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Australia Pilot Training Guide 07

Updated on January 10, 2016
Aérospatiale AS-365N2 Dauphin II utility and transport heilcopter.
Aérospatiale AS-365N2 Dauphin II utility and transport heilcopter. | Source

The Helicopter Alternative


LEARNING to fly helicopters is in many ways poles apart from the fixed wing experience. Sure, you're flying an aircraft, but the aerodynamics are different, performance is different, and the controls are different. In fact some control inputs in the helicopter are directly opposite to equivalent fixed wing inputs to achieve the same flight manoeuvre.

For these reasons and more, the rotary wing training regime requires more flying hours and Australian pilot training syllabus components than for fixed wing training. It is generally regarded as being a more complex and advanced form of flying, requiring of you a higher degree of attention, co­ordination and concentration.

Learning to fly helicopters in Australia traditionally occurs through a series of peaks and troughs in progress. Some budding pilots have been known to give up in the face of the most difficult aspect of control - learning to hover. The majority of students, who do make it to licence stage, will be unanimous in their opinion that the thrill of flying a helicopter has no equal.

A typical rotary wing aircraft has four primary controls. The cyclic control enables lateral movement by tilting the spinning main rotor disc in the desired direction of flight. The collective control transfers power between the engine and the rotor system by increasing or decreasing the pitch, or 'angle of attack', of each of the rotor blades. The pedals enable pitch change in the tail rotor system to balance torque effect. The throttle controls engine RPM. The challenge and complexity of helicopter flight lies in the co-ordination of these controls in a way that achieves the desired manoeuvre whilst maintaining balanced flight.

Another salient point is that contradictory to fixed wing training, you'll be introduced to rotary wing flight at the difficult end of the scale. Smaller machines are harder to fly than large, heavier types. They are less stable and more susceptible to wind and turbulence due to their lower weight. In most cases they also lack onboard technologies, from hydraulically assisted controls to computerised stabilisation, navigation and engine management systems. There is merit in this as you will encounter the more difficult machines under the watchful eye of your instructors.

Understandably, the rotary wing training syllabus is a comprehensive affair, involving more hours and more components than the fixed wing routine. The order in which the syllabus is taught, and the hours you clock up at each stage of training, will vary between pilot training schools depending on the school's own approach and other variables, not the least of which is your own progress and proficiency. Keeping these variations in mind, you might expect your rotary wing training to progress like this.

Your first few flying hours are all about getting to know the helicopter in flight. Aspects covered include the effects of controls, simultaneous co-ordination of controls, hovering and taxiing, takeoff and landing, and transition from hover to forward flight. This initial introduction to the range of manoeuvres and handling requirements encountered in normal flight is generally followed by a few rounds of circuits. There's no better way to consolidate on, and practice, these fundamentals, than running some circuits for a couple of hours.

At this stage of the syllabus, with around eight hours logged depending on your progress, the focus of attention turns to the kinds of scenarios encountered, and judgment required, in `off airport operation. Pilot training takes in confined area operations, slope landings, limited takeoffs and landings, precautionary searches and low level circuits, judgment. Co-ordination and attention to safety are paramount her you'll need to demonstrate your proficiency in these aspects of your flying, to a high level. Off airport operations can expose the helicopter to high levels of risk Wire strikes, roll over accidents, and main at rotor collisions, are just some of the threats posed where the pilot not exercise sound judgment and a safety, conscious approach to flying.

So, with a little luck, a conscientious approach to your flying and fourteen hours in your log book, you will be feeling reasonably comfortable with the helicopter in most normal flight manoeuvres. Your hover technique might still need some work but you can generally keep it together. Your departure and approach profiles, turns, transitions from hover to forward flight and confined area handling, are coming along nicely.

Time now to get acquainted with the helicopter in more difficult circumstances involving all sorts of emergency scenarios. Most of the emergencies training revolves around autorotation, a state of flight in which the helicopter is gliding. This may be caused by engine failure, or the necessity to fly without power due to loss of tail rotor control or some other mechanical failure.

For quite a few hours you'll be ensconced in the art of handling a range of emergencies including autorotation entry, flare and termination, hovering autorotations, autorotation through turns, shallow and glide angles, engine failure on take off, jammed controls, and tail malfunctions.

"The commercial syllabus focuses on fine tuning and finessing your skills even further."

