Preflight checklist for CPL(H) flight test in an R22 helicopter

During the CPL(H) course, it’s well worth getting into the habit of preparing for every flight as if it were your final flight test, so you’re really fluent on the day.

This checklist, including the MATED Briefing, is a guide to the kind of preparation and planning needed for a flight test in the UK.

You could use it for the PPL(H) flight test as well, if you really want to impress your examiner.

Before you get to this stage, the examiner will have checked your logbook and student record to ensure that you have met all the requirements. Make sure they are perfectly in sync, eg that your instrument flying is accurately recorded in your logbook.

[ ] Temporary airspace restrictions (020 8750 3939):
[ ] M&B calculation
[ ] Online Notam print
[ ] Danger Area check
[ ] VOR/NDB check
[ ] Wx: (obstacle & cloud clearance) Print Form 215 TAF & METAR
[ ] Plan Flight & Fuel
[ ] Check Fuel State: Main: Aux:
[ ] Check A
[ } Refuel
[ ] Sign Techlog Check A, Auth Sheet, Blade Exam Sheet
[ ] Check a/c docs
[ ] Book Out
[ ] Datcon reading


MATED briefing:

How the given met conditions are going to effect the flight profile i.e. cloud base, visibility/horizon, wind velocity, temp/dew point, precipitation , Outlook.

AUM (performance), CG (t/o & landing calculation) fuel load (flight time), techlog details (limitations/hours available), a/c documentation.

Airfield details, NOTAMS, Royal Flights, RT services, Navaids, Airspace, circuit, joining.

How the exercise is to be sequenced to be most efficient.

Given the experience level of the student who is going to be starting the aircraft, transit to exercise area, any revision of previous lessons. Division of responsibilities for radio/lookout/monitoring of T&P’s etc. Who is Pilot in Command.

The above covers all of the items listed in the “Standards Document” published by the CAA for guidance, section 1, preflight:

Section 1 – Pre/flight
a. Helicopter knowledge-tech log, fuel, C of G, performance. Flight Planning. NOTAMS. Weather
• Check all documents required for a private, passenger carrying flight are correct
• Obtain and assess all elements of the prevailing and forecast weather conditions
• Collate all relevant ATC information, NOTAMS, Royal Flights, Navaids, RT services.
• Complete an appropriate flight navigation log and chart
• Determine that the helicopter is correctly fuelled for the flight
• Complete Mass & Balance schedule
• Calculate helicopter Performance criteria and limitations applicable to the forecast weather conditions and 
make adjustments if required for actual conditions before take off.

As you can see, there’s quite a lot to do, so it’s worth practising, so you don’t feel awkward about it all on the day. Try to find out which aircraft you’ll be using, the day before, so you can go through the documents folder in advance to be absolutely sure it’s all legal, and that you are familiar with what all the documents mean.

EASA CPL(H) – Training to be a Commercial Helicopter Pilot

Training Requirements

You have probably already researched the training requirements for what you want to do, but I’ll sketch them out here for you just in case:

Minimum 45 hours training for your PPL(H). Most people take more, but if you’ll be doing it intensively, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to plan for 45 to 50 hours. You’ll need to find a good school to do that with you, with an instructor you like and trust. You should plan for 6 weeks at least.

Hours Building

Then you’ll need just over 100hrs of hours building, to get you to 155 hours total time. You should plan a maximum of 15 – 20 hours a week, depending on the weather.

The Commercial Helicopter Course

Next is the Commercial course, which is at least 30 hours training, plus test at either end. A Flight Training Organisation (FTO) school can do that for you. There’ll be a ground school fee and a booking fee, as well as the flying fees and CAA test fees. That takes around 5 weeks in my experience. Usually done in an R22.

EASA Regulations

Class One Medical

Before you start, you’ll need a Class 1 medical from the CAA at Gatwick. Their scale of charges are here.

Commercial Helicopter Theory Examinations

You’ll also need to pass the Commercial Theory, before you can start the CPL course. You can be doing this while you are doing PPL and hours building, though I should point out that it is quite demanding! A friend of mine did it as distance learning at Bristol Ground School, and his experience seemed very comprehensive and intensive. He did it in about 9 months, doing his PPL along the way, but nothing else (ie no job). Location may be a factor for you. Check out CATS and CAPT as well. Either way, the BGS online question bank is second to none, whatever anyone tries to claim for their own equivalent, so whoever you’re using for the ground school, you’ll need to budget for the BGS online access as well.

The Theory exams as a project can cost £5000 to £7000 including exam fees and hotels and so on for brush up courses and for staying near the exam locations. If you want to fly commercially in, for example, the North Sea, you’ll need the full set of exams (13 in all) for the ATPL, rather than the 9 for the CPL.

