Skills Needed To Be a Helicopter Pilot

What special skills does a helicopter pilot need?
Just like job requirements that help ensure applicants are a good fit for the position, there are special skills required in order to become a successful helicopter pilot. I will explain what special skills are required, as well as traits that valuable for professional pilots.  

I want to note that there are hard skills, as well as soft skills, that are needed to be a professional pilot. Hard skills that are directly job-related abilities are important because these are the skills that will be used to fly the helicopter well. However, do not turn a blind eye to soft skills as these are important traits that help pilots thrive and improve in the helicopter industry and their career.

Special Skills Needed in Helicopter Training
  - Situational awareness  
  - Working under stress
  - Communication  
  - Weather planning  
  - Aeronautical decision making 

Situational Awareness
When it comes to flying, having situational awareness or SA is an important skill as you always need to be aware of your surroundings for your own safety, the safety of the aircraft, and the safety of other coworkers or passengers. This skill allows pilots to stay ahead of the aircraft to catch any risk factor and safely take the necessary action when situations arise. Having a mental picture of the situation at hand is extremely important in aviation as it allows pilots to stay alert and notice any slight change in the environment, aircraft function, operations, and the air traffic around. This skill is heavily relied upon during any flight to ensure there are no situation occurring that go unnoticed.

Working Under Pressure/Stress 
Helicopters fly at low altitudes and close to obstacles as well as in and out of unknown landing sites. Unlike airplanes, helicopters can land almost anywhere such as helicopter pads, hotels, rooftops, grass, etc. This can cause higher stress and pressure on the pilot to ensure nothing goes wrong. Being able to manage stress during a flight is important as stress can cause a spike in heart rate, muscle tensions, anxiety, fatigue, and heightened blood pressure. These spikes due to stress can affect the pilot's cognitive functions and impact the situation negatively very quickly. Learning to work effectively under pressure and/or stress is an extremely valuable skill for any professional pilot.  

One of the most essential skills to have is effective radio communication. Being a professional pilot requires communicating with those you work with in every role from the control tower to passengers. When flying, you will have to communicate effectively with Air Traffic Control (ATC) in order to get the permissions needed to safely perform your flight. Having strong communication skills will allow you to stay safe and reduce any information confusion between you and ATC or others. If you want tips on how to improve your communication skills, check out our blog on How to Improve Pilot Communication Skills.  

Weather Planning - Instrument skills 
Helicopter pilots spend a good amount of time planning their flights around the weather. Everyone loves flying on a sunny, clear, and cloudless day, but pilots must always be ready for unexpected weather. Weather planning is done using resources such as METARs, TAFs, and GFAs to analyze the weather patterns before a flight to know if the flight will be safe for the whole duration. Another weather planning skill that will benefit your helicopter career is having your Instrument Rating. Being able to fly the aircraft based on the instruments when the weather takes an unexpected turn will ensure you can safely land. Appropriate weather planning prior to a flight will save you time, money, and help you develop a valuable skill that will be used your entire career. Effectively improving your instrument and weather planning skills can allow more confidence in yourself the next time you go flying. If you’re still curious about flying in different types of weather, check out our blog post to get a deeper understanding.  

Aeronautical Decision Making 
In aviation, it is extremely important to have good judgment when it comes to risk factors during preflight and flight. Pilots should have an intense awareness of possible risks and be quick to effectively make a decision to handle the situation. When flying, pilots constantly are making aeronautical decisions based on the flight environment, aircraft, flight operations, and their own actions to ensure a safe flight for themselves and/or passengers. Aeronautical decision making can come naturally, but this is also a skill that is taught in our private pilot course. Essentially, having the ability to make difficult or quick decisions is necessary when flying a helicopter. As mentioned, there are times when you will approach an unknown landing site and have to analyze and trust your judgment on how to complete the landing in a safe manner.  

Skill Traits Needed In A Professional Pilot Career 
Qualities that make a great pilot are: 
  - Adaptable  
  - Pilot-In-Command (PIC) mentality 
  - Reliable/trustworthy  
  - Ability to network  

Being able to adapt to new situations  
In aviation, things do not always go as planned when flying. There could be situations where a pilot is faced with unexpected weather or an aircraft malfunction. Being a great pilot means having the ability to adapt to these situations. Being attentive and quick to catch any changes in the aircraft's operation is essential. In these situations, compartmentalization is necessary as a helicopter pilot must be able to put away the panic and emotions and act quickly and smartly in a situation. It is also important for pilots to adapt to new situations as helicopter landings are always different, as I mentioned previously. This means adapting to the landing site and having the knowledge to approach and safely land the aircraft even in an unknown environment.   

Pilot In Command Mentality  
This may not be an official trait, but it is important to hold Pilot In Command traits in order to be a Professional Pilot. Being a PIC holds the responsibility of the aircraft, passengers and your own life. Being the PIC shows you are confident in all your decisions and knowledge from taking off to landing. This also requires you to be a leader as a pilot. As mentioned earlier, most times there is one pilot in the cockpit. Knowing how to take on the leader position and be able to control the aircraft yourself and take on the responsibility of quick thinking and reflex makes a great pilot. In a case of an engine failure, you being the only pilot in the cockpit would have to make all the calls on what to do next. When you see sudden weather changes, the call will be yours to make on either rerouting or how to safely continue the flight or land the helicopter. Being a pilot in command is very valued in the Helicopter industry.  

Helicopter pilots often fly as a single pilot and do not have a second pilot in command to rely on during flight operations.  If a solo pilot is carrying passengers, the pilots should have the experience and knowledge about how to operate the aircraft safely and ensure everyone gets to their destination. This trust between pilot and passenger is extremely important. Helicopter industry job differ from those in the airplane sector. In airplane aviation, planes have a set schedule when they are due for takeoff and landing. However, helicopters do not typically have set schedules and can be called for a job at any minute, depending on the type of operation. Pilots need to be reliable in this situation to ensure they are available to complete the mission and do so in a safe and timely manner.

Ability to Network  
The helicopter industry, much like most of aviation, relies on building relationships with others and developing your own reputation to create a successful career. Networking and making connections with other pilots and operators is an extremely valuable skill. These connections may help to open future doors during your career. Many helicopter jobs are not posted online and positions are filled through word of mouth referrals and recommendations. Being able to network within the helicopter community is a good skill to master to ensure future career success beyond the completion of your helicopter training.

When you’ve mastered the skills mentioned above and have proven experience adapting to new situations, being reliable, and possessing a PIC mentality, you will be seen as a great pilot even outside of your network. The aviation world may seem big, but once you start to make connections you will realize it's much smaller than you think.  

I have some of these skills, can I still be a helicopter pilot? 
Yes! If you know you have some of these skills but want to improve them or learn more, our Helicopter Professional Pilot Program will set you up to master every necessary skill. At Hillsboro Heli Academy our goal is to help pilots pursue achieve their dreams. From private to commercial to instructor courses, there are many more skills and maneuvers taught during our helicopter training to prepare you to become a professional pilot.  

How can I become a helicopter pilot?
If you’re ready to hone these skills and want to become a pilot, our admissions team would be excited to meet with you and answer any questions on how to make becoming a pilot possible. You can reach us at or 1.503.726.3000 to start obtaining these special skills for your pilot career today. If your curiosity is still flying high, check out our helicopter training programs and courses on our website at