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What's the problem with starting a career?


Medic40

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I have recently decided to go and start training to become a helicopter pilot. So far every pilot that I have talked to has advised that I start looking around vertical reference to start getting some perspective on the helicopter industry. After a few days of looking around some of the post here (mostly in reference to stepping into the helicopter world as a low time pilot) my impressions are mixed. I have come across more negative outlooks on becoming a pilot, and not just from VR, than I have positive.

 

Now I am not naive, the negative and pessimistic outlooks do speak some truth. I get it, it's really really hard to break into this industry. It takes a lot of dedication, hard work and patience (and let's not forget money) to get that first time building job as a 200 hour pilot. The bottom line is that CFIs seem to be a dime a dozen and getting a CDL with a hazmat endorsement so you can drive around organophospahtes for two years certainly does not allure to most recent graduates.

 

I have decided to give up my job as a full time Paramedic so that I can start training in the next six to ten months. It might seem a bit silly for me to sit up here and speak so highly of the profession when I have all but about 30 minutes in an S300. But what we are talking about here, when we talk about getting that first pilot job or deciding rather or not one should peruse a career in aviation, seems more about internal traits, commitment, dedication, patience, and passion than experience. That area I do have a fair share of perspective on.

 

Many people have complained that it's hard to land your first pilot job. Well how is that different from so many other careers? Has anyone ever tried to get on with a large well respected fire department? While working in Las Vegas and Tulsa as a medic I knew guys who had been waiting five years or more for a shot at becoming a firefighter and had been told no every year since they started. But they stuck with it even though there were sometimes more than a thousand applicants for just one or two jobs. I thought for the longest time that I wanted to be a flight paramedic. To do that it would take at least five years at a bare minimum to land your first job starting from scratch. And of course your first job will be working as an EMT for about 9.75 an hour. After three years as a medic I am only making 12.36 but even the higher paying jobs would not bring in more than 16 or 17 on average.

 

Others have complained about sweeping the floors of hangers at flight schools as being a part of their first pilot job. I find this point really quite laughable personally. Anyone who complains about sweeping a hangar floor for 15 an hour has never mopped up blood for 12. Who does anyone think they are not having to do what we in EMS refer to as "Station Duties," when the ink on your certificate is still drying?

 

Every job I applied for in EMS, I did exactly what everyone here is saying you have to do as a new pilot. I drove 600 miles to Tulsa for my first medic interview and spent three days there doing observation rides. A flight medic buddy I knew said the best way to get a job at his service was to go down to a base and talk with the crews from time to time. Ask them about their job, try and do a ride along, do a good job on scene when you call them out on a flight, etc.

 

What I am getting to is this, the problem with getting a job as a new helicopter pilot seems to be less about the number of hours in your log book and more about the same problems you would have getting any good job. You will only go as far as you take yourself.

 

I guess this post is for all of the other people who might be reading this and are in the exact same position as I am in. You are tirelessly scouring every bit of information out there from word of mouth to websites, debating on if stepping into this profession is the right choice. Well, I can't answer that for you. But I can tell you that I personally have a passion for flying, it's all that I have ever wanted to do (even as a medic). Despite all of the nay-saying I still think its better to roll the dice pursuing your dream than to never try at all.

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Medic,

 

It sounds like you already understand the industry well enough to know what you are getting into. If you ever saw any of my old posts, you would know that I'm one of those "go for it!" kind of guys. I didn't listen to all the negative BS either. Well, that's not entirely true. I listened to it enough to know that it was coming from somewhere, but I knew that I would be one of the ones who "make it".

 

You are right to compare this industry to firefighting and such, as far as waiting and paying your dues to get in. And I agree that most highly coveted jobs, that is what it's going to be like.

 

So, where does all the negativity come from?

 

Here are some of my theories:

 

People who are bitter because "no one told them it was going to be this hard"...........

 

People who didn't believe that it would take so much work............

 

People who are in training right now, and don't want any more competition for that CFI job..........

 

People who are just pessimistic, negative people..............

 

People who believe that right out of the gate, they should be making 6 figures.............

 

 

I firmly believe that a lot of the people who instantly try to talk someone out of getting into this career are mad because it takes so much work, sacrifice, and dedication to break into the industry. And to be honest, it doesn't actually take that much work, sacrifice, and dedication.

