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Military helicopter pilot pursuing civilian CFI


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I apologize for the long-winded post. I'm looking for some input from the helicopter instructors out there.

I'm an Army National Guard CH-47F pilot looking to become a helicopter CFI on the civilian side. I graduated from Army flight school earlier this year, and at the time of this writing, I have 180 total flight hours between the UH-72 (the aircraft I first trained on) and CH-47F, and I have a commercial certificate with an instrument rating that I received upon graduating from flight school. I'll be deployed for the next few months, but afterward, I'd like to start a civilian helicopter career. For what it's worth, after this full-time stint, I anticipate having approximately 230-250 total helicopter hours.

I think going through the CFI course and instructing would be a good place to start a commercial rotary-wing career; it seems like that's generally the path most people go down to build flight time and experience. I've done some research on the CFI course, and it seems like the standard is 25 flight hours + ground/academic instruction. What I'd like input on is how my military experience (and lack of civilian aviation experience) will affect this process. I'll elaborate. I'm sure the overwhelming majority of pilots who go through the CFI course will train on the aircraft they've been flying from the start of their progression—for example, the R22 and R44. But regardless of the aircraft I fly during the CFI course, it will be my first time flying said aircraft (except for a discovery flight I did in the R22 years ago).

After learning to fly a very large, advanced aircraft in the military, I'm confident that I won't have much difficulty learning whatever aircraft I fly in the CFI course (which would likely be a Robinson). But with the course only consisting of 25 flight hours, I'm just not sure what to expect in terms of having to a) learn to fly an entirely new aircraft and then b) learn to instruct on said aircraft. In other words, most of my peers would have at least 150 hours of experience in the same aircraft, and I would be starting out with essentially none. At the end of the day, I realize that a helicopter is a helicopter, but I'm just trying to set my expectations and be as prepared as I can be. 

I greatly appreciate any advice.

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I have no time in Robinson's but teaching with 25 hours in such a different aircraft does seem like a bit of a stretch but it's really impossible to say. I doubt you did many autorotations in your previous aircraft but you will do lots and lots of them teaching in an R-22. Hopefully you pick it up fast! 25 hours might work just fine but be ready to pay for a few more. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 10/31/2022 at 12:03 PM, JacobS96 said:

I apologize for the long-winded post. I'm looking for some input from the helicopter instructors out there.

I'm an Army National Guard CH-47F pilot looking to become a helicopter CFI on the civilian side. I graduated from Army flight school earlier this year, and at the time of this writing, I have 180 total flight hours between the UH-72 (the aircraft I first trained on) and CH-47F, and I have a commercial certificate with an instrument rating that I received upon graduating from flight school. I'll be deployed for the next few months, but afterward, I'd like to start a civilian helicopter career. For what it's worth, after this full-time stint, I anticipate having approximately 230-250 total helicopter hours.

I think going through the CFI course and instructing would be a good place to start a commercial rotary-wing career; it seems like that's generally the path most people go down to build flight time and experience. I've done some research on the CFI course, and it seems like the standard is 25 flight hours + ground/academic instruction. What I'd like input on is how my military experience (and lack of civilian aviation experience) will affect this process. I'll elaborate. I'm sure the overwhelming majority of pilots who go through the CFI course will train on the aircraft they've been flying from the start of their progression—for example, the R22 and R44. But regardless of the aircraft I fly during the CFI course, it will be my first time flying said aircraft (except for a discovery flight I did in the R22 years ago).

After learning to fly a very large, advanced aircraft in the military, I'm confident that I won't have much difficulty learning whatever aircraft I fly in the CFI course (which would likely be a Robinson). But with the course only consisting of 25 flight hours, I'm just not sure what to expect in terms of having to a) learn to fly an entirely new aircraft and then b) learn to instruct on said aircraft. In other words, most of my peers would have at least 150 hours of experience in the same aircraft, and I would be starting out with essentially none. At the end of the day, I realize that a helicopter is a helicopter, but I'm just trying to set my expectations and be as prepared as I can be. 

I greatly appreciate any advice.

I agree that your best path to a civilian career in helicopters is to build experience as a CFI. As most schools train with the R22, training in that aircraft would provide the best possibility of employment. Look for a school that provides a clear path from student-CFI-tours. Mauna Loa is one that comes to mind.

