Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Becoming a Commercial Helicopter Pilot on a Budget

It’s never an easy thing to write about yourself and the achievements you have made without sounding smug or somewhat boastful. However when I started to look seriously at embarking on the commitment that working towards a CPL (H) is; I would have found an account of those that had gone before very useful. Both in making decisions and also in realising that for all the negatives that are banded about, there are plenty of successes that don’t get talked about. So it is with that in mind that I write this passage to help those that are thinking or that are mid way through their training towards their CPL and hopefully give people an idea of what is involved.

My interest in helicopters started, in rather a clich√© manor, when I was a around six on a summer holiday with family to Chamonix. Staying at a campsite 200 metres from a mountain rescue centre gave me the pleasure of being able to watch the Alouette 3’s flying in and out, training and rescuing climbers from Mt Blanc and the surrounding mountains. It sounds rather sad, but the sound of the turbine starting up would send me tearing up the path to catch a glimpse of the aircraft as it took off. And many an hour was spent sat on a rock chucking grit into puddles until the sound of the Alouette on approach made the waiting and hanging around all worth while. From those moments on I always wanted to do what those guys did, I wanted to be a helicopter pilot more than anything else. It was an ambition that has stayed with me to this day and I think it is the biggest driving force that has kept me motivated through some of the more challenging elements of the training.

Some years on, after finishing university it was time to start working towards the goal that I set myself, in some form or another, fifteen years earlier. Unfortunately I didn’t have a nice pot of money being kept warm for me ready to chuck at the training. I needed to raise somewhere in the region of fifty thousand pounds to fund me through the CPL. This seemed like a huge amount to raise, and to be honest it is pretty daunting especially if you are fresh out of university with no assets to secure a loan.

My advice to anyone embarking on this route is to research everything and speak to as many people as you can, trawl the forums and visit schools. Get every option outlined before you commit to anything. Personally I was immediately attracted to the idea of doing an integrated course either in America or the UK; it seemed ideal as I could crack my CPL out in about a year. The big problem with this for me was that you need a lump sum to be able to drop everything and study full time, so after trying to secure the funding that seems to be available for fixed wing studies; that is just not there for rotary, I set about looking for other options. I had read about the modular way of studying, and after a visit to Surrey Police Air Support Unit and chatting to some of the pilots there, I decided that this was a perfect option for me. I could make inroads into the training whilst working and funding my training as I went along. It seemed like the ideal option, because I could potentially do it without getting into too much debt.

So I set about getting a decent job, and sales seemed like the ideal thing, it gave me the opportunity to make decent money fairly quickly, and the great thing about it was that the harder I worked the more money I would make, which meant the more flying I could do. So let me recommend hard work and software sales as a great way of funding your CPL studies if you are thinking of going the modular route.

The next step in my journey was probably the most important decision to date, and for anyone out there looking, make sure you visit as many schools as you can, like anything in life, you get a feeling for the place and if it feels right, crack on. When I popped down to Goodwood and met Paul Andrews, I knew that here was a school that cared about what I wanted to do, not as a potential 50 grand, but as a student, who was keen and wanted to make a professional career out of flying helicopters.

I began my training steadily, working towards my PPL (H). Just to explain for those that aren’t aware, the modular route to CPL (H) is set out as follows: Achieve your PPL (H) and then build your hours to 155, while completing 9 or 14 ground exams, then undertake a 35 hour CPL course, followed by the CPL skills test.

The PPL section took me just under a year to complete, and I took my PPL test and passed with 47 hours. Many people would not need to take a year to complete their PPL, but only being able to fly at weekends and the ever present financial strain meant I couldn’t do it any quicker. However the training I received at Phoenix Helicopters was fantastic and structured in a way that meant despite not being able to do tens of hours flying every week I was still making decent progress each lesson. I then embarked on my ground studies with CAPT online. This is where things started to get a bit tougher and the real motivation is definitely required. I opted to complete 14 ATPL exams purely because of my future ambitions within the industry, and it made sense to complete all 14 in one go. So I began studying in my spare time, I wanted to complete all 14 exams within a year and also complete my hours building in the same time frame. I found it really helpful to pick a realistic time frame and work to that. It gives you a drive and puts just enough pressure on to make sure you keep studying hard.

