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Helicopter Pilot Training / October 14, 2018

The Real Low Down on Becoming A Police Helicopter Pilot

This article is really the meat and potatoes of how to land a job as a police pilot. But the previous articles are just as important. Develop a reputation as someone with a bad attitude or a poor work ethic and you can forget about this section, because it won’t matter.

Let’s Do Some Strategic Planning

This article could be considered a strategic planning session on how to eventually land that position as a police helicopter pilot. There are some definite does and don’ts when it comes to applying and interviewing for such a position. Much of what we will discuss can be applied to any agency, for a couple of reasons. First these are general strategies, tips, suggestions, and ideas. Second, it doesn’t matter what agency you work for you are going to be dealing with humans, and human nature, in your quest to land that position. So let’s get started!

First I think we must be very honest with ourselves. There are always going to be more people standing in line for a position in the air unit than positions available. So it is a reality that your best efforts and strategies may not ever result in you being selected for such a position. One of your first strategies should be to conduct an honest self-evaluation.

Start With a Self-Evaluation

Now I am not encouraging you to sell yourself short, or to under estimate your abilities or self-worth even though most of us do to some extent. But, how are you performing in your current position? Are you someone who is truly respected by your co-workers? Do you have a reputation as a hard worker? Everyone has a reputation, what is yours? As I mentioned in the previous articles, your reputation is probably your greatest asset. In most cases it is more important than any aviation knowledge or experience you already have, (we will discuss minimum requirements in a moment).

Here are some descriptors of a good reputation; you are a “hard worker”, you are “squared away”, “you have your act together”, “you can walk and chew gum at the same time”, you are friendly and easy to get along with, “he/she seems like a sharp guy/gal”. I have never heard anyone say “we want the smartest person for the job”. Common sense, good judgment, ability to “think on your feet”, ability to multi-task, hard worker, and easy going are all excellent traits to have going for you. Do be positive and set your goals high, but also be well grounded.

Minimum Qualifications for Your Air Support Unit

Your very first strategy should be to learn the minimum qualifications for that particular position. For example my agency requires a minimum of 2 years patrol experience and completion of department probation. That’s pretty much it. No previous aviation experience is required. Other agencies may require you to go out on your own and obtain any number of aviation ratings. For example it is my understanding that the San Diego Police Department requires you to have a fixed wing IFR rating before even being considered for selection as a pilot. Minimum requirements are just that. If you don’t meet them now, then you will need to get to work until you do meet them.

Something else to consider however, is the amount of experience and skills necessary to be competitive for the position you are going for. In other words the minimum qualifications for my agency are 2 years patrol, but no one gets into our unit with 2 years on the department or patrol. Remember you are going to be competing for these positions with other members of the department. Typically there is a rating system to rate applicants for the years on the department, positions they have held, etc. These points are then combined with interview scores to give an overall rating. On most agencies there is still some discretion given to the unit commander on who is selected. The unit commander is not always forced to take the person with the highest score, but rather select from the top two or three names.

On our department it is the top six names. So while the positions are very competitive, you can see where your outstanding reputation is going to come into play. On our agency you don’t necessarily have to be the one with the most experience or the most aviation ratings, but you have to be in the top six and have the best reputation. You make that happen and you have probably just earned yourself a spot in or air support unit.

Historically on my department, no one made it into the air unit before they had at least 10 years on our department before being selected. That is just typically how long it took to competitive.

: Two of the last three deputies selected into our air unit had just over 5 years on each. One had several aviation ratings and one did not. I cannot point to any clear reason why, or how, they were able to beat the average by almost 5 years, but they did. It serves as a reminder that records are made to be broken!