever dreamed of soaring through the skies, piloting a helicopter through breathtaking landscapes and taking on thrilling adventures? Learning how to become a helicopter pilot is an exhilarating and rewarding journey.

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll discover the essential steps to obtaining a helicopter pilot license, meeting FAA eligibility requirements, selecting the right flight school, and mastering the skills required to navigate the skies with confidence.


Key Takeaways 

  • Understand the different types of helicopter pilot licenses and meet FAA eligibility requirements.
  • Enroll in a reputable flight school, complete ground training, acquire practical experience, log flight hours, and pass written and practical exams.

Step 1: Understanding Helicopter Pilot Licenses 

Your journey to becoming a helicopter pilot starts by familiarizing yourself with the various helicopter pilot licenses available. Each license serves a specific purpose and requires a unique set of skills and qualifications.  

We’ll look into the three primary helicopter pilot licenses: Private Pilot License (PPL), Commercial Pilot License (CPL), and Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL). These licenses will help commercial helicopter pilots unlock a world of exciting career opportunities, from aerial photography and firefighting to search and rescue missions. 

Private Pilot License

A Private Pilot License (PPL) is your first step in helicopter flying. This license allows you to operate helicopters for personal enjoyment, but not for commercial purposes. To obtain your private helicopter license, you must: 

  • Be at least 17 years old
  • Pass the FAA written test
  • Log a minimum of 35 hours of flight time, including solo flights and specific training requirements
  • Demonstrate your ability to navigate, handle emergencies, and comply with regulations during your practical flight test

Aspiring helicopter pilots often begin their journey with a PPL, gaining invaluable experience and laying a solid foundation for their future aviation endeavors. Whether you dream of weekend getaways or simply want to experience the thrill of piloting a helicopter, a Private Pilot License is the perfect starting point. 

Commercial Pilot License 

If you’re looking to turn your passion for flying into a rewarding career, a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) is the key. This license enables you to work as a professional commercial helicopter pilot and requires more extensive training than a PPL. To obtain a commercial helicopter pilot license, you must be at least 18 years old, possess a PPL, hold an FAA medical certificate, and complete ground instruction, written, oral, and practical FAA tests. Additionally, you’ll need 20 hours of dual flight training, one dual cross-country flight, one solo cross-country flight, 10 hours of instrument training, 10 hours of solo flight training, and 100 hours as pilot-in-command. 

A commercial helicopter license opens the door to a wide range of exciting professional helicopter pilot career paths, such as: 

  • Aerial photography
  • Firefighting
  • Search and rescue
  • Transporting passengers for air tours 

With a Commercial Pilot License, the sky’s the limit for your professional aspirations. 

Airline Transport Pilot License 

For those aiming to take their commercial license to the next level, an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) is a must. This license demands significant training and flight hours, ensuring you’re prepared for the challenges and responsibilities of flying passengers commercially. To obtain an ATPL, you must: 

  • Possess a Commercial Pilot Certificate or equivalent
  • Have an Instrument Rating
  • Be at least 23 years of age
  • Accumulate 1,200 hours of flight time
  • Pass an FAA written examination
  • Pass an FAA oral and flight test
  • Maintain an FAA First-Class Medical Certificate 

The ATPL designation also puts you in a more advantageous job market, setting you apart from the competition. 

Step 2: Meeting FAA Eligibility Requirements 

After deciding on your preferred helicopter pilot license, you need to check if you meet the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) eligibility requirements. These requirements include: 

  • Age
  •  Citizenship
  • Medical certification
  • Language proficiency 

Meeting these criteria is essential for your success as a helicopter pilot, as they demonstrate your capability to safely and effectively operate an aircraft. 

From obtaining a student pilot certificate to fulfilling medical and language requirements, this section will guide you through the necessary steps to become eligible for your chosen helicopter pilot license. 

Age and Citizenship 

The FAA has specific age and citizenship requirements for obtaining a helicopter pilot license. For a Private Pilot License, you must be at least 17 years old, while a Commercial Pilot License requires a minimum age of 18. To obtain an Airline Transport Pilot License, you must be at least 23 years old. 

