Frequently Asked Questions
Age / Physical / Medical Questions
Cost / Loan / Financing Questions
Do I have to be an airplane pilot before I can learn to fly helicopters?
NO, absolutely NOT! There are many helicopter pilots who have never touched the controls in an
airplane and have no interest in learning to fly airplanes.
What do I have to do BEFORE I can begin my actual flight training in the helicopter?
NOTHING! There are NO prerequisites. You can begin training in the helicopter TODAY! We offer a special
introductory training lesson flight so you can try helicopter flying (hands-on) with no obligation. You
can begin at any age when you can reach the flight controls. There is no upper-age limit. You must be 16
years old to fly the helicopter solo (by yourself), 17 to get a Private Pilot's license and 18 years old
to get a Commercial Pilot's (and Flight Instructor's) license. At Northern Helicopters, we have trained
pilots (male and female) from teens to seniors.
How many hours of flight training does it take to get my helicopter license?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires a minimum of 40 hours of total flight time in the aircraft, including at least 20 hours of dual instruction (with a Certified Flight Instructor, or "CFI") and 10 hours of solo flight (by yourself, after proper training). Most people take a little longer to learn to control the aircraft well enough to pass the FAA "practical" flight test. The national average is about 50-60 hours. Be very suspicious if any flight school tells you anything different. Note: Pilots with airplane training need 10 fewer hours to obtain an "Add-On" rating.
How long a period of time will it take to earn my helicopter license?
That depends more on your schedule, budget and personal effort than anything else. Most flight schools like Northern Helicopters "tailor" a flight training program around an individual student's personal and business schedule. If you can study and fly full-time, it might only take a matter of weeks to complete an "accelerated" flight training program. You should try to fly at least twice a week to make good steady progress. If you train less often it will usually take more hours in the long run to get your license. But you still have to meet the 40-hour requirement in the aircraft.
Is a helicopter easier to learn to fly than an airplane?
Initially, it's more difficult to learn to control a helicopter. Helicopters are less stable (but not less safe) than airplanes. But once you learn to master the controls of the helicopter, it becomes instinctive. Then, like riding a bicycle, you can control the helicopter almost without thinking.
After I earn my helicopter license, what kinds of helicopters can I fly?
You can legally fly ANY type of helicopter, including turbine (jet) engine-powered helicopters or multi-engine helicopters up to a gross weight of 12,500 lbs. (Only a few VERY LARGE helicopters weigh more than that limit). The flight controls work the same in EVERY type and size of helicopter. To safely fly a different size or type of helicopter, however, will usually require some additional training in that aircraft. Often insurance companies will require a certain number of hours of experience before you can act as solo Pilot-in-Command of different sizes or types of aircraft.
Can we train in the winter, too?
You bet! We train year-round, all 365 days. There are very few days in the year that we CAN'T fly. The helicopter has an excellent cabin heater. Only high winds, storms or fog will ground us temporarily.
Can I rent a helicopter to fly after I get my license?
Absolutely! Northern Helicopters's approved licensed pilot graduates may rent our aircraft at a reduced rate for personal use, subject to our rental rules and agreement and our insurance requirements.
I've heard I have to take a flight physical. When? And what does that involve?
Yes, but not when you begin dual flight instructions, only before you are trained and ready to
fly the helicopter solo. The physical is very quick and easy. It consists of a eye test (like
the driver's license test) and a very simple physical exam from an FAA-trained doctor, called
an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). Unlike in the military, there are VERY FEW medical
(or eyesight) conditions that will prevent you from getting a civilian pilot's license.
Call or e-Mail us if you have any questions about the medical requirements, or we can refer
you to a FAA-approved doctor. The Private Pilot Physical is good for two or three years,
depending on your age. See more medical questions and answers in our section on 'Medical Questions' below.
Do I have to take a written FAA pilot test at some time?
Yes, but only before you take the FAA flight test (or "checkride") towards the end of your training program. You can begin training today and learn the material for the written test (called a "knowledge test" as you go along. The more you understand about the helicopter, however, the faster you will master flying the aircraft, so we encourage students to work on studying for the written test as soon as possible.
Is flying helicopters dangerous?
No, not for a properly trained pilot who exercises good judgment. If you encounter bad weather or have a mechanical problem, you can land a helicopter safely almost anywhere within a minute or two. Most helicopter accidents happen due to poor pilot judgment (or "pilot error:" flying too low and hitting wires (or other obstacles) or continuing to fly in bad weather or limited visibility (like fog). These accidents are avoidable by flying prudently.
