Police Helicopter Pilot

Helicopter Aviation & Beyond:

We take you inside the cockpit of law enforcement helicopters around the world while sharing knowledge and insight on how to become a police or sheriff helicopter pilot.

So, Do You have What It Takes To Fly Helicopters?


It is quite normal for an individual to underestimate his or her own abilities, or wonder whether or not they are smart enough to learn a particular skill or become successful in a certain profession.  Now perhaps there are some out there who never doubted their abilities,  but for most of us it is a very natural thing to do. 

Now this is the article where I try to convince you that I am of only average intelligence, therefore If I can learn how to fly helicopters then you can learn to fly as well.  But before we get to the intellectual part of learning to fly let's go back and visit that self-doubt that always tries to creep in anytime we face a new challenge.  What about confidence you ask, shouldn't I be trying to build up your confidence?  Absolutely, that is exactly the intent of this article is to build your self confidence in your ability to learn a new skill such as flying.  Remember the skill of flying is only part of becoming a pilot. There is a rather large body of information that goes along with getting a private or commercial pilot license. 

The confidence to learn how to fly helicopters

[For a commercial pilot salary comparison between helicopter and airline pilots read - How to Become a Pilot]

Someone can be very confident, yet still experience some self-doubt.  In fact if you never experience even a little bit of self-doubt, then perhaps you are over confident and flying helicopters may not be the best career choice for you.  Over confidence will certainly get you killed in a helicopter.

So there I was, a 21 year old country boy from a small town in Oklahoma, standing in line with 300 other men and women to apply for a position as a deputy sheriff with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.  The year would have been 1984 and it had been less than 12 months since I left my home state and moved west to discover greater things. 

As I looked around at the other 300 people in line almost everyone looked smarter than me.  I was wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt, but I saw much older, professional looking gentlemen many of whom were wearing suits and ties, and a few even carrying brief cases.  Of course the lady's in line looked smarter than me too.  I did not feel confident at all, in fact a little voice inside my head told me that I was just wasting my time, and I might as well come up with another great idea of what to do with my life.  After all, I didn't even own a suit.

Somehow I made the cut and on December 13th 1985 I was sworn in as a new deputy sheriff for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.  Next came the Sheriff’s Academy.  Would I have what it takes to make it through the academy?  Was I smart enough?  Would I be able to handle the physical training part of the academy? 

Graduating the Sheriff's Academy, May of 1986.

Graduating the Sheriff's Academy, May of 1986.

I graduated the 74th Sheriff's Academy in May of 1986 and finished second or third (I don't remember which) in the overall combined academic and physical scores. 

Next came jail duty.  It was not uncommon for someone to get hired, make it through the academy but not make it through training in the jail.  Would I have what it takes? 

I passed my jail training and about 18 months later became a jail training officer.

In May of 1990 came patrol.  Now it was certainly not uncommon for someone to make it through the academy, through their years in the jail, and still wash out in patrol training.  I wandered if I had what it took to make it through patrol training and become a good street cop. 

Now the first few days in patrol can be very intimidating, to the point that the little voice inside is now screaming at you that you are in way over your head.  The amount of information to learn and process and the pressure can be overwhelming to the point that some people just don't show up their second or third day of their patrol assignment.  By the way this is the same mental process that I would go through later in my career when I began learning how to hover and how to fly helicopters. 

Here is an example of how self-doubt begins to work on you in a situation like this.  I can clearly recall thinking; 

"Ok this vest is restrictive on my upper body, all this stuff on my belt is heavy and weighing me down, yet I am supposed to somehow learn my way around the city, find every single radio call, know what to do in every single situation, what report to take, when to arrest someone, I am supposed to do all of this without getting hurt or getting myself killed, Etc.

Patrol, Santee Ca. Early 1990s.

Patrol, Santee Ca. Early 1990s.

There is no question that there were days in the beginning when I didn't think I would ever be a successful patrol deputy.  But the mind is capable of learning so much, if we just keep trudging ahead and keep taking small bites of the apple, right? 

Two years later I was a patrol training officer training new patrol deputies.

Of course by now you see the pattern.  In virtually every situation when I really doubted myself, I not only proved that my self-doubt was baseless, I generally went on to perform well above average in each situation.  I would come to find that flight training and learning to fly would be no different.  I approached each stage of learning, both the physical aspects of flying as well as the academic portions of flying helicopters, with almost an equal combination of confidence and self-doubt.  Confidence won out each and every time!

So, about that academic stuff.  Just how smart do you really have to be to learn to fly helicopters?  Well you have to be smart enough to pass the written and oral exams, and smart enough not to kill yourself.  But let's put a little more perspective on it.

Do I have to be a math expert to fly helicopters?

At the time I graduated High School in the state of Oklahoma the highest level of math required was a general or consumer mathematics class.  Algebra was not required to obtain a high school diploma.  Though I generally received A's in English class, math was not my strength.  At least that is what I always told myself.  Let's just say that at the time a 'C' was a perfectly acceptable grade to me in my senior year consumer math class.  I have never had a high school or college level algebra class.  Now that is not something I am proud of, that's just the facts!  I often wished I had taken higher level math classes, but that is with many things in life. 

So when a little self-doubt starts creeping into your head, just remember that there is a C-level, consumer math, commercial helicopter pilot that has gone before you.  That should boost your self confidence if you are considering helicopter flight training.