Helicopter Pilot Responsibilities and Roles (Full List)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 8 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A helicopter pilot is a skilled professional who flies an aircraft for transporting people or goods, conducting aerial observations or assisting with rescue operations. Their responsibilities vary according to the industry. If you're thinking of becoming a helicopter pilot, knowing what their duties and responsibilities are can help you decide if this is the right career for you. In this article, we discuss what helicopter pilot responsibilities are before takeoff, during flight and after landing and review their specific roles.

Related: How to Become a Commercial Pilot (With Development Skills)

What are helicopter pilot responsibilities?

Basic helicopter pilot responsibilities include ensuring the safe operation of helicopters. This involves having a deep understanding of how the aircraft systems work and using that knowledge to operate safely. Helicopter pilots can take off and land without a runway, move through small, complex flight paths and hover in the air. It's their responsibility to use this manoeuvrability in various situations to accomplish tasks safely and efficiently. Below are some of their typical duties:

Executing pre-flight equipment safety checks

Before flying, a pilot is responsible for ensuring the maintenance engineers release the aircraft. They complete a visual inspection of the helicopter and check if the emergency and safety systems are all working. They could configure the flight instrumentation and GPS and test emergency and safety systems. Part of the pre-flight checks may be to evenly distribute the weight of the cargo and passengers and determine that sufficient fuel is available. They ensure that communication equipment is functioning so that the pilot can communicate with their team on the ground throughout their flight.

Performing pre-flight planning

Before taking off, the pilot is responsible for planning the flight or ensuring they know and follow standard flight plans. They read the latest Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) and take note of any relevant events or warnings. They gather necessary charts, maps or documents.

Assessing weather conditions

Pilots typically check the weather to make sure conditions are suitable for flying. Helicopters can fly in a variety of circumstances, but it's unsafe to start up or shut down a helicopter in high wind. In these instances, the overhead blades sometimes strike the aircraft while rotating at low speed. Flying in rain, mist or fog doesn't affect the operation, but it can limit visibility. The pilot decides whether to fly under these conditions, as they could create difficulties during takeoff and landing.

Performing navigation

Navigational skills ensure helicopter pilots reach their destination. Most use a global positioning system (GPS) as part of their instrumentation. Pilots practice other means of navigation in case of a GPS malfunction. For example, they may use their knowledge of visible natural and man-made landmarks and compare them to a physical map.

Related: How Much Does a Helicopter Pilot Make? (With Duties and Skills)

Conducting in-flight FREDA checks

During every flight, there are five checks a helicopter pilot carries out. They often refer to them by the acronym FREDA. FREDA stands for:

  • Fuel: Monitoring the fuel levels throughout the flight ensures the helicopter has enough available to complete the journey. A pilot may cycle between dual tanks every half hour.

  • Radio: Tuning the radio to the correct frequency provides access to any important communication. Pilots often have a backup frequency or that of their landing destination ready too.

  • Engine: Monitoring the instrumentation panel for any signs of engine trouble provides early warning of potential problems. If the machinery is running smoothly, there are no warning lights.

  • Direction: Checking if the direction indicator is in correct alignment with the magnetic compass shows a pilot that the helicopter's directional navigation is accurate. They may also adjust their current flight pattern to account for wind drift.

  • Altitude: Scanning altitude throughout the flight confirms the helicopter isn't violating controlled airspace but is occupying the appropriate route. To verify this, pilots check the barometric pressure on the altimeter.

Communicating before, during and after flights

A helicopter pilot converses with air traffic control, other pilots, crew members and passengers. To relay messages and instructions, they use verbal and written forms of correspondence. Their communication skills help them interpret radio messages and respond to them.

Related: 4 Types of Communication (With Examples)

Knowing and adhering to aviation regulations

Helicopter pilots fly according to local and national aviation regulations. A pilot is responsible for learning and following ordinances and guidelines applicable to their flight areas. For example, they review specific rules regarding altitude and speed. There may be areas of controlled airspace that they avoid when planning and flying certain routes.

Related: How Much Does a Pilot Licence Cost? (With Examples)

Preparing for safe emergency landings using HASEL

A pilot is usually capable of performing a safe emergency landing and following the HASEL checklist. Using HASEL allows them to quickly and safely prepare the helicopter, check the surroundings and orchestrate the landing while minimising the possibility of injury to passengers or bystanders.

  • Height: Assessing the current height of the helicopter and evaluating if there's sufficient space to perform autorotation and recover. Autorotation is a helicopter's version of gliding without the engine.

  • Area: When evaluating potential emergency landing areas, a pilot looks for a suitably clear, flat surface. An area that isn't too close to inhabited areas is ideal, as this lowers the impact of noise on the surroundings and avoids drawing crowds of people for safety concerns.

  • Security: Checking if harnesses and hatches are secure. The pilot packs away all loose articles, such as maps, phones or bags, as they might dislodge and become a flying hazard during the manoeuvre.

  • Engine: They review all temperatures, pressures and warning lights for signs that everything is normal. This often includes testing the fuel quality and the heat level of the carburettor.

  • Lookout: Maintaining a lookout in all directions for any traffic that could obstruct the landing is an important task. A pilot often does this before, during and after executing the autorotation manoeuvre and emergency landing.

Related: How Much Do Air Force Pilots Make? (And How to Become One)

Reporting faults

A pilot typically reports any mechanical or equipment problems to the maintenance facility for repair. During flights, they monitor the instruments and performance of their helicopter closely and take note of anything abnormal. They assess changes to determine whether they require immediate action or if it's safe to complete the trip.

Helicopter pilot responsibilities according to different roles

Helicopter pilots may work for government agencies or private companies fulfilling different functions. Depending on the sector, their job can include a variety of task-specific responsibilities. Some of these include the following:

Engaging in search and rescue missions

Search and rescue helicopter pilots can travel at slow speeds and master the flight technique of hovering. This makes them especially effective when searching smaller areas for missing persons and performing close-up inspections of water and land. During search and rescue operations, helicopter pilots are often experts at finding survivors in debris fields and remote locations.

Aiding in firefighting

When participating in firefighting operations, helicopter pilots sometimes carry water and drop it directly onto the fire, or water bomb it. They may also transport firefighters to difficult-to-reach or remote areas. At other times, they deliver supplies and rations to the crews or bring in relief teams.

Related: How to Become a Firefighter (With Salary and Tips)

Assisting with disaster relief

Helicopter pilots deliver aid to natural-disaster-ravaged cities that are inaccessible by road. They may take food, water, medical supplies, disaster relief workers and doctors to help the survivors. Helicopter pilots are often crucial for evacuating survivors from disaster sites. They provide the quickest form of aid for victims with critical injuries who need urgent transport to medical facilities.

Related: What Does an International Aid Worker Do? (With Skills)

Engaging in law enforcement activities

Helicopter pilots who work with the police force sometimes find suspects. To do this, they operate additional equipment, such as a spotlight or thermal imaging tools. Some police helicopters have harnesses that allow law enforcement officers to lean out and take pictures, aiding in locating suspects. Law enforcement helicopter pilots assist with police chases by easily finding the car and keeping pace with it.

Reporting on traffic safety and conditions

Helicopter pilots sometimes fly over heavily congested roads to locate and report any accidents or other events affecting the flow of traffic. They might report their findings to the local authorities to mobilise traffic or medical support. Some helicopter pilots provide updates to radio stations that broadcast updates to their listeners. This allows them to better plan for avoiding problem areas.

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