How to Become a Helicopter Pilot

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

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Flying a Whirlybird

Helicopter flying isn't a typical job, but it's exciting. With a median salary of $72,694, it also provides a generous salary for a working mom while she's raising her kids. The easiest career path for a prospective helicopter pilot is through the armed forces. You will get paid while you learn to fly, the training is comprehensive, and you are automatically qualified tor FAA certification. But you can also get the necessary certification from an FAA-certified flight school or college aviation program.

Job Description

Helicopter pilots are commercial pilots who fly helicopters. They are responsible for ensuring the safe operation of helicopters during flights. They work in a variety of areas. Their jobs run the gamut, from flying for aerial photography to transporting workers or supplies to offshore oil rigs. Some pilot accident victims to a hospital heliport, rescue flood victims or even give a store Santa a lift to the shopping center. It's even possible to get a job as a helicopter chauffeur, transporting a wealthy businessperson.

Education Requirements

No particular college program is recommended for this career. All you need to know is how to fly a helicopter. You can learn this in the military and also receive the required FAA certification there. Alternatively, you can go to civilian flight school and get an FAA private pilot license with a helicopter rating. You'll need some 40 hours of flight times, 10 of which must be solo flying. The FAA also requires oral and practical licensing exams. All FAA-certified flight schools offer this training, but you can also obtain it in college by getting an associate's degree or bachelor's degree in aviation.

To qualify as a commercial helicopter pilot, you'll need to get a FAA commercial rotorcraft license or flight instructor certification. This requires more air time, some 150 air hours. If you intend to carry passengers at night, you must also obtain an instrument rating. But to get the job you want, you may need even more flight hours, depending on the employer. One way to get these hours is to work as a flight instructor once you qualify for instructor certification.

The mean salary for a helicopter pilot is $72,694. Although attending college is one way to get your flight training, additional or higher degrees are not likely to impact your salary.


Helicopter pilots work in various sectors. These include law enforcement, tourism, health and safety (such as rescue work, firefighting and health transport operations), journalism, and personal and commercial transport.

Years of Experience

In the United States, helicopter pilots earn, on average, $75,000. They can earn bonuses of $20,000 or more and get profit-sharing income as well. Total pay ranges from $49,305 to $118,128.

Entry-level pay comes in about 17 percent below average pay, while mid-career pay is some 3 percent below average pay. Experienced helicopter pilots earn 6 percent more than average pay, while those in late career can earn up to 13 percent more than average.

Job Growth Trend

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of airline and commercial pilots will grow somewhat slower than the average for all occupations. Over the next decade, jobs are projected to grow 4 percent. Most job opportunities will come from replacement of retiring pilots.