So I would get up early before work, do a couple of hours study and then go to work, come home and study for most of the evening. It was important for me to keep the momentum with the studying going so I kept on my target, but I won’t lie: it was quite hard work, splitting my time between a full time job and studying. I found that if I worked too hard at one, the other would suffer. But I needed to succeed in one to keep doing the other, so my advice here would be to split your time equally and give yourself something to look forward to each week. For me it was the hours building, the flying I would do at the weekend.
The hours building can be great fun if you push yourself, definitely don’t just sit at your local airfield buzzing around in the circuit for 100 hours. Get out there and “spread your wings”. I was lucky that Paul at Phoenix helped me to do that. Giving me constructive hours building that would benefit me when it came to the CPL syllabus was invaluable. I flew to France, Newquay, Silverstone and Norwich to name but a few places. I was able to really get to grips with the London Heli-Lanes as well as transiting some of the busy airports such as Gatwick. The whole time it was building my confidence, and I can honestly say it has stood me in good stead with the rest of my flying. Plus I have plenty of grateful friends who I have taken along on many of the trips. Another great opportunity that I was given by Phoenix was to fly the aircraft up to maintenance at regular intervals. If you can be flexible when you fly i.e. take days off work to do it, you can save a huge amount over the course of your hours building doing these repositioning flights. Phoenix offer a discounted rate per hour for repositioning flights, and again it is great practice for pushing your skills in all areas of the flying and I managed to save a fair bit of money on these flights.

With the help of Paul at Phoenix and Phil and CAPT, I managed to pass all 14 ATPL exams and had all of the hours required to start my CPL training within the time frame that I had set myself. At this point I was in with some luck and Paul was able to offer me a job working on the operations side of things at Phoenix. It was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. Working in and around the helicopters has been fantastic, and my advice would be if you get the opportunity to get into the industry at any level, as long as it doesn’t jeopardise your training, then take it! You start to learn more about the industry, how a company is run, how the CAA works in the real world and the administration side of an operation, which is equally as important as being a competent pilot. I believe it has stood me in good stead to date, and hopefully will give me other skills to offer further down the line in my career.

From this point I was able to commit full time towards my CPL training, and to be honest I think that it is necessary to commit to the 35 hour course (30 hours plus 5 hours night) full time, as it is pretty intense and there is allot that you need to take on board and polish throughout the course. It may end up being counter productive if there is not much consistency in the training a trap that you could fall into if you were not able to fly most days. There is plenty of information on what is involved with the CPL training documented on the Phoenix website, so I wont go into that too much, but let me tell you now, be prepared to realise your experience level. After flying around for 100 hours you feel pretty confident in your ability. That is until you start the CPL training! I found the standard to be very high, and it was a great feeling to be learning at a much more professional and purposeful level. Again Phoenix Helicopters offered all the support and advice that I needed to complete the training and pass my CPL skills test. Passing that test was one of the greatest feelings of achievement that I have experienced in my life to date. The combination of all the hard work, financial strain and the feeling of achieving a goal that I had held onto for about twenty years was just immense. It is all worth it when you get there.

I hope some of you have found this useful and if you ever want to have a chat about my experiences feel free to give me a call at Phoenix, but my advice would be as follows:

Work hard, and be prepared to really graft for what you want, it isn’t a walk in the park, but if you have a dream that you want to achieve keep that in the forefront of your mind and work towards it. Break everything down into manageable steps and congratulate yourself on completion of each step. Never let people persuade you that it’s not worth it or that you won’t ever get a job or any of the other negative things you see on many of the forums out there. Take advice, talk to everyone and make your own assessments on things. Finally pick your training school and training environment carefully, it could be your ticket into the industry and the job you have always wanted, and be prepared to do any sort of work to get you in the door. A good attitude and a team spirit as well as passion for your chosen profession will go far. Good luck.

By Alastair Lovell

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Students story in his own words

