How to Acquire a Helicopter License (Step by Step)

So, you want to earn a helicopter license but you’re not quite sure how to go about it? Maybe you have a fixed-wing license and want to branch out into rotor, or you are just starting out and are interested in eventually pursuing a career as a helicopter pilot. Either way, we’ve got you covered. Today we will walk you through the process and what to expect as you acquire a helicopter license.

What does it take to get a helicopter pilot’s license?

To get your helicopter pilot’s license, you will need to meet the FAA’s basic eligibility requirements. You also must go through ground school, take and pass a written knowledge test, do flight training until you meet the minimums and your instructor signs off on your skills, then take and pass the practical test.

How much does it cost to get a helicopter pilot’s license?

The cost of getting your helicopter pilot license will vary depending on multiple factors including:

  • Which license you are getting
  • What pilot licenses (if any) you already hold
  • Where you are training
  • Who your instructor is
  • The number of flight hours it takes for you to reach proficiency

As is the case with fixed-wing airplanes, there is more than one type of helicopter license. If your goal is simply to be able to fly a helicopter for pleasure and personal use, and you have the budget to support this hobby, then a private helicopter license may be the best fit for you. Planning to turn this into a career or money-making endeavor? In order to charge for your piloting services, you will need to first get your private helicopter license and then go on to earn your commercial helicopter license.

In general, expect to spend between $12,000 and $16,000 for a private helicopter license. Adding on the commercial license? This will run you an additional $18,000 - $35,000.

Some helicopter pilots want to be licensed to teach and train new pilots. To do this, you will need to earn a certified flight instructor rating. Budget between $38,000 and $70,000 for your CFI rating.

Is it difficult to learn to fly a helicopter?

Learning to fly a helicopter is much more challenging than fixed wing. There are additional aerodynamic principles to master, and controls like the cyclic and collective to manipulate. If you are making the transition from fixed wing to rotor, you will have a head start on some of the aviation basics, but there will be many skills that won’t translate and which you will have to re-learn. Therefore, it’s best to approach learning to fly a helicopter as an exciting challenge.

How to get a helicopter pilot’s license (step by step)

Now that we’ve gone over some of the most common questions about a helicopter license, here’s your step-by-step guide on how to acquire one.

1.      Make sure you meet the minimum eligibility requirements

To be eligible to earn a private helicopter pilot license, you must:

  • Be at least 17 years old
  • Be capable of speaking, reading and writing English
  • Be able to provide proof of identity
  • Not have any medical conditions that would prevent you from obtaining a 3rd class FAA medical certificate

For a commercial helicopter pilot license, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be capable of speaking, reading and writing English
  • Be able to provide proof of identity
  • Not have any medical conditions that would prevent you from obtaining a 2nd class FAA medical certificate
  • Hold a private pilot helicopter license

2.      Secure your student pilot certificate and medical certificate

If you are already a licensed fixed-wing pilot, you can of course skip this step. Simply ensure that your medical certificate is current and valid.

For brand new pilots, you will need to submit an application for a student pilot certificate. Part of this process is verifying your identity with the FAA and undergoing a physical examination with an FAA Approved Medical Examiner (AME). The physical is what allows you to receive the medical certificate which you will need to carry along with your student pilot certificate while flying.

The process is pretty straightforward, and we’ve put together a student pilot certificate guide that walks you through all the steps and includes links to the applicable forms.

3.      Complete ground school and pass the written exam

You will need to spend time on the ground mastering the book knowledge that will prepare you for your flight training. Expect to study aerodynamics of flight, helicopter flight controls and systems, weight and balance, flight maneuvers, emergencies, etc. The ASA Helicopter Flying Handbook explains many of these concepts and is a helpful resource.

Good news for those who are already licensed fixed-wing pilots: you aren’t required to take the written test. Just learn the helicopter-specific knowledge and move on to flight training.

4.      Log your required flight time and master the skills

Private Helicopter Pilot

You will need to log a minimum of 40 hours flight time for a private helicopter pilot certificate. 20 of those hours must be instruction and 10 are designated for solo flight time.

                Commercial Helicopter Pilot

A commercial helicopter pilot student must log at least 150 hours of flight time. Of these, 100 can be in any powered aircraft, and at least 50 must be in helicopters. Within that flight time, the student must log 100 hours of pilot-in-command time, 20 hours of training, and 10 hours of solo flying.

5.      Take and pass your check ride

The final step in acquiring your helicopter pilot certificate is to take and pass your check ride. Like fixed-wing check rides, your helicopter check ride will consist of both an oral and practical exam.

Your instructor has already signed off on your practical skills, so you should be ready for that portion.  Review the practical test standards for either the private pilot rotorcraft or commercial & CFI helicopter depending on which test you will be taking. This will help reassure you that you have indeed mastered the maneuvers that the examiner will ask you to perform.

Nervous about the oral exam? Pick up a Helicopter Pilot Oral Exam Guide to help you prepare.

Once you’ve aced your check ride, all that’s left to do is submit the paperwork to the FAA, and congratulations – you will officially be a licensed helicopter pilot.

Want to learn more? Check out the ASA Helicopter Flying Handbook (ASA-8083-21B).

ASA Helicopter Flying Handbook (ASA-8083-21B) New Edition





Thanks for explaining step by step… i have a question please. I’m not a US citizen, and i have about 1000 actual helicopter flight hours on many helicopters including AH-64 D apache longbow. Can i apply for the commercial/CFI ? And can i get a job for having this?

Ryan Akbal

Ryan Akbal

Thanks for posting this step by step list, You’ve answered all of my questions.

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