Beginner's guide to Helicopter training

Helicopter training schools demo

This part of the pilot training can be a nervous exercise at times until you settle in to the fact that the helicopter is actually a very safe machine through all these manoeuvres when it is handled correctly. Getting it right will require you to stay ahead of the machine to a point where your reactions to any in-flight emergency become instinctive. In emergency situations, stopping and thinking about what to do is not an option. This is why the correct handling procedures are drummed into you intensively during the training.

After the emergencies training, and some further consolidation on everything else you've learned, the solo experience is next on the agenda, first in carefully monitored circuits, then within the training area, practicing all the flight manoeuvres you've mastered which encompass normal operations. Solo practice of emergencies handling is not permitted at this stage, without the presence of your instructor.

After you've gone solo, you've been introduced to all the elements within the pilot training syllabus and you'll have a little over twenty hours flight time logged. From here on the training is designed to build your hours and experience, mixing solo experience with general handling and emergencies practice. Your instructor will have been keeping a watchful eye on your progress and will know your strengths and weaknesses. Every aspect of the syllabus will be revisited many times over, but the focus of your training will also reflect the aspects of your flying which need further attention and practice. By the time your PPL(H) test comes around, you'll be a competent, safe and confident pilot with over fifty hours of flying experience.

At various stages in the pilot training you'll be required to complete the theory exams. Up to the PPL(H) stage there are two exams. The first is the Basic Aeronautical Knowledge (BAK) exam, which most schools run in-house. Many schools require you to complete the BAK before going solo. Later on there is the PPL exam, a three and a half hour test which is also conducted by many schools in-house. This exam covers aerodynamics, engine systems, flight rules, meteorology, navigation and human performance.

In most cases, people who learn to fly helicopters take their training through to the commercial licence stage, simply because, unlike light fixed wing aircraft, helicopters are too expensive for the average budget to support purely as a hobby. Nevertheless there are many privately licensed helicopter pilots who get by, flying the smaller, cheaper machines when their finances allow it.

The commercial pilot training syllabus focuses on fine tuning and finessing your skill levels even further. The emphasis is on accuracy, competence and professionalism in your flying. The flying component consolidates on all the PPL content and provides intensive focus on navigation, solo experience and emergencies. Five hours of low flying practice are required and you'll also be given plenty of flight time in controlled airspace. The theory exam is an extension of the PPL(H) test, but more rigorous in content and duration - six hours with breaks, conducted by CASA monthly at nominated exam centres.

In terms of flying hours required, the rotary wing licence demands more than fixed wing at each stage. The minimum requirement for PPL(H) is hours comprising 35 hours of general handling experience and I 5 hours of navigation. Most students require more training than the legal minimum though, and a realistic average is more likely to be around 60 hours.For the commercial licence, 125 hours are required, but this can be reduced to 105 hours if the final 30 hours are completed in a special training course within three calendar months. Again, it's realistic to add a few more hours to this as a safety net.

Having a fixed wing licence will be of benefit in lowering the hours required. If you have a PPL(A), conversion to rotary wing will only require 38 hours of training as the navigation section does not need to be duplicated, apart from three hours of dual navigation for familiarisation purposes. If you have a PPL(A) and want to complete the commercial rotary wing licence, 80 hours are required at the controls, 70 if the last 30 hours are completed in three calendar months.

Conversion from CPL(A) to CPL(H) requires 70 hours flight time, or 60 hours if the last 30 hours are done in three calendar months.

The major limitation in learning to fly helicopters is cost. Helicopters are complex aircraft to fly and maintain, hence the higher costs per flying hour and greater number of flying hours required in comparison to fixed wing training in Australia. A private license is likely to set you back $ 15,000 —to $20 000, depending on the school and the helicopter type you choose to train with. A commercial helicopter license will cost around $35000 to $40000.

Despite the high costs involved in flying helicopters, most pilot training schools report healthy student numbers and steady rates of interest and inquiry about learning to fly, because helicopter operations are still growing at a high rate.

It's understandable that some of you intent on going through commercial license stage may be apprehensive about investing the money with uncertain job prospects. Certainly a career as a helicopter pilot requires commitment, flexibility and patience. The first year or two may be spent doing general work around the hangar or office, with minimal flying. You may also have to pack your swag and go to where the opportunities are. There was a time when many new graduates would head straight for far north Queensland or the Australia Northern Territory to find mustering work. Whilst there are still a few of these jobs around, the boom days are reportedly over. Charter and survey work, scenic tours and ferry flights are where many low time pilots build their hours. If you manage to demonstrate outstanding skill and professionalism as a new graduate, your flying school may even offer you some work. Down the track this could see you adding an instructor rating to your list of credentials but you'll need 400 hours of command time before you can commence it.

