Learning to Fly by Will Corston
I am based in the South East of England, about 25 miles south of London and have dreamed of flying helicopters ever since my first experience in a Eurocopter AS355 at the age of 10. By the time I had left school I had lost sight of that dream due to being encouraged down a different path. Since then I have been searching for that job that makes me tick. I have worked in a number of industries, from web development, to marketing, to plant hire and even professional driving. At the age of 25 I knew I was on the wrong path. I didn’t enjoy being static, behind a desk or glued to the ground. I was happiest when organising logistics and being mobile. I wanted to return to my roots and knew that entering the aviation industry would be the answer to my ambitions. As a result I am now enrolled at Advance Helicopters flight school in Shoreham, training in the R22. I have been lucky enough to try out the R66 and intend on getting rated on the R44 for my hour building phase.
Flying helicopters over airplanes was an easy decision. I always seek to master difficult challenges and the versatility of flying rotary over fixed wing excites me. There appears to be more opportunities and greater challenges to flying helicopters despite being paid less than our fixed wing counterparts. Flying helicopters is a lifestyle so if you desire riches then other options may be more appropriate to you. Having said that, some of the pinnacle jobs in the rotary sphere are paid very highly.
Many will tell you that setting goals are important to personal success. This couldn’t be more true in the aviation industry. Expect them to change or evolve but keep in mind what you want to achieve from this incredibly exciting career path and be ambitious. I set out wanting to fly air ambulances, but I have since been able to learn more about the industry as a whole and am now working towards flying heavy lifting helicopters; my long-term goal is to fly the Kaman K Max helicopter. In order to achieve this specialised role, I need to go down the route of under slung, sling loading, long lining operations. This can include anything from agriculture spraying, cargo delivery, utility installations and firefighting but will hopefully lead to a heavy lifting career.
If you are interested in pursuing a career as a helicopter pilot, the best advice I can offer is that you book a trial flight. You and the flight instructor will get a good idea from a 30-60 minute experience whether you have the aptitude to fly professionally. You will be able to take all the controls and if you can’t hover, don’t worry—every pilot has a story about his or her first hover attempt.
The next thing is to make sure your finances are in order; learning to fly is expensive. I could not afford to fly as a hobby, so I intend to make a living from it. You will have to rely on savings, bank of mum and dad, or even a bank loan—although these are hard to come by for training purposes. Remember you cannot start earning money for flying until you have passed your CPL(H) and this can take years to achieve. There are scholarships available, but they are uncommon. The best way to get someone else to pay for your training is via the military, but be mindful that once you have signed up, there is no guarantee that you will ever pilot a helicopter. Do a hideous amount of research and ask as many questions as you can.
Once you have selected the flight school you want to train with (read my how to choose the right helicopter flight school blog post here) and you are sure you can commit to training, obtain your Class 1 Medical certificate. Without a Class 1 you will never be able to fly commercially. There would be nothing worse than investing the best part of £70,000 to then discover you are not fit to fly. It has happened to people in the past and I know of at least two cases. Don’t think you will save money by obtaining a Class 2 just for your training. Be sure and do it right the first time, it is a huge weight off your shoulders and the cost of commercial training fair outweighs the difference between a Class 1 and Class 2.
Then get out and network, make contacts and build relationships. Don’t be afraid to do this as early as you can; contacts made now might be the difference of being considered first for a position. Once you land that first job, your return on investment can begin and your future as a helicopter pilot is secure.
Lastly, fly as often as possible, learn continuously from others, keep current with all the theory, challenge yourself and enjoy every minute.