Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

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OnFire
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Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by OnFire » Sat Dec 09, 2017 5:00 am

I work as a firefighter/paramedic in a major metropolitan area. I recently visited out Air/Sea Rescue branch and talked to the Commander. He told me that they have 10 pilots, and that half of them are retiring in the next 5-8 years. The general consensus is that the pay is about the same as my current position, but because there is such a small pool, there is a much higher chance of getting overtime. To the tune of $20-40k a year. I currently make about $110k a year.

The training costs about $15-18k thousand. I am 43 and plan on retiring at 55, perhaps slightly longer, depending on where my boys, abde 6 and 7 go to college. I might also stay longer if I go this route, as it will be less taxing on my body. I have already had one reconstructive shoulder surgeriy on each arm. And one on my knee from skiing.

I asked my wife and she said she thought flying helicopters was incredibly dangerous. She forgets I run into burning building and go to shootings basically every week.

I also thought I might be able to get a retirement job as a helicopter pilot for a few years for fun. Maybe between the ages of 55-60.

I wanted to fly in the military when I was young, and hope slightly that my sons will choose that path. I thought this would be a cool way to introduce that to them.

It is dangerous flying. You fly infrequently, and in dangerous weather. You have to hover just above the water as the SCUBA divers jump out of the helicopter.

Are there any helicopter pilots here? What is helicopter pilot pay like for the tourist gigs? Is it worth the risk/ benefit?
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Daryl » Sat Dec 09, 2017 7:18 am

Do you have any time logged in any other types of aircraft? Licensees / certificates? I'm a Private Pilot (ASEL - Airplane Single Engine Land). I love flying and would encourage everyone to sit in the cockpit at least once in their life. There is nothing quite like your first time taking the controls (with the safety of an instructor in the right seat) with the possible exception of that first flight when he/she says "I'm confident in your ability to fly/land. Take it around the pattern a couple times. I'll be on the taxiway waiting for you when you get back". That aircraft suddenly becomes very quiet while the new student pilot is trying to remember everything they learned over the past couple of months - Altitude, Airspeed, you got this!

The training cost / estimate that you were provided is probably adequate to get you from first flight to "Private Pilot". At a minimum, you'll want to earn a couple advanced ratings (Commercial/IFR). It will be an expensive journey; however, it will be one that you never forget!

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by OnFire » Sat Dec 09, 2017 7:52 am

No. When I talked to the Commander, a basic Private Pilot’s License for rotary aircraft was all I needed to land the assignment. The rest of the ratings I would get while on the job. I was just more concerned about the inherent dangers of flying rotary aircraft vs.firefighter, and the going rate of a heli pilot vs. SCUBA boat captain. If it’s as bad as the commercial pilot guys, you’re better off being a valet or bartender. It takes a decade at $22 an hour “working” 20 hour a a week, but being away from home for 70 or 80 to move up to the big paychecks. That’s time I don’t have.
Last edited by OnFire on Sat Dec 09, 2017 8:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by btenny » Sat Dec 09, 2017 8:10 am

Go to Phil Greenspun's website and read some of his blogs and maybe email him with some questions. He is licensed helicopter school trainer and school owner. He is also a prof at MIT and several other things. I am sure he will quote you tons of information and where to get trained and so forth. Good Luck.

http://blogs.harvard.edu/philg/
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by BTDT » Sat Dec 09, 2017 8:20 am

With over 3000 hours of helicopter time including examiner ratings, plus two combat tours in Vietnam, I would say no, it's not more dangerous than many other 'outside' jobs including fire fighter ( I was a smoke jumper also). If you are doing it for the money, than I would suggest early retirement with full benefits from the government, and than start a small business instead. I did much the same and at 70 life is good! :sharebeer
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by carolinaman » Sat Dec 09, 2017 8:26 am

OnFire wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 5:00 am
I work as a firefighter/paramedic in a major metropolitan area. I recently visited out Air/Sea Rescue branch and talked to the Commander. He told me that they have 10 pilots, and that half of them are retiring in the next 5-8 years. The general consensus is that the pay is about the same as my current position, but because there is such a small pool, there is a much higher chance of getting overtime. To the tune of $20-40k a year. I currently make about $110k a year.

The training costs about $15-18k thousand. I am 43 and plan on retiring at 55, perhaps slightly longer, depending on where my boys, abde 6 and 7 go to college. I might also stay longer if I go this route, as it will be less taxing on my body. I have already had one reconstructive shoulder surgeriy on each arm. And one on my knee from skiing.

I asked my wife and she said she thought flying helicopters was incredibly dangerous. She forgets I run into burning building and go to shootings basically every week.

I also thought I might be able to get a retirement job as a helicopter pilot for a few years for fun. Maybe between the ages of 55-60.

I wanted to fly in the military when I was young, and hope slightly that my sons will choose that path. I thought this would be a cool way to introduce that to them.