Helicopter PPL – Getting started on a budget
“Don’t bother unless you have at least £17,000”, “its unsafe to do it in the bare minimum hours”, “don’t expect to pass in 45 hours”, “helicopter schools are there to scam you for every penny you have” – These are some of the typical phrases I came across on forums when I was researching into getting a helicopter PPL. It can be said that sometimes these statements are true however its unfair to say that they apply all of the time.
I am a student at the University of Portsmouth and on the third year of my course I took a year out to work in industry (recommended by the University). I was lucky enough to land myself a job (only 12k p.a, a few minutes from where I lived (my parent’s house)). I also had a weekend job which again wasn’t amazingly paid but it was a good job never the less. It was a few months into this placement year that I had a decision to make; 1. Save my money long term, 2. Pay off student loan, 3. Spend it all on something big. I decided to take option 3 as I recognised it would be one of the rare occasions in my life where I had this amount of disposable income. I then decided that this ‘big thing’ was going to be a helicopter PPL.
Budgeting – the absolute most important thing if you want to get a PPL and aren’t a millionaire (or simply have a spare £20k). From doing some research I knew it would cost around £15,000 so that was my target. I decided to work the first few months to see if it was going to be achievable. Working 53.5 hours a week, over 7 days isn’t easy, but as you get used to it, it really isn’t that bad. I knew that in order to reach my goal this is what was required. It’s not complicated maths; work hard = get paid more. In all I worked seven days a week for 11 months and this allowed me to save up enough money (how much it cost me in all I do not know to this day – hypocritical I know).
During the time I was working I had one simple rule that helped me save money:
“if you don’t need it, don’t buy it”
If it’s a mars bar in a petrol garage, if it’s some new trainers when your old ones are still fine, don’t buy it! Granted this is a harsh way of living and there are some exceptions: drinks down the pub, gifts, social events etc... but again its not complicated, just don’t spend what you don’t have to, right down to things as small as a chocolate bar. If you want your goal enough, you will stick to the rule. If you find yourself splashing out on unnecessary things ask yourself if you really want it (your goal) enough.
There is a lot of negative reviews on helicopter schools and some extreme ‘horror’ stories of people losing money however they are worth reading so you understand how the industry works. Initially I planned to do my helicopter PPL in the US in order to save money. This was a floored plan, no matter which way I planned it learning in the U.S is more expensive overall (however since writing this the VAT increase may have changed this). So it was decided that I will learn in the U.K. As I couldn’t afford to rent a place out that meant I had to use a local airfield. The airfields local to me that had helicopter schools were; Thruxton, Blackbushe and Goodwood. After reading a similar article to this someone said that it was absolutely vital that you just go around and visit a few airfields, I totally agree with this. The best way to choose where to learn is to go and speak to the people at each school. Yes this is effort, however you need to go and experience the atmosphere and see if you like the people working there (as you’re going to be spending a lot of time + money there!).
Previous to doing my PPL I had no flying experience and simply had a few rides in helicopters. In order to help prepare myself I got a copy of MS flight simulator and a joystick + pedals. This did help me somewhat however, you need to put in a lot of hours in order for it to be beneficial (which I did not).
On my umpteenth hour of research, I found an advert “Helicopter PPL £9999”, this instantly grabbed my attention. Knowing that this was an excl. VAT price I calculated the incl. cost and it seemed one of the most reasonable prices around. This was from Phoenix Helicopter Academy – Goodwood. I would like to at this point, point out I am in no way affiliated or a representative of this company. I think that people are very quick to assume that because a review is rather positive there is something fishy about it.
On calling up to enquire about the course I spoke to the Paul who runs the school. I seemed to get along well with him and he was very helpful. I arranged a meeting with him and a trial flight. At this point I knew my budget and discussed this with Paul and we worked out a plan. The plan being that I had just enough money (I think the figure was £14,000) in order to complete the course in a minimum time. However this was a large gamble as Paul made it very clear that everyone takes different amounts of time to progress and obviously you cannot progress without being safe and competent. This was in June and I planned to start flying 1st August as I finished my placement end of July. I also started back at University in October so I had a two month period in which to complete the course. From Pauls opinion and other reviews, the fact that I would be flying every day would help reduce the amount of hours needed. In June / July I read up on each of the exam areas through a good (but if anything, overly detailed book) called Private Helicopter Pilot Studies by Phil Croucher. This prior knowledge helped greatly in order to speed up the process.
And so the day came Monday 2nd of August and I started my training. Phoenix Helicopter Academy is based at the Goodwood aerodrome inside the race track. The airfield is a really nice place to be with a friendly atmosphere. It’s whole grounds being designed to keep a vintage feel. On most days there is some kind of vehicle going around the track so if you also like your cars its perfect! On driving in through the gates of Goodwood you head straight ahead under the track (through a very narrow tunnel) and you will see dead ahead the tower (who are all very friendly and luckily don’t get that annoyed when you’re learning the radio and a bit slow). Phoenix Helicopters are then to the left along side the airfield at the end of the car park. Overall Goodwood is a really nice place to be and I am extremely pleased I chose this airfield to train from (having now seen quite a few other airfields).
The area itself is also a really nice place to fly over especially over the coast by Bognor and the Witterings, and for some reason there is usually really good weather here, even if elsewhere is poor.
Phoenix helicopter academy is located in the white building with a nice seating area outside the front. There is a classroom with a computer you can use and I can’t fault anything to do with equipment as Paul has everything available to buy at a reasonable price or simply just to lend you.
The school itself I simply can’t fault. It is only a small company with Paul and a few other instructors (dependant on demand) but this gives a very personal tailored experience and you don’t really feel like your being pushed through a corporate style ‘program’. Pre and post flight briefings were carried out on each flight if necessary and to a good quality. Paul was my instructor for the all of my training and again I cant fault him. He is a very experienced pilot who undoubtedly knows what he is doing when it comes to training new pilots. Sometimes you even get the feeling he knows the moves your about to make before you know you’re going to make them! At no point did I ever feel unsafe or even unsure.
The aircraft I learnt in was G-CCVU, which was an R22 Beta 2. It was in brilliant condition and was well equipped. I did fly in another R22 (no longer with Phoenix) on a couple of occasions and it made G-VU look brand new.
There is an online booking system to book your training slots which is implemented and used well. Payment wise I never had any problems at all. You know exactly what your paying for and there were never any hidden costs.
As for the training itself I did two hours flying a day throughout August (depending on weather), and then fitted the rest in amongst my university course (which I do not recommend). I completed the written exams as I went along aiming for an exam a week. These exams aren’t hard however if you haven’t done your reading they can be very hard.
So I did my training, never had any problems and completed my PPL in November this year 2010.
Looking back there is so much to mention I could go on forever. I think the message I’m trying to get across is:
• Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it or it’s not worth doing – you can do it if you put the effort in
• Go and visit at least a few flight schools, and do your research
• If you’re looking for a flight school in the south definitely consider Phoenix Helicopter Academy

