What Does A Helicopter Pilot Do (including Their Typical Day at Work)

Stan T.Career, Overview

Salary, Job Description, How To Become One, and Quiz

Helicopter Pilots

Helicopters Pilots typically fly helicopters to transport cargo or passengers from one destination to another. Helicopter Pilots may also fly helicopters to carry out other work, including aerial photography, rescue operations, and firefighting.

Interest Match

Helicopter Pilots are licensed to fly helicopters. They spend time flying people or things to different destinations. They may also fly routes with helicopters that are equipped with specialized equipment, such as cameras or sensors. However, this job comes with a variety of responsibilities beyond flying.

Helicopter Pilots need to know how to inspect their aircraft, monitor flight conditions, and communicate with air traffic controllers. Becoming a Helicopter Pilot also requires training and licensing.

There are many ways to learn how to fly helicopters, from military training to private lessons. There are also a variety of job opportunities, including aerial firefighting, photography, and EMS support.

What they do

Helicopters Pilots typically fly helicopters to transport cargo or passengers from one destination to another. Helicopter Pilots may also fly helicopters to carry out other work, including aerial photography, rescue operations, and firefighting.

Transport People or Goods in a Helicopter

The main responsibility of the typical Helicopter Pilot is to transport people or goods. Many Helicopter Pilots start their careers working for private charter companies that offer private flights. Commercial Helicopter Pilots transport goods and are responsible for inspecting and securing the goods before the flight.

Inspect the Helicopter and Equipment Before Each Flight

No matter the reason for the flight, Helicopter Pilots need to thoroughly inspect the helicopter and equipment. They have lengthy checklists for inspecting the exterior and interior of the aircraft.

Analyze the Weather Forecast Before Flying

Along with inspecting the helicopter, Helicopter Pilots need to analyze the weather before each flight. Depending on the weather, Helicopter Pilots may need to choose an alternate route to their destination or use additional precautions when flying.

Maintain Records of Each Flight

According to FAA regulations, Helicopter Pilots need to maintain records of their flights. The records are typically called “flight logs”. The flight log contains the time of the flight, the passenger list or cargo list, and many other details.

Assist with Ground Operations for Different Industries

Helicopter Pilots who work outside of commercial or private transport may be required to assist with ground operations for the industry that they serve. For example, Helicopter Pilots employed by a healthcare facility may transport patients from remote areas to the hospital. They may also fly patients from one hospital to another to seek specialized care.

Helicopter Pilots who work for the US Forest Service help put out wildfires by flying helicopters equipped with a tank that holds water or a fire retardant. Helicopter Pilots may also assist with search and rescue operations. Helicopter Pilots employed by law enforcement agencies may fly helicopters to support officers on the ground, such as when trying to locate a suspect or monitor a crime scene.

Explain Safety Procedures to Passengers Before Flying

The Helicopter Pilot is typically responsible for ensuring that passengers understand safety rules and precautions. Private helicopter flights rarely include Flight Attendants.

The Helicopter Pilot must explain how to safely enter and exit the helicopter. They also need to ensure that passengers follow in-flight rules, such as wearing a seatbelt until the pilot allows the passengers to unbuckle. They may also warn passengers of turbulence and keep them updated on the progress of the flight.

What is the job like

Mike Laurenzi
Bristow Helicopters

I am a 15-year helicopter pilot working for the offshore oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

My typical work day starts at 5 am when I show up to the helibase to preflight the helicopter. This usually takes about 30 minutes and involves a thorough walk around inspection, checking oil and fluid levels, and doing system checks. After that is all done, I check in with our customer dispatcher to see what, if any, flights we have for the day. I am given my destination and passenger manifest to start my fuel and weather planning. On bad weather days, it usually takes about another 30 minutes to plan and file my flight plan. On good weather days, it only takes about 10 minutes to plan.

Most of my flights, on average, take about 1 hour to get to the oil platform. Once there, we unload the passengers, refuel, and load the inbound passengers. That takes anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Then we fly back to our onshore helibase. This is usually repeated 2-3 times that day. Overall, from the beginning of the first flight to the end of the last, I’m usually in the helicopter for 6-9 hours. This doesn’t happen every day. Some days we don’t have any flights at all, sometimes it’s only one round trip flight.

