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A fork in the road


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Hey all,

So I just started helicopter flight school and it's absolutely awesome, the most exciting thing I've ever done! I love the amount of skill and concentration it takes to tame these whirly-birds. However, I'm starting to have my doubts with regards to the overall helicopter pilot career path. As much as I find flying helicopters to be thrilling in comparison to fixed wing, I'm just sick and tired of life being a struggle due to finances. That might sound strange to people because I must be loaded to go to flight school right? Well, it only took 15 years of working my butt off to get that kind of money together. And once it's gone it's gone. I don't have family that can pitch in, or access to any capital or even any loans that would make up for the cost of training. Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely thankful to be in a position where I can actually chase the dream! But now I'm having the toughest time deciding between rotary or fixed wing. I realise it's a huge decision, maybe the most important one I'll ever make. Luckily, I've only just started the helicopter training so I still have the ability to switch over to FW. And the reason I'm thinking I should go with FW is I still get to fly and ultimately I might actually make the big bucks someday. It would be so nice to actually afford a house and get nice things for the family. Heck, it would be nice just to not have to worry about paying the rent every month. It looks to me like those worries could be a thing of the past when the regional's are advertising $50/hr for new hires plus bonuses. Not only that, but those flow through agreements to the majors is amazing for people who couldn't go to college. I don't want to sound like a money hungry person but life is getting more and more expensive and I question if the ability to hover is more important than the ability to afford a house. 


Helicopters are just so freakin awesome to fly. I have this fear that I will walk onto the ramp one day in a freezing cold place to fly a bus full of disgruntled passengers and totally regret that I'm not flying tours in an R44 over glorious Hawaii with excited/happy people in the back. Plus a helicopter career means you get to fly AND live in interesting places. I imagine myself living in New York and flying tours for a few years, moving onto Hawaii to do the same and then who knows where else. I could even end up as a fighting fires in Cali or flying EMS in a big city. Whereas, from what I gather, the airlines is all about living near specific bases for many years (which you may despise) or lots of torturous commuting. Getting to live somewhere nice is important to me as I was never happy where I grew up. And one of the things I hated about my previous job was having to be away from home for multiple days at a time every week. Yes I know you can't have it all right away, but why not work towards it? 

Anyway, I could have it all wrong but here is how I see it: A career in fixed wing is much more lucrative, but more stressful due to commuting or being stuck in a place you really don't want to live for many years and the actual flying itself will be much more mundane. A career in helicopters brings a lot more uncertainty and less money, but a lot more satisfying IF you do make it. Also, if you don't like somewhere you can move on pretty quickly. 

My heart says helicopters but my mind says planes... either way I'm still around 1.5/2yrs off my first flying job. Those regional bonuses and flow throughs may be completely gone by then!

So what do you think? Which one should I choose? 



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I’ve really enjoyed airline flying.  It’s the least stressful job I’ve had.  Show up, fly the trip, go home.  Commuting, living in base, schedule, destinations, etc.  All that stuff is dependent on the airline you’re flying for.

I fly a turboprop for a regional airline in the Pacific Northwest.  Beautiful scenery, challenging flying, and interesting overnights.  I can bid a schedule to get weekends off, I can sit airport reserve and be home every night, I can bid to a different base to commute and fly more, or I can sit at home on reserve working in the yard and make my neighbors wonder what I do for a living.

I’m gone a couple nights a week.  Sometimes 3 nights.  But when I’m home I’m 100% home.  No popping into the office, no phone calls interrupting my day, nothing.  I have zero interaction with management unless I need something from them.  Big kid rules.

Travel benefits open the world up to you.  My wife and I popped down for a night in San Francisco a few months ago, flew free to Hawaii, are taking the kids to Florida on discounted rates, my parents have flown free on my benefits, I can jump-seat just about anywhere, and get cheap fares internationally.  

You’re not stuck with the airlines.  There’s plenty of other jobs in airplanes all over the country that you will quickly be qualified to do.

I can’t compare it to the helicopter industry as I was never a part of it.  1,700 hours took me 9 years of Army flying and wasn’t enough to get me a job near home, so I took the airline job that did get me home.

Everyone has a different experience in aviation.  Perspective matters, and what I love about the job other people hate.  There’s no knowing if something is right for you until you’re actually doing the job.  

Edited by SBuzzkill
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46 minutes ago, SBuzzkill said:

There’s no knowing if something is right for you until you’re actually doing the job.  

That right there is the scariest thing about this... I can't really know until I've spent all the money and it's too late to change my mind! Especially since I'm already in my 30s and whatever I choose now is pretty much going to be it until I die... not to say you can't change careers when you're older but I don't think it's a very enjoyable experiencing starting from scratch over and over again. 

I really appreciate your positive take on things though. I must say, a quick look through the airline pilot central forums didn't do me any favours in wanting to go down the f/w route. There seems to be an insane amount of negativity amongst the airline pilots posting up on there. I always thought these forums were a lot more positive towards newbies asking for advise. And it sounds like you've got a pretty nice life doing what you do, I definitely wouldn't mind that! 

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Also forgot to mention that not being able to rent helicopters is a put off. There's even super strict rules for a PPL holding professional pilot career student to be able to take up a family member in their flight school's helicopter. You can't go that far for very long, etc etc. Whereas you can easily rent a plane anywhere and fly your family and friends all day long once you've got a license. I understand this is more to do with insurance than anything else. 

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On 10/4/2021 at 5:53 AM, Bonjing said:

Also forgot to mention that not being able to rent helicopters is a put off. 

This is not true.  While the US is the most difficult place (among any G7 countries) to find helicopters to hire, it is still possible for PPLs to rent helicopters for pleasure flying with friends/family.  Unfortunately, websites or Facebook groups such as this one for career or (wannabe career) pilots are of no use for private flying information.

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