Safety concerns for a potential helicopter pilot?

I’m thinking about doing this as a profession, but I want to try it out first, so I scheduled a demo flight.

What really makes me nervous is not in my motor skills and ability to pick it up quickly, but the fact that the instructor I was just talking to didn’t want to hear my concerns about safety. I asked for the more experienced pilot and he seemed insulted. He said "We’re all experienced. It’s like you’re asking about the difference between a driver that’s driven for 9 years and a driver whose driven for 12 years. The driver whose driven for 9 years may actually be a better driver". True, but all other things equal, the pilot with more experience will probably be more likely to correct my mess-ups and avoid a crash!!!!!. The fact that the dude I just talked to kind of disregarded my concerns is a problem for me. I want to fly helicopters for a living, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that if I’m dead. I will feel way more comfortable sitting next to someone that has 900 hours flight time in the squirrelly R22 than someone who has 200 hours!!! How realistic is it to demand the more experienced instructors at the flight school I choose to attend?

It’s natural to want to fly with a more experienced pilot, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Since it is your money you have a right to request a more experienced instructor. If the school is a reputable one, they will respect that. However, most flight schools also have an obligation to see that all their instructors get an equal amount of work. Most instructors are not salaried, they are paid by the flight hour (most are only paid 1/3 to 1/2 the rate that the school charges you, by the way). At most flight schools, the least experienced instructors get most of the the primary students, and a more experienced instructor / or the chief instructor will give periodic evaluations and work with advanced flight students.

Even though one instructor might have more experience than another, they must all teach the same things pretty much the same way, and it is the chief flight instructor’s job to see that everyone teaches to the same standard. The aviation regulations are very specific about what must be taught and how it is taught. Even a brand new instructor can teach you to fly safely and "properly", especially if overseen by an experienced instructor (most are). The main advantage is that a more experienced instructor is usually a more efficient teacher and better at spotting and correcting common student errors.

However, do not equate lower experience with incompetence. In fact, while many highly experienced pilots are "good sticks", not very many are good at teaching. I’ve known some low time pilots who had a gift for teaching that the grizzled veterans with thousands of hours simply never had and never will have. A lot of flight hours is not the measure of a good flight instructor. Teaching is an art and skill that some people have and most don’t. Evaluate the teacher, not the number of hours they have logged.

Also, new flight instructors tend to be more cautious with students, and they are often less bored with the task of teaching. A more experienced instructor might have become bored with teaching and might not have his / her heart in it any more. It’s pretty common. A more experienced instructor will often also allow a student to get a little closer to the edge, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. There’s a fine line between letting a student screw up, which is very useful as a teaching tool, and letting a student get so out of hand they cause an accident. Statistically, it is the instructors with moderate experience (500 to 2000 hours) that have the most student accidents, not new instructors. FACT. Look it up.

If you want the safest training, find an instructor with 5,000+ hours. Unfortunately, most of them are out working "real" flying jobs and earning decent pay instead of pandering to a whiny, demanding student for a pittance of a paycheck. Insulted by that? Oh well.

Good luck.

p.s. if you want the best training, man-up, join the Army, and apply for Warrant Officer school and helicopter flight training.


5 Responses to Safety concerns for a potential helicopter pilot?

  1. First off Tim, Flight instructors pass exams regularly so if they have an instructors ticket, they are qualified. Second, no one wants to die so they are up there with you too. Third, helicopter safety is pretty good so don’t over worry. Fourth, you can choose the instructor you are confortable with.
    References :
    Been there, done that.

  2. Flight instructors know what they’re doing and take their work very seriously. Junior flight instructors are supervised by senior flight instructors.

    I’d be insulted too.
    References :

  3. you’ll know once you’re a flight hours hungry CFI wet behind ears still with 200 hours and some smartazz comes asking for someone more experienced.

    see.. the civilian business works that way. if EXPERIENCE was a major factor in it, it would work like in the military, where INSTRUCTOR is a senior job.. after you went through number of other positions and responsibilities.
    References :

  4. Don’t be surprised that an instructor gets ticked off. Yes you can request certain instructors, but you might have to change schools to get one you want.
    If you want to live a long time then don’t fly helicopters, aircraft are much safer.
    There are things that can cause a helicopter to lose control like Vortex Ring State (VRS) and Loss of Tail Rotor Effectiveness (LTE) if you just approach a gust of wind wrong. There are many more single point failure modes (rotor blade failure, tail blade failure, rotor links, transmission, etc) that can cause a crash. Aircraft want to fly and can land with just the wing and some control surfaces. For example a prop blade fracture on an aircraft is a non-event…on a helicopter rotor blade fracture is loss of life.

    The R22 is just about the most deadly, at least pick a different model to learn in.
    References :
    Helicopter safety engineer.

  5. It’s natural to want to fly with a more experienced pilot, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Since it is your money you have a right to request a more experienced instructor. If the school is a reputable one, they will respect that. However, most flight schools also have an obligation to see that all their instructors get an equal amount of work. Most instructors are not salaried, they are paid by the flight hour (most are only paid 1/3 to 1/2 the rate that the school charges you, by the way). At most flight schools, the least experienced instructors get most of the the primary students, and a more experienced instructor / or the chief instructor will give periodic evaluations and work with advanced flight students.

    Even though one instructor might have more experience than another, they must all teach the same things pretty much the same way, and it is the chief flight instructor’s job to see that everyone teaches to the same standard. The aviation regulations are very specific about what must be taught and how it is taught. Even a brand new instructor can teach you to fly safely and "properly", especially if overseen by an experienced instructor (most are). The main advantage is that a more experienced instructor is usually a more efficient teacher and better at spotting and correcting common student errors.

    However, do not equate lower experience with incompetence. In fact, while many highly experienced pilots are "good sticks", not very many are good at teaching. I’ve known some low time pilots who had a gift for teaching that the grizzled veterans with thousands of hours simply never had and never will have. A lot of flight hours is not the measure of a good flight instructor. Teaching is an art and skill that some people have and most don’t. Evaluate the teacher, not the number of hours they have logged.

    Also, new flight instructors tend to be more cautious with students, and they are often less bored with the task of teaching. A more experienced instructor might have become bored with teaching and might not have his / her heart in it any more. It’s pretty common. A more experienced instructor will often also allow a student to get a little closer to the edge, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. There’s a fine line between letting a student screw up, which is very useful as a teaching tool, and letting a student get so out of hand they cause an accident. Statistically, it is the instructors with moderate experience (500 to 2000 hours) that have the most student accidents, not new instructors. FACT. Look it up.

    If you want the safest training, find an instructor with 5,000+ hours. Unfortunately, most of them are out working "real" flying jobs and earning decent pay instead of pandering to a whiny, demanding student for a pittance of a paycheck. Insulted by that? Oh well.

    Good luck.

    p.s. if you want the best training, man-up, join the Army, and apply for Warrant Officer school and helicopter flight training.
    References :
    .
    Professional pilot and flight instructor for 26 years.

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