Certainly, helicopters aren't for everyone. For many people the cost of pilot training is prohibitive. Some also baulk at the complexity of rotary wing aircraft and have no desire to get too close to so many moving parts, and so much noise. For those of you who do choose helicopters, the rewards are many. For private flyers, the sense of achievement that comes with the completion of your training is profound. If you're committed to working as a commercial helicopter pilot there may well be some fascinating opportunities ahead. Oil rig transfers, media flying, medical services, corporate charter - instructing - the opportunities are there for those who excel at their craft.

Harrier, informally referred to as the Harrier Jump Jet, is a family of military jet aircraft capable of vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) operations. On an aircraft carrier deck.
Harrier, informally referred to as the Harrier Jump Jet, is a family of military jet aircraft capable of vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) operations. On an aircraft carrier deck. | Source

Flying the Forces


Australian Defence Force is a very different experience from the general aviation path. To start with it's only for those looking at aviation as a career. Signing up with the Army, Navy or Air Force, commits you to military pilot training and service for a number of years, depending on which of the services you enter.

You have to meet two separate standards - those required for pilots of highly sophisticated aircraft in an ever-changing environment, and those expected of a military officer. Not everybody makes it.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) operates a diverse range of specialist aircraft including F/A-18 Hornet and F-111 fighter bombers, C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globe Master transport, Lockheed AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, B707 refueller and troop transporter, Boeing 737 and Bombardier Challenger VIP transport aircraft. Boeing 707 transport and refuelling tanker, King Air 350s for training and general transport, Pilatus PC-9 advanced turboprop trainer, and the BAe Hawk lead-in fighter trainer. The fleet's capabilities include advanced ground and air attack, troop and personnel transport, light attack, reconnaissance and training. Also coming are C17 heavy air lifters; B737s configured for airborne early warning and control, and Airbus A330 multi role tanker transports to replace the B707s.

The Australian Army fleet comprises mainly rotary wing types. Helicopters including the Chinook, Black Hawk, Iroquois and Kiowa aircraft perform a range of roles from troop transport and medical evacuation to battlefield support, reconnaissance and ground attack. There is also a small contingent of fixed wing aircraft including Beech King Airs for command and control, communications support and surveillance roles. and Twin Otter utility transport types. The Army is now introducing a further helicopter type, the Eurocopter Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter.

The Australian Navy's aircraft line-up is also dominated by helicopters including the Sea Hawk, Sea king Squirrel, Super Seasprite and MRH90 which will be introduced into service shortly. These aircraft fulfil roles including submarine hunting search and rescue, medical evacuation, fleet support and transport.

"Although, during the flight screening process, you haven't yet been accepted as a trainee pilot, the pressure to perform is intense because the selection standards are very high"

When you apply to join the Navy, Army and Air Force you'll be booked in to attend a job options evaluation session in a location that is closest to home. A testing session will then determine what job roles and avenues of entry you're best suited for. You'll then be provided with information on the range of jobs that are available to you, and you can discuss these with a Defence recruiter.

You'll undergo a psychological interview, a medical assessment and an Australian Defence interview, to ensure you have the required knowledge, and are fully prepared for the challenges of a military career.

If you're recommended to proceed to a Selection Board you must attend a flight screening program in Tamworth. The basic and advanced programs are a flying-based assessment conducted at the BAE Systems Training Academy at Tamworth

Courses are based on CT-4B and CAP 10 aircraft, with two simulator sorties in a synthetic trainer. Both courses encompass 15 hours of flight time over two weeks, and cover over 200 "profiles."

On the last day, applicants are interviewed by the Officer Selection Board which tests aspects such as leadership skills, teamwork and individual abilities critical to the role you have applied for.

Interviewers comprise a panel of officers and a psychologist, and you'll face a range of challenging problem-solving exercises designed to test your competitiveness for available vacancies. If the Board recommends you, you'll undergo a physical fitness test and a police clearance. Your first preference of Service will be of primary consideration for the initial offer, but offers may be made by other Services. You may choose to accept an offer, or remain in the pool in the hope of receiving a first-preference offer. Precedence for those not offered their first preference (or without preferences) will be based on achieving an equitable distribution of quantity and quality of applicants to each Service.