It is dangerous flying. You fly infrequently, and in dangerous weather. You have to hover just above the water as the SCUBA divers jump out of the helicopter.

Are there any helicopter pilots here? What is helicopter pilot pay like for the tourist gigs? Is it worth the risk/ benefit?
My BIL was a marine helicopter pilot. He served 2 tours in Vietnam and spent 22 years in marines. Upon retirement he took a job as a helicopter pilot for the VA State Police and spent 20+ years there. They did air rescues as well as transporting people from wrecks to hospitals. He was part of the startup of this unit in VA. VA decided to only hire experienced military pilots because the high percentage of helicopter crashes by similar units often attributed to inexperienced pilots.

I have had a few conversations with him over the years. Their work is very dangerous. They often have to fly into unfamiliar places, sometimes at night. The risk of hitting power lines or other obstructions is high.

It is a risky job for anyone but I think the risk increases dramatically for inexperienced pilots who do not have thousands of hours of flying time and the judgment that comes with it. However, you are not in a low risk job now. I suggest you have some long conversations with some of the current pilots before proceeding with training.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by 9liner » Sat Dec 09, 2017 8:32 am

Career Firefighter/Paramedic and military helo pilot here. I will try to answer some of our questions.

1. I would plan on approximately $200-250/hour on average for your initial private pilot license. As the previous poster stated, if you really want to position yourself well, you should get your commercial and instrument rating in addition to your PPL. Basically, you'd be looking at approximately $60,000, all-in. ($15k PPL, 28k commercial, 16k instrument rating). As you can see, it's not cheap.

2. In terms of danger, I can tell you that I would much rather be in my helicopter than sitting on a fire truck. (I'm on a 3-year, active duty, tour with the ARNG right now and will probably extend and never go back to the FD). At least in my department, I felt the risks of occupational injury or death were far greater as a firefighter. This is mostly anecdotal. You would probably need to dive into the statistics if you're a numbers guy. Some thing to look for in a helicopter program:

-Do they have a robust safety management system in place
-Do they allow, and more importantly, encourage training outside of normal everyday missions?
-Do they maintain their aircraft?
-Does the program fly single or dual pilot and single or dual engine aircraft?
-Is management involved in day-to-day operations?

3. In the civilian market you won't be making decent pay until you reach about 2000 hours of total flight time and most entry jobs will require 1000-1200 hours (tours, oil/gas rig transport). Those entry jobs probably start at around 40-60k. Jobs around 2000 hours (medevac) probably 70-90k depending on the market. There are the unicorn jobs out there (corporate) that pay upwards of 130k. These are very difficult to find and, more often, are about who you know. Aviation is a relatively small industry. Your reputation will follow you almost anywhere you go.

I hope I've answered some of your questions.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by technovelist » Sat Dec 09, 2017 8:35 am

btenny wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 8:10 am
Go to Phil Greenspun's website and read some of his blogs and maybe email him with some questions. He is licensed helicopter school trainer and school owner. He is also a prof at MIT and several other things. I am sure he will quote you tons of information and where to get trained and so forth. Good Luck.

http://blogs.harvard.edu/philg/
http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/
I was going to suggest Phil Greenspun also.

He's a great writer and extremely smart. But he is also VERY WEIRD, so take anything he says with more than one grain of salt.

One more tip: See if you can get life insurance quotes for both your current occupation and what the same amount would cost as a helicopter pilot. That will give you data, not just anecdotes, on the relative level of danger that you would face in that role.
In theory, theory and practice are identical. In practice, they often differ.

warner25
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by warner25 » Sat Dec 09, 2017 9:57 am

Former military helicopter pilot here.

The danger is easiest to quantify by looking at life insurance quotes. The quote I got from USAA literally doubled when I told them I was on flight status. I don't know how that compares to being on a firefighting crew. But just in my own professional community, in less than a decade, I've personally known maybe half a dozen people who've crashed and died or received serious injuries, or someone else on-board did.

Anyway, your post reminds me of the joke about a guy who hires a top golf instructor and says, "I just retired at 50 and I have lots of time and money, and I want to really focus on golf now and try to make it on the Senior PGA Tour." And the instructor says, "Funny, I met another guy who said the same thing yesterday. His name was [insert name of former PGA Tour player here]." I flew with guys who had a couple thousand hours of time, in combat, night, instruments, etc. who dreamed of getting a big city or state police/fire/EMS job with the pay you're describing. It was assumed that they had to grind out a couple thousand more hours first in a much lower paying gig to be competitive.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by fandango » Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:21 pm

My nephew is in the Georgia National Guard and was recently accepted into the helicopter pilot program. Apparently, it is quite competitive and only 10% of applicants are accepted through the initial screening.

I believe the actual training program lasts one year if you get that far. Although, the training has been compressed to 9 months in some cases to meet the demand in the Middle East.