 

At my school, we have a lot of students. Most, I say MOST..........no show for flights, cancel every chance they get, come in late, don't do all of their preflight planning, generally just have a lazy attitude. They only want to do the flying and never crack the books open. My school goes through a college for VA purposes. The majority of the guys I am in school with are not going to finish their associates degree. Why? Because they "don't need it" They literally use the school to get their ratings, and quit with one class left. A free degree, and they don't finish it for one class. This is what they fail to realize: If we are at the same level right now.......me and these other guys......we will be at roughly the same level throughout the early stages in our career. If all else is equal, and I have a degree separating my resume from theirs going for that turbine job.........well.

 

This is why it is not hard to be the standout among these guys. All I do is what anyone should do if they are trying to get a job. I treat every day at the airport like an interview, and believe me people notice. The owner and chief pilot talks to his flight instructors. He knows who deserves that one or two CFI slots that are open. He knows who is showing up for all their flights, coming in early, staying late, actually studying on their own, performing all the preflight tasks. He knows I know how to do my weight and balance. But he also knows that I still do all calculations before every flight, even though I know on any given day whether or not we can fly just by going outside. That's not the point. The point is that I'm a professional among slackers. In the end, they are making it incredibly easy for me to land a spot at my school, and I thank them.

 

You NEED to go for this. If this is what you truly want to do, dive in. You already know what it takes, and you certainly have the right attitude. I could have turned my back on the chance too. I have 4 kids, and I drive 200 miles every day to make this happen. I relish the opportunity to look at all the naysayers and ask them, "you were saying?"............

 

So, the only question is, when does training start?

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Anyone who complains about sweeping a hangar floor for 15 an hour has never mopped up blood for 12.

 

Many instructors don't get fifteen an hour (the company charges more, but what they get after the company takes it's cut is less) to flight instruct. In most cases, sweeping the hangar floor is gratis.

 

The difference is that when you wipe down the ambulance and get paid hourly, you're being paid to do your job.

 

When you sweep the hangar floor you're not generally being paid to do your job.

 

Your job may have 8 hours a day of pay, whereas the instructor who teaches four students may put in a 12-16 hour day, but get paid for three.

 

Giving up a full time job to train would be a fools errand, in my opinion. You don't gain much that you couldn't simply do outside your job, while working that job.

 

The difficulty in aviation isn't tiresome hangar floor sweeping. That's minor stuff. It's a lot of years of poverty. Most helicopter students never really know the extent of that; get out of primary flight training and instruct for a short time, then go hop in turbine equipment and be make a wage that you can live on. The fixed wing pilot might spent ten years eating top ramen.

 

When I've gone out on a 45 day tour, I haven't been able to see my pets or family or sleep in my bed...not just for 8 hours a day, but for 24 hours a day. During that time if I flew 80 hours, I got paid for 80 hours. I had over a thousand hours dedicated to the job, however. Average those 80 hours of pay out over those thousand hours dedicated to the company, and it's a very different view.

 

It's not at all the same as other industries. I'm a firefighter too, and have done law enforcement and other similar work. What firefighter spends fifty grand to be certified as Firefighter 1 or II?

 

Best of luck to you, but you haven't started flight training, and you already seem to be lecturing the rest of us on what it's like to work in the industry. Sounds like you know it al, already. Good luck with that.

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Different experiences from different people will provide different opinions. Being different is what makes this a great country…..


Within 30 days of achieving my CFI, I received a call from the school I trained at offering me a job for which I technically never asked for. Therefore, for me, getting the first job was easy. Was it luck? Hardly… It was a plan executed successfully….


Throughout my career, I’ve never lived in poverty even though, while flying helicopters, I made poverty wages. Shoot, I made approximately 120K last year, but for the area I live, it’s considered an unlivable wage (sidebar: ground paramedics in my area routinely make over a 100K). In my experience, it’s not about how much you make. It’s about what you do with what you make….. Simply put, it’s all relative…..


With that, ask any salaried employee if they do more work than they are paid for and the answer will always be “yes”. The longstanding culture of this business does not provide payment for simply being present. It never has and, it never will. Besides, you sweep the floor for free to posture yourself when the next “better” opportunity comes along…. Albeit for me, I was paid $14 an hour to sweep the floor simply because I had an A&P certificate in my pocket and a key element of the overall “plan”….


