How to Become a Helicopter Pilot With SUU Aviation

Posted: August 15, 2019 | Author: Jaidyn Crookston | Read Time: 9 minutes

So you’re wondering what it takes to become a helicopter pilot. Because the demand for pilots is high and expected to grow even higher in the coming years, now is a great time to become a pilot. As an added bonus, pilots make great money and enjoy generous benefits. Pilots come from all types of backgrounds, and most people qualify. 

So what does it take to become a fully licensed, employable helicopter pilot? Here are five steps that will lead you to the job of your dreams.

Select a Flight School

There are hundreds of flight schools throughout the country and it’s important that you choose the school that is right for you. A few questions to ask when looking for a flight school:

how to become a helicopter pilot

  • What certifications does it offer? Will you only earn your private and commercial certifications or are others available? The certifications that you should earn in order to be above the competition and land an amazing job include private helicopter pilot certification, commercial helicopter pilot certification, instrument rating, certified flight instructor, certified flight instructor instrument, turbine transition, external load, mountain operations, and night vision goggles.

  • What type of aircraft will you be flying? Most flight schools train students on either the R22 or the R44. While the R22 is cheaper to fly, the R44 is safer and will prepare you better.

  • Will you be flying turbine?

  • What type of area will you be flying in? Will you gain experience in mountain operations and night vision goggles, or will you only be trained in a flat, low surface?

  • What is the altitude of the flight school? The higher altitude you are flying, the more difficult it is to fly, so you will have better training and be more qualified. 

  • What degrees does the school offer? Does the school offer an associate or bachelor’s degree?

  • How long will it take to graduate? 

  • What is the school’s job placement rate?

  • How soon will you be flying?

  • What are the weather conditions? Are the conditions typically the same every day or will you get experience in many different kinds? How many good flying days are there per year?

  • How many hours will you graduate with?

Don’t hesitate to apply to the flight school of your choice. Often, there is limited availability and in order to secure your spot, you should apply as early as possible. 

helicopters flying in SUU's helicopter pilot program

Find Funding

Once you have found the right flight school, you will need to find funding. The best place to start is by looking for scholarships. There are many scholarships available to flight school students, as well as grants and student loans. It is important to find a flight school that will work closely with you to ensure that you are getting the best deal on your schooling. You will want to find a school that does all it can to help each student find the funding he or she needs. 

If you are a veteran, then it is likely that your VA Benefits will cover all the costs of flight school, including flight fees and tuition. However, only about three schools in the nation accept full VA Benefits, Southern Utah University is one of them. As a veteran, you may also qualify for the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), meaning that while you are in flight school, part of your housing costs may be covered (up to $1300 per month). 

Attend and Graduate

Once you have chosen your flight school and found the necessary funding, it is time to go to school and learn how to fly a helicopter. Flight school takes a lot of dedication and hard work, but the end result will far outweigh the challenges. By the time you graduate, you will be qualified to fly a helicopter for a living. 

While in school, you will take challenging classes and forge lasting friendships with both your fellow students and with your instructors. The helicopter industry is a tight, well-connected community. Take advantage of the resources your school offers, such as scholarships, financial aid, and study groups.  

Before you are able to graduate, you will need to decide whether you want to earn an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. SUU Aviation is one of the few flight schools to offer both an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree and is the only university to offer a master’s degree with a flight emphasis. As a student, you will be a fully trained, qualified helicopter pilot and will earn your associate degree in less than two years. You can then choose to continue your education and earn a bachelor’s degree, or enter the workforce and start earning money right away. Here are some benefits to earning a bachelor’s degree:

  • You will earn more money and have higher pay on average

  • You may have the opportunity to work as a Certified Flight Instructor (again earning more flight hours)

  • You will have more time to pay off any student loans you may have taken out

  • You will have an advantage over other pilots who have not earned a bachelor’s degree

  • You will be more qualified to work in a management position if so desired

There are many reasons to get a bachelor’s degree but you don’t have to decide right now. You can change your mind at any time and take whichever path is best for you. 

helicopter pilot in training

Get a Certified Flight Instructor Job

Once you graduate from flight school, you’ll most likely begin working as a flight school instructor. As an instructor, you can earn about $60,000 a year, according to This job is a great way to build your flight hours, as well as experience to impress future employers. It takes about 1,000 hours of flight time to qualify for a great helicopter pilot job, and many of those hours will be earned as an instructor. 

