The Private Pilot’s Licence Course for helicopters is a minimum of 45 hours. We will tell you our first truth and say that very rarely, if ever, do people go on to complete the course in the minimum number of hours. The true number of hours it takes to pass the PPL(H) course depends on how long it takes to achieve a safe standard in over 30 different flying exercises within the syllabus and naturally, you will be better at some than others. Read on to find out what is really involved!
First thing’s first, you have to learn to walk before you can run.
This means learning the absolute basics about how the helicopter flies, what each control does and how to use them to achieve a certain goal, such as flying accurately straight and level or making speed changes without gaining or losing height. During these first exercises you will also become more proficient at checking the helicopter before flight, starting the helicopter up, and generally becoming more familiar with the airfield environment and local area from above.
Once you have mastered the basics you will then be introduced to the hover, an accurate and stable hover is needed in order to take-off and land. Here is another truth: the hover can be tricky to master, it takes time, practise and perseverance. Sometimes it can even become a little frustrating. Why won’t it just hold still…what is my instructor doing that I’m not! There isn’t one simple tip or trick that will make the hover click right away, it simply takes practise that you haven’t had yet. You will get there, and when you do, it will open the door to so many more exercises and challenges such as hover-taxiing, spot turns, the approach and departure, taking off, landing and circuits. This is when you will really start to feel like a pilot.
Handling the machine isn’t everything.
Of course being able to handle the helicopter safely in varying winds and other conditions is very important, but there is more to being a helicopter pilot than just being good at the flying. You also need to be capable of navigating, using the radio, assessing the weather conditions, planning your route and making decisions. In the early days while you are concentrating on learning how to fly the helicopter, your instructor does this part for you, but progressively you will take on more of this responsibility until you are ready for your final test, at which point everything rests with you. Just as it will when you are a fully qualified pilot.
Everyone’s path is different.
How many hours will it take? How long will it take? The answer partly comes down to you. We all have a life to lead and flying helicopters will almost certainly have to fit in and around your other commitments. For most people, a weekly hour-long lesson is enough to see progress through the course but then the chances are this is going to exceed 12 months. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, it means you are able to take your time with the theoretical exams. It also means you will experience flying throughout all seasons of the year.
Twice-weekly is more preferable to complete slightly quicker, it also means you are less likely to forget things from the previous lesson. Often after learning a new exercise you will be eager to jump back into the seat for more practise and a week can seem a long way away.
Is it possible to fly too much? Can you have too much of a good thing? The simple answer is yes. Flying too much can mean you don’t get the time between flights to process the information and actually, this time gives your instructor chance to think about how to structure the next lesson to make it most interesting and beneficial to you.
What does it really take to become a helicopter pilot?
Truthfully, becoming a pilot requires some dedication, it requires you to hone your skills, to master your technique, and to practise, practise, and then practise some more. You have to push through the difficult parts, but remember we are here to embrace the challenges with you, to help you improve and become the best you can be, and make it all enjoyable along the way. Nothing worth having is ever easy, but getting there makes your achievement that much more special.