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Home > Blog > Learning To Fly A Helicopter

Learning to Fly a Helicopter

Posted 13 Feb 2023


Fly a Helicopter

In this guide, we will go through the pros and cons of flying helicopters, the numerous difficulties and challenges, and the training required to become a capable helicopter pilot.



Flying helicopters offer a widely different experience than flying winged aircraft. The ability to hover, take off, and land in the same place is one of the biggest advantages of flying helicopters which opens up a world of possibilities!

If you are looking to learn how to fly a helicopter then this guide is just for you. Learning how to fly helicopters requires the same level of skill, intuition, and training involved with winged aircraft but it can also have its own set of challenges.

In this guide, we will go through the pros and cons of flying helicopters, the numerous difficulties and challenges, and the training required to become a capable helicopter pilot.

COMPONENTS OF A HELICOPTER

The controls and components of a helicopter are very different from regular winged aircraft. There are primarily three main control components required to fly it:

  • Pedals
  • Collective
  • Cyclic

Pedals

The pedals of the helicopter are responsible for yawing (turning). There are two separate pedals but both of them control the rotor blades that provide a lateral force that counteracts the torque provided by the main rotor at the top of the helicopter.

Pressing the left pedal down will cause the helicopter to turn or rotate towards the left side while the right pedal also known as the power pedal will increase lift and cause the helicopter to yaw to the right side.

The pedals play a pivotal role in controlling the aircraft and are always used in conjunction with the other control components of the helicopter.

Collective

The collective is a lever usually located on the left side of the pilot. The collective is responsible for changing the angle of attack of the rotor blade. If the collective is pulled up, the angle of attack increases which causes more lift and consequently allows the aircraft to hover or climb.

Pulling down the lever decreases the angle of attack and allows the aircraft to climb down. The collective works in tandem with the pedals and cyclic to provide a controlled take-off and landing.

Cyclic

The cyclic is responsible for the direction of the aircraft. It is located in the middle of the cockpit between the legs of the pilot. The cyclic can be moved in four directions: forwards, backwards, left, and right.

Moving the cyclic forward will cause the helicopter to tilt forward and move ahead while moving it left or right will cause it to strafe in either direction. When the cyclic is pulled back, the helicopter levels out and hovers in a still position.

However, for the helicopter to hover, the pilot needs to control all three controls, pedals, cyclic, and collective to maintain stability. This is due to wind speed and other factors that can cause an imbalance in the control of the helicopter.

Instrument Panel

The instrument panel of the helicopter is another factor that pilots must keep in mind at all times while flying a helicopter.

The instrument panel has a host of important gauges and indicators that the pilot must use to successfully take off, land, and generally fly a helicopter. For example, before flying, the pilot must first go through all the necessary prechecks involving the rotors, pedals, cyclic, and collective.

The instrument panel also has a range of warning indicators that can highlight problems during every phase of flight which the pilot can use to quickly adapt and take corrective measures.

Many of the prechecks involved in flying a helicopter overlap with winged aircraft, but there are a set of extra components like the main rotor RPM indicator, vertical speed indicator, and numerous engine instruments that pilots must keep an eye on when flying a helicopter.  

ADVANTAGES OF FLYING A HELICOPTER

Now that we have outlined the basic controls of a helicopter, let’s take a look at a few advantages of flying it over winged aircraft.

Precise Manoeuvrability

The biggest advantage of flying helicopters is their versatility. Helicopters use multiple controls to stabilise the aircraft in various positions which allows it to precisely move according to the pilot's input.

This means that helicopters can easily reach remote areas and fly over challenging terrain without needing an airstrip to land and take off. Furthermore, since the pilot constantly controls the direction and stability of the aircraft, they can quickly and easily adjust to changing wind conditions too.

Unlike winged aircraft, helicopters can rotate, fly backwards (although not recommended), and descend and ascend in a precise and stable manner.

Vertical Take-off/Landing

The ability to take off and land in the same spot is one of the reasons why helicopters are preferred over winged aircraft. This unique ability allows for greater control, stability, and safety for the pilot.

However, since helicopters require a constant adjustment of the cyclic, pedals, and collective, landing and take-off requires a considerable level of skill and “feel”. While most pilots can easily take off a helicopter, mastering the skill to land is extremely important as even a slight miscalculation or tilt in the aircraft can cause a rough landing.

Numerous Flying Scenarios

Another advantage of flying a helicopter is that it opens up possibilities for numerous flying scenarios. As we mentioned above, since helicopters can be quite precise in how they fly, they are suitable for a range of applications.

For example, helicopters are widely used by emergency medical services to quickly and safely reach challenging spots, whether it be over large water bodies, open fields, or even buildings.

They are also indispensable in the context of military operations! Even for general purposes, helicopters can be used for touring the skies and exploring terrains with the ability to hover. They are also widely used by filmmakers and photographers to get breathtaking shots from the skies.

CHALLENGES OF FLYING A HELICOPTER

The primary challenge in flying a helicopter lies in its controls. Since the aircraft requires constant feedback from the pilot, it can be difficult to develop an intuition and feel for the aircraft due to its complexity.

Here are the top challenges of flying a helicopter:

Complex Controls

We have already discussed the three main flight components of a helicopter that enable it to fly uniquely when compared to winged aircraft but these controls are also quite difficult to master. On top of this, pilots must also keep an eye on the instrument panel and even, at times, make quick manoeuvres to control the aircraft.  

Essentially, the pilot will need to be fully engaged while flying a helicopter and require a very high level of attention that is usually not required for flying winged aircraft.

Also, subtle conditions related to weather, airspeed, altitude, etc, can make it difficult to fly helicopters. Pilots also need to develop a high sense of coordination since they will be controlling all three flight components at the same time during every phase of the flight, even while the aircraft is on the ground.

