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Hello everyone,

Thanks for taking a look at my post. First one here and would love some feedback on my thoughts.

 

I am looking at a potential career change. Currently I work in finance and am fairly successful at it. Been doing this for about 10 years and have turned age 30.

Being a pilot has always been a childhood dream of mine. Helicopters have fascinated me specifically due to just the mechanics and physics. Anyway, for someone looking to join this potential area, obviously coming from zero experience is a concern.

Here are a few questions that I would like to ask. 

1. I know I weigh too much. Currently at about 280lbs I have always been large. I have wrestled heavy weight since being a sophomore in HS. This means I have the ability to cut weight but realistically, the smallest I have been in my adulthood was 218lbs. I don't think I can get down to 175 without being a skeleton. I am also about 6'1'' so my frame doesn't allow much flexibility.

2. Cost for school. I can pay my way with my current earnings but I wouldn't want to leave my current position until I completed enough experience to get a job. Is that even realistic? Would the time part time school even be possible to get enough flight hours? I know for sure my earning potential will not be high for quite some time.

3. Are degree programs worth it? I am sure my finance degree is useless in the aviation field, so seeking a specific undergrad would be a direction I would be open to go.

4. Should I just go the hobby route?

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Hey man!

Your questions are very well thought out. First off, you're a tall guy, I would recommend you stay away from the 22 if you can. Schweizers are more comfortable and typically students learn easier in them. The 44 is great for a bigger person as well, it is also slightly easier and more forgiving than a 22 (my experience) more power and faster. You may also find a school that uses Enstroms, I've been flown one personally but they seem more roomy than a 22. The biggest draw back to schweizers is that they are not as common as Robinsons are. As far as training frequency goes, for private initial training I would highly recommend three flights per week if you can swing it. No less than two. If you can mentally handle four to five training flights per week then more power to you and buy a big bottle of aspirin 😊. Personally, find the school YOU like. Find the instructor You like. Not all CFIs are created equal, or schools for that matter. Have fun with it, get to your solo and see how you feel. Get to your private check ride and see if you feel like commiting a little more. Be safe and have fun with it! 

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To add to my first reply, your current weight automatically takes you off the table for 22 training anyway so definitely 44 or schweizers. I'm not sure what the seat weight is on an Enstrom. To your question about working while you build flight time... absolutely. Plenty of guys out there flying part time. Mostly tours and flight instruction type stuff. The degree program thing is totally up to you. I never did it but I'm sure some guys here will click on that can give better advice on some of this stuff. I can only speak from my experience. Hope this helps!

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Thanks for the response. I appreciate the information and it really does give me some confidence to pursue this dream. I really just have to go out and start looking at booking a session with a CFI to see how it goes. 

Glad to hear part time training is not an issue. I suppose I never thought of the physical demand of multiple flights a week. That would definitely be an adjustment. 

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On 6/9/2021 at 9:53 PM, JDquest said:

Hello everyone,

Thanks for taking a look at my post. First one here and would love some feedback on my thoughts.

 

I am looking at a potential career change. Currently I work in finance and am fairly successful at it. Been doing this for about 10 years and have turned age 30.

Being a pilot has always been a childhood dream of mine. Helicopters have fascinated me specifically due to just the mechanics and physics. Anyway, for someone looking to join this potential area, obviously coming from zero experience is a concern.

Here are a few questions that I would like to ask. 

1. I know I weigh too much. Currently at about 280lbs I have always been large. I have wrestled heavy weight since being a sophomore in HS. This means I have the ability to cut weight but realistically, the smallest I have been in my adulthood was 218lbs. I don't think I can get down to 175 without being a skeleton. I am also about 6'1'' so my frame doesn't allow much flexibility.

2. Cost for school. I can pay my way with my current earnings but I wouldn't want to leave my current position until I completed enough experience to get a job. Is that even realistic? Would the time part time school even be possible to get enough flight hours? I know for sure my earning potential will not be high for quite some time.

3. Are degree programs worth it? I am sure my finance degree is useless in the aviation field, so seeking a specific undergrad would be a direction I would be open to go.

4. Should I just go the hobby route?

1.) Look into doing a keto / carnivore diet. Cutting out carbs has numerous health benefits, and you will lose a substantial amount of body fat.

Outside of flight training, body weight usually isn't a deal breaker. The exception is HAA; most of those jobs have a 230 lbs duty weight limit.

2.) Part time training is definitely possible, although it will take up all of your free time. Stacking up on night flying will be valuable; you'll need 100 hours at night for an ATP cert, and not many helicopter jobs operate at night. So do a couple night flights per week after work. Dedicate the entire weekend to studying/flying. 

Consistency is very important. Don't train one week, and then skip a week. Long breaks in between training will waste a lot of time/money.

3.) While required by many fixed wing jobs, a college degree is rarely expected within the helicopter industry. If you pursue a career on the fixed wing side instead, your finance degree will check that box.

4.) Possibly. Many things in life are more enjoyable as hobby. I love cooking, but would hate working as a chef (low pay, long hours, insanely fast work tempo, etc). Flying helicopters is an amazing experience, but doing it for a living isn't always glamourous.

Building flight time often times involves working for mediocre pay at a company with questionable practices. Even the largest corporations in the industry have problems; often times management is completely out of touch with what the job entails, and company culture/politics ruins an otherwise great job.

