Jump to content

fixed wing vs helo ems

Recommended Posts

Fixed wing commercial pilot here with the helicopter bug, considering future job prospects and hoping to find some people with first or seconhand knowledge of the differences between both. Some questions that come to mind... How many hours flown per month on average, what your opinion is between the two, and why you'd choose one over the other (irrespective of money and experience requirements).


Local operators for me include Airmed Intl., North Memorial, and Air Methods. (Southern MN)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From the helicopter side. I'm on track for 150 hrs for the year. EMS is not a job to build hours. You might go days without a flight. For helicopters you'll start out between 55-60 grand per year. Not exactly a high paying job but much better than it was a few years ago. From what I've seen the fixed wing guys get about 10-15 grand more per year. Also from what I've seen they don't do the 7 on and 7 off like we do either. Still, even with 7 on, I have no layovers and go home every night.


I chose EMS primarily for geography. I'm located near family in an area I like. I don't think there is any job better for location. If there's a particular spot in America you want to live, you can bet an EMS operator has an opening there.


Although I don't fly fixed wing for a living, I'm an airplane owner so I have my IFR airplane ticket. For sheer fun of flying, and challenging conditions, I don't think you can beat helicopters compared to airplanes. You won't be landing in a grocery store parking lot or landing on some mountain interstate under goggles in an airplane. You won't be flying into high schools or other PR events talking to the public either.


Either way you can't go wrong. While you won't be breaking any flying hour record, the flying is challenging and the work is stable. Never heard of any furloughs in EMS. If you pick one or the other, I'm sure later on down the road you can switch if you become bored. I'm thinking of getting my multi-engine and maybe switching over 5-10 yrs from now. Right now there isn't any other form of aviation that can compare to what I'm doing, so I have no intention of switching to a different field.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are you interested in opinions of the different operators and operations, or the differences in fixed and rotary wing EMS? If it's the former, visit the bases. I seldom see fixed wing EMS pilots, it may be months between visits to an airport for me.

I hear rumors of smaller operators that do both fixed and rotary. One such was/is based in western South Carolina (Anderson) but speculation was that the program was to be in Rock Hill (KRKH?).


If you're after a 'feel' for the HEMS job itself, discussions aren't rare, don't know what I could add, but I'd gladly answer questions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Velocity's response is the kind I was looking for. I've done a lot of reading on HEMS and have a decent understanding of work environment, hours, etc. I'm not expecting this forum to have a lot of people with experience in the fixed wing side, but I'd enjoy reading personal opinions on the topic and how people feel it compares to HEMS - more-so personal motivators for choosing one or the other rather than physical differences.


Personally, I enjoy the idea of HEMS for the schedule, camaraderie (I'm assuming; opinions?), purpose, and as Velocity said the multiple options for locations. It seems as though the fixed wing EMS side is fewer and further between. It also sounds like you fly more often per shift in the helo side even though total hours per year may be about the same.


I also question the necessity of the fixed wing side vs the helo side, and wonder if they'd be the first to get shut down in an area due to cutbacks. I don't see why areas with level 1 trauma facilities and multiple options for care would need a long range, high speed, transport option unless they're harvesting organs or transporting the wealthy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I flown Fixed wing EMS- you get to sit around just as much as you do with helicopters. I fly both. It depends on where and what you are flying for an airplane. Any thing from old Cessna 421's to Lear Jets and maybe some medium sized jets that I don't know about. The Lear's seem to fly a lot. Seems that these days its the 90 or 200 series King Air's, Like Rotor wing EMS you are not going to get much of a look with less that 2500 hours Fixed Time 500 hours + Multi with some turbine. Most get hired on with a lot more that those times. Its not a time building job nor is it an entry level pilot job either. The best job you can get to prep for it is a Night Freight Pilot job. Do it for three or four years in something like a Beech 99 or a Metro Liner and well you would be in good shape. Aircraft like the Cessna 208 is fine for a while but Single engine dose not count for much its all about twin time and the more twin night and turbine the better. Thou for a guy with no turbine time, flying a 208 is a good gig for a fixed wing pilot. Fun airplane to fly too. No matter how you wish to cut it, its a tough road to travel not matter what road you decide to take, aviation always was like this and always be. And in this tough economy its not easy to say the least.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Personally, I enjoy the idea of HEMS for the schedule, camaraderie..."