Success in this business is up to the individual. Over time, the definition of “success” is what some folks have a hard time with…..

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My “how much you make comment” was based on an individual level and not a business (company) level. However, the flight school I initially worked for never had to sell a machine to pay for a referb. Never. Twenty or so years after buying 1 R22, the company sold for 15 million with the world’s largest civilian training fleet. Luck? Hardly. It was simply a “business strategy”……


It absolutely has to do with what you do with what you make…….

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I know of three people off the top of my head that are very professional have done much hangar sweeping and aircraft washing - for FREE - and still not gotten their break.

 

While your point about having a good attitude and ethic is sound, it sounds as though you are using it as justification for pursuing your decision. Personally, I said to myself "I want to do this" and did it, no other justification needed. Spent enough years of my life not enjoying my work.

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Why all the negativity? How do I tell you to drop between fifty and a hundred thousand dollars, one to two years of your life, and know that at that point you have commercial pilot certificate and if you're smart a CFI/II ticket. You will be expected to be a professional but pretty much unemployable, except to repeat what you've just done- in the other seat. And you'll need luck and must fight like the devil for that opportunity...

Instruction is hard work, if you do it right. A couple years watching the good students go to... where? and you're goin' around the patch for the thousandth time trying to keep a stupid lazy student who's a no-show most days, trying to keep him from killing you. Money's kinda humble, but you're getting paid.

When you get the magic number in the log book, you'll go to the Gulf, where you're just 'meat in the seat". Hot. Crappy bases in worse locations. Hot. Money's better, maybe even fairly good if you live simple and work a lot. Hurricane evacs... No mountains; few, small towers; no rational reason to be low enough to catch a wire even if they were there; great big forced landing area. I wouldda retired from PHI in the Gulf if I hadn't started a second family elsewhere, one divorce was enough.

 

I liked it, still do, but I'm crazy and or stupid. Most of the pilots I've worked with, and known for the last 45 years, feel the same way about it. But I wouldn't recommend it, unless it's something you'll gladly fail trying to do.

 

P.S. You a EMT or a paramedic? Not clear in your post.

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People complain everyday about being unemployed and can't find work, yet Monster.com has millions of job postings. Some people have 3 jobs, yet others "can't even get a job." Those people don't WANT it!

 

Our industry is very small and most students expect a job be given to them once they have their ratings. I told every one of my students, their success in this industry is soley dependant on them!

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One thing Medic40 may have already learned from his single post.......you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

 

I just don't get it. If he had come on here and just asked "should I change careers and be a chopper pilot?", he would have been chastised for being lazy and not searching the threads and getting more information about the industry.

 

Now, he appears to me to be a guy who did his homework, knows what he is getting into, and he gets lambasted as a know it all.

 

You just can't win I guess. He did the right thing, got himself spun up on the industry, and asked if it's really as bleak as he's been told. Sounds to me like he is making all the right moves to sort out whether or not this career change is a good idea.

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Now, he appears to me to be a guy who did his homework, knows what he is getting into, and he gets lambasted as a know it all.

I don't see where he got "lambasted"... but I'll back anyone who has actually been in this industry working as a commercial pilot when they give their opinion. Its like rank in the military, it doesn't matter how good of a troop you are sometimes, you're not getting your stripe until you do your time - end of story; same goes here, spend a few years actually working in this business then come tell us how it is.

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I just don't get it. If he had come on here and just asked "should I change careers and be a chopper pilot?", he would have been chastised for being lazy and not searching the threads and getting more information about the industry.

Now, he appears to me to be a guy who did his homework, knows what he is getting into, and he gets lambasted as a know it all.

 

 

Asking "should I change careers" is a stupid question (yes, there are stupid questions). Are we to split him open, wear his skin, live in his skull, and delve into his life in order to know what he should do?

 

What we've seen here wasn't homework. It was the uninitiated, uncertificated, inexperienced, and unknowing, presuming to tell the world how it is. How is it that one who isn't even a pilot can lecture the room about the industry?

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The main difference is that this career doesn't need you, so you may never find that "break-in" job!