At the end of the day comes the paperwork. This is a pilot’s least liked aspect of the job. Throughout the day, we have to keep track of our flight times, where we’ve gone, the number of passengers we’ve flown, where we got fuel and how much we took, and a few other details of the day. We then have to put this into our companies flight logging software along with any maintenance issues we might have with the helicopter. While it doesn’t take very long and is a necessary part of the job, this is the biggest negative aspect of our job.


  • I GET PAID TO FLY A HELICOPTER! I don’t know what could be cooler than that.
  • My on hitch schedule is 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off. When I’m at work in Louisiana, the company provides an apartment for me. This allows me and my wife to live anywhere we want (currently in Pensacola). I basically only work half a year.
  • The pay is pretty good. Flying offshore for the oil industry is one of the highest paying helicopter jobs in the world. Especially for only working 6 months.
  • I have a lot of free time when I’m off to do other things like travel or start a house flipping business with my wife.


  • I am away from my family for 6 months at a time. This is the worst part of the job.
  • Like most aviation jobs, job security is somewhat tied to the economy. For me, when oil prices go down, job security can be a bit worrisome.


You Get to Fly the Skies

Helicopter Pilots get to fly the skies for a living, which is a unique experience that few other jobs offer.

You May Help Save Lives

Helicopter Pilots who work for the US Forest Service, a law enforcement agency, or a hospital may help save lives.

You Can Work in a Variety of Industries

Helicopter Pilots work in a wide range of industries, offering many different career choices for those with a private or commercial license.

You May Not Need a Degree

Many Helicopter Pilots enter this profession with just a high school diploma, limiting the amount of time needed to start their career.


You May Have to Fly a Helicopter in Bad Weather

While severe weather may ground a flight, Helicopter Pilots still need to fly in poor weather conditions occasionally. Flying during a storm can be stressful and scary until you gain more experience.

You Must Deal with Passengers Who Ignore Rules

During private flights, Helicopter Pilots occasionally need to deal with uncooperative passengers. For example, a passenger may refuse to keep their seatbelt on or decide to smoke during the flight. Dealing with these situations can be awkward and frustrating.

Where they work

Commercial Transport Industry
Hospitals and EMS Units
Law Enforcement Agencies
Private Transport Industry

Helicopter Pilots work in many industries, but the commercial transport industry is one of the largest sources of jobs. Helicopter Pilots may also work for hospitals as part of their emergency medical services (EMS) unit. Law enforcement agencies often employ Helicopter Pilots to assist with locating suspects.

Helicopter Pilots may also work for the private transport industry, flying private flights for individuals, such as business executives and politicians.

How to become one

Step 1: Study the Mechanics of Flight in High School

Aspiring Helicopter Pilots should learn more about the profession by studying flight, including how helicopters fly and the components of the typical helicopter.

Step 2: Pass an FAA-Approved Medical Exam

Before qualifying for flight training, aspiring Helicopter Pilots need to pass a medical exam completed by a Physician approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Step 3: Attend Flight School

Helicopter Pilots need to learn to fly from a licensed instructor. While private lessons are available, most Helicopter Pilots enroll in flight school or an undergraduate aviation program.

Step 4: Earn a College Degree

A college degree is not required but may provide increased job prospects. For example, earning an Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation may help Helicopter Pilots who want to become supervisors or managers.

Step 5: Obtain a License to Fly

Helicopter Pilots can obtain a private license and a commercial license. A private license must be earned first. You must be at least 17 years old, pass a written test, and log at least 40 hours of flight time. To earn a commercial license, you need at least 10 hours of solo flight time, 3 hours of nighttime flying, and additional flight requirements.

Step 6: Look for Work as a Helicopter Pilot

After obtaining a license, start looking for job openings for Helicopter Pilots. Common employers include hospitals, law enforcement agencies, commercial transport companies, and private charter companies. Many Helicopter Pilots start looking for work after obtaining their private license and then use a commercial license to expand their job opportunities.

Should you become one

Best personality type for this career

The Builder

People with this personality type likes practical and hands-on work. They prefer working with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery.

You can read more about these career personality types here.

Helicopter Pilots should be level-headed and capable of keeping their cool under pressure, as they occasionally deal with difficult flight conditions. Helicopter Pilots also need good communication skills to communicate with ground staff, air traffic controllers, and passengers. Helicopter Pilots should be self-sufficient, as they often need to figure things out on their own and work with limited supervision.

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