Hard to say what your level of proficiency will be after 25 hours. Obviously systems knowledge won’t be an issue… training helicopters are simple in that regard. In regards to stick skills… the R22 is unstable, underpowered and a handful to manage in autorotation.

For reference, I learned and taught in the S300. Did 10 hours in the R22 and was surprised by how hard it was to manage rotor RPM during autorotation. Over the years, worked my way up into larger helicopters. I’ve spent the past few years flying the S92; I’m accustom to having SAS and force trim. While hovering, you can take your feat off the pedals in the S92 and and it will hold heading. The SAS actuators for the cyclic have a relatively high range of authority and noticeably smooth out hovering. Not the case in an R22. If I were to hop into one tomorrow, I’d like to think I could fly it all right. But that first flight might not be pretty.

Some civilian pilots struggle transitioning to IFR flying, some military pilots struggle with power management and finesse in small helicopters without stability systems. Only time will tell if it’s an issue for you.

Fixed wing is an option as well. There are a couple regionals that have partnered with flight schools to provide a clear path from student - CFI- regional pilot.

Market is currently favorable for pilots, so it is a good time to get in. Hope it all works out smoothly for you.

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28 minutes ago, Hand_Grenade_Pilot said:

I agree that your best path to a civilian career in helicopters is to build experience as a CFI. As most schools train with the R22, training in that aircraft would provide the best possibility of employment. Look for a school that provides a clear path from student-CFI-tours. Mauna Loa is one that comes to mind.

Hard to say what your level of proficiency will be after 25 hours. Obviously systems knowledge won’t be an issue… training helicopters are simple in that regard. In regards to stick skills… the R22 is unstable, underpowered and a handful to manage in autorotation.

For reference, I learned and taught in the S300. Did 10 hours in the R22 and was surprised by how hard it was to manage rotor RPM during autorotation. Over the years, worked my way up into larger helicopters. I’ve spent the past few years flying the S92; I’m accustom to having SAS and force trim. While hovering, you can take your feat off the pedals in the S92 and and it will hold heading. The SAS actuators for the cyclic have a relatively high range of authority and noticeably smooth out hovering. Not the case in an R22. If I were to hop into one tomorrow, I’d like to think I could fly it all right. But that first flight might not be pretty.

Some civilian pilots struggle transitioning to IFR flying, some military pilots struggle with power management and finesse in small helicopters without stability systems. Only time will tell if it’s an issue for you.

Fixed wing is an option as well. There are a couple regionals that have partnered with flight schools to provide a clear path from student - CFI- regional pilot.

Market is currently favorable for pilots, so it is a good time to get in. Hope it all works out smoothly for you.

Thanks for the input!

Yeah, that's what I hear about the R22. I'm not at all concerned about systems and all that, but I'm sure it'll be a learning curve to fly such a small aircraft with no stability augmentation. Both aircraft I have experience with have augmentation systems, and while we train with that system turned off from time to time, I'm definitely used to having it. But at the end of the day, I think flying a helicopter is similar to riding a bike in that once the general touch and motor skills are developed, it's more or less the same from aircraft to aircraft just with those control/stability differences that I'm sure will take some getting used to.

Things like power management will definitely be much more important. It'll be quite the change flying one of the biggest, most powerful helicopters in the world on the military side while flying one of the smallest, weakest helicopters in the world on the civilian side. 

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I had 6000 turbine helicopter hours before I stepped into my first piston helicopter, the R-22.

On the first day of training in it, I felt a bit behind it, such a twitchy little thing, no adjustment in the seat for a tall fella, pedals so close together that my shoes rubbed against each other, that dinky little cyclic that an instructor has to learn to hold up in the air, not rested comfortably on your leg. At the end of the first day, I was feeling quite depressed that this miserable excuse for a helicopter was defeating me, and was wondering if I had made the right choice to leave my previous job.

So, then I had a couple of beers, and thought "It's really only another helicopter to add to the logbook, get in there and wring its little neck!" and on day 2, I did.

Your muscle memory will need a lot of adjustment, stepping from a Chook to the Robbie. Be gentle, yet firm.

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