 

 

And there it is…. The conundrum of this industry…

 

No one in this business will ever NEED you. The key is to convince them they WANT you. Do that and progressing is cake.

Edited by Spike
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You gotta pay to play. I got my start in aviation 7 years ago as a line guy and since then I've basically just added things on to what I already did. I still push aircraft in and out of hangars, clean toilets, seep and mop, make coffee, manage equipment, etc. I just get paid a lot more and have better benefits. Oh and I get to fly now.

 

I wouldn't change a damn thing.

Edited by SBuzzkill
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I guess this post is for all of the other people who might be reading this and are in the exact same position as I am in. You are tirelessly scouring every bit of information out there from word of mouth to websites, debating on if stepping into this profession is the right choice. Well, I can't answer that for you. But I can tell you that I personally have a passion for flying, it's all that I have ever wanted to do (even as a medic). Despite all of the nay-saying I still think its better to roll the dice pursuing your dream than to never try at all.

 

Avbug, I'm going to guess you're just being grumpy again here... Read what he wrote. It wasn't addressed to the industry but to the outsiders looking in that are in a similar posistion. It appears to be in response to the thread about it being a bad time to get into the industry. Was he lecturing you or sharing his feeling that us new comers know its a terrible time to get in the industry, but some of us are willing to put it all on the line for the potential reward? Is it a bad idea? Probably. Some of us though are confident we'll fight harder than those around us to claw our way into the industry.

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Some really good posts on here. Thanks for all of your input!

 

I remember a pilot I came across while working as a medic that has recently been another good inspiration for my decision to become a pilot. Years ago he worked in the basement of a local hospital, cleaning laundry and working in the kitchen. From time to time while coming in to work he would see the helicopter landing and dropping off patients. He decided that that was what he really wanted to do with his life. He worked two and three jobs for a few years and eventually saved up enough money to go and start taking flight lessons. He climbed the ladder and it payed off. Now he is working for that same hospital flying EC145s. The joke is that he worked his way from the basement to the roof!

 

I wonder how many people would have told him, your just a kitchen worker, you have a minimum wage job, how will you pay for your training and support yourself when you can't find a job in this over saturated, cut throat industry?

 

I want to fly helicopters. If I have to scrubb toilets ( which after working as a medic for a while, scrubbing toilets is not bad work, at least the toilet does not try to punch you in the face when it's covered in....) or sweep floors, make $9.50 an hour only getting a few hours or less flight time a week and I have to move 1000 miles away because it really is the only job left for an S300 instructor... Well then, it's the first step on a long road to getting to fly a beautiful new EC155 some day.

 

That's the way I see it. You are more than welcome to disagree. I completely agree that this is probably not for everyone and for some people it might not be a good choice for a career. But every time I hear the mechanical whine of a fenestron tail rotor, I can't help but get butterflies in my stomach. So what other choice do I have? =D

 

Thanks again for all of your comments and support!

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Wally,

 

I am a Paramedic. I started in the army guard and worked as a field medic for 6 years before getting out. Between deployments and civilian life I continued working as an EMT. Wen I got out of Iraq in 08 I went to paramedic school and started taking lessons in a Cessna 172SP. I loved every minute of it! But circumstances have a tendency of altering what you had planned and the money ran dry just shy of my check ride with just 6 hours of solo time to go. Now the VA is offering to pay 90% for my 33 months of active duty time so I can go to a college based flight school. So I am ready to jump back into it.

 

That was more than you asked for but there you have it lol

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It takes so little extra effort to be above average. On the other hand this industry has similarities to becoming a professional athlete. As you go from grade school to middle school to high school to junior college to college, then in some sports to farm teams there is a cut at every turn. You just have to figure out what the cut is every time in this profession to move to the next level. Almost all of it is in the individual's control. So...the good news is, your success is determined by you, the bad news is exactly the same.

I am also one of the ones that says go for it. You can do it if you are willing to do what it takes.

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I tell you what Medic40, I went through the same evaluation process about 7 years ago. I'm building my time, starting a company, and I still work shifts on the 'line.' The bottom line is this; when you fly, knowing it'll be a job like anything else, and you land and think to yourself, "Holy Sh*t that is fun, and I I can't wait to fly again." That's how you'll know you're doing the right thing by training for a second career. I was a 5 year testing guy for the FD, and expanded out to a lot of specialties to make sure I would have a long career. You train up, and come see me when you're done, I'd hire you if you got skills to go with that determination! I find that people from military or public safety have seen enough death and injury to be self disciplined on following policy and FAR guidelines for safety.