Training Costs

Typical fees for flying a PPL(H), CPL(H), and for Self Fly Hire, and landing fees, are here: Prices

Bear in mind that massively more important than the actual price per hour, as far as the total cost is concerned, is the number of hours you take to get to the required standard of each stage. So you need to find a school you trust to train you to a high enough standard in a sensibly minimum number of hours. I can certainly promise you that.

Accommodation for Intensive Training

Accommodation is a significant expense. Most people use a B&B near the airport.

I hope this give you enough information to work out a budget. As you can see from the above, there are some variables, which make it quite hard to come up with a fixed price, but it’s possible to work to a reasonably accurate budget.

You can expect an exceptionally high standard of service, if you choose carefully, and a respected qualification at the end of it all. The respect is derived from the reputation of the school you trained with.

Choosing a helicopter school in the UK

Choosing a helicopter school is partly about location, and the closest ones are definitely the ones to start with. But a close-by operation that doesn’t look or feel right is no good. Check out the equipment, the aircraft, the hangarage (they do have a hangar, don’t they?), the people, the tidiness, the state of the airfield, the fire truck, and the cafe.

Helicopter Lessons in an R22 HelicopterArrange a meeting with the Head of Training, so they know you’re serious. Better than just turning up and being shown round by the least busy person in the room. Ask about their safety record, their pass rate, and the average number of flying hours it takes to get their students through. Note that there is no wrong answer to this one. Anything from 45 hours to about 90 hours is ok, but it helps you gauge how much it will cost you to learn there. This is far more significant in terms of cost than the price per hour, which may vary by a tenner here and there, but don’t assume that the fewer hours the better. You need enough hours training to be safe before you go off on your own, and many experienced instructors are of the opinion that it takes longer to teach many of the exercises properly than the minimum number of hours allowed. Navigation is a good example. You’re allocated a about 3 hours or so according to the syllabus. Could you imagine being able to navigate a helicopter from your home airfield to another couple of airfields, including all the planning and the radio, on your own in the cockpit using just a map with no GPS after just three hours training? This illustrates why many schools take a lot more hours than the minimum before they will submit them for the general handling test at the end. Equally, however, you need to trust the school not to just pile on the hours for the extra money.

This is one of the reasons to ask for references. Just the name and phone number of someone they’ve trained recently, to check that they felt fairly and safely treated. Try to find out if the former student thinks they are busy enough to seem like a going concern, or too busy to fit you in. The main constraint on that will be aircraft availability.

Discuss with the school their charges per hour, whether there is a landing fee, and whether that’s per landing, per hour, or per flight. Ignore all offers of discounts for blocks of hours paid up front, as your money is generally at too much risk for the benefit offered.

Ask if they are an RF (registered facility) or an ATO (approved training organisation). Note that RFs are being phased out by the new EASA regulations being imposed from 2012 onwards from Europe. Are they able to offer type ratings? Are they approved for further training, such as Commercial Helicopter Licence CPL(H) and Flight Instructor Courses (FIC)?

R22 Helicopter in a flying school hangarThen ask for someone to show you around. Is it tidy? Are the aircraft clean, and do they look well looked after? Just look at them through the same eyes as you would look at a car. Do they look like wrecks? Clean windscreen? Clean blades? Clean inside? Generally well cared for? Does the hangar look as though everyone cares about tidiness and safety? Or does it look and feel like a dump?

Once you have your licence, you’ll want to use it. So you’ll need to find out if they are happy to rent you a machine for Self Fly Hire. Perhaps they organise trips, leading groups of their helicopters together for a weekend, maybe to France, or Snowdonia, or round the UK coastline?

If you are still counting them in after all of this, book a trial lesson. It will count towards your licence, and it is an opportunity to see the place and the people in action.

If it looks right and feels right, keep it as an option while you visit more schools if there are more within a sensible distance from where you live or work. You’re going to be involved with them for a long time, so don’t rush in until you’re confident you’ve shopped around enough to be sure of your choice.

Before you go solo, you’ll need a medical. You only need a Class 2 for a private pilots licence, which is relatively easy to pass, but before you invest too much cash in your dream, it’s worth making sure that your health won’t represent a barrier to progress. The school will be able to recommend the local Aviation Medial Examiners to you. If you want to go for a commercial licence later, it’s worth getting a Class 1 medical early on, not least because it’s a lot easier to fail. You have to go to the CAA Medical branch for that one, down in Gatwick.

Buy a Helicopter

If your business is going well, and you’re enjoying life generally, a helicopter is the essential accessory.

Make the most of your exciting hobby by flying to meetings and site visits, with scope to go on holidays, trips, expeditions and safaris to exotic locations.