7/7 or 14/14 is pretty standard in helos. Lots of jobs on that schedule provide off-duty crew accomodations, except HEMS (Yes, some companies do, but most don't.). Base assignments can change as trafffic somes and goes. Some companies will assist with your move. If I'm not working in my hometown, I would just as soon be back flying the Gulf, for lots of reasons.


I don't know if there's any more "camaraderie" in HEMS than any other job I've ever had. Medical/aviator crew integration is an impersonal relationship once the tones drop and we start working. I see less of other pilots on this job than any other I've ever had.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Care to elaborate?


Well "Wally" mentioned on the other thread that compensation would be a reason for leaving. I agree, we don't get paid much. To me pay has never been an issue though. I'm single and get military retirement so I do OK. I could make far more overseas but I spent 20 yrs of travelling in the military and I have no desire to travel anymore. Generally jobs that pay well go to places I have no desire to go. I can finally say I'm settled down in one area. Very relaxing knowing I don't have to pack up every 3-4 yrs. Wally also mentioned paperwork. Can't really say I agree there. This is literally the easiest job I ever had as far as the BS outside of flying. In the military I was tasked with so many things besides the flying stuff . Even on the flying side I spent hours planning and executing a flight. Now, I spend like 15 mins when I come in to log in, do a risk assessment, check the weather and do a crew brief. I then go out and do a 10-15 min preflight. Done.


Some people have mentioned problems with dealing with hospital management. The crew interacts with them, I don't. I'm a pilot, not a politician. The chief pilot did my training and he gave me the best advice. "Do your job, don't get involved in rumors or politics." Honestly I don't care how much money the hospital is making or losing. If I did, that might affect my decision in accepting a flight.


Contray to popular belief there is no pressure to fly from management. If anything I'll get in trouble for flying in marginal weather. The company wants their expensive aircraft back in one piece. They don't need pilot's pushing weather trying to be "rescue rangers." That being said, we all have had nervous moments where weather has snuck up and bit us. Weather forecasting in this job (especially in the mountains) is an artform. You don't exactly have a forecast for a road intersection. If I accept a flight, it's based upon careful analysis of weather. Emotion or outside pressure has nothing to do with it.


Getting along with your crew is vital. You'll hear horror stories about guys run out of town because their crew didn't like them. Some of that is true. Some people are fired because they scared the crap out of their crew and now they lost confidence in them. Trust is extremely important in what we do. I don't need to tell you that historically our safety record hasn't been the greatest. Even though we've made great advances in recent years, the crew in the back realizes what we do up front is hard work. They want to know that when I take them out on a dark night to some mountain scene site, I'm on my game and I'm not going to take any unnecessary risks.


For some I suppose working a 12 hr shift could be boring if you don't get to fly. Unless you have some kind of anxiety disorder you should be fine. I know guys who workout during the shift. Read a book/magazines. Surf the web. Watch movies. Wash your car. Wash the aircraft. Sleep. Get a sun tan. Watch airplanes takeoff and land. Hang out at the FBO and tell war stories. I build RC planes during my shift. The amazing thing is you get paid to do all that! The next day you might not do hardly any of that because you we're out flying most of the day. It goes in cycles. Also realize it's only 7 days. That's only six months out of the year you're working. My week off is like a vacation. I take my plane out and fly around the state for the "$100 burger."


Well I hope some of that at least gives you a clue of what to expect. It's not for everyone but no job is perfect. This is actually the best job I've ever had. Very laid back and relaxing but yet sometimes very challenging. Good luck to ya.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...