It’s no surprise that people learn to fly helicopters, they do so for different reasons. Some fly because they have a passion for it, others take a flying experience for the thrill of it while some do so for a living. For some, becoming a helicopter pilot UK is the fulfillment of a dream.

For many, it’s a pleasurable hobby. Whatever be the case, you can learn to fly a helicopter in the United Kingdom. There are different avenues open to you. Let us take a look at what it takes to learn how to fly a helicopter, the costs involved, and the licensing authorities.

How to Fly a Helicopter?

  1. Begin by familiarizing yourself with the components and controls that you will work with. Learn the names and understand what they do. Find out how sensitive and responsive each control is. Read the operating handbook of the helicopter model you are going to train in. The essential controls of a helicopter include the collective mounted on the left of the pilot’s seat; the throttle is the grip at the end of the collective; the cyclic is the “stick” in the front of the pilot’s seat; and the tail rotor that is controlled by the two pedals on the floor.
  2. The helicopter’s capabilities and limitations are what makes it so dangerous. Most accidents happen when pilots attempt maneuvers that require more lift than the rotor system can produce, or power plant provides for them; this usually leads to an overload of this crucial component in flight which causes many crashes before their eyes witness as well other events like tail blows offs – all because they tried too hard.
  3. The collective control should be operated using the left hand. The helicopter rises when the collective is raised and descends when the collective is lowered. The throttle may have to be adjusted as necessary to adjust engine speed. Since the throttle, which increases RPM, is linked to the movement of the collective, this happens automatically.
  4. The cyclic control is moved with your right hand. It is similar to a joystick and very sensitive. It requires practice to control the cyclic. The helicopter moves forward when the cyclic is pushed ahead, back when pulled back, and sideways when this lever is adjusted to either side. The cyclic is not used for changing where the nose of the helicopter points.
  5. The tail rotor pedals are manipulated by foot. Also, known as anti-torque pedals, they control the direction in which the aircraft points. These are similar to the yaw pedals on an airplane.

Helicopter Training

Flight Crew Licensing requirements (FCL) specify that helicopter flying lessons acquired to obtain or keep a valid European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) license or rating must be obtained from an Approved Training Organization (ATO).

Flight training schools must comply with Organizations Requirements for Aircrew (ORA) regulations in order to be eligible to issue licenses. You must check with the training facility about the type of license they are going to provide you with.

  • Registered Training Facility (RTF) – An RTF provides training for the issuance of an EASA PPL (H) license. In the UK, only RTFs registered with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) can offer PPL(H) training. The CAA can carry out checks on any RTF to ensure that safety standards are met. An RTF can train on single-engine aircraft that seat four.
  • Type Rating Training Organization (TRTO) – TRTOs in the UK function under the formal approval of the CAA. These conduct ‘post qualification’ conversion training for different types and classes of helicopter. Invariably, the approvals are for single-pilot operated, single-engined helicopter types that pilots wish to obtain a license for. Some TRTOs are approved for single pilot, multi-engined light helicopters. Most helicopter operating training companies are TRTO approved for complex medium and large multi-pilot, multi-engined types flown by professional pilots to transport men and material across industries.
  • Flight Training Organizations (FTO) – An FTO, approved by the CAA, conducts advanced pilot training related to the issuance of a Commercial Pilot’s License, Instrument Rating or Instructor Rating. FTOs can have multiple approvals to conduct more than one of the above courses or be approved only for the commercial pilot or flying instructor’s course.

How to Get a Helicopter License?