By Sean Laesen December 2010

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Granny learns to fly: third member of the same family learns to fly with Phoenix Helicopters: www.phoenixhelicopters.co.uk


If you are reading this you are probably a helicopter pilot. Statistically you are probably a man and your other half is probably not as keen on flying as you are. She may even resent the time, effort and funds you devote to flying. She may rather have a conservatory which she argues would add value to the house, would be used summer and winter and be a brilliant party space. You know that a conservatory would cost a fortune to heat/cool depending on season and be too noisy for parties (and by the way you hate parties). This may even be causing tension in your relationship. I have the answer. Read on.

Three years ago my husband started having helicopter lessons. It was bliss. He went off with a sandwich every morning and returned euphorically happy at the end of each day. Instead of valuing things in pounds sterling we measured them in helicopter hours which made even the most expensive clothes/meals seem cheap. He got his license just before his 60th birthday and then wanted me to go flying with him to map read and twiddle the knobs. It was exciting but disruptive as all plans were changed at the drop of a CAVOK. I hung around the airfield while he plotted and A checked. Worse still, we would arrive at short notice at the home of unfortunate friends who happened to have a garden meeting the 5 s criteria and expect them to be thrilled that we had upset their neighbours and deadheaded their roses.

Then one day my husband said it would be a lot safer for us both if I learnt to land the chopper in an emergency and why didn’t I have a lesson that day to see if I liked it. I loved it. But it was pointless having a few lessons; I had to learn to fly it properly to have any chance of landing in extremis. I announced to the world that I was going to get my license (big mistake) and embarked enthusiastically on a course of lessons. The day I mastered the hover and my first solo flight remain serious high points in my life. But after that the struggle began. The exams were terrifying and I failed two of them first time which was demoralizing. Gradually the penny dropped that this particular granny was not the natural pilot that she imagined she was. My instructor (whose ambition I suspect was to build up hours in order to progress to greater things) lost his cool with me and I lost my nerve. The next instructor was patient but inexperienced. Flying hours and bills were increasing alarmingly and in inverse proportion to skills and confidence. After 100 hours I gave up. I had done nothing but fly for several months; my hair needed cutting, my house tidying, I had neglected my duties across the board, spent a fortune, polluted the planet and got nowhere. Worst of all my pride was seriously dented.

Meanwhile my husband had cleared space in the garden, overcome avgas obstacles and was longing to have his chopper at home but couldn’t whilst I was learning. He came up with an idea, a last ditch attempt, to retrieve the situation.