If the engine quits, does the helicopter fall from the sky like a rock?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! A helicopter can "glide" with the power off using a technique called an "autorotation." As the helicopter descends, the air moving up through the rotor blades causes them to turn, providing lift, which allows the helicopter to come down at a constant rate, almost like a parachute. Part of your helicopter training will involve learning to perform autorotations. However, real engine failures in properly-maintained, FAA-certified helicopters like the Robinson R22 are extremely rare.
Can I land the helicopter anywhere I want to?
Almost anywhere, with some common-sense and legal limitations. The FAA is most concerned about safety. They prohibit landing on any area where your landing would represent a "hazard" to persons or property on the ground. However, if you have a property owner's permission, the area is safe and there are no local ordinances against landing, you may land most anywhere.
What kind of flying missions do helicopter pilots perform?
Helicopters do things no other aircraft or vehicle can even think of doing. Jobs for pilots include: Pilot training, law enforcement (DEA, Customs, Border Patrol, Local and State Police), fire fighting, news gathering, military operations, traffic reporting, heavy-lift work, crop spraying, offshore oil rig transport, search-and-rescue, air-ambulance hospital work, sightseeing, aerial photography and business transportation.
What's it take to become a professional helicopter pilot?
As with any professional lifetime career, it takes time to build enough flight experience to become employable. You first need to earn your Commercial Pilot's license, then you need to "build time" to be employable. The subject is somewhat complicated, so call us to discuss the path to becoming a career helicopter pilot. In the future, though, the job market is very good for helicopter pilots. See our page on becoming a professional helicopter pilot.
Are there any minimum formal educational requirements to become a helicopter pilot?
There are NO FAA minimum formal educational requirements to become a civilian helicopter pilot. The FAA does require,
however, that you are able to read, write, speak, and understand the English language. So you must be able to read well
enough to pass the FAA written "knowledge" test(s). Some simple math ability is also required to figure out helicopter
weight and balance and flight planning questions. So you don't need a formal or college education as long as you can
answer the questions on the FAA written "knowledge" tests.
Does Northern Helicopters accept students from foreign countries?
Does Northern Helicopters offer helicopter instrument flight training?
Northern Helicopters is proud to offer flight training for a helicopter instrument rating, a helicopter instrument
Flight Instructor Rating (CFII), and ATP training in our new R22 Instrument Trainer. Bear in mind that more and
more professional helicopter piloting jobs DO REQUIRE a helicopter instrument rating. Note: a pilot is NOT REQUIRED
to hold a helicopter instrument rating to become a helicopter Flight Instructor (CFI), however, a pilot IS required to hold an instrument rating in an airplane to become an airplane Flight Instructor.
Is Northern Helicopters an FAA Part 141 or Part 61 flight school?
Northern Helicopters is both Part 141 and Part 61.
Can ANYONE learn to fly a helicopter?
Most healthy people with correctable eyesight, normal hand-eye coordination, no major health issues, proper motivation and average or above-average intelligence can be trained to fly a helicopter. Some learn quicker than others. Some exceptions are people with severe motion-sickness problems, certain physical or mental handicaps, or an extreme fear of flying (some fear of flying is normal). A fear of heights is NOT a problem; believe it or not, many pilots are afraid of heights.
Age / Physical / Medical Questions
Do I have to pass the required FAA Medical exam BEFORE I can begin my flight training?
No. You can begin dual flight instruction BEFORE you take the FAA Medical. You must take and pass the medical before you are trained and authorized by your flight instructor to fly the helicopter solo (that is, by yourself). The physical is very quick and easy. It consists of an eye test (like the driver's license test) and a very simple physical exam from an FAA-trained doctor, called an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). Unlike in the military, there are VERY FEW medical (or eyesight) conditions that will prevent you from getting a civilian pilot's license. If you have a serious medical condition that you believe MIGHT prevent you from obtaining an FAA Medical, you should consult with an a FAA-approved doctor (called an AME, or Aviation Medical Examiner) BEFORE you begin Flight Training. The Private Pilot Physical is good for two or three years, depending on your age. You can find the names of local AMEs on the FAA's website. There is a link to that site at the end of this FAQ section on medical questions.
Can my personal physician administer the FAA Medical exam?
Not unless he or she is authorized by the FAA to do so. Doctors who CAN issue FAA Medicals are called Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) and have received special FAA training on the medical requirements for pilots, how to interpret the regulations, how to complete the proper paperwork, etc. There are about 5000 AMEs in the U.S. Check with your doctor to see if he or she is an AME.
What are the eyesight (and color vision) requirements for becoming a helicopter pilot?