When to buy

You could buy a machine before you start your training course, and save a load of money on the cost of your PPL(H) course. If you’re training towards a Commercial Helicopter Licence, it’s almost worth buying one just for the money you’ll save on the hours you have to fly to get there. Or you can wait till you have your licence, by which time you’ll be more familiar with the issues in play.

Robinson R22

R22 training helicopterThe R22 is a great training aircraft, and the entry level. Buy a secondhand one, with expert advice and a good survey from a maintenance organisation you trust for as little as £50,000. The R22 is the most popular training helicopter in the civilian world. The Beta II is the latest and most powerful model of the Robinson two seat helicopter. The Robinson Helicopter Company has built over 4000 R22s in the Torrance,CA factory since their certification in 1979. It is agile and responsive, and great fun to fly. You’ll hear some detractors (mainly people who don’t pay for their own flying) saying that it has weird controls and that it’s twitchy, but the reality is, if you are properly trained on an R22 you you’ll find the transition to any other type very straightforward. Most people who train on an R22 move on next to the slightly larger R44.

Robinson R44

R44 training in the UKThe R44 is the entry point if you want the power and speed to get places. Four seats, and 120mph plus, and said by many to be the perfect private owner’s machine. You can buy one new from Robinson Helicopters in California, or used in the UK from around £100,000. The early models, the Astro, are now extremely good value, though if you want to rent your helicopter to a flying school to cover some of your fixed costs like insurance, you may find that some renters are a little sniffy about the lack of hydraulics. The bang up to date ones are the Raven II models. A dream to fly.

Robinson R66

R66 type conversion training in the UKThe recently launched R66 is slightly larger again, with a 5th seat and a turbine engine. Quite serious money at £600,000, but you get the ride of your life. Note, they are not eligible for registration in Europe yet, so there will be the most almighty rush when that comes along. There’s already a queue.

Currency Hedging for Helicopter Purchase

If you’re buying a machine new from the USA, you’ll need to change some currency. The new kind of online exchange can can save you loads on the transaction, compared to using your bank. Make sure you choose one covered by the FSA, so you know your money is safe.

You can save money, as these exchanges offer better-than-bank currency exchange rates by securing rates directly with the market. They can also reduce, and sometimes eliminate, bank charges.

By hedging, you can protect your helicopter purchase from adverse exchange rates. This can help you to reserve and fix an exchange rate from the moment when you place your order to the moment when your aircraft comes off the production line. This avoids the risk of the price of the helicopter going up as a result of currency fluctuations. It’s a competitive market, but try Smart Currency, and ask for Alex Willson who specialises in the helicopter side of things.

Before you buy a used machine, you’ll need a survey. This is done by an engineer unconnected with the aircraft and its owner. Might cost a few grand, but worth every penny, as the hidden parts that are a few microns beyond their wear limit can cost you a lot more. Don’t assume that because it’s a heicopter, and the maintenance is supposed to be done as per the manufacturer’s schedule, that it will all therefore be perfect. “Just do the minimum, ‘cos I’m selling it next year” as the former owner may have been telling his engineer. The survey will also confirm which parts need replacing soon, so what the cost horizon looks like.

Authorised Robinson Dealers in the UK

If you want a new machine, go to one of the main dealers, and haggle. HeliAir and Sloane Helicopters are the authorised dealers here in the UK. It can help to bring along your flying instructor, to give you another pilot’s perspective on your prospective purchase.

Professional Advice for a helicopter purchse.

Ask your accountant for the best “Benefit in Kind”, VAT, and depreciation advice money can buy. It can all bite later.

Similarly, it’s worth involving your solicitor in the purchase, to help guard against fraud. There are several internet scams around, and you need to be very clear that the vendor has good clean title to the machine you are buying.

Renting your helicopter to a flight school

This can help defray some of the standing costs, such as insurance. Be very clear who is insuring what, who is entitled to fly, and who is liable for what.

List of Helicopter Training Schools in the UK

The following schools offer helicopter lessons for the JAA/EASA PPL(H) in the UK:

Aeromega Helicopters Cambridge 01223 294488
HQ Aviation Ltd Denham 01895 833373
HeliAir Silverstone 01327 857752
MFH Helicopters Peterborough 07779 086911
Sloane Helicopters Sywell, Northmptonshire 01604 790595
Kuki Helicopters Nottinghamshire 01777 839216
Patriot Aviation Coventry 0845 356 3007
Rise Helicopters Staverton Gloucester 01452 857083
Northumbria Helicopters Newcastle upon Tyne 0191 2866999

If you would like your helicopter school added to this list, please get in touch.