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Lots of specific questions.


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#1 Cab4you26

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 15:03

Ok so I've done a lot of lurking, searching, and reading on here and I still have a lot of questions that have come to mind. I'll describe a little bit about me in an effort to get the best answers possible.

I'm 24 years young. I'm in good health. I have a good job with a good company (I'm a diesel mechanic for the railroad) that I've been with for the past 6+ years. I make $60k+ a year, have weekends off, come home every night, etc. It sounds pretty good, right? There is a big problem with my job, though. I don't love it, it's only tolerable. I feel like I'm just cruising along and passing the time. I want something more challenging and more fun and I don't want to retire and think, "What if..?" Or, "I wish I'd done this instead.." because at that point it will be too late. I realize if I pursue this career I will move around, I will have odd schedules, I won't make nearly what I make now, and I'm okay with that. I just want more out of life and I want to enjoy my career. I don't believe money defines a person's success. So with that said, on to my questions.

I'm a Virginia native. The school I've found that'd probably be the most feasible (in relation to being able to pay for it while working) for me is called American Helicopters in Mannassas, VA. Has anyone ever attended this school? If so, what are your thoughts on it? I'm not opposed to other schools either. I'm still weighing my options. If you've become a CFI while also working full-time, how long did it take you?

I have a prepaid college tuition plan called VA529, has anyone been successful in using this to pay for their schooling?

What's it like being a fresh CFI? What do you teach as a CFI? Everything? Do they just throw you to the wolves as soon as you become a CFI, or do they start you off with simpler tasks and slowly graduate you into all categories? During a typical day, what do you do when you aren't flying?

Has your career choice been worth it to you personally? If you had the money and had the option to do it all over again, would you? Or would you do something different? I've read a lot of positive and negative feedback on here. What are the best things you've experienced in your career so far? What are the worst things you've experienced?

A lot of the FAQ on jobs is pretty old, mostly from 2006. So as far as jobs, do you still think there will be a need for helicopter pilots 10 years from now? 20-30 years from now? I ask this because of all the recent development in the past few years with drones. Technology seems to advance at an exponential rate, so I feel this is a valid concern.

These are all the questions I can think of off the top of my head. Any related insight is welcome here.
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#2 Wally

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 18:01

"Has your career choice been worth it to you personally? If you had the money and had the option to do it all over again, would you? Or would you do something different? "

 

I retired last year.  I don't miss the work, my last employer and the idiotic regulatory environment made it EASY to want to quit., I miss the flying.

 

Started flying in 1968.  Overall, I loved it.  There were times when I was pretty sure I was an idiot for staying in the profession.  It is often like being a heavy equipment operator on remote site, the pilot is just the meat servo in the helicopter.

When you do the job well, you are invisible.  When that's not so, you are the goat.  You set your own standards in the job: your employer, the contract and the FAA except certain parameters, but the rest was me.  I never accomplished one goal- having my pax sleep through the landing.

 

I have worked in various fields over the years.  Made more money in some, but the next flying job and I was gone.  I enjoyed working in metal machining almost as much as flying, the business sold out and the next flying job came along, so...

 

I would do it all over again, but that's hindsight.  The cull factor for people starting down the path is pretty high, but if you're willing to fail rather than wish you had at least tried, it's a great way to spend a life.  I still meet people who started and are happy they did even though they quit 15, 40, a couple hundred hours down that long road.


Just a pilot (retired, so I have a LOT of time)...


#3 r22butters

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 18:38

Here's some for ya,...

1. Do I feel like flying right now? - Ask yourself this throughout the day (especially butt-crack early in the morning) because as a working pilot you fly when they want, not necessarily when you want.

2. Do I like initiating conversations with people and/or being in command of social situations? - The entry level path is Teach then Tours, both are heavy on people skills!

3. Do I like to eat? - Entry level jobs are extremely weight sensitive! Weigh more than 185 lbs you're gonna have issues finding entry level work. A few days ago I got a call out of the blue from a tour company. They needed me to start "yesterday", but their "non negotiable" weight limit is 180 lbs, and I'm 200! Note that's flight weight, so 180 = about 175 naked!

4. Am I willing to be treated like the steaming pile my boss pinched out this morning? - You're still in your 20's so you should be ok, but as you get older you may find youself insisting on basic human decencies (like a half hour lunch break in a 12 hour shift,...yeah, that's right Wally I went there!) that your boss isn't willing to give you!

5. Can I go back to my old job if this doesn't work out? - Hate the job, lose your medical, wife says chose your job or your family, robot takes your job,...have a backup man!
The only dream I have left is to live long enough to see the pilot shortage. Its been about fifteen years since they first told me it was coming, so,...

Aaaaaaaany day now! :D

#4 Azhigher

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 19:02

It might be hard to know the answer to this at 24, but do you REALLY want to fly? And if so, are you REALLY connected to helicopters? If so, why?

 

If you're striving for something nuanced like utility flying, or EMS for the mission profile then fine. If you just want something different you think you might enjoy I'd suggest you go fixed wing. You'll find yourself where you want to be faster in rotor wing, most likely, but there aren't as many rungs on the ladder to climb. I felt like I peaked at 26 for a while until I finally wised up.