The helicopter pilots he talked to before applying told him it was not any more hazardous than other Army front line specialties. I guess, everything is relative, my nephew is currently an Army medic.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by obgraham » Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:48 pm

Excellent advice here. However, I'm concerned with the information that OP is being given.

You cannot fly for pay on a Private Pilot Certificate, be it fixed wing or rotary. You need at least a Commercial Certificate. You can easily verify this at the FAA's website. So if the "boss" is telling you otherwise, I'd question what else he has told you.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Mel Lindauer » Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:52 pm

obgraham wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:48 pm
Excellent advice here. However, I'm concerned with the information that OP is being given.

You cannot fly for pay on a Private Pilot Certificate, be it fixed wing or rotary. You need at least a Commercial Certificate. You can easily verify this at the FAA's website. So if the "boss" is telling you otherwise, I'd question what else he has told you.
As a former flight instructor, I can assure you that it's true that you need a commercial ticket to fly for compensation. And it's highly unlikely that you'll be hired without both the commercial and instrument tickets, plus a lot of logged flight time.
Best Regards - Mel | | Semper Fi

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Kenkat » Sat Dec 09, 2017 1:00 pm

This is somewhat anecdotal, but my uncle is a helicopter pilot and owns his own helicopter, a Robinson Raven R44. He is also certified on single and two engine propeller airplanes as well as twin engine personal jets (he flew one of these commercially in his younger years and is also certified commercial on the helicopter). He now owns a business that rebuilds propeller aircraft engines after they have reached their service hour limits. I’ve been up in the helicopter several times, my kids have both been up and my dad and other uncle fly frequently. My uncle is still flying in his early 70s and recently sold his current R44 for a new one as the old one was reaching the limit on service hours. He wanted to sell it while there were still enough hours left on it for someone who flew infrequently to get value out of it.

He maintains it very well, goes through the pre-flight checklist every time and is a very careful flier. Everything by the book. He hangs out with a group of helicopter guys; on one of my trips, we flew with three other helicopters, landed and had lunch. It makes quite an entrance.

When my uncle bought the original R44, he and my dad flew out to California to pick it up. There is a mandatory multi day training course before they were allowed to take possession. They flew it back from California to Ohio which my dad said was the trip of a lifetime.

So, there’s a lot of flying going on and a lot of safety precautions taken. That said, when they picked the helicopter up from Robinson, they told him “you are about to do one of the most dangerous things you can do”. So, there is definitely more risk to helicopters and there are lots of ways to manage and minimize that risk to what to me seems to be an acceptable level. You already know how that works since you run into burning buildings all the time. There are right ways to do things and wrong ways to do things. Do things right and the risk is minimized. It’s not zero though. For people who love to fly, I think it is worth it.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by neilpilot » Sat Dec 09, 2017 1:19 pm

Mel Lindauer wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:52 pm
obgraham wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:48 pm
Excellent advice here. However, I'm concerned with the information that OP is being given.

You cannot fly for pay on a Private Pilot Certificate, be it fixed wing or rotary. You need at least a Commercial Certificate. You can easily verify this at the FAA's website. So if the "boss" is telling you otherwise, I'd question what else he has told you.
As a former flight instructor, I can assure you that it's true that you need a commercial ticket to fly for compensation. And it's highly unlikely that you'll be hired without both the commercial and instrument tickets, plus a lot of logged flight time.
Yes, but the OP asked and was told "The rest of the ratings I would get while on the job.". You and I both know that he can be reassigned to the airborne wing of the FD he's already working for and train in that capacity with only a Private certificate. Sure he can't function as a required crew member until he's Commercial rated. Based on his post, it's clear that they will provide commercial and/or instrument training within the department.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by oldcomputerguy » Sat Dec 09, 2017 2:49 pm

Daryl wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 7:18 am
Do you have any time logged in any other types of aircraft? Licensees / certificates? I'm a Private Pilot (ASEL - Airplane Single Engine Land). I love flying and would encourage everyone to sit in the cockpit at least once in their life. There is nothing quite like your first time taking the controls (with the safety of an instructor in the right seat) with the possible exception of that first flight when he/she says "I'm confident in your ability to fly/land. Take it around the pattern a couple times. I'll be on the taxiway waiting for you when you get back". That aircraft suddenly becomes very quiet while the new student pilot is trying to remember everything they learned over the past couple of months - Altitude, Airspeed, you got this!

The training cost / estimate that you were provided is probably adequate to get you from first flight to "Private Pilot". At a minimum, you'll want to earn a couple advanced ratings (Commercial/IFR). It will be an expensive journey; however, it will be one that you never forget!
+1. Flight training was some of the best fun I ever had. I learned at the local commercial airport, two 8000-foot runways, control tower, radar, and with an ANG airbase across the field. So I got exposed from the start to control tower procedures, sharing airspace and runways with “the big guys”, and approach and departure procedures. I highly recommend it.