While citizenship is not explicitly required, you must provide proof of residence and identification to enroll in flight training and obtain your student pilot certificate. 

Medical Certification 

Medical certification is a crucial component of the FAA eligibility requirements. Helicopter pilots must undergo an FAA-approved medical examination to ensure they’re fit to fly. 

The type of medical certificate you need varies depending on the helicopter pilot license you’re pursuing. For example: 

  • A private pilot typically requires a third-class medical certificate
  • A commercial pilot needs a second-class medical certificate
  • An airline transport pilot must hold a first-class medical certificate. 

Keep in mind that medical certificates have expiration dates, so it’s essential to renew them according to the FAA’s guidelines. For training at Hillsboro Heli Academy, we require a first or second-class medical.

Language Proficiency 

Effective communication is vital in the world of aviation. Consequently, the FAA requires helicopter pilots to be proficient in English, the universal language of aviation. This ensures clear communication between pilots, air traffic controllers, and other aviation personnel during flights. 

If English is not your native language, don’t worry – there are resources available to help you meet the language proficiency requirement, such as specialized training programs and aviation English courses. 


Step 3: Enrolling in Flight School

Selecting a reputable flight school and completing ground training are vital steps in your journey to become a helicopter pilot. A top-notch flight school will provide you with the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to excel in your chosen aviation career path. Ground training is essential for learning the theoretical aspects of helicopter piloting, such as: 

  • Helicopter systems
  • Regulations
  • Navigation
  • Emergency procedures 

This section will focus on the significance of enrolling in a reputable flight school, such as Hillsboro Heli Academy, and highlight the key components of ground training that are fundamental to your preparedness as a future helicopter pilot. 

Why Hillsboro Heli Academy May Be the Best Choice for You  

Hillsboro Heli Academy offers professional pilot training for those seeking an aviation career. Our training is conducted in the Pacific Northwest which offers a diverse training environment for aspiring pilots.  Our Professional Pilot Program encompasses the following: 

  • Private Pilot Certificate
  • Instrument Rating
  • Commercial Pilot Certificate
  • Certified Flight Instructor Rating 

You’ll receive well-rounded training tailored to your specific goals. 

Not only does the Hillsboro Heli Academy flight training school boast dedicated and well-equipped training facilities, but we also have a team of skilled instructors with extensive knowledge in the field of helicopter aviation. This combination of expertise and a variety of resources ensures you receive top-quality instruction and hands-on experience, preparing you for a successful career as a helicopter pilot. 

Ground Training 

Ground training is a critical component of your helicopter pilot education, covering essential topics that lay the foundation for your in-flight training. These topics include: 

  • Helicopter systems
  • Regulations
  • Navigation
  • Emergency procedures 

By gaining a thorough understanding of these subjects, you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges and complexities of piloting a helicopter. 

Resources such as the ASA Helicopter Flying Handbook and our one-on-one ground training provide valuable information on various aspects of helicopter operations. By dedicating time and effort to mastering the knowledge imparted in ground training, you’ll set yourself up for success as you transition to the practical flight experience. 

Step 4: Acquiring Practical Flight Experience 

Once you’ve completed ground training and enrolled in a reputable flight school, it’s time to put your newfound knowledge into practice. Practical flight experience is vital for honing your skills and becoming a proficient helicopter pilot. This hands-on training, guided by experienced flight instructors, will teach you: 

  • The intricacies of flying helicopters
  • How to handle different weather conditions
  • Emergency procedures and safety protocols
  • Navigation and flight planning techniques 
  • Communication with air traffic control 
  • Pre-flight and post-flight inspections 

This practical experience will help you develop the confidence needed to take to the skies. 
This section will examine the significance of flight instruction and the practice of logging flight hours, two crucial elements in achieving your desired helicopter pilot license. 

Flight Instruction 

Flight instruction is where the magic happens – it’s your opportunity to apply the knowledge you’ve gained in ground training and experience the thrill of flying helicopters first-hand. Your certified flight instructor will guide you through various maneuvers and techniques, ensuring you develop the essential flying skills required for your chosen license. 

