Some of the differences between helicopters and airplanes are obvious, others not so much. Whether one is a better machine over the other is debatable and is overwhelmingly determined dependent upon who you ask. For example, if you ask experienced pilots of both aircraft, their answers will be varied and yet strangely specific. This results in confusion for prospective new pilots seeking assistance in discerning which of the two type aircraft they should learn to pilot first.
As was mentioned previously, the principal difference is painfully apparent. Helicopters and airplanes are entirely diverse and different animals. This is demonstrated through a number of principles, like flight characteristics, overall capability, and what they may generally be put to use for. That said, for aspiring aviationists, selecting which of the two to pilot may need to be based more in personal taste and in where the potential pilot’s “heart” is and what initially lead then toward piloting in the first place.
It’s safe to assume future pilots have always felt a longing to be airborne, but in addition, their aspirations were in more detailed than that. As a child perhaps they dreamt of piloting helicopters over forest fires or working in law enforcement as a pilot and participating in the locating of missing persons?
They may have even experienced an interest in being the one to pilot the helicopter following OJ Simpson when while he fled the scene of a crime down a California freeway. Maybe they were on their first commercial flight as a child and remembered shaking hands with the handsome uniformed pilot before disembarking the plane? Whatever the catalyst that sparked their initial interest, it’s based on an individual need to pursue their aspiration and may be deeply rooted in personal experience.
Once they have considered what initiate their piloting certification pursuit, they will need to further assess what it is they want to achieve throughout their piloting career. It’s a requirement to qualify for licensure of both helicopter and airplane pilots that inflight hours achieve a minimum number of hours in accordance with the particular requirement of the type certification they will need to work as a pilot. For airplanes, pilots will need to have amassed at least 1500 hours to receive the Airline Transport Pilot certificate (ATP) prior to starting to work as a commercial pilot in command.
In some cases, pilots may acquire a Private Pilot’s License (PPL) that allows for them to work to a certain degree as a pilot but in order to work to their utmost, they will need to obtain a Commercial Pilot’s License (CPL). Additional ratings will further need to be obtained to fly under certain conditions. Some licenses and ratings have the same requisite across the board for both helicopter and airplane pilots. With regard to career, however, it’s easy for a helicopter pilot to become employed much more rapidly due to the shortage in professional helicopter pilots in conjunction with a huge global demand for them.
There are some that consider helicopter piloting to be superior with regard to challenge and excitement because they are capable of flying in various directions, low to the ground, to inaccessible destinations not reachable by passenger jet, not to mention, they can land just about anywhere. Conversely, airplane pilots would argue that flying for hours over various type terrain, like the vast expanse of the world’s oceans at elevations over 30,000 feet with over 200 people onboard is as extreme as it gets. Some have even chosen to take advantage of both worlds and pursue piloting of both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft and various type airplanes.
If you happen to be an individual who is strictly motivated by financial gain, it’s safe to assume that top tier employment for an airplane pilot could achieve salaries in the $200,000 dollar range, whereas helicopter pilots may earn as much as half that.
Although both type of career alternatives are noble pursuits, it’s our recommendation that you don’t rely on money as a solitary motivator, it takes years of experience, time and more money invested in training as the availability of top-tier positions for airplane pilots to top out at the those salary levels. Perhaps a wiser choice is to consider making slightly less and joining a field of aviation that is rapidly growing on a global scale and needing expertly trained professionals to become available right now. Be a helicopter pilot.