Best memory was the day I soloed. After some touch-and-goes, my CFI had me drop him off on the ramp, and told me “take it around a few times by yourself”. My next transmission to Ground Control:
“XXXX Ground, Warrior XXXXX, in front of Cherokee Aviation, request taxi for take-off for first student solo. God help me.”
The guy at Ground Control was still laughing when he cleared the next guy after me. All this to say that ATC is populated by real human beings, and it IMHO is much better learning up front to “work in the system”.
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by ralph124cf » Sat Dec 09, 2017 4:45 pm

As a helicopter pilot, your risk of dying from a helicopter accident is probably just about the same as in your current job of running into burning buildings, but your risk of a serious, disabling on-the-job injury is much less.

Always check the jesus nut on preflight.

Ralph
Last edited by ralph124cf on Sun Dec 10, 2017 6:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Mel Lindauer » Sat Dec 09, 2017 4:59 pm

neilpilot wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 1:19 pm
Mel Lindauer wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:52 pm
obgraham wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:48 pm
Excellent advice here. However, I'm concerned with the information that OP is being given.

You cannot fly for pay on a Private Pilot Certificate, be it fixed wing or rotary. You need at least a Commercial Certificate. You can easily verify this at the FAA's website. So if the "boss" is telling you otherwise, I'd question what else he has told you.
As a former flight instructor, I can assure you that it's true that you need a commercial ticket to fly for compensation. And it's highly unlikely that you'll be hired without both the commercial and instrument tickets, plus a lot of logged flight time.
Yes, but the OP asked and was told "The rest of the ratings I would get while on the job.". You and I both know that he can be reassigned to the airborne wing of the FD he's already working for and train in that capacity with only a Private certificate. Sure he can't function as a required crew member until he's Commercial rated. Based on his post, it's clear that they will provide commercial and/or instrument training within the department.
That's great if he can get the training while working. That will certainly save him a small fortune. However, how does he solve the "getting paid for flying choppers" part of the picture while he's training for his commercial license and instrument rating?

Great gig if he can pull that off.
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by OnFire » Sun Dec 10, 2017 12:29 am

I’m quite sure that the Commander I was talking to was correct. He was the boss of all of the pilots.

The kicker in getting the job is this, in order or be hired as a helicopter pilot for the FD, you must first BE a firefighter and go through the academy and become an EMT
as well. There is NO way around that. And the hard part is that in my municipality (Chicago), there is a gargantuan legacy or hiring problems. Everytime they have a test, someone sues the department, and they usually win. Because of this, you must first get hired by literally winning the lottery- I’m not joking-they hire you acorring to the last four digits of your SS number.

(I got in as a paramedic and paid my dues -5 years straight on an inner city ambulance. - No lottery for me.)

The list is 25,000 people long and they hire less than 500 people a year. So, if you went to school to become a helicopter pilot, then your chances of getting hired are slim. As far as I know, unless they are desperate, they won’t hire anyone who isn’t already on the list and through the academy to be a helo pilot. So, for the most part, everyone who is a helo pilot was first a FF/EMT and then decided to get the training. Because they are short, they will take you the rest of the way after you get your rotary PPL

Thanks for the info, 9liner. That was EXACTLY the info I was looking for. I don’t think I would have trouble getting to 2000 hours and a decent medevac/Air tour job in the next ten years. I’m sure it would probably help that I spent ten years on Chicago ambulances in the worst of the worst neighborhoods. (Just last night, my ALS engine had two teenagers shot multiple times each).

I do worry about the injury and getting killed. In the twelve years I’ve been on the job, we’ve had about ten line-of-duty deaths and two of them I was close with. So, we kill about one guy a year. I think 8 of them were in my area, the South side, and of those, two were at the firehouse next to mine. I’d rather be in control of my own destiny than reliant on someone else’s competency. I think that’s why I am so much more comfortable racing cars on a race track at 140 than driving a motorcycle in traffic on the street.

As far as technical stuff, I’m 90% sure they fly two pilots, two engine copters.

Definitely something to think about. I think a visit to the local helo training airport and a return visit to to talk to the commander is in order.
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mxs
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by mxs » Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:28 am

I do maintenance on aircraft for a living, fixed wing airplanes. I always feel safe flying in them because if something happens there usually are backups and you can glide to a relatively normal landing. This isn't always the case with helicopters. I would rather not fly in one ever if given the choice. That is me. You have to weigh the risks and dangers for yourself.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Lucky Lemon » Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:10 am

mxs wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:28 am
I do maintenance on aircraft for a living, fixed wing airplanes. I always feel safe flying in them because if something happens there usually are backups and you can glide to a relatively normal landing. This isn't always the case with helicopters. I would rather not fly in one ever if given the choice. That is me. You have to weigh the risks and dangers for yourself.
The implication that helicopters are not safe is absurd. Helicopters can also glide (autorotate) to a safe landing. In fact a helicopter can make an emergency landing in a significantly smaller area than an airplane.