The following helicopter pilot licensing options are available to you –

  • Private Pilot’s License (PPL(H)) – This is a basic helicopter license. It allows pilots to fly for non-commercial purposes, and only for private reasons. With a Light Aircraft Pilots License (LAPL(H)), you can fly helicopters weighing less than 2,000 kg and with no more than three passengers. This license is valid for flight in Europe and takes at least 40 hours of training. You cannot accept remuneration of any type, in cash or kind, with the LAPL(H) license. The PPL(H) flying course lasts for a minimum of 45 flight hours, both under instruction and independently. With a PPL (H) license, you can accept payment for many different activities. Usually, with this license, pilots earn remuneration as flying instructors. A PPL(H) license is earned after a cross-country navigation flight and simulated instrument flying. Additional tests must be cleared to acquire night flying privileges. Ground exams and aviation medical tests must be taken. A PPL package can cost more than £12,000. PPL regulations demand at least two hours of flying for the relevant helicopter type or group of types per year as well as an yearly test to ensure the required level of proficiency. You need to have flown a helicopter once in the past 90 days before flying passengers. PPL(H) validity extends only to the helicopter types mentioned in the license. In order to fly another type of helicopter, you need to undergo a 3-5 hour training depending on the type of helicopter.
  • Commercial Pilot’s License (CPL(H)) – This license can be acquired through the modular or integrated path. Modular training is a means for holders of the PPL(H) license to upgrade to a commercial pilot’s license. The modular commercial pilot’s training course can be undertaken at designated FTOs. A PPL(H) student choosing the modular system must clock a total of 155 hours of total flight time. Of these, 50 hours must be registered as the pilot in command of the aircraft. Apart from this, the student must complete 500 hours of theoretical studies that cover subjects including helicopter flying, aviation law, navigation, and flight performance. After successfully completing the theoretical studies and logging in the requisite flight hours, you can begin the 35-hour ‘Commercial Flying’ course. If you’ve obtained night flying privileges with your PPL(H) license, the flying time can be reduced to 30 hours. Once the course is over, you will have to pass a commercial pilot “skill test” with a CAA examiner and then the CPL(H) is issued. Modular training is preferred because it is a flexible option. It can be pursued at your pace and can be finished either full-time or part time. The full-time course lasts for nine months. Integrated courses for a commercial pilot’s license are availed at approved FTOs. These formal courses are provided by aviation colleges that specialize in covering all aspects of the training – practical and theoretical – in a single course. Such courses are conducted over 12 months and have predetermined enrollment dates. Requirements for admission to these courses include 5 GCSEs that include English and math, or physics, a professional pilot medical certificate, and aptitude tests. The integrated system provides 135 hours of flying time in the helicopter with 50 hours in command of the aircraft. The theoretical classes last for 500 hours; these are followed by nine CPL(H) exams. The students then have to clear a commercial pilot “skill test” before being handed the CPL(H) license. The CPL(H) course costs around £50,000 with lodging and boarding costs being extra.
  • The Airline Transport Pilot’s License (ATPL(H)) – This is a senior license that requires 1000 hours of flight and of these 250 hours must be in command of the aircraft. The ATPL(H) license requires that you hold a valid Instrument Rating (IR) and have a minimum of 70 hours of instrument flight time under your belt. You must also have 350 hours of experience flying a multi-crew, multi-engine helicopter. A frozen ATPL(H) license can be acquired via an integrated ATPL(H) course where the student has at least 750 hours of flight training before attempting the 14 ATPL(H) exams. Upon graduation, you will earn the CPL(H) along with IR(H) with ATPL(H) privileges frozen till you have acquired the required experience. Modular training gives you the flexibility to study for the 14 ATPL(H) exams instead of the CPL(H) papers. To qualify for this option, you must have undertaken at least 650 hours of Theoretical Knowledge in the classroom or via distance learning. As with the integrated course, the ATPL(H) privileges are frozen till Instrument Rating IR(H) is obtained.

Cost of Helicopter Lessons

As mentioned, a PPL course costs around £12,000. It may cost more or less depending upon an individual’s circumstances. Modular courses cost more because of the flexibility offered. You can continue with your routine and even attend office. Integrated courses cost less but offer little freedom. You have to finish the course in a time-bound manner.

Additional costs to consider include hourly aircraft hire rates, instructor fees, skills test examiner fee, exam and test fees, fuel costs, landing fees, school membership fees, and cancellation fees. Check with the helicopter flight training school if the costs are a part of the package or you will have to pay for these separately.

Non flight school costs include class 2 medical certificate fee, CAA license issue fees, and equipment and learning material. Stationery and textbooks also add up to the costs.

You may opt for tuitions in the form of specialist ground courses, instead of self-study. Additional flight equipment not mandatory but useful is another expense.

Costs vary between flight schools. Aircraft hire rates are not consistently priced across airfields. Reputed schools can charge more. Basically, you need to ask around. Shop around. Compare. Students who can complete the course quickly can do so at a lower cost. They need less practice and consume fewer study resources to clear tests. However, if you’re the type who’s in no rush to complete the course and enjoys the flights then you will pay more.

 Cost of Obtaining the Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)

The Class 1 medical certificate required for ATPL studies can cost between £600 – £700. The night rating course, hour building, training to fly multi-engine helicopters, and ground school are significant contributors to the cost of obtaining an ATPL(H). The final cost varies with the choice of a modular or integrated system. 

How to Pay for Helicopter Flight School?

Paying for helicopter flight school can be done from your own pocket, sponsorship, or a loan. Consider the pay-as-you-go model, it is the safest. If a flight school folds, you don’t have a real chance of getting refunded. This happens.

If you already have a flying qualification, you stand a better chance of getting sponsored. Age between 18-27, Class 1 medical certificate, and education up to ‘A’ level are other factors that will work in your favor if you seek sponsorship.

Important Considerations Before Paying the Fees for Helicopter License Training

Asking for a trial flying lesson before committing to helicopter pilot training is a wise thing to do. You will learn if you’re cut out for flying a helicopter. Trial lessons are cheaper. Before certificates are issues, you need to prove that you’re physically fit for the job. This is done via an aviation medical executed by an Authorized Medical Examiner (AME). Instead of paying for the course, then discovering that you’re medically unfit, it’s a far better idea to get this test done in the beginning itself. Local helicopter flight training schools will tell you about AMEs in the vicinity where you can get yourself medically checked.

Regarding helicopter pilot jobs UK, know that experienced pilots will always get precedence over newly qualified ones. Helicopter pilot salaries for experienced pilots are also higher. The supply and demand can fluctuate between years. Ex-military pilots add to the competition.

Helicopter Licensing Authority in the UK

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulates helicopter licensing in the UK. Licenses vary by ability, type and class of aircraft, and instrument qualification.

Read on to learn more about flying in the UK here.