Preparing for Flight School - An Instructor's Perspective

Piloting helicopters successfully is a hard, interesting, and extremely enjoyable skill set, and obtaining your helicopter pilot education is the very first step on the road to becoming a professional helicopter pilot.

If you are planning to join a flight school and none of your acquaintances have ever been pilots, you probably have no idea how to prepare for flight school. There is no need to be concerned. Read this article to find answers to the endless stream of questions in your mind. Apart from answering the most common questions, you will also get to read " day in the life of a flight school student". Read this post and embark on a new journey fearlessly.

Some ‘What Ifs’
I want to fly but I am 30-something, am I too old?
They say the best time to plant a fruit tree is 10 years ago; and the next best time is today. If the passion to fly is there, come in, and pursue that dream sooner rather than later. I am betting your future self with thank you. (I was 35ish when I started my training).

I am a female; will I be the only girl there?
For one reason or another, women occupy perhaps 7-9% of the aviation industry (a stat recently confirmed to me by a female heli fire-fighting pilot and mentor). But their presence in the field is ever growing.

Presently we at Hillsboro have multiple women excelling in our areas of our academy: one woman, a seasoned instructor and consistent help to me, another finishing her CFII, at least two more recent private pilots, another two working in our student facing offices, and at least one more almost finished with her Instrument Rating. Not to mention the many alumna presently tearing up the skies all over the world.

I am kind of heavy, how possible is this for me?
After 9 years in banking, I was at a sad 270lbs when I decided to switch to helicopters. The light helicopters we train in mean that pilot weight is balanced against fuel quantity allowed onboard. For this reason, I had to drop my tonnage down to around 200-220ish to start training and a bit lower to have a better chance of securing a CFI job at my school. I worked hard and ate smart and still do because the-juice-is-worth-the-squeeze for me when it comes to flying these incredible machines.

You can accomplish the same. If you really want something and are tired of the hum-drum perhaps it’s time to upend your life a bit and make it happen. If you weigh under 200 pounds there should be no issue whatsoever. These skinny folks have no idea of the struggle!!

Count the Cost
You need realistic info to decide if this pathway is the right one for you. If you are reading this my assumption is that you already have the interest, passion, and desire to get going; which in large part is step 1. Next determine the amount of time and money available to you for this endeavor. Savings should be used all at once to obtain a pilot certificate. Flying every so often (1x/2x a week) usually means more hours (more $$ spent) over a given time period. It’s best to fly frequently to develop your touch and build proficiency in the air. Keep time constraints in mind depending on if you want only a private pilot certificate or if you want to go all the way to CFII.

A License to Learn
Come out to the Hillsboro Heli campus and take a demo flight to get a first-hand sense of the feeling of being a pilot; enjoy the new perspective of the rivers, mountains, bluffs, clouds, and trees of the Pacific NW. Conduct ‘information interviews’ with pilots working in your area or here on campus. Join a helicopter pilot group on Facebook to ask questions. Speak with our office to learn which books/resources we cover in ground school and what to buy/study ahead of time to get a leg up.

A Day in the Life
Piloting of any kind involves multi-tasking, helicopters more so than airplanes. Heli pilots control an unstable machine, monitor radios, and navigate using landmarks and GPS all at once. The demo flight is great for seeing this in real time, and our building block training method moves you from observer to autonomous in an easy to follow manner.

Heli pilots work in transportation and one can easily assume they are constantly on the move day to day and week to week. Ferry pilots can start a mission on one coast and finish on another coast. Firefighting pilots get sent to random places to douse the flames. Utility pilots follow and inspect powerlines/pipelines wherever they go. Flight instructors, EMS, and news pilots are often in a certain area. Implications of expected travel should be considered as related to family, finances, etc.

Many pilots work ‘hitches’ or shifts of 7 on/7 off or 14 on/14 off which means that you get more time to yourself than just a two-day weekend like most of society. Pay scale for each category above can vary by moderate margins as well. Once at a certain level, pilots can become as self-directed as they want, choosing hitches in bucket-list locations that interest them and for time periods that work for their lifestyle.

The confidence and awe that comes with your first: flight, solo, solo cross country, night flight, private/commercial check ride pass, etc is something very few people in the world ever experience. Soloing a helicopter puts you easily in a 1% category. The challenge of flight gives me a sense of humility, gratitude, and freedom that I don’t get elsewhere. The change in perspective and the beauty of the terrain under me as I go by is something I can’t help but look forward to.

Pilot Considerations 
As you prepare for flight school and consider the career path of a professional helicopter pilot, we at Hillsboro also encourage you to look at the lifestyle. Helicopter jobs are often challenging, adrenaline fueled missions that require the pilot to use their knowledge and skills to solve problems whether that is placing an air conditioning unit on a new commercial building or providing aerial support for wildfire suppression. Each mission will be different and test your knowledge which can be exciting and demanding. 

Helicopter pilots also tend to travel frequently and work unique schedules as mentioned above. Many jobs take place in more remote locations so it's important when preparing for helicopter flight school to ensure you are able to be flexible and adaptable to a variety of situations as it will likely be important for your future career. 

We also encourage people who are considering this career to ensure they can obtain an FAA medical certificate. We have a blog that discusses pilot medicals and the process to obtain one. It's important to know which class of medical certificate you will need for your desired job and make sure you obtain that certificate prior to training. 

Consistency is also extremely important for anyone preparing to start flight school. Our most successful students treat their flight training like a full-time job in order to maintain steady progress on their training and improve their learning retention. The more consistently and regularly you fly and study, the more information you can retain and the fewer lessons you will have to repeat. 

We understand that flight training full time can be a big commitment especially for those working other jobs. However, we do have financing options available to those who qualify which can help with the training costs so you can move through the training more quickly and get into your first commercial job sooner. Our admissions team can tell you more about our financing options, but they are also listed on our website.

Contact our team at to learn more about FAA helicopter training and how Hillsboro can help you meet your goals.