He suggested I changed to another flying school and airfield. Good decision; I never looked back. I had an amazing instructor, Paul Andrews* who loves teaching people to fly helicopters and has no ambition to do anything else. He is hugely experienced and a natural teacher. He sussed immediately that my biggest problem was keeping straight and level. He drew a felt tip horizontal line on the canopy and that problem was instantly solved. He also called me “sweetpea” and “my sweet” which did wonders for my self esteem. Paul had a relaxed jokey relationship with all his students and as a result we all had a great time together. He spent as long explaining things on the ground as we spent in the air. Consequently the bills reduced and the skills, satisfaction and confidence increased. A few flying hours later I took and passed the test.

Now seven months on we have the the helicopter in the garden and we are living the dream. We are both obsessed by it. We fuel it up together and share the planning, A checks and flying. We sit up in bed reading helicopter publications and plan wonderful trips round the UK for when the weather improves.

Most helicopter accidents are caused by pilot error. I have heard it said that it is safer (and less expensive) to have two pilots in a single engine helicopter than one pilot in a two-engined machine. It therefore makes sense to encourage your partner to learn to fly; it is also a lot more fun for both of you. Who knows, she may one day come to realize that flying a helicopter is more exciting than having a conservatory.


If flying a helicopter is seriously important to you, do encourage your partner to take it up. Your other half may not have your passion or talent for flying. In which case it is essential that she (it is likely to be she) has a suitable instructor in order to keep her enthusiasm alive and minimize time and costs.

Philly Sargent

*Paul Andrews email: paul@phoenixhelicopters.co.uk
web site: http://www.phoenixhelicopters.co.uk

Monday, 26 April 2010

Becoming a helicopter pilot

Welcome to Phoenix Helicopter Academy, we are a new and enthusiastic helicopter operator and helicopter training school located at the popular and charismatic Goodwood Aerodrome, Goodwood, Chichester, West Sussex. The perfect location for all your helicopter need from helicopter gift lessons and flight to helicopter pilot training and helicopter charter.

Learning to fly and undertaking helicopter lessons can be one of the most challenging and definitely the most rewarding activity you will ever undertake. It’s addictive and you will form a passion about helicopters. At Phoenix we are a specialist helicopter training school with training as our core business. We believe that the combination of career dedicated instructors coupled with the helicopter friendly Goodwood Aerodrome and beautiful West Sussex countryside accompanied by quality aircraft makes for the perfect lesson trio.

There are two main Licences, the PPL (H) Private Pilots Licence Helicopter and the CPL (H) Commercial Pilots Licence Helicopter.

The PPL (H) is a licence set out by the CAA which allows you to fly any helicopter you are rated on and entitled to fly without remuneration or pay. It is a leisure licence. It is also the first stepping stone to becoming a commercial pilot where you will be able to fly helicopters for pay. In order to obtain a PPL licence you must complete a CAA recognized course of 45 hours flight training and 7 written exams all done in-house with us, obtain a class 2 medical and a Radio Telephony (RT) licence followed by a flight test.

The CPL (H) allows you to work as a helicopter pilot in any JAR European Country. It does require more exams but they are the same subjects as the PPL, just in more detail. Undertaking a CPL (H) is a big decision requiring a big commitment both in time and money. At Phoenix we can help you through the decision making process by providing all the facts helping you decide if it is a career for you. We carry out a free Commercial Pilot Seminar normally every month, but if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us.

The full details and layout of the courses are attached at the bottom of this page as eBooks PDF.

Phoenix Helicopter Academy is a young and enthusiastic helicopter flying school with very experienced instructors. Helicopter Pilot Training is our core business and our instructors will go out of their way to make your lessons as enjoyable and productive as possible. At Phoenix you can expect to be treated as a valued customer and not simply a number. All your lessons are based on a full two hours with full pre and after flight briefing, stage check assessments combined with individual training plans.

Goodwood is the perfect environment for learning to fly. It is based in uncontrolled airspace, has very large helicopter hovering areas and unusually for airfields these days does not have circuit costing which would save you over £600 compared to other airfields. Goodwood has been established as an airfield for many years and forms part of the Goodwood estate with a racing circuit around the aerodrome perfect for us petrol-heads. Most of our training in undertaken either along the West Sussex coast line, or the Sussex South Downs. At Phoenix your training start straight away as we are not based in controlled airspace there is no need for large parts of your lesson to be spent either departing or rejoining a control zone.


Thursday, 22 April 2010

New Helicopter School

Phoenix Helicopter Academy launches a new flying school at Goodwood Aerodrome, Chichester, West Sussex.

Helicopter training and lessons