 

Anyway, to answer your questions:

Being a fresh CFI was exhilarating! You made it, you got the instructing job! The biggest obstacle cleared! Woo! Typically schools will start you out with a new student who doesn't know anything, and therefore won't' really know if you're wrong or not 100% about what you're teaching. It's a new experience but it's not that bad. When I wasn't teaching I was doing ground instruction, or I wasn't working. Knowledge wise there isn't a TON to know. You make a first pass over it while getting your private pilot license. Then you go over it and learn some finer details while getting your commercial pilot certificate. Finally you REALLY dig into it when you get your CFI rating so by the time you have to teach it to someone you really know it backwards and forwards. Again though, there's not THAT much to it. 

 

If I could do it over again, would I? Yeah, probably. When I got to exactly where I wanted to be at 26 I thought it would be nice if there was more I could do, more time or money I could invest into myself to raise my payscale while maintaining a certain schedule, but there really wasn't. There were other options, sure, but nothing else I wanted to take up due to me wanting to be home every night. If I didn't have that requirement I would have gone fixed wing.

 

That being said, I love what I do. I've never dreaded going to work during any part of my aviation career. I work with good people, I like my company, I like my future prospects, and I'm on track to be able to retire at 50 if I really wanted, or to at least stop flying. Hard to argue with that!



#5 Cab4you26

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 19:57

@Azhigher, I haven't even considered fixed wing. I'm far more interested in rotor wing. Their versatility, complexity, and the amount of concentration it takes at all times is what is so intriguing to me. I like a challenge and I love learning.

I'm not sure I understand your second paragraph correctly. I'll get where I want to be faster in rotor wing? Isn't that a good thing? How did you leak at 26? What is your situation now, and how long have you been in the industry?

#6 Azhigher

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 20:22

You'll get to where you want to be faster in rotor wing = You'll make a decent salary faster, and probably make it into the sector and type of flying you want faster than if you went fixed wing. Guys in regional airlines waiting to jump companies, waiting for upgrades etc... To be fair that might be changing in the fixed wing side, but when I was considering both sides that's what seemed to be happening. 

 

What I meant by peaking at 26 was I was exactly where I set out to be. There wasn't really another rung up the ladder I wanted to go for. There wasn't another promotion or another company or position to strive for. After hustling and scheming for 6-7 years I had the job I thought I'd have until I retired. It was a weird feeling to get used to.

 

My situation now is I fly EMS at a base a like for the company I wanted to work for and live in the city I want. I started flight school at 19 and I'm 30 now. So, 11 years I guess.



#7 DizzyD

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 20:38

No disrespect to AZ's commentary but here is another perspective.  From what I see and hear things have changed dramatically in the airline world in the last 24 months..this is big decision, do your due diligence by giving fixed wing flying a thorough look before you commit.  The pay, working conditions, and hiring environment are simply too good to not give it serious consideration.  I steered a CFI friend in this direction 10 years ago and today at 38 yrs old he makes 200K/yr for 13-15 days of work each month flying right seat in a B777, sleeps in solid 4 star hotels while on the road, sees the world on the company dime with excellent job security, and is on track to retire at 60 with a 7 figure retirement account. See if you can match that deal in the rotary world. That's certainly a best case scenario but not uncommon and many regionals are paying 30K hiring bonuses AND paying for your ATP,  I wish it this good when I was 24 and flew for slave wages.  I love helicopters but I learned the hard way that financial security and quality of life tops everything.

 

Here is one to check out for yourself.  https://www.envoyair.com/pilots/


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#8 Azhigher

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 20:45

No disrespect to AZ's commentary but here is another perspective. 

 

Not at all! When I was typing it out I was actually thinking to myself that's how it was when I was starting but that very may well not be the case anymore, especially with regionals taking rotor time into account when hiring. Like I said, if I didn't want to be home every night I'd be in fixed wing today. Seems like a pretty good deal nowadays.


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#9 Cab4you26

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 07:58

@r22butters, I'm not too worried about flying when they want me to. I feel like that'd still be better than what I'm doing now.

And if I'm being honest with myself, I'm probably not as outgoing as most people, but I've done a lot of traveling compared to most my age. I've met a lot of strangers and I enjoy talking to people from around the world, learning about them and their cultures. I don't feel I'd have an issue being social at all.

As far as breaks, etc go, I think it would take some getting used to, definitely. I have paid breaks as we speak, but I feel if I enjoy the job then it would negate working long hours, etc.

I wouldn't be able to return to my job if it didn't work out. The railroad is doing A LOT to cut costs right now to lower their operating ratio, all in the name of shareholders. I'm surprised we haven't had a layoff at our shop. This is part of the reason I want to leave.


@Azhigher, in a sense it almost seems you're disappointed it took so little time to get to where you wanted to be in your career. I started at the railroad 10 days after I graduated high school and have been there ever since. It is a little disappointing to be in a position where I could stay for the rest of my career and have started that position immediately after high school. I've plateaued as far as climbing the ladder in my position, unless I decided to go into management and that's a definite no.