 

Take care.

 

For what it's worth: Seattle's Helicopter's NW has the lowest cost R44 rental & training, Precision in Oregon has the most beautiful scenery and real world training locations, and Inland in Eastern Washington has the best weather. For the 300C, I trained at Snohomish Flying Service in Snohomish County, also a beautiful sea level place to train.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Medic,

I would agree with alot of the posts here. As a guy who works in EMS (Dispatch), the thing about pay is true. You get paid for all your time, as a CFII, there's no guarentee for hours and most of the time if you get a no show, you don't get paid. If you're cool with that uncertainty, then go for it. If you have a family that's relying on you is cool with that, then go for it. If you could drop to relief/on-call at your agency and pick up shifts to cover supplemental income (graves, etc...). The fact that you have something in your back pocket to rely on is a big plus wherever you go. (I know a guy whose a HEMS pilot, paramedic and a city firefighter...He is SET :lol: )

But, if this is what you want to do, sit down and chart a plan, be ready to make changes to the plan but always have that end goal in site. You'll see some awesome scenery, hear some crazy stories, meet some good people and have one of those "cool" jobs" that everyone will be jealous of.

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Medic40-

 

Go for it.

 

As you know it's a hard industry to get into, but it certainly isn't the only one.

 

There plenty of people that have obtained a BA/BS in college or went to trade school and didn't land a job. Was it because of the industry they chose? No. It was because they didn't work hard enough or didn't have the right attitude [or both].

 

To get that first CFI job you will have to work HARD in flight school. You will need to be flexible. You will probably have to move across the country for that first job. You may get a job w/ a flight school that goes under, and find yourself moving to the other side of the country... again.

 

And then, as a CFI...

 

You will work your a** off for peanuts, you will barely be able to pay bills and you will pray that the radiator in your car holds out just a little bit longer. Your relationship w/ your significant other and family will be tested and pushed. You will be stressed & tired, 7 days a week. And you will have moments where you despise being a CFI [but still love your students]. It only gets better w/ time though.

 

Contrary to what others may say, people do make it in this industry. It is possible to overcome these challenges and after many, many years of hard work land that dream job too.

 

And those that don't cry on Vertical ;)

 

 

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Medic40-

 

Go for it.

 

As you know it's a hard industry to get into, but it certainly isn't the only one.

 

There plenty of people that have obtained a BA/BS in college or went to trade school and didn't land a job. Was it because of the industry they chose? No. It was because they didn't work hard enough or didn't have the right attitude [or both].

 

To get that first CFI job you will have to work HARD in flight school. You will need to be flexible. You will probably have to move across the country for that first job. You may get a job w/ a flight school that goes under, and find yourself moving to the other side of the country... again.

 

And then, as a CFI...

 

You will work your a** off for peanuts, you will barely be able to pay bills and you will pray that the radiator in your car holds out just a little bit longer. Your relationship w/ your significant other and family will be tested and pushed. You will be stressed & tired, 7 days a week. And you will have moments where you despise being a CFI [but still love your students]. It only gets better w/ time though.

 

Contrary to what others may say, people do make it in this industry. It is possible to overcome these challenges and after many, many years of hard work land that dream job too.

 

And those that don't cry on Vertical ;)

B) BTDT...

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Excellent info in this topic from lots of different guys at different stages of their lives and careers. If I have anything to add that I wish I knew when I started is this: everybody's journey is different. Some guys never get that CFI job and that's the end of their story, other guys get a CFI job but get stuck there or give up because they can't or are unwilling to make the transition to the commercial industry. Some guys aren't cut out for some of those jobs, alternately, just having 1000 hours doesn't guarantee a job regardless of what flight schools tell you. Unless you work at a school that has a turbine that they use for 135 or whatever, you may have to teach until you're closer to 1500. It may mean an extra year or two as a CFI and that's an extra strain for a CFI already scrapping by. Be prepared for anything and there's no cookie-cutter career path, and sometimes to move your career forward you may have to take a step backward once in a while.

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