Pay overall is decent, but substantially lower than the fixed wing side. Tour/ENG pilots earn $60-70k annually. HAA and VFR offshore pilots earn between $70-90k a year. More is possible if you work extra shifts.

An IFR offshore captain can earn $100-140k. Working an international assignment pays more. 

Utility/ag/corporate pays the most. Can potentially earn $140k+ in those industries.

If you decide to pursue aviation recreationally, I'd advise going the fixed wing route instead. It is much more affordable, and the rental market for planes is much more accessible. Renting a helicopter from a flight school is very expensive/restrictive. Don't expect to be able to land off airport with it or take it on a multi-day trip. 

Planes provide a wide variety of experiences as well. Can use a high-wing aircraft for sightseeing, float plane for fishing, a bush-plane for hunting excursions, an aerobatic plane for joy-riding, etc.

Hope this helps.

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Hey, thanks for taking the time to write out your reply. This is great information. 

I suppose I should just try to get a private license and take it from there. 

Definitely losing weight is on the table right now just for health reasons alone. 

As far as cost, it does seem to be much more expensive than fixed wing. Just seeing that the overhaul of a entry level helicopter costing past six figures, provides a barrier to entry for private owners or renters. At this point, I am just glad I have the ability to pay for the school. 

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You don’t say where you live (North America or Europe) but here are some numbers re cost as examples (UK in this instance).

PPL(H) training to get license:            GBP 15k-20k (generally USD 15k-20k in US)

Post attaining PPL(H) rental or self-fly-hire as we call it is as follows:

  • R22  £210 +VAT = £252/hr    
  • R44  £375 +VAT = £450/hr     
  • R66  £535 +VAT = £642/hr

Even if you are an owner of an R44, you’re still looking at around £250ish/hr.

You will find little variance in price between locations in Europe, but the machines are generally well maintained (far better than I’ve found in the US) and better speced – for R44s, I haven’t seen a Raven I in 10yrs; everybody gets Raven II’s or Clipper II’s here.  However, when I rent in the US, I usually end up with a Raven I.  That said, when I do find one in the US, it is nearly always priced well - my last example was in North Carolina at Total Flight Solutions and if I remember was sub $500/hr wet hire (so cheaper than UK)

On availability, it is literally night and day difference between the US and Europe for hiring helicopters.  Here in London, I could go rent an R44 at maybe seven different locations around London within an hour drive.  However, finding maybe 2 places to rent in a whole US state is excruciatingly difficult.  These web forums and Facebook groups are generally zero help for a PPL to find a machine to rent in the US as most posters are either young struggling CPLs or career military/utility/HEMS/etc pilots and not the types who fly for fun.  Ironically, the US is the best place on the planet to hire fixed-wing, but oddly damn near the worst for hiring helicopters.

Get your PPL and get flying; then think if its something you want to do as a career.  I don’t go for this “I’ve dreamt of it since a child” sh*t.  If everyone followed that life plan, the world would be filled with firemen and ballerinas.

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You could train in an Enstrom at your current weight but it will be uncomfortable at first (and you might need a belt extender). I own an Enstrom and love to fly it. (much, much preferred over the Robby products) but the truth is that most of the newbie/starter work is in R-44’s, so keep that in mind. 
 

If you can afford your way to 200 hours via a ppl to commercial/CFI you could earn some short money to build time. If you are financially able set aside about $500,000 to fly your own way (privately and on your on schedule) to the 500 hours needed to be a tour pilot. To most that seems like a ton of cash, but to a solid finance guy (like my old college roommate) that is just an annual bonus. Flying four hours a week you’d have 600 hours in three years and be well on your way. 

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Since your specific questions have been answered, here's some general advice:

I've spent the last hour typing out replies and erasing them.  In the end I think the best advice I can give you is that entering this career is a gamble.  None of us will be able to tell you how it's going to work out, and you need to understand that if you have a stable life you are trading it for a very unstable one.  Experiences vary wildly in this industry and advice always seems to be super polarized.

Timing, location, money, personal connections, family life, etc.  There are so many factors that are going to influence whether or not you are "successful."  I put that in quotations because success is defined by you.  

I'll use myself as an example.  I'm 33 and dreamed of flying since I was a toddler, there was nothing else I wanted to do.  I started training at 18, paying for it with my minimum wage flight line job.  I had a plan: college -> CFI -> airmail -> regional airline -> major airline.

My personal limitations, life changes, and timing forced me to change my plan.  I joined the Army to fly helicopters, did that for almost a decade, then finally made my transition to the airlines.  My plan changed so many times during that time period I lost count.  I expected to be in the seat I'm in now about a decade earlier than I actually made it.

But I have no regrets and I consider my career a successful one.  Am I anywhere near where I expected to be when I started training 15 years ago?  Nope.  Does that bother me?  Nope.  I love going to work, I live comfortably, and I have plenty of avenues open to me should I want to make a change.  

I've had poor timing and I've had fantastic timing.  I've had periods in my life making lots of money but hating the job, and I've had periods living in my car in the employee lot during the week but loving work.  Periods of excess were followed by periods of tight budgets and stress.  All of it was a gamble.

Moral of the story is that you'll get lots of advice, but none of it is really going to be relevant.  If something is burning inside you and you just have to give it a shot, go for it and never look back.  Search for opportunities and don't be afraid of making big changes to your plan.  Just understand you're leaving the quiet simple life behind.

Edited by SBuzzkill
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