I am not a helicopter pilot, but I have been around them for years and all the pilots rated for both airplanes and helicopters that I know would prefer to be flying a helicopter in most instances.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by bottlecap » Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:32 am

Your responses will be skewed by survivorship bias, I suspect. :wink:

I am not a helicopter pilot, only know one who just retired from the Army, don't play one on on TV, and I didn't sleep in a Holiday Inn last night.

However, I don't think the OP's concern is "absurd." I'm sure that the answer to the question largely revolves around the type of maneuvers that will be performed.

I would think it would be something you'd have to be passionate about and, if you are, I doubt a reasonable increase in risk - if even applicable - would deter you. It sounds like you already have occupational hazards.

Good luck,

JT

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by warner25 » Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:04 am

OnFire wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 12:29 am
...they hire you [according] to the last four digits of your SS number... The list is 25,000 people long...
Sounds like an extremely messed up system. I guess this explains why the otherwise highly trained and experienced military pilots I know can only dream of getting these jobs.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by timmy » Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:12 am

A person on my work team was a helicopter mechanic (military). He won't fly in them.

The only time he would fly in them was after working on one ... Skin in the game.

(Even more reason to appreciate the men and women in uniform who take risks on our behalf.)

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Pinotage » Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:41 am

OnFire wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 5:00 am
Is it worth the risk/ benefit?
Something to consider in addition to the points made so far: How much do you value the opportunity to fly helicopters?

I ask this because you have a dangerous job. You've pointed out in several threads that you have dangerous hobbies. You seem to enjoy risk taking, maybe even have part of your identity wrapped up in it. The job you are describing sounds exhilarating. Recounting your career, is this something you'd enjoy having done?

Work sometimes affords opportunity that cannot be bought at any price. Access to people, environments, equipment, and challenges. You've indicated that the hiring system makes it tough for people outside the FD to get a foot in the door. So it sounds like this is a relatively rare opportunity and you are one of few in a position to embrace it.

If you value the life opportunity to pilot helicopters, maybe that is worth weighing.

* I do not have any experience as a firefighter, paramedic, or a helicopter pilot. I have recently changed jobs, though. As part of that change I developed a greater appreciation for the non-monetary aspects of work, and the experiences we can gain from employment that can't be bought.
Last edited by Pinotage on Sun Dec 10, 2017 10:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Mcfly » Sun Dec 10, 2017 10:23 am

I currently work as an EMS helicopter pilot. I went the civilian route for my training and building of flight hours.

The commander would be correct and is not misleading you. Police and fire departments operate under public use and therefore do not follow the usual FAA rules. Many of them only require a private pilot certificate and continue with advanced ratings (instrument, commercial) as you build hours and experience flying with the more senior pilots. One of my previous students went this same route with a large police department.

There is increased exposure to risk with the profession but In my opinion it would be safer than being a big city fireman like yourself. I have heard the risk of injury as a helicopter pilot is similar to choosing to ride motorcycles.

15-18k is the minimum I would plan for your private certificate. Most training these days is in the Robinson R-22 or R-44. Some schools still use the Schweizer, Enstrom or the newer Cabri. Typical dual instruction rates for the R-22 @300/h and R-44 @450-500+/hour. Minimum hours for the private is 40 but more typically takes 65-80.

Make sure you can pass and maintain an aviation medical exam too. They’re not very rigorous but certain things will make it hard to get or keep. A Pilots career is tied to their medical.

If you’re doing this just to have the potential for increased overtime it’s probably a bad investment. There is no guarantee on the timeline for the other guys retiring and you moving into a slot. Make sure you’re ok with spending 20-30k for your private knowing it’s not a sure bet.

As far as flying tours later on. It’s often a young persons game. You’ll need at least 1000-2000 hours. Most common spots for the big operators are Las Vegas, Hawaii and New York. Pay ranges from 45k-100k (including tips) depending on location and operator.

Your situation is different and offers an atypical opportunity for you. Aviation in general is a grind it out job. Do it for the “right” reasons or you won’t enjoy it. Talk to as many people you can. Check out different schools and go take an intro flight. Get on the controls and see if it’s something you even enjoy.

Best of Luck

BrianMc
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by BrianMc » Sun Dec 10, 2017 10:39 am

Good morning. Former Unrestricted Naval Aviator here representing the Men's Department of the Department of the Navy (Mel will get this). :D

My Background: Following Navy flight school, I served four years in a fleet helicopter squadron, both land and ship based, and finished my final two years teaching newly winged aviators out of Pensacola how to fly their assigned fleet aircraft. My aircraft had skids, not wheels. In the interest of disclosure, I haven't flown since I left the service over 10 years ago. As a Naval Aviator, I first trained in fixed wing prior to transitioning to rotary wing. Thus, prior to ever sitting in a helicopter, I had solid knowledge of VFR, instrument, and night flying (you'll understand why I'm mentioning this later in my post).

I'm going to focus on a few things OnFire mentioned in his initial post: His medical issues and the infrequency of flying.

