Learning to fly a helicopter is not for everyone. It is going to be incredibly different from almost anything you may have done before. Getting through the training may be the hardest thing you will ever do.
Your future as a helicopter pilot is something to be incredibly proud of. In these interviews, we aim to show you the varied people and backgrounds who are helicopter pilots.
This commercial pilot interview is with – Commercial Helicopter Pilot – Holly Turner
How old were you when you decided to learn to fly a helicopter?
I began flying when I was 15 and still in school so I would fly on the weekends. I eventually had to stop flying for a couple of months as I had reached the required amount of hours to go for your first solo flight but was not yet the legal limit (16).
What led you to this decision?
I had always grown up being the tom-boy out with the boys riding motorbikes, quads, rally and 4wd. I was always drawn to mechanical things and keen to give everything a go as I’m a bit of an adrenaline junky.
My father always pushed for me to do aviation. It was his passion, tracking through the Solomon Islands to find and restore WW2 aircraft. I had no interest in doing what he was pushing me to do.
I also have a passion for animals and so was going down the path of something in the veterinary field. By default rather than desire, my mum decided to take my sister and I to Queensland. We spontaneously decided to go on one of those joy flight rides at SeaWorld. Shortly after we took off I said to my mum ‘this is what I want to do’.
Once we got back home I began researching all things helicopters and liked everything I saw. I found that the Australian Helicopter Pilot School is held in very high regard within the industry. Just 2-3 weeks later I went on my first flight which was a trial introductory flight and was absolutely hooked.
How long did it take?
I flew on and off weekends for about 2 years while completing school. Trying to fly regularly enough to stay current but not too often. It felt like taking 2 steps forward and 1 back as I still had the theory to complete and I had to wait to reach the age limits.
With school finished I worked for 2 months at Bankstown Helis and went straight up to AFT on the Sunshine Coast to complete a 3-month theory course. Unfortunately, I did not pass many subjects while there as I found their teaching style hard to keep up with and had to come back and self-study. We all learn differently!
I then worked for Aerologistics for 6 months which made it hard to study consistently. In a stroke of good/bad luck, I broke my elbow making me medically unfit to work and fly. This however turned out perfect as I smashed all the theory remaining during this time. Once healed I flew for roughly 4 weeks almost full time to get my licence. All up it took me a little over 3 years to complete my licence.
Where did you study? How did you choose that school?
I studied the CPL (H) theory at AFT on the sunshine coast which is a 3-month course jam-packed with all 7 theory subjects.
Personally, I found that this way of learning was not very effective for me. I failed a number of subjects as I just couldn’t keep up with the fast pace. The class as a whole can’t stop to help you understand or go over a topic as they also have deadlines. In the afternoon when most students are going over the days topic your trying to catch up from the day and learn what you didn’t already click.
It did help me have some understanding when I came back and self-studied. I found that a lot of knowledge I thought I had gained there I had learnt as a “this is the correct answer” rather than knowing why it was the right answer.
I learnt to fly out of the Australian Helicopter Pilot School as I had researched it and saw that they had 3 bases. 1 base was reasonably close to me and held a good reputation. I talked to a couple of other aviation companies and they had also said that they hold Bankstown Helis in high regard.
Did you study in a classroom or at home?
I originally self-studied while I was at school and struggled a lot with understanding or prioritising it. Once I left school I went to AFT for 3 months in a classroom. It helped to have someone go through it who already understood, however, I struggled to keep up. It was not my learning style however it did help a lot when I came home and self-studied the subjects.
Did you choose private or commercial license and why?
I choose to get my commercial license. It is my long term goal to have a career in the aviation industry.
How did you pay for your study?
Being still in school at the time my parents were able to help me. They had set a side an account for my sister and I to attend university or use that money to pay for our study in whatever job we wanted. With the costs of a commerical license similar to university costs I was able to follow my passion.
I am very grateful that my family were able to let me start my career without the worry of being in debt. It was their foresight that has allowed me to do something that may not be affordable at my age. Now though all further education is on me and I am looking forward to what will come.
Which subject/s in the theory did you find most interesting?
I found ‘Aircraft General Knowledge’ and ‘Aerodynamics’ really interesting.
Always been interested in these areas but never really learning about them till then. With the learning going into practical work I found it easy to learn because I learn better by doing things hands-on. To get this hands-on experience I went to Helispirit who took me to look at an engine they pulled out and point out what was what, this was invaluable in helping me to learn.
Which subject/s in the theory did you find most difficult?
I found ‘Law’ the most difficult. It felt as though they are trying to trick you a lot with wording. 1 vague question may have 5 different answers and they might give you 2 of the correct ones but they’ll only accept one. If you didn’t understand exactly what they were asking within their tricky wording then chances are you going to answer it right but not quite to what they were directly looking for.
What aspects of the practical work were the most challenging?
Surprisingly I didn’t find any of the flying practical challenging enough to where I would say I struggled.
Hovering is difficult to learn but crucial. Once one of the senior and highly experienced pilots showed me another way to hold the cyclic everything fell into place. He showed me how to open and release my hand so that I was not overpowering the movements. It was smooth sailing then on.
While there were still challenges there was nothing that I thought I couldn’t do or that sticks out to me as a struggle time.
I did and still do struggle here and there with radio calls, I tend to get tongue-tied and think quicker than I talk. This has made me miss some words and mess up the call. When this happens you just have to laugh at yourself, apologise and try again if necessary. We all make mistakes.
What aspects of the practical work were the most enjoyable?
I thoroughly enjoyed learning about emergencies. It was flying that you don’t regularly do and it was definitely a challenge. Controlling and watching the aircraft, making radio calls and planning ahead with what to do and what’s currently happening.
I also enjoyed low level cause thats what helicopters are all about!
Are you working in the industry?
Currently, I am working irregular weekends at Bankstown Helicopters to keep my hours ticking and license current.
Do you have another job as well as flying?
Yes currently I am working in transport and logistics as a dispatch coordinator while I am waiting to be enlisted for RAAF.
Do you recommend others learn to fly?
100%. It is a fantastic experience and you earn a lot of life skills and knowledge. The theory can go into a lot of helpful life knowledge. Flying you learn a lot of helpful things like multitasking, remaining calm and being able to think clearly in stressful situations and many other things.
What are your flight plans for the future?
I am hoping to eventually move over to a pilot role in defence and then take it from there.
Do you have any stories to tell about learning to fly?
Almost every time you go for a flight you will have a story of some kind from the flight.
The most memorable one I have is that feeling from the first time we did a practice autorotation engine failure, it is not something you will forget its a very thrilling experience.
I also enjoyed when we were practicing low level in a paddock as were chasing some kangaroos then found an albino deer.
Do you have a favourite helicopter you have flown and why?
The bell 407 is an amazing aircraft to fly. It was also the first time I found out that some helicopters can also have autopilot, lets just say that a $4.7 million helicopter is a very impressive helicopter to fly.
Which helicopter do you dream of flying but have not flown as yet?
I think it would be awesome to fly a AW139, they just seem so capable and powerful.
If you enjoy having your stomach in your chest at times and seek thrill with a borderline crazy then helicopters is the thing to do, if you enjoy relaxing and flying comfortably then stick to aeroplanes.
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