Career Path of a Professional Helicopter Pilot
Want to make a career of flying crucial search and rescue missions or aerial firefighting operations? The competition for these type of demanding, action-packed helicopter pilot jobs is high. We’ll explain how you can become a helicopter pilot in the career you want.
The most competitive careers that offer the highest pilot salaries are in the field of emergency medical services (EMS), firefighting, offshore oil support, external load operations and other high-paced, adrenaline-pounding jobs. They’re also the pilot careers that everyone else wants.
You won’t start out at the top, but you can get there with the right training and guidance which we can provide.
The training I received gave me a solid foundation of the basic knowledge and skills needed to be successful in my current position at PHI. Most importantly, though, I had so much fun! The community of Hillsboro students, instructors and staff is what makes it really work.
Jon Sevy, S-92 Captain for PHI
Hillsboro's partnership with Portland Community College made it possible for Jon to work on his pilot certificates and college degree at the same time.
I believe the mountain experience and fast-changing weather were a big help in getting my first job back in Norway.
Kenneth Braa, AS350 Pilot for Air Greenland
Kenneth chose Hillsboro because he wanted to work as a flight instructor once he completed his training, and he also wanted to gain experience in flying conditions and terrain that were similar to his home country of Norway.
WHERE DO I START?
Every pilot starts by getting their professional pilot certificates and ratings from a flight training school. When you finish your program for the professional pilot program, you’ll end up somewhere over 200 hours of flight time.
But, to get hired for entry-level careers, you need 1,000 to 1,500 hours of flight time — it’s an insurance requirement at most companies.
So how do you even get your first job as a helicopter pilot?
BECOME A HELICOPTER FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR
The first job helicopter pilots get is typically as a flight instructor at a training school. This allows you to get paid for instructing while building your flight experience. Flight instructing is a very rewarding and challenging opportunity to develop airmanship skills, aeronautical knowledge, and experience.
Over 95% of flight schools train their students on the Robinson R22 helicopter. You must have at least 200 hours in helicopter and 50 hours in an R22 to instruct in this helicopter, due to the SFAR 73 regulation, and get hired at any of these schools using the R22 for training. That’s part of why we train on the Robinson R22 at Hillsboro Aero Academy and it sets you up for the next step in your career.
We do hire qualified graduates as flight instructors, and you’ll have a chance to start your career at Hillsboro after you complete your helicopter professional pilot training.
While you attend Hillsboro for your professional pilot training or work as a flight instructor, you can take special courses to build skills that are in high demand.
Learn how to handle external loads, getting the basic skills to prep for fighting fires with water buckets or lifting heavy equipment for construction operations in our External Load Course.
Train to navigate safely through advanced terrain in our Mountain Flying Course. You’ll fly through challenging terrain in the Cascade mountains and along the Oregon coast in every kind of weather — giving you skills needed for a career in EMS, search and rescue, heli-skiing and other adventurous operations.
You can also build turbine helicopter skills at Hillsboro in a Bell JetRanger in the Turbine Transition Course. All of our instructors have completed the Bell Helicopter factory safety course and you’ll learn turbine theory, power management, operational considerations and basic care for the aircraft.
Interested? Find out more about our courses.
After you build 1000 hours or more of flight experience, the next career opportunity is flying for a tour operator either in the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Alaska or some other scenic tourist destination. This career gives pilots a chance to continue to improve their skills while flying a consistent, pre-determined route with few variables. It’s usually where most pilots have their first experience flying a turbine aircraft. Helicopter tourism is a great opportunity to gain another 1000-1500 hours of turbine helicopter experience.
Once you have acquired enough hours in a tour operation most pilots move on to other industries such as charter, corporate transport, offshore support, electronic news gathering (ENG), helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS), and utility operations. These industries require a more advanced pilot with sufficient experience to adapt to changing conditions and respond quickly in challenging environments.
While charter, offshore, and utility operations are great career paths, as you continue to build hours and experience you can progress to careers such as aerial firefighting, law enforcement, and heavy-lift operations. These industries are often viewed as the pinnacle and are desired by many pilots. They require the most experience because of the challenging environments in which they operate. There is unpredictability in each of these careers and a pilot must possess the correct skill and experience to adequately manage and make the best decisions in those situations.
This progression through the helicopter industry is important because it puts you on a path toward achieving your dream career and having the skills necessary to be successful when you reach that goal.
THE HILLSBORO NETWORK
Our reputation is well-known around the world and our graduates fly for major companies on many continents.
This means that by joining our school, you’ll be connected to a worldwide network of helicopter pilots and job opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
It’s who you know that gets you the best jobs and graduating from Hillsboro Aero Academy gives you one of the strongest networks to start building your career.