Five Essential Things You Should be Doing When Building Helicopter Hours

So, you’ve qualified as a helicopter pilot, proud of your new skills and the huge accomplishment that you have achieved. And rightly so. You are now part of a niche of pilots who are not only able to fly, but also enjoy the freedom to hover and land at locations that don’t have runways.

The period that follows your PPL(H) qualification can be a pivotal one for many helicopter pilots. It is important that you continue to build on your new skills and add to the databank of experience as you become a more confident helicopter pilot.

And this is true whether you aspire to fly professionally for a living or are simply going to fly privately.

You’re next step is the period where you learn those essential skills to keep you safe, growing in competency and also continuing to enjoy your piloting.

It’s Called Hour Building.

Hour building is the process of going from a private pilot to the stage before your commercial flying course. The idea of which is to make you an experienced private pilot by exposing yourself to more hours in the air. What you do is entirely up to you to build this experience, however we’d suggest don’t waste these hours away.

Instead, use them productively.

Here are our top 5 recommendations on how to get some more as a helicopter pilot and challenge yourself:

1. Fly to a Busy Airport.

Not Heathrow, simply a busy airport. Our Walton Wood headquarters is a small private airfield and we are convinced that this is still the best and most economical way of training. As you progress, we will have also flown into larger airports as you learn more radio skills and air traffic procedures. To build upon that, it’s very good practise to fly into larger airports, such as East Midlands, Newcastle or Leeds Bradford.

Once you’ve regularly successfully negotiated your way into one of these you will have acquired the confidence to try the others. It is excellent radio practise and will involve multiple frequency changes. Telephone ahead to let them know you are coming and that it is your first-time in. Take an instructor too who has done it before for a bit of company and to assist if you have questions.

2. Fly The London Heli Lanes.

You may well have had a go at this in your training if you fly from a London based school but for those of you who learnt to fly in quieter airspace this is a real novelty. The airspace surrounding London can be some of the busiest in the world and for this reason very specific routes for helicopters have been mapped out that must be followed. We’d suggest it is essential to take an instructor for your first go. You will receive a brief on how it works and the radio calls to make. Unlike an ordinary zone transit there is a bit of additional terminology to learn. The views are priceless, with the skyscrapers of London in such close proximity as you fly along the River Thames, with airliners above you and the streets of London below.

3. Crossing the Channel to France.

Le Touquet has long been a favourite for a first-time water crossing and their Air Traffic Service are more than familiar with pilots flying to France for the first time. This may well be the first time you will have submitted a real flight plan which is essential. Crossing the open water and flying to France also requires more consideration to other planning factors than you may be used to. We can guide you through all of this.

Pick some fine summer weather, enjoy the achievement of talking with French air traffic control and land in mainland Europe of the first time having flown there yourself. Best of all, with cycles ready to ride away at the airport, it would be rude not to go into town for some excellent French lunch before your flight back.

4. Keep Honing Your Skills.

Don’t take your eye off the end goal. The commercial flying course can be demanding – it’s supposed to be – and if you aren’t 100% ready it can mean it is harder than it actually needs to be. Review what is required of you during the CPL course or speak to one of our instructors who can guide you through the different elements.

Fly some short and accurate navigation exercises and be strict with yourself on height and speed control and keep jumping in with an instructor to keep your emergency procedures sharp. Although the general process of hour building can bring exciting and fun challenges it can also cause you to develop a few bad habits.

5. Get Used to Taking Passengers

One of the best benefits of becoming a helicopter pilot is taking friends flying to share the views. When you first qualify, there is nothing wrong with flying alone while you practise what you have learnt and your confidence builds.

Eventually though, you will give in to your friends and family who are all wanting to have a flight and find out what you’ve become so obsessed and passionate about!

In the right situation this can apply some healthy, positive pressure. You are responsible for them and should take all precautions to ensure the flight is smooth and careful.

Brief them as if they are any other passenger. Ultimately once you are flying commercially you will find yourself taking passengers for real and it’s good to get used to the increased workload this brings.

If you are fortunate, there is nothing wrong with the passengers contributing to the direct cost associated with your flight as long as you don’t make a profit. Ask your instructor to assist with easing your workload by helping passengers in and out, particularly if you are doing multiple flights in the same day.

These are five of our favourite things that we encourage anyone who qualifies as a helicopter pilot to do. Even if you do not plan to fly commercially and make a living as a helicopter pilot, these ideas are all great things to be trying as your confidence builds.

If you plan to fly for fun, they will help keep your interest in flying helicopters at a point when you may be wondering what to do next with your new licence. And if you’re planning to be a professional helicopter pilot, they are all essential developments in your skills that will prove invaluable in your new career.