During flight instruction, you’ll learn key skills such as: 

  • Takeoffs
  •  Landings
  • Hovering
  • Autorotation

You’ll also learn emergency procedures and situational awareness. Your instructor will tailor the training to your needs, focusing on areas where you need improvement and helping you build confidence in your abilities. 

By the end of your flight instruction, you’ll be well-prepared to tackle the practical flight test and take the next step towards obtaining your helicopter pilot license. 

Logging Flight Hours 

Logging flight hours is a crucial aspect of your journey to becoming a helicopter pilot, as it’s necessary to meet the minimum requirements for each helicopter pilot license level. To ensure accurate tracking of your flight time, record each flight in your pilot logbook. 

Keep in mind that different helicopter pilot licenses have different minimum flight hour requirements. For example, a Private Pilot License requires at least 35 hours of flight time, while a Commercial Pilot License necessitates a minimum of 150 hours. 

By diligently logging your flight hours, you’ll demonstrate your commitment to mastering the art of helicopter piloting and be one step closer to achieving your dream. 


Step 5: Passing Written and Practical Exams 

The final step in obtaining your helicopter pilot license is passing both written and practical exams. These assessments are designed to evaluate your understanding of essential helicopter pilot concepts, and regulations, and your ability to safely and proficiently operate a helicopter in various situations. 

In this section, we’ll give an overview of both the written knowledge test and the practical flight test, along with some tips and resources to help you excel in these crucial assessments. 

Written Knowledge Test 

The written knowledge test is a multiple-choice examination that assesses your understanding of fundamental helicopter pilot concepts and regulations, such as: 
•    airspace 
•    weather 
•    navigation 
•    helicopter systems 

To adequately prepare for this test, follow these steps: 

  1. Complete the required ground training specifically designed for the license you are training toward.
  2. Utilize test preparation materials, such as practice exams and study guides.
  3. These resources will help you familiarize yourself with the format and content of the exam, ensuring you’re well-equipped to pass with flying colors. 

Practical Flight Test 

The practical flight test evaluates your ability to safely and proficiently operate a helicopter in various situations. During this test, you’ll need to demonstrate your mastery of normal maneuvers, such as takeoff, landing, hovering, and autorotation, as well as emergency maneuvers like simulated engine failure and recovery procedures. 

Your flight instructor will assess your knowledge and skills in various subject matter areas, ensuring you meet the required standards for safe and effective helicopter operation and are prepared to obtain your flight instructor certificate through the helicopter training process. 
By successfully completing both written and practical examinations, you’ll be well on your way to obtaining your helicopter pilot license and soaring to new heights. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How long does it take to be a helicopter pilot? 
Our Helicopter Professional Pilot Program is structured to take less than 15 months to complete if you are a full-time student on the flight schedule five times per week. 

How hard is it to become a helicopter pilot? 
Becoming a helicopter pilot is not easy; it requires dedication, perseverance, and hard work. You must complete flight and ground lessons, study diligently, and put in the effort to pass the necessary requirements. However, with the right amount of effort and commitment, the rewards of being able to follow your dream can be truly worthwhile. 

Do helicopter pilots make good money? 
Helicopter pilots can expect to make a median salary of around $76,784 and an average salary of $89,418 per year in the US. Experienced pilots with advanced training can earn up to six figures particularly if they have extensive experience, advanced certifications, and work in high-demand sectors such as offshore oil rig support, emergency medical services (EMS), or firefighting.

Is 30 too late to become a helicopter pilot? 
At 30, it's not too late to become a helicopter pilot - the only thing you need to make sure is that you can dedicate the necessary time and energy to your studies and commitment to completing at least five flight and ground activities per week.

What are the main differences between a Private Pilot License and a Commercial Pilot License? 
A Private Pilot License enables recreational helicopter flying, while a Commercial Pilot License is necessary for professional piloting and involves much more extensive training.  



Becoming a helicopter pilot is an exciting and fulfilling journey that involves understanding the different types of helicopter pilot licenses, meeting FAA eligibility requirements, enrolling in a reputable flight school, completing ground training, acquiring practical flight experience, and passing both written and practical exams. With dedication, perseverance, and a passion for aviation, you’ll be well on your way to conquering the skies and embarking on a thrilling career as a helicopter pilot.