A helicopter pilot is a very general term. Depending on which models of helicopters they have been trained on, a helicopter pilot can fly everything from a small single engine rotorcraft carrying commuters and tourists from Point A to Point B, to large multi-engine, multi-rotor helicopters transporting freight, air medical crews and search-and-rescue (SAR) crews.
Helicopter pilots also fly corporate rotorcraft for executives; news and traffic-spotting helicopters for TV and radio stations; camera-equipped rotorcraft for film-makers; and large Bambi Buckets full of water for fire crews. Basically, these pilots of missions – particularly in situations where a helicopter’s ability to hover and land/takeoff vertically is a must.
The fact that helicopters can go where conventional fixed wing aircraft can’t – because they need a landing strip – means that helicopter pilots often work in the toughest of flying conditions. This is particularly true at night, when helicopter pilots must wear night vision goggles to see where they are going.
Compared to a fixed wing aircraft, a helicopter is much more complicated to fly. This is why helicopter pilots are sometimes trained as conventional pilots first – and then admitted to helicopter training once they’ve gained their pilot’s wings.
How to Learn
The road to becoming a helicopter pilot starts with getting a private pilot’s licence.
The traditional way to learn to fly is by enrolling at a flight school; either close to home or in another location. Training is usually full or part-time based on the student’s personal schedule, the training program and financial resources. The learning includes in-class training (ground school) and in-aircraft training (flight training), in preparation for earning their Private Pilot’s Licence through testing.
Flight hours also matter. They are the amount of time the student spends actually flying. Many aviation jobs require licenced pilots to have accumulated a specific minimum amount of flight hours, before they will be considered for employment.
Across Canada, community colleges and universities are now teaching students to fly on a full-time or part-time basis; often in partnership with local flight schools. This option can offer an aspiring pilot a faster route to their licence, by fitting more education and training into a shorter time period. But unless the student has access to some form of educational subsidies, the cost will be comparable over time to the flight school.
Some flight schools offer helicopter training in addition to fixed wing flight training. Others do not. Students wishing to become helicopter pilots may want to consider schools that offer both kinds of training, to speed up the educational process.
Depending on their level of training and their accumulated flight hours, helicopter pilots can work in all of the professions noted above, and many more.
Prospective pilots wishing to work in a specific segment – such as air ambulance – should talk to potential employers to first to see what kinds of helicopter type training and flight hours are required to get hired.
A typical starting salary for a helicopter pilot is around $40,000 per year. More seasoned helicopter pilots can make up to $160,000 per year.
Some provinces do offer subsidies/grants to help students pay for pilot training. Student loans may also be available from financial institutions.
Need More Information?
Visit the Pilot Career Centre Canada for information about about flight training, how to choose a flight school and listing of schools across Canada.
The Government of Canada also offers guidance on how to select a flight school and the steps needed to start training.