OnFire: If you haven't done so already, I think it would behoove you to get an FAA physical now and ensure none of your past ailments will disqualify you from the process. I'm sure you're fine since you're able to conduct your current duty assignment. However, before you invest a TON of your time and money (yes, prepare to study like you never have before), I think this would be a very prudent investment (you can probably get a physical for $100 or so).

You mentioned "infrequent" flying in this potential new assignment. This can be very dangerous. Training, competence, and proficiency are some of the keys to flight safety. If they can't anticipate you flying 20 hours per month, I'd start asking more questions.

I would also like to know who is/are working on my aircraft. In the military, the mechs / maintainers wore the same uniform as I. We were all subject to the UCMJ (Uniformed Code of Military Justice). Translation: It's a no-nonse atmosphere, thus, I always felt comfortable knowing we had the best maintainers working on our aircraft. We once had a young maintainer make a very poor decision at a party and, as a result, popped on a drug test. Result: After making big rocks into little rocks for a few months, he was kicked out of the service. Sad, but aviation can be an unforgiving industry and the risks are too high for everyone to not be on their "A game" at all times.

Finally, ask what their training syllabus entails. Learning how to hover, take off, land, and fly from point A to point B isn't that taxing. Effectively employing the helicopter in austere conditions is where the skill and proficiency come into play. Try to envision flying in the darkest of dark nights and in horrible weather with passengers on board. Is this something you think you'll be able to do? Is this something you'll passionately pursue? I'm not trying to be overly dramatic here, I'm just trying to convey that becoming a tactical helicopter pilot (this is what you're pursuing) is quite different that becoming a recreational one.

Looking back, my flying years were the best of my life, especially deploying overseas with my squadron mates. What an experience!

BTDT: Thank you, Sir, for everything you did for our country. The stories you must have.

9liner: I Hate Drinking Every Day Like My Friend Ed (still got it). Fly safe!

Brian

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LadyGeek
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by LadyGeek » Sun Dec 10, 2017 11:19 am

BrianMc wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 10:39 am
You mentioned "infrequent" flying in this potential new assignment. This can be very dangerous. Training, competence, and proficiency are some of the keys to flight safety. If they can't anticipate you flying 20 hours per month, I'd start asking more questions.
^^^ This is exactly why I stopped flying. I've loved aviation and flying since I was a kid. When I got my (fixed wing) private pilot VFR license, I could only fly on the weekends, one day.

After going to the same places a number of times, I started memorizing the route. Not thinking and safety simply don't mix and will end poorly. I stopped. I still have the interest though, that won't change.

BTW - The same advice applies to skydiving / parachuting.

Mcfly, Welcome!
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2comma
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by 2comma » Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:22 pm

The thing that always stopped me from my dream of getting a PPL always went like this:

I'm get bored just flying local in VFR
So I'd need to get and stay IFR rated
But I wouldn't be able to fly enough IFR to stay competent

I used to fly jumpseat so I'd always ask the pilots how often I'd need to fly IFR to stay competent and they'd always say something like 2 or three times a week! I sounds like you're already aware of this issue.

You also mentioned your wife thinks it would be incredibly dangerous so there's that.
If I am stupid I will pay.

SGM
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by SGM » Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:30 pm

As a boy I heard a metallurgical engineer employed in failure analysis call helicopters stress machines. I suspect the technology has improved in the many decades since I heard that statement.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by mxs » Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:15 pm

BrianMc wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 10:39 am
Good morning. Former Unrestricted Naval Aviator here representing the Men's Department of the Department of the Navy (Mel will get this). :D
I am assuming you are referring to the Marines as the Men's Department. If not, I will, very respectfully, disagree.

Side joke: What is the difference between God and a pilot? God doesn't think he is a pilot.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by mxs » Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:23 pm

Lucky Lemon wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:10 am
mxs wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:28 am
I do maintenance on aircraft for a living, fixed wing airplanes. I always feel safe flying in them because if something happens there usually are backups and you can glide to a relatively normal landing. This isn't always the case with helicopters. I would rather not fly in one ever if given the choice. That is me. You have to weigh the risks and dangers for yourself.
The implication that helicopters are not safe is absurd. Helicopters can also glide (autorotate) to a safe landing. In fact a helicopter can make an emergency landing in a significantly smaller area than an airplane.

I am not a helicopter pilot, but I have been around them for years and all the pilots rated for both airplanes and helicopters that I know would prefer to be flying a helicopter in most instances.

Lucky Lemon

ATP AMELS
Commercial SELS
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Full disclosure, I work on C-130's. Maybe one of the safest aircraft ever built. Yes, many people have died in 130 crashes, but considering the number of aircraft and years flown it has to be a low number per hours flown ( or other safety metric ). I would argue having fewer backups (one engine) would create a greater chance of failure, especially catastrophic failure.

