How Much To Become A Helicopter Pilot
How Much To Become A Helicopter Pilot

How Much To Become A Helicopter Pilot

How Much To Become A Helicopter Pilot – Before I even considered taking a job in the Gulf of Mexico, I tried to find out as much as I could about what it might entail. My searches for information online resulted in the same basic answer: there is no such thing as a typical day in the Gulf. However, since leaving this particular line of work, I have met many pilots who seemed to have had the same general experience as me. So while there may not be a “typical day”, there seems to be a “typical experience”, and mine is from a visual flight rules (VFR) captain’s point of view.

Most pilots do not live in the same region as the helicopter companies that service the Gulf of Mexico. We travel, and from all over the country; there are even a few that do it internationally.

How Much To Become A Helicopter Pilot

There are two options: drive or fly. Those who fly usually have a vehicle that they leave at the airport they are flying to or have arrangements to leave it at the hotel where they are staying on the last night of their layover. I have friends who stayed at the same hotel on their last night for years. The pilots took over the hotel bar almost every Wednesday night after getting off the hook, before flying to wherever they lived the next morning. Then, two weeks later, they went back to work.

Qualified Helicopter Pilot Hi Res Stock Photography And Images

I lived close enough to drive. My driving time and route depended on the base of the company I worked at. Living on the Florida peninsula, my longest commute was the nine hours it took me to get to Cameron, Louisiana; while the shortest was five hours to Houma, Louisiana. I liked driving because I could travel on my own schedule and take as much stuff as I wanted. I’ve always enjoyed getting to town early and settling into the trailer, condo, or company house with decent weather. Because the next morning came, it was time to get up early for the next 14 days.

I learned to fly almost 10 years before earning a living. I learned on my own, while still on active duty in the United States Navy. Flying is my second career, and I was fortunate enough to accumulate enough flight hours and experience to be able to get a job overseas right after I retired from the Navy. How I built up the time and achieved this experience is a whole story in itself, so I’ll stick with the Gulf of Mexico for now.

I went to work for RLC, then known as Rotorcraft Leasing, flying a Bell 206 B3 from their base in Galliano, Louisiana. At first, I lived in a trailer with a few other pilots, but soon I was moved into a house with another pilot. In both, I had my own room, while we shared a common bathroom, kitchen and living room with satellite TV.

The training at RLC was excellent. It was the first exposure to turbine aircraft for a lot of the new guys, so it incorporated Part 135 training and turbine training, and it got you ready to go to sea. The training lasted about two weeks, with about 20 hours of flying. This included autorotations in the water in a 206 with fixed floats.

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In recent times, the Era (now Bristow) fleet has included the Leonardo AW189 (foreground) and the S-92 GWE (background). Photo by Dan Megna

Of course weight and balance are important, but you learn that one of the most important things is knowing where the fuel is! What you don’t carry in people/cargo, you will carry in fuel. Unless I was solo, I rarely took off at less than max gross weight.

The contract I took required me to stay offshore on one of the rigs. I would be off shore for three nights and on the fourth afternoon I would be back at base for maintenance. I flew what they called the “Loop Bird”. For the most part, I took one or two operators to different rigs each day so they could do maintenance. The guys I flew were responsible for 17 unmanned oil/gas production rigs that flowed to larger production facilities. Sometimes I’d stay with the operators, and sometimes I’d just leave them and go move other people around the field, or make a “beach” run to pick up parts or people.

The day of the crew change was a completely different story. That is the day when everyone outside comes in and everyone on the beach leaves. That could lead to pressure to fly from oil companies, even in less-than-ideal weather conditions. Most helicopter operators require 500-foot ceilings and three-mile visibility. Things have changed now as companies have much more operational control than before. This takes a lot of pressure off the drivers.

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If the weather wasn’t bad, it would be an easy job. But that’s not how it worked. Gulf weather can go from great to bad to really bad very quickly.

Of course, it’s hot in the summer. This not only affects the performance of the helicopter, but also creates storms, waterspouts and hurricanes. I even did a hurricane evacuation during my first year there.

Different seasons bring different weather challenges in the Gulf of Mexico. Summer is hot and humid, while winter brings strong winds or poor visibility. Photo by Dan Megna

Storms are easy: pull away, let your office know you’ve veered WX, and go around if you can. Sometimes you can’t, so you wait tethered to the top of an unmanned platform, or you drop onto a platform that may not even belong to the company you’re flying for, but you’re tethered and safe . I was never made to feel unpleasant when this happened; they will usually point you to the phone, coffee maker, bathroom and TV room to wait. Oh, always bring a bag with a couple of days worth of clothes and a toothbrush!

How To Become A Helicopter Pilot (including Skills & Salary)

Summer also brings fog. There are windless days when the slick water surface reflects the fog and creates flat light conditions almost to the point of being instrument flight rules (IFR), so you learn to keep the rigs in sight and use well the instruments

Winter is a completely different animal. High winds or poor visibility (pick one) or sometimes both at the same time. Then there is the fog. The longest I sat without flying due to fog was seven days. At least I was on the beach and not stuck on a platform offshore. Sea fog can encroach on the already poor visibility and make VFR flight incomplete. It’s best to wait it out. Unfortunately, there are only so many places to land on the coast, and some are few and far between.

Going into low visibility situations was by far the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered. Hydraulic failures or chip lights didn’t come close to the pucker factor. Fortunately, offshore weather reports have improved dramatically.

I spent a total of 13 months at RLC, flew all versions of the Bell 206 and accumulated just over 1,000 flight hours in that time. I learned a lot and enjoyed working there, to the point that I still keep in touch with some of the pilots and passengers I have flown with.

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I did a stint of about two and a half years flying in emergency medical services, then returned to the Gulf to work for Era Helicopters, flying the Airbus AS350 AStar. At first, I didn’t really like the AStar, but I soon discovered how capable an airplane it really is.

For those who stick to it, golfing often presents an opportunity to move up to the bigger guys. Photo by Ted Carlson

The first contract I did was for an oil and gas operator known for flying all day, every day. Again, I stayed offshore and brought the helicopter in every fourth night for maintenance. Just like before, I stayed on a platform with only five or six full-time guys and had my own room. They treated me very well and dinner was always waiting for me when we arrived late during the long summer days. And the food is great, plus all the ice cream you can handle!

There were 45 rigs in the field that I serviced along with four other VFR helicopters as well as an IFR Sikorsky S-76. It was not unusual for me to make over 60 landings in a day and get up to eight hours of flight time. The days went by fast, sure.

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After that contract, I went on a verification trip with the Office of Aviation Services to fly personnel from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the government inspectors who monitor everything that goes on to the sea At first I really didn’t want to do it, but I soon discovered that this was the best kept secret in the Gulf of Mexico.

Boarding of passengers

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