C-17A Globemaster III provides Air Force with an unprecedented capacity for strategic air lift. It allows Australia to rapidly deploy troops, supplies, combat vehicles, heavy equipment and helicopters anywhere in the world.
C-17A Globemaster III provides Air Force with an unprecedented capacity for strategic air lift. It allows Australia to rapidly deploy troops, supplies, combat vehicles, heavy equipment and helicopters anywhere in the world.

RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet

S-70A-9 Black Hawk export version for Australia, assembled under licence by Hawker de Havilland
S-70A-9 Black Hawk export version for Australia, assembled under licence by Hawker de Havilland | Source

RAAF aircraft fleet

You need to be over 17 and under 27.5 years of age at the commencement of flying training. The upper age limit is currently being reviewed and older applicants are assessed on a case-by-case basis. You must have Year 12 passes in English, Mathematics and two other academic subjects. You must also have completed Year 10 Science.

Although, during the flight screening process, you haven't yet been accepted as a trainee pilot, the pressure to perform is intense because the selection standards are very high. As a student you must be serious about your training and diligent in your approach. Your performance in the course will be included in the overall assessment for pilot training.


If you are successful as an entrant RAAF pilot, you'll commence an initial ground course of approximately 20 weeks which encompasses Australian Air Force education, aviation medicine and combat survival. As a cadet, you'll go nowhere near an aircraft in this time but all the while, your character and personal qualities are closely assessed.

The next phase of your training sees you back at Tamworth for a further 63 hours of basic pilot training in the CT4B, before transferring to RAAF Base Pearce, Western Australia, to continue your training in the high performance PC-9 Pilatus turboprop. This phase takes around 37 weeks and is intended to transfer the basic training skills over to more advanced aircraft.

At the end of your pilot training you'll be posted to an Air Force flying squadron within Australia to commence your operational conversion course. You'll apply what you've already learned during your training to your new unit's specific operations, equipment and aircraft. You'll learn the theory of tactics employed by your squadron and you'll crew up and practise until your team is an efficient fighting unit. You've been waiting for this moment for a long time -to graduate and commence active service as an Australian Air Force pilot. It has been a hard slog and it has been incredibly competitive, but it has all been worthwhile. During your RAAF career you'll probably undertake a range of flying roles, which could mean being pilot in command of anything from F/A­18 fighters, C-130 Hercules transports, VIP jets or the F- 111.


The road to a career as an Australian Army pilot begins with military training. This involves attending the Royal Military College Duntroon in Canberra on either a 78 week course to become a general military officer, or a six week course to become a specialist pilot. The 78 week course is intended to prepare trainees for officer careers with the Army, teaching them battle craft, tactics, weapons training and the like, and promoting leadership, military discipline and officer qualities in trainees. The six week course provides a basic understanding of the military and some basic military skills.

Army pilot trainees undergo a Basic pilot training course at Tamworth involving 26 weeks of training in CT4 and TB-10 aircraft. They then move on to the Aviation Training Centre at Oakey for their basic rotary wing training which takes a further 26 weeks, and operational conversion to helicopter types including ARH, Black Hawk, MRH 90 or Chinook at Oakey, Townsville or Darwin.

Australian Navy trainees begin with a 20 week New Officer Entry course before their flight training. Their Basic Flying Training course includes ground and air training with Airforce students.

They progress to RAAF Pearce for advanced training in the PC-9, before branching off to the ADF Helicopter School for their helicopter training. At the end of their pilot training graduates will transfer to Nowra to commence service with an operational air squadron, flying one of the Navy's helicopter types such as the Kiowa, Squirrel, Sea King, Sea Sprite or Sea Hawk helicopters.

Specific entry requirements for each Service vary and may be reviewed and subject to change from time to time. You'll need to check the exact requirements prior to applying.

Military pilot training is intense and demanding and the rate at which the student is expected to progress both academically and technically is extraordinary. Military cadets must have the aptitude to keep pace with a rapid rate of learning in high performance aircraft and not everyone is cut out to perform to such high expectations. However needless to say, those who do make it through the rigours of pilot selection and training, can expect a rewarding and diverse career at the helm of the most advanced aircraft flying in Australian skies. It's also a great qualification to transport into civilian flying later on.


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