We can agree to disagree. I would rather fly in a 130 over any helicopter.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Mel Lindauer » Sun Dec 10, 2017 10:16 pm

BrianMc wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 10:39 am
Good morning. Former Unrestricted Naval Aviator here representing the Men's Department of the Department of the Navy (Mel will get this). :D
Semper Fi, Brian. Thank you for your service.
Best Regards - Mel | | Semper Fi

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Lucky Lemon
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Lucky Lemon » Mon Dec 11, 2017 12:43 am

mxs wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:23 pm
Lucky Lemon wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:10 am
mxs wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:28 am
I do maintenance on aircraft for a living, fixed wing airplanes. I always feel safe flying in them because if something happens there usually are backups and you can glide to a relatively normal landing. This isn't always the case with helicopters. I would rather not fly in one ever if given the choice. That is me. You have to weigh the risks and dangers for yourself.

The implication that helicopters are not safe is absurd. Helicopters can also glide (autorotate) to a safe landing. In fact a helicopter can make an emergency landing in a significantly smaller area than an airplane.

I am not a helicopter pilot, but I have been around them for years and all the pilots rated for both airplanes and helicopters that I know would prefer to be flying a helicopter in most instances.

Lucky Lemon

ATP AMELS
Commercial SELS
CFI
A&P
Full disclosure, I work on C-130's. Maybe one of the safest aircraft ever built. Yes, many people have died in 130 crashes, but considering the number of aircraft and years flown it has to be a low number per hours flown ( or other safety metric ). I would argue having fewer backups (one engine) would create a greater chance of failure, especially catastrophic failure.

We can agree to disagree. I would rather fly in a 130 over any helicopter.
I’ll agree that a 4-engine airplane is safer than a single engine helicopter... :sharebeer

LL
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2comma
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by 2comma » Mon Dec 11, 2017 1:06 am

mxs wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:23 pm
Lucky Lemon wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:10 am
mxs wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:28 am
I do maintenance on aircraft for a living, fixed wing airplanes. I always feel safe flying in them because if something happens there usually are backups and you can glide to a relatively normal landing. This isn't always the case with helicopters. I would rather not fly in one ever if given the choice. That is me. You have to weigh the risks and dangers for yourself.
The implication that helicopters are not safe is absurd. Helicopters can also glide (autorotate) to a safe landing. In fact a helicopter can make an emergency landing in a significantly smaller area than an airplane.

I am not a helicopter pilot, but I have been around them for years and all the pilots rated for both airplanes and helicopters that I know would prefer to be flying a helicopter in most instances.

Lucky Lemon

ATP AMELS
Commercial SELS
CFI
A&P
Full disclosure, I work on C-130's. Maybe one of the safest aircraft ever built. Yes, many people have died in 130 crashes, but considering the number of aircraft and years flown it has to be a low number per hours flown ( or other safety metric ). I would argue having fewer backups (one engine) would create a greater chance of failure, especially catastrophic failure.

We can agree to disagree. I would rather fly in a 130 over any helicopter.
My brother flew as crew chief on the AWACS (the one with the big radar dome on top) and he said you're pretty safe at 35,000 feet, it's the planes that spend all of their time at low altitudes that crash into things - I think he has a point. Only accident on that plane he remembers was a take off, loss of two engines on same side, no way to turn away from or climb above the mountain rage ahead. I've never met a fixed wing person that didn't want to glide back to earth or anyone associated with rotary that didn't think it was safer to auto rotate to a small field.

Does anyone know how much altitude those twin turbine medevac helicopters need to successfully do an auto rotation. The ones I see look to be around 1000 ft or a little lower, at high airspeed if that matters, and I've always wondered if they could rotate down when they are that low?
If I am stupid I will pay.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Rich Cape Cod » Mon Dec 11, 2017 2:23 am

Hi. Retired from the NYPD Aviation Unit. Served as a sergeant and a lieutenant (a long time ago…). Flew Bell 206B (JetRanger) and an ancient UH-1B Huey on floats. If the agency is flying good equipment (and I have no doubt they are) then flying helicopters, for a properly trained pilot, is not particularly dangerous.

If you can get in with a private rotary-wing rating then I say go for it. You’ll pick up your commercial with instrument rating on the city’s dime!

https://imgur.com/d6ILyIk

Me flying Huey during Fleet Week (April 1989). Not sure if it's in the video, but at one point I flew under the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges (don't do this at home kids...)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pc9SKxPq2zg&t=54s
Rich Cape Cod/AZ

p0nyboy
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by p0nyboy » Mon Dec 11, 2017 9:50 am

I know a former black hawk pilot...his back is destroyed. He claims its from flying...bumpy ride. Now hes addicted to pain pills. Smart dude though...he's a ceo.

warner25
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by warner25 » Mon Dec 11, 2017 9:59 am

2comma wrote:
Mon Dec 11, 2017 1:06 am
Does anyone know how much altitude those twin turbine medevac helicopters need to successfully do an auto rotation. The ones I see look to be around 1000 ft or a little lower, at high airspeed if that matters, and I've always wondered if they could rotate down when they are that low?
Altitude and airspeed are somewhat interchangeable, so if a helicopter is flying low and fast and the engine(s) fail, it must climb until it slows down to the ideal airspeed for an autorotation (we called it "bucket airspeed" for the point on the chart where you experience the minimum total drag). Being higher just gives you more time to react and find a nice open area.

