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Learn to Fly a Helicopter

Updated on December 3, 2009

Learning to fly helicopters is, to say the least, a challenge. It's intense, exhilarating, exhausting. Many lessons are driven purely by a frustrated determination to gain and keep control over what is basically an unstable machine. From the first lesson on, though, you begin to see a potential in the helicopter to be the most rewarding of aircraft to fly.

Broadly speaking, helicopter training follows a regime similar to that in learning to fly any aircraft. The hours spent in the cockpit are accompanied by many more hours studying theory and still more staring at a white board in preflight and post flight briefings. A minimum number of hours must be flown in training prior to doing a license test. This minimum will almost always be exceeded, however, due to the variation of flight sequences that the student needs to become familiar with, and the sheer complexity of this type of aircraft.

Learning to fly an airplane without wings

Helicopters are expensive but there are a number of ways to approach the overall outlay.

The bulk of the cost is in the flight training which ranges from around $300 to $400 per flying hour, for a two-seat trainer depending on the city and school you learn at. However if you take a lesson every fortnight or so you may well be able to afford the rates.

Different schools will offer a range of options in terms of paying for a license but all potential students should work around an average starting figure of $25,000.

Such costs are not for the faint-hearted, or, for that matter, the half-hearted. The dropout rate for rotary wing students is considerable and this is often due to lack of finances. This is a disappointment to avoid "at all costs", and a good reason to consider your position carefully before signing up.

The reason for this high cost is that helicopters are very maintenance intensive. Every helicopter has many moving parts in its airframe, as well as the engine. Each of these encounters its own aerodynamic or mechanical stresses and therefore requires inspection, overhaul and replacement at regular intervals.

Although the financial side of learning to fly helicopters seems a little depressing, you can take heart that this is the only down side. The rest is pure thrill, determination, and satisfaction as you acquire the skills to fly this complex machine.

Getting Serious

Prior to making any serious decisions about your flight training, some research should be undertaken.

Choosing a flying school is the most important first step. It is wise to assess any school before making a choice. Most will offer a Trial Instruction Flight (TIE) for around $150 to $300 and this will give you some idea of what serious training is like. An introductory flight like this will give you an opportunity to look at the school, judge how comfortable you might feel in flight training, and generally see how attentive the staff is to your inquiries and questions. Above all, make sure that your trial flight is not a joy flight!

On the theory side things are a little more straight forward. Whilst the choice is yours as to how you go about your studies, there are a number of mandatory topics which need to be covered in order to pass exams. These include principles of flight, aircraft performance, engines, aircraft systems and some basic elements of regulations and procedures. This takes you to a written test of basic aeronautical knowledge, generally run by the flying school.

The next stage of theory training provides knowledge of navigation, flight planning, meteorology, and flight rules and procedures relating to general aviation. This coincides with your cross-country flying exercises. The associated written exam combines all theory covered through the entire syllabus. Any flying school will tell you what books and materials are required for the theory component of your license.

Broadly speaking the phases of initial training include straight and level flight, turning, climbing and descending, the transition (that's moving from the hover into forward flight), the approach and termination to hover, and, of course hovering itself.

The next stage of training involves learning to cope with a range of emergency situations. When you have the basics of flying under control, they will take you through some of the more unexpected events that may occur in flight, such as engine failure, carburettor icing, low RPM and tail rotor drive failure.

Control of the helicopter to a safe landing, even in more extreme situations such as engine or tail rotor failure, is possible and is a routine part of the training.

At this stage, after 25-30 hours of flying under instruction, you are ready for your first solo. It's up to you then to get yourself into the air and back onto the ground safely. This doesn't happen until the instructor is confident the student is up to scratch. Your first solo will usually be no more than a circuit over the aerodrome and your instructor will be on the ground watching your every move.

The rest of the flight training is really a matter of building on your skills and applying them to the different environments that you may experience as a helicopter pilot. This will generally see you through to about 60-80 hours of flying including your navigation exercises. Then it's test time.


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      Xbox360reviews 6 years ago

      nice hub, ive always wondered what it would take to fly a real one professionally since having a toy as a child.

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      Helicopter 7 years ago

      Very good information for anyone interested in Learning to fly Helicopters.