In general, your vision must be CORRECTABLE (with glasses, contacts, surgery or a combination of these) to 20/40 for a Private Pilot Certificate and to 20/20 for a Commercial or Flight Instructor's Certificate (with no other major vision problems or diseases). Surgery or Lasik surgery is acceptable, as long as the surgery is successful and there are no complications that negatively affect your vision and you can pass the normal FAA Medical Exam. Partial color-blindness is not a major impediment. Pilots can be granted a medical waiver if they can distinguish the colors (red, green and white) of an FAA tower "light gun" used to signal pilot without radio communications working.
Are there minimum or maximum height or weight requirements to become a pilot?
The FAA does not set minimum or maximum height or weight requirements for flying any aircraft. However, you must be tall enough to reach the flight controls and not too tall to fit in the cockpit. To train in the Robinson R22 (2 place) helicopter, your weight should not be significantly over 240lbs; to train in the Robinson R44 (4-place) helicopter, it should not be significantly over 300 lbs.
Are there minimum or maximum age requirements for obtaining a pilot's license?
You can begin training at any age when you are tall enough reach the flight controls. There is no upper-age limit.
You must be 16 years old or older to fly the helicopter solo (by yourself), 17 to get a Private Pilot's license and
18 years old to get a Commercial Pilot's (and Flight Instructor's license. At Northern Helicopters Helicopter,
we have trained pilots (male and female) from teens to seniors.
What kinds of medical problems might prevent me from obtaining the required medical certificate?
There are very few medical problems that will keep you from obtaining at least a Private Pilot's license. Serious medical conditions such as diabetes, a history of heart disease, any condition that might cause you to lose consciousness or have seizures might make it very difficult to get and/or keep a valid FAA Medical Certificate. Requirements for a Commercial Pilot's license are somewhat more strict than for a Private certificate. Taking certain medications might also affect your ability to get an FAA Medical. We at Northern Helicopters are NOT doctors or experts on the Medical Regulations. If you have any specific questions about medical requirements, we suggest you contact or see an FAA Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) in your area. We strongly suggest you find a senior and very experienced AME if you have a serious medical condition. Most AMEs will do everything they can to help you get and keep a valid Medical Certificate. Many are pilots themselves. You can find local AMEs on the FAA's website. The link is shown below. Good luck!
Where can I get more detailed information on the FAA's Medical Requirements?
Click on this link to go to the FAA's website for more information and other links to AMEs, etc.
Cost and Financing Issues
What are the costs involved in earning a Helicopter PRIVATE Pilot's Certificate (License)?
The AVERAGE cost of obtaining a Private Certificate is about $12,000.
What are the costs involved in earning a Helicopter COMMERCIAL Pilot's Certificate (License)?
The cost of obtaining a Commercial Pilot Certificate is about an additional $20,000 after you have earned your
Private Pilot Certificate (see above). The AVERAGE cost of BOTH the Private and Commercial is about $32,000.
What are the costs involved in earning a Helicopter FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR's Certificate (CFI)?
The cost of obtaining a Flight Instructor's Certificate is about an additional $4,000 (if you have experience in the Robinson
helicopter) after you have earned your Commercial Pilot Certificate (see above). The AVERAGE TOTAL COST of
the Private and Commercial and Flight Instructor Certificates is about $36,000.
Why is it more expensive to fly helicopters than airplanes?
First of all, helicopters are more expensive to buy than airplanes of similar size and capacity. They are also more complex
and consequently more expensive to insure and maintain; there are more moving parts (like main and tailrotor gearboxes)
to service. On a typical small airplane, the engine and propeller are the only components that require a periodic
overhaul after a certain number of flight hours. On a typical helicopter, however, most major components have a
"timed life," or time-between-overhaul (TBO). Some components have to be replaced with new components after so many
hours of service. For example, the main rotor blades on a helicopter have to be replaced every couple thousands of
hours of flight time. Each new blade can cost thousands of dollars. These extra costs have to be factored into the
total hourly operating cost of the helicopter. It will typically cost about twice as much to fly a small helicopter
per hour than a small airplane.
Are there any sources of personal loans for Helicopter Pilot Training?
Northern Helicopters recommends a company named "Pilot Finance, Incorporated." Pilot Finance will make loans to people
with good credit for initial helicopter flight training. Northern Helicopters has proccured pilot financing from local
banks and institutions on an individual basis.
Can I obtain federal grants, loans or low-interest student loans?
ABSOLUTELY!! If you're interested, please talk to us and we'll share what we know with you.
Can I use my G.I. Bill Benefits for Helicopter Pilot Training?
There is no simple answer to this question because it depends on a number of factors.