Helicopter Pilot

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Helicopter Pilot


Flying for most of us is quite a treat. Being up in the air heading to new and exciting destinations is thrilling to tourists, but for helicopter pilots, it's all in a day's work.

Helicopter pilots fly helicopters for emergency rescue services, to transport cargo, passengers, and soldiers. They might take daredevil snowboarders to high mountain altitudes, or transport an accident victim from a crash site to a hospital. Helicopter pilots can also help with logging, search-and-rescue missions, forest firefighting, aerial photography, and traffic reports for media sources.

But all pilots, from the ones flying skiers to the top of a ski run to the ones flying blankets and canned veggies to flood victims, are responsible for similar things. They must ensure that the helicopter's engines, flight systems, and instruments are all functioning; they must plan and chart a course using aeronautical charts and navigation instruments; and they must ensure that all safety resources are ready.

Flying a helicopter is not easy. It requires patience and skill. Operating a helicopter involves controlling the direction of flight with your right hand, controlling altitude with your left hand, pushing pedals with your feet to keep the machine pointing in the right direction, while scanning the instrument panel and navigating. This complicated, hands-on flying requires good training and hours of practice. Helicopter pilots must take many hours of in-class as well as in-flight classes, and pass difficult tests, including physical fitness and eyesight exams.

Flying an aircraft can be fun, exciting, dangerous, and interesting. Piloting helicopters can allow you to see places you never thought you would, as helicopters can access locations many planes are unable to get to. However, it is not a career to step up to lightly; carrying a heavy amount of responsibility is the only way you'll get to soar.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Helicopter pilots must be confident in their abilities, with good leadership qualities and the skill to work well with others. They should feel comfortable interacting with everyone from laborers to company presidents. They must be level-headed, and be able to make decisions under pressure. They should enjoy flying, have good spatial perception, motor skills, and excellent eyesight, with or without glasses. They need to have excellent hearing, be in good health, and have mechanical abilities.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Regular reviews of equipment, procedures, and safety programs
  • Calculate and review flight plans
  • Check emergency systems, radios, fuel load, etc., before take off
  • Make position reports
  • Keep log of flight data
  • Navigate using landmarks, compasses, radio equipment and maps
  • Monitor flight systems
  • Find weather conditions en route
  • Respond to any emergencies that arise
  • Helicopter pilots have many important tasks to complete every day. They are in charge of ensuring the safe travel of the passengers and cargo. Each task is crucial to a successful flight. Helicopter pilots monitor safety systems, and flight systems, as well as keep accurate reports on flight progress. They of course get to travel--but rarely do they get to do any sightseeing!

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Helicopter pilots spend their working hours in the air. They work in small, cramped cockpits, often in remote areas, and can be away from home for extended periods of time. They are employed by the military, the government, media companies, or tourism initiatives. They may fly alone or with a co-pilot.
  • They can be hard at work in evenings, on weekends, and holidays. While they are rare, pilots must be prepared for dangerous situations like storms, emergency landings, and crashes.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Helicopter pilots can work for small, charter companies, or fly with major airlines. They can fly personal jets or company planes, or become test pilots, flight instructors, or helicopter pilots. Some may choose to join the military and use their skills to deliver food, supplies, or other forms of relief aid, as well as weapons. They can stop flying, and become air traffic controllers, or write about their experiences.

  Educational Paths  
While a university education isn't required of helicopter pilots, it's always an advantage, as is a college or technical diploma. Once that is finished, pilots need to pursue the minimum licensing requirement for helicopter pilots in a Commercial Helicopter Pilot's License. The qualifying course takes three to six months to complete, and is offered at various flying clubs and schools, as well as the military, throughout the nation. The cost varies from one organization to another, so it is best to check around. Those wanting to become helicopter pilots will also need to pass a medical and fitness test when applying for the license.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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