With that said, when you're talking about heavy, multi-engine helicopters doing serious work, executing an autorotation is a very hairy prospect. For example, at the Army's flight school, with <50 hours in a Bell 206, we took the engine to idle and did autorotations to the ground everyday. It was fun. Doing it in a little Robinson R44 is probably fun too. But the Army totally prohibits the practice of autorotations to the ground in Black Hawks, Apaches, Chinooks, etc. We practiced only with the engines running at full power, and we stopped the maneuver around 50 feet. In the real world, heavily loaded, especially at higher elevations, the rates of descent and the rates of rotor RPM decay are insanely high. Even the most experienced pilots regarded a safe autorotation in those conditions as a near impossibility.

Comparing the safety of airplanes vs. helicopters, again, I think it's instructive to look at life insurance quotes. USAA's quotes show that flying something like a C-130 or AWACS is no more dangerous than any other job in the military. But if you fly helicopters or tactical jets, the quoted premium literally doubles.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by Da5id » Mon Dec 11, 2017 10:10 am

I think asking for dangers is asking for anecdotes. You should look at statistics and (as up thread) life insurance costs for a hint of the real risks.

My anecdotes are that my brother died in a Blackhawk crash. I've also seen a helicopter do bad things in a practice landing. It landed tail rotor first, threw the tail rotor, with expected result that the helicopter started rotating the opposite direction of the main rotor. I think the instructor slammed it down to the ground at that point, I'd guess the trainee failed.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by sco » Mon Dec 11, 2017 9:50 pm

Don't run out of gas. Then you have greatly increased your odds. ;)

If you want to do it, do it. Risks can be managed by someone that recognizes and understands them.

2comma
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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by 2comma » Mon Dec 11, 2017 10:01 pm

warner25 wrote:
Mon Dec 11, 2017 9:59 am
2comma wrote:
Mon Dec 11, 2017 1:06 am
Does anyone know how much altitude those twin turbine medevac helicopters need to successfully do an auto rotation. The ones I see look to be around 1000 ft or a little lower, at high airspeed if that matters, and I've always wondered if they could rotate down when they are that low?
Altitude and airspeed are somewhat interchangeable, so if a helicopter is flying low and fast and the engine(s) fail, it must climb until it slows down to the ideal airspeed for an autorotation (we called it "bucket airspeed" for the point on the chart where you experience the minimum total drag). Being higher just gives you more time to react and find a nice open area.

With that said, when you're talking about heavy, multi-engine helicopters doing serious work, executing an autorotation is a very hairy prospect. For example, at the Army's flight school, with <50 hours in a Bell 206, we took the engine to idle and did autorotations to the ground everyday. It was fun. Doing it in a little Robinson R44 is probably fun too. But the Army totally prohibits the practice of autorotations to the ground in Black Hawks, Apaches, Chinooks, etc. We practiced only with the engines running at full power, and we stopped the maneuver around 50 feet. In the real world, heavily loaded, especially at higher elevations, the rates of descent and the rates of rotor RPM decay are insanely high. Even the most experienced pilots regarded a safe autorotation in those conditions as a near impossibility.

Comparing the safety of airplanes vs. helicopters, again, I think it's instructive to look at life insurance quotes. USAA's quotes show that flying something like a C-130 or AWACS is no more dangerous than any other job in the military. But if you fly helicopters or tactical jets, the quoted premium literally doubles.
Thanks! I hadn't even thought about density/altitude/loading or being able to climb with airspeed. I watched one of the larger Navy helicopters practicing auto rotations five or six times, one after another, and I wondered if that would be fun or it messed with your stomach/ears so much it wasn't fun at all.
If I am stupid I will pay.

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Re: Danger of being a helicopter pilot?

Post by radiowave » Mon Dec 11, 2017 10:56 pm

OnFire, here is a web site (FlightWeb) where the medical flight teams hang out and worth an evening going through the various posts:

http://www.flightweb.com/forums/

I'm a former hospital based flight nurse (helo) and came into nursing from the fire service (something about putting the wet stuff on the red stuff). I also started my own fixed-wing air ambulance company in the late 80's early 90's. It's hard for me to give you objective feedback about pursuing your interests. I can honestly say my flight time was some of the best in my long career in healthcare. I also look back and know I almost became a statistic twice. As far at running into a burning building (while everyone else is running out) vs. strapping in to fly to an accident at night and in bad weather, about even odds as far as risk. Would I do it all over again . . . yes of course.
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