Hovering and Landing Challenges  

If you have ever seen a helicopter graciously hover, land, and take off and think that it was easy then you would be very wrong.

Each phase of the flight requires constant control and input from the pilot and as we have already mentioned, if the pilot does not have good coordination, then they will likely not be able to efficiently fly the helicopter.

Unlike winged aircraft, helicopter pilots must constantly maintain a “feel” for the aircraft and be wary of the shifts in the centre of gravity to maintain stability while hovering, taking off, and landing.

In addition to this, flying a helicopter can be particularly challenging in adverse weather conditions. Since this aircraft is highly susceptible to subtle changes in wind and weather, pilots will need to master their skills in every flying scenario to successfully maintain control of the aircraft.

LEARNING HOW TO FLY A HELICOPTER

Flying a helicopter requires a lot of training and can also be costly as maintaining and operating a helicopter is more expensive than smaller winged aircraft.

Helicopters also have a wide variety of controls and onboard systems that require constant monitoring which means that pilots have to train for all of these systems to fly them perfectly.

Here are some of the factors involved with flying a helicopter:

Licence

Just like private and commercial pilots require a PPL and CPL to fly winged aircraft, helicopter pilots also require a private or commercial licence for helicopters, often abbreviated as a PPL-H or a CPL-H.

It is important to note that these licences are exclusive to flying helicopters and PPL/CPL holders for winged aircraft will need to obtain a separate licence for flying helicopters.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also mandates a separate valid medical certificate for each type of licence in order to fly helicopters.

The minimum age requirement to fly a helicopter as per the CAA is 17 years but a candidate can also learn to fly at a younger age (usually 14 years) with the accompaniment or consent of their parent or guardian.

Training

Flying helicopters involves theoretical and practical training. While the theoretical training for helicopters is largely similar to winged aircraft, there are a few important distinctions that are unique to helicopter training.

For example, pilots are expected to master aerodynamics, air laws, regulation, and navigation training along with specific modules related to hovering, helicopter flight controls, instrument training, performance training, and more.

The practical training of helicopters is also understandably different from winged aircraft. Helicopter pilots require more flight training time as well. Private pilots require a minimum of 45 hours of flight time with at least 20 hours of solo training, while commercial pilots require a minimum of 150 hours which includes 50 hours of cross-country flight.

Costs

Due to the complexity of helicopters and their maintenance, landing fees, and fuel expenses, helicopter training is generally expensive. The average cost for learning how to fly a helicopter for PPL candidates is about £25,000 while CPL candidates can see costs as high as up to £70,000.

However, the total cost can vary depending on where you learn, the type of equipment and facilities available at the flight school, instructor quality, and many other factors related to the duration and type of training.

Career

Learning to fly a helicopter opens up a range of career options that aren’t available to winged aircraft pilots. For example, CPL(H) holders can get employed for emergency services and transport to and from oil rigs or other remote locations that are inaccessible for winged aircraft.

Helicopter pilots can also use their commercial licence to get employed in the tourism industry and they can even get hired by studios to help them get scenic shots!

Furthermore, PPL(H) pilots can also explore more freely when flying helicopters and they can also expand their skill set by learning challenging manoeuvres.

BEST FLIGHT SCHOOLS FOR HELICOPTER TRAINING

Helicopter training isn’t readily available in every flight school. Due to the high costs associated with owning a fleet of helicopters and other associated expenses, not many flight schools offer a dedicated flight programme for PPL-H or CPL-H candidates.

However, there are a few good flight schools that not only provide in-depth and quality training but also have a range of facilities and highly experienced faculty to help you learn how to not just fly but also master helicopters.

Flight schools like Sherburn Aero Club have a separate wing dedicated to helicopter training that is provided by well-experienced and highly capable pilots. Hields Aviation, which is based in Sherburn, offers not just helicopter pilot training but also charter brokerage and experienced flights as well!

Hields Aviation offers a range of flight training facilities that includes a full-fledged helicopter simulator for serious training and recreational flying as well. With a fleet of highly-maintained helicopters, Sherburn is the best place to start for not just newcomers but every type of aviation enthusiast.

WHY CHOOSE SHERBURN AERO CLUB?

Whether it's helicopter or winged aircraft training, Sherburn Aero Club is the best place for all your aviation needs.

With a large fleet of new aircraft and an airfield refurbishment with new runways, hangars, and an extended clubhouse, Sherburn caters to brand-new flyers who have just started their journey to the skies, as well as seasoned flyers who have been operating aircraft for decades.

For those who wish to experience the thrill of a flight for fun or to help fuel their aviation dreams, Sherburn offers experience flights for the newbie, as well as the veteran.  If you don’t know where to start then you need a flight school like Sherburn to guide you through the entire process of any type of flight programme.

With us, you can begin your career in aviation or even take to the skies as a hobby. Sherburn’s flight training school offers private and commercial licences, along with pilot medicals to ensure a smooth journey going forward.

Sherburn Aero Club, which has been operational since 1964, is the ideal place for most of your training and flying needs. It is one of the largest flying clubs in the North of England and also one of the largest in the country.

The flight experience option is also available for people who wish to take to the skies for special occasions, even if they aren’t into aviation in the long run.

Sherburn also offers a dedicated day-long Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL) course for those wishing to get the certification, running the first Sunday of every month.

In addition to that, if you are looking for a hangarage for your own aircraft, need servicing or repairs, want to buy a new aircraft or aviation equipment, or are just looking to enjoy and watch the aircraft, Sherburn Aero Club is the place to be.

Call us on 01977 682 674​​​, email us at flightdesk@sherburnaeroclub.com, or message us via our online contact form for more information on learning how to fly helicopters or any type of aircraft!

Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash 


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