How to become a helicopter pilot: Lee's story

Meet Lee, who's a HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) pilot for North West Air Ambulance. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

The first time I went in the helicopter as a passenger, I knew that it was a career I wanted to pursue.

  • Lee's job is to provide a quick mode of transport for medics to get to emergency call-outs. The helicopter can save precious time in reaching a patient, giving them a better chance of a positive outcome
  • From the first time he went in a helicopter as a passenger, Lee knew that being a pilot was the career he wanted
  • One of the biggest challenges is finding areas that are big and safe enough to land the helicopter to get the medics as close to the patient as possible
  • Becoming a pilot is a challenging path but Lee believes it is possible if you have the determination.
Watch Lee's colleagues in action on BBC One's Ambulance

What to expect if you want to be a helicopter pilot

Whilst Lee flies a helicopter solely for medical emergencies, helicopter pilots can fly single- and multi-engined helicopters for a variety of reasons, including business, leisure and emergency response.

  • Helicopter pilot salary: £25,000 to £45,000 per year
  • Helicopter pilot working hours: 39 to 41 hours per week. You could work evenings, weekends and bank holidays

What qualifications do you need to be a helicopter pilot?

  • Typical entry requirements: To fly a helicopter for a living, you'll need to hold a Commercial Pilot Licence CPL(H) issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). To get onto the training course, you'll need to have five GCSEs (or equivalent) at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English, Maths, and Science, to pass skills tests and a thorough medical assessment and to have a minimum of 155 hours' flying time. The number of flying hours needed may be lower for trained aeroplane pilots.
    As a first step, you could train for a Private Pilot's Licence PPL(H) which allows you to fly for personal use and build up your flying hours. The flight training school would assess your skills, and could ask you to take some pre-course training to prove that you have the level of ability and skills needed for commercial training.
    Training is expensive and you'll usually have to fund it yourself.

You could also join the army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force as a trainee pilot.

This information is a guide (sources: LMI for All, National Careers Service)

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Matt: Air ambulance doctor
Alice: press officer
Laura: 999 call taker