Many people think that helicopter flying is extremely difficult, and that only a few special people can manage it. This is not the case, and most people can succeed in learning to fly a helicopter if they want to. But it does take quite a long time. So how long can you expect it to take to acquire this skill?
The Helicopter Private Pilot’s Course
The course for the Private Pilot’s Licence for Helicopters or PPL(H) varies slightly in different countries, but the legal minimum everywhere is around 40 – 45 hours of flying, plus several theoretical exams. However, very few people manage to get their licences in the minimum number of flying hours. It takes most students longer, and some much longer. The average is said to be about 60 hours, but numbers into three figures are not unheard of. Prince Harry, for example, took a month-long training course.
What Affects the Amount of Time it Will Take?
To a certain extent the time taken depends on individual aptitude. Generally, young people learn more quickly than those of a more advanced age, but there are many exceptions to this rule. Those who have learned to fly fixed wing aircraft or other flying machines find it a little easier, but this rarely makes that much difference, as helicopters are very different. People who have operated other machines requiring high levels of dexterity sometimes find their skills are transferable, and those with a good grasp of technical issues, such as engineers, sometimes find their knowledge helps somewhat.
However, many of the issues affecting time taken are outside of an individual’s control. The weather is an important factor – long periods of unsuitable weather mean lessons will be cancelled, and long gaps between lessons means skills are forgotten and lessons need to be repeated. The personalities of instructor and student can make a difference, and personality clashes can end up adding significantly to the time required. Finally, sone people struggle with individual aspects of the course – it may take one person many hours to learn how to hover, another might find navigation incomprehensible, while a third is completely tongue-tied on the radio. Helicopter flying involves many varied skills.
So Will All This Take Weeks, or Months, or Years?
It is impossible to answer this question, as it depends on how often the student has lessons. Some people can find the time and money to do the whole course over a few weeks. Most, however, have one or two flying lessons a week, and so the course takes them a few months to a year, or maybe even more if breaks are necessary due to unsuitable weather or for other reasons. But long breaks mean skills get forgotten and lessons need to be recapped, so it is a good idea to fly regularly if possible.
Am I too old to learn how to fly a helicopter?
There is no maximum age to get a pilot’s licence. Private pilots are required to pass medical exams periodically, every five years under 40 years old, and every two years over 40 years old. Some people get their private licence once they retire. So technically, there is nothing that prevents you from being part of the 1% of people in the United States that have a licence to fly an aircraft.
Conclusion: How Long Does it Take to Learn How to Fly a Helicopter?
It is therefore impossible to say exactly how long it will take to learn how to fly a helicopter. Also, it should be remembered that the PPL(H) is only the beginning; there is much to learn after this. Indeed, the PPL(H) is said to be only ‘a licence to learn’.
Helen is a retired pilot and flight instructor who has traveled around the world and visited more than 70 countries. An award-winning journalist and author, she has been writing for world-class aviation-focused publications.