It is common to be hired as a CFI at your own flight school. While in school, do your best and show the instructors and chief pilots that you are hard-working and not afraid of a challenge. If you choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree, then you may be able to work as a CFI at the same time, helping you earn flight hours and make money while still in school.

Ways to improve your chances of being hired as a CFI:

  • Get good grades

  • Show your instructors that you are hard-working and love a challenge

  • Be dedicated to your education. The instructors will notice.

  • Do your best

  • Go above and beyond

Get a High Paying Helicopter Pilot Job

After earning around 1,000-1,500 hours of flight time, you will be qualified to land a higher-paying job as a helicopter pilot. There are many different types of helicopter jobs in many different industries, ranging from agriculture, entertainment, touring, and instructing to law enforcement, medical, management, and military. If you go into one job and then decide that you want to try a different one, you can easily transition with a minimum amount of extra training. With so many options, you’re bound to find a job you enjoy and look forward to every day.

Ways to impress your employer and land a job:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree

  • Have a lot of extra certifications

  • Have good references

  • Have experience in different types of aircraft

  • Be friendly and hardworking

These are the five steps it takes to become a helicopter pilot. While it may seem like a lot of work, the end result will be well worth the effort. Having a helicopter pilot's license in an awesome opportunity and will open many doors for you in the future. Being a helicopter pilot is an amazing job, with lots of benefits and great pay. Plus, you’ll get to fly for a living! 

If you are looking into becoming a helicopter pilot, be sure to check out our program. SUU Aviation is one of the top flight schools in the country and is home to the largest collegiate helicopter fleet in the nation. Feel free to request information and come in for a tour of our facilities and an intro flight in a helicopter. Don’t hesitate to follow your dreams!

SUU's Helicopter Fleet - Pilot Training Program

Frequently Asked Questions

How much money does a helicopter pilot make?

The average salary of a helicopter pilot is around $94,000, with a typical pilot earning between $80,000 and $121,000. This is once you have earned your 1,000 hours and qualify for the higher-paying jobs in the industry. As a brand new pilot just out of school, you can expect to earn about $60,000 according to 

How much does flight school cost?

If you are a qualified veteran, then the entire SUU Aviation program will cost you almost nothing. You will be able to use your VA Benefits to pay for the entire program, as well as possibly qualifying for BAH, so even your housing may be paid for. It almost sounds too good to be true. 

If you are not a veteran, then there are many different options for funding, including scholarships, financial aid, and student loans. We are dedicated to helping our students through the program as affordably as possible, so we will be here to help you find the funds you need. 

How long does the program take?

With our program, you can graduate with an Associate’s degree as a fully trained, qualified helicopter pilot in less than two years. If you want to continue learning and earning more flight hours, you can get a Bachelor’s degree in four years. This is a great opportunity for veterans because your schooling will be paid in full for four years when you use your VA benefits. This will let you leave our program with a bachelor’s degree and hundreds of flight hours, and having a degree will put you ahead of the competition when it comes to finding a job.

Will I be able to find a job after I graduate?

At SUU Aviation, we have a job placement rate of over 95%. This means that over 95% of our students are able to find a job soon after graduation. We also have multiple partnerships with helicopter industry companies and are dedicated to helping you find a job that you love. 

Helicopter pilots are in high demand, and that demand is expected to grow even higher in coming years. Because of this, finding a job as a helicopter pilot will not be difficult and your skills will be greatly valued. 

How soon will I start flying?

Most students start flying in a helicopter within the first two weeks you are here. Many other flight schools take months to get a new student into the air, but at SUU Aviation, you will be flying in a helicopter within a few weeks. 

What if I already have a degree?

If you already have a degree, no worries. You are still qualified to become a helicopter pilot.

Is it a good time to become a pilot?

Helicopter pilots are in high demand, and that demand is expected to grow even higher in coming years. Right now, the helicopter industry is facing a shortage of 49,000 pilots worldwide. As demand for pilots rises even higher, so will salaries, benefits, and job opportunities. That makes now the perfect time to become a helicopter pilot!

Tags: Aviation

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