Do I need to train part 61 or part 141?
Well, it all depends on how you plan to pay for your training and what your timeline to complete your training looks like. If you are like most people, you'll need to get a loan to pay for your training. If this is the case, you will probably get a Key Alternative Loan and need to do your training at what is known as a Part 141 School. The main distinguishing feature that sets 141 schools apart from Part 61 schools is the structure with which the curriculum and training are carried out. The FAA certifies each training program for Part 141 schools and as a result enables these graduates to qualify for the Private Pilot Certification in fewer hours due to the efficiency of the training. Now there is nothing wrong with Part 61 schools, however the banks that loan funds for aviation training, the Veterans Administration, and other agencies that sponsor retraining for displaced workers require that the school be Part 141 Approved. As a general rule, you will find that those schools which seek this approval tend to be larger and often have several aircraft on their flight line. Now, if you're seeking a small town feel for your flight training, and have the resources to support your training, Part 61 might be the right plan for you. With Part 61, the pace is more leisurely, however due to the small size of some operators, this might mean limited aircraft or instructor availability.
Should I get my training in a Robinson R-22?
Here is a question I hear all the time. And it is a very valid question. The problem is, if you've completed all your training - up to and including your CFI without ever setting foot in a Robinson helicopter, you will find your employment opportunities severely limited. If you look at all the flight schools on our alphabetical school list and polled each of them on the type of helicopter they operate, you will find that 90 percent operate Robinsons exclusively. It's not easy to find a job if you can only apply for 10 percent of all available jobs. Due to the FAA SFAR-73, before a CFI can instruct in a Robinson, they need to have logged 200 hours of total time in helicopters, completed a Factory Safety Course and have logged fifty hours of time in Robinson helicopters. One option is to get all your training in the Robinson, and then this becomes a non-issue. But, let's say you've already completed your Private in a Schweizer, Enstrom or Bell 47. You might consider doing your Instrument and/or Commercial training in the R22. You'll need to accumulate flight experience in either case anyway, so why not start building that fifty hours right away.
What career options do I have without a college degree?
In helicopter aviation, a degree is not required. This is the exact opposite of commercial fixed-wing aviation. To get a $50,000 a year job flying with the airlines, you need around 2500 hours flight experience and a degree. In helicopter aviation, you will qualify to earn that same $50,000 but with fewer hours of experience - on average 1200, and with the added benefit of sleeping in your own bed most every night. Most entry-level airline jobs pay less than $20,000 per year. Thanks to a true shortage of helicopter pilots now that most Viet Nam era pilots are nearing retirement age, after a few years of training and teaching others to fly you will be highly sought after. Now there are two programs for those who really want to fly helicopters and earn a college degree while they're at it - The University of North Dakota (in frigid Grand Forks, ND) and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (in Prescott, AZ). One school is public, the other private, so this should give you a heads up as far as tuition expense, housing, etc. The UND program is world-renowned and boasts major training contracts, including the U.S. Army ROTC and Saudi Aramco Oil Co., to name a few. The instructors are all high-time experienced professionals - this sets the UND program apart from every other flight school in North America, with the exception of three: Western Helicopters (Rialto, CA), Canadian Helicopters (Saskatchewan, Canada), and Heli-College (B.C., Canada). The program at Embry-Riddle is operated by Guidance Helicopters, who offer full-spectrum training and specialize in External Load and Mountain Training.
Should I quit my job and take out a big student loan or train part time?
That depends on how well you get along with your spouse. Just kidding, this is a tough question. You should, by the way, be very skeptical of any flight school who asks you to sign up for a $50,000 loan up front before you even fly ten hours in the aircraft. Some schools use high-pressure sales tactics to encourage people to pay up front to ensure "savings." Buyer beware. Now, there are some schools, like Mazzei Flying Service (www.flymfs.com) which will offer you a contracted price for training which includes books, housing and all training costs (even written exams). These people have been in the flight training business for a long time - it is a family run business and there are great opportunities to socialize with many international students. At one time they offered a "Guaranteed Price," where even if you took slightly longer than the average times to complete your training, you the student were protected from these additional costs. For the adult who wants to expedite a career change, this may be the best plan - take three months and get it done. Now, many people work full time and find a flight school nearby where they can train on weekends or after work, but just keep in mind the most efficient training schedule is three times per week.
Am I too old to change careers?
No. Whether you're 26 or 42, it isn't too late to change careers and get a job in helicopter aviation.
Can I get into law enforcement?
Yes, but in most cases it helps to already be a peace officer. Many programs, such as the Minnesota State Patrol, the U.S. Customs/Border Patrol and the California Highway Patrol require you to complete two years as a ground officer prior to applying for a pilot position. There are several programs, however, that employ civilian pilots and these programs do not require the peace officer certification or experience. Check out the Airborne Law Enforcement Association for more information.
How do I become a military pilot?
Well, if you're under age 31, you could stop by your local recruiting office. They will have plenty of information on the National Guard and Active Duty options. All four services of the U.S. military fly helicopters, however the Army tends to be better able to guarantee flight slots than the others. You can also consider the U.S. Coast Guard and its Blue 21 Program. Whether you choose active duty or National Guard, military flying offers lots of adventure and a chance to fly the latest helicopter technology, plus a very handsome payoff come retirement.
What scholarships are available?
If you are in high school, the U.S. Army has several scholarships. Visit the ROTC website for more details. There are also scholarships thru the Whirly Girls and other organizations as well. See a detailed list in a recent issue of Plane&Pilot Magazine.