@DizzyD, that's impressive! Does he fly rotor wing as a hobby? Is he happy where he's at in fixed wing aviation? What's your profession? And are you happy with where you're at in your career? Anything you'd do differently?

I've briefly read about fixed wing pilots and somewhere I read most of those guys have their 4 year degrees. I don't know if there's any truth to that.

#10 Cab4you26

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 08:02

@Wally, thanks. You say you did metal machining previously, were you ever in a union? We are unionized and I have nothing positive to say about always feeling like it's "us vs them."

#11 Wally

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 08:36

When I was in machining there was a union push, sort of.  'Sort of' because management took care of the people on the floor.  Management expected you to work with your head and hands, work hard and produce quality, and valued their people.

 

I was fairly active in the union at my last flying job.  That's my only exposure to organized labor, and it definitely had some polarizing aspects on BOTH sides of the table.  BOTH sides of the table have to remember why they are there and work towards that objective. There are advantages to the CBA for both, and there are responsibilities required of each- it can work for the overall good.  (Almost all executives have a meaningful written contract, it's not an outlandish concept.)

 

There's a cliche that no employer gets an organized work force that doesn't work hard to get one.  It will ALWAYS be 'us versus them' because people are human on both sides of the table.

The reverse of the first saying is that the members get the representation they collectively deserve. If they don't keep their representatives in line and directed to their goal, which takes work, they can get screwed by their union and their employer.


Edited by Wally, 18 August 2017 - 08:40.

Just a pilot (retired, so I have a LOT of time)...


#12 Cab4you26

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 08:39

@Wally, yeah you're right. Being in a union is a double-edged sword. I haven't always felt like it's always been "us vs them" everywhere, though. I have a 2nd part-time job working about 20 hrs a week and the boss there takes really good care of us.

#13 DizzyD

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 14:27

The pilot I referenced loves his job, and knows he has it good because he had some crappy flying jobs before he got on with the airline.  Getting ahead in fixed wing 15 years ago was no cake walk.



#14 zippiesdrainage

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 06:58


5. Can I go back to my old job if this doesn't work out? - Hate the job, lose your medical, wife says chose your job or your family, robot takes your job,...have a backup man!

 

Come on Butters, just marry the robot that took your job and you could have had the best of both worlds.


"A mind that is stretched by a new experience, can never go back to its old dimensions"- Unknown


#15 Wally

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 08:33

"5. Can I go back to my old job if this doesn't work out? - Hate the job, lose your medical, wife says chose your job or your family, robot takes your job,...have a backup man!"

 

What's your backup plan for autonomous 18 wheelers?


Just a pilot (retired, so I have a LOT of time)...


#16 r22butters

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 09:40

"5. Can I go back to my old job if this doesn't work out? - Hate the job, lose your medical, wife says chose your job or your family, robot takes your job,...have a backup man!"
 
What's your backup plan for autonomous 18 wheelers?


Find one of those middle-aged chicks who always put her career first and is now affraid of dying alone.

,...and become a house husband! :D
The only dream I have left is to live long enough to see the pilot shortage. Its been about fifteen years since they first told me it was coming, so,...

Aaaaaaaany day now! :D

#17 Cab4you26

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 10:08

@DizzyD, I may reconsider fixed wing seeing as there is a community college where I can use my VA529 to get trained there. I also personally know the instructor. Don't most fixed wing pilot a usually need their Bachelors degree? Otherwise I'll continue saving my $$ for rotor wing.
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#18 adam32

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 10:31

@DizzyD, I may reconsider fixed wing seeing as there is a community college where I can use my VA529 to get trained there. I also personally know the instructor. Don't most fixed wing pilot a usually need their Bachelors degree? Otherwise I'll continue saving my $$ for rotor wing.


No.

#19 DizzyD

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 15:53

There is a preference for degreed pilots at the major legacy carriers, but as Adam32 stated it's not necessarily a deal breaker.  The pilot I referenced didn't have one.

More importantly, I believe the degree issue will be history by the time you would be interviewing, as the industry gets shorter on crews.



#20 r870

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Posted 02 October 2017 - 13:11

It's crazy running across this post, I feel like I am in almost the identical situation as you, Cab4you26!

I'm 26, living in VA (although originally from FL) working a decent job making ok (but not great) money, but really just don't like it at all... Been thinking about making a career change to become a pilot, but seems to be a very tough path to get into

I've always wanted to learn to fly since I rode in a helicopter at 16, and just started to take lessons at American Helicopters. I've only been to a couple lessons so far (big hold back is $$ right now). Though I don't have anything else to compare it against, the few times I've been have been great experiences, and it seems like a pretty good school from everything I can tell (though someone who's been there more may be able to provide more info).

It's a tough decision to make... I've been struggling with whether to try the career change for the past few months. But, all I can seem to think about since that first discovery flight is what I need to do to get back up in the air.

Like you said, life is about more than just making money.

Many people seem to suggest getting a degree though, as a fall back in case flying doesn't work out. I personally have an engineering degree, but after working for a few years out of college I'm realizing more and more than I hate the kind of work that's in my field, and couldn't imagine doing that for the next 30 years.




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