At wait Force committed Undergraduate Pilot maintain (SUPT) there space some points that don’t adjust much end the years. After flying the T-6A in phase II, student pilots “track select” to either the T-38 because that fighters & bombers, the UH-1 for helicopters and CV-22s, or the T-1 for everything else. I’ve recently noticed college student pilots pointing out online which order to list the choices for monitor select, and they’re walking through precisely the very same thought procedure as ns did in your shoes.

You are watching: Does the air force fly helicopters

For today, we’re walking to emphasis on the helicopter track. This represents the road much less traveled in the USAF as there are only three airframes and also a handful of assignments available. (Many the the same components play into similar decisions for Navy and also Marine Corps pilots.) This track additionally makes things interesting in a post-military job transition. However, Air pressure helicopter pilots acquire to fly challenging and important missions that space worth it for the ideal pilot. Let’s take it a look in ~ why you can want to pick the UH-1 at track select, and also what that will typical for her future.

Table that Contents

USAF rotary Wing Airframes and Missions

The USAF essentially only flies three varieties of rotary-wing plane (soon to it is in four). The mainstay of the fleet is the HH-60G plunder Hawk, shortly to be replaced by the newer, fancier HH-60W.

The USAF’s brand-new Combat Search and Rescue aircraft, the Sikorsky (Lockheed Martin) HH-60W.

The HH-60 is based on the very same airframe as the us Army’s UH-60M Blackhawk, the Navy’s MH-60R/S Seahawk, the coastline Guard’s MH-60T, and the civilian Sikorsky S-70 that shows up in many variants. It’s an older style that still exists due to the fact that it’s a great overall airframe that has actually been upgraded and also modified repeatedly throughout the life. The main mission of the Air pressure version is Combat Search and also Rescue (CSAR).

The CSAR mission is near and dear come the heart of all pilots. Once one the us has actually a very bad day and needs help, the rescue pilots and their crews who will it is in riding in, commonly under fire, to conserve us. They have actually the potential to do an immediate distinction in each of ours lives. No self-respecting pilot lets an HH-60 crew pay for drinks at a bar.

The air Force’s various other helicopter is the UH-1N. Though it’s technically named the Iriquois, anyone calls the the Huey. This design has been in service due to the fact that the Vietnam War, and it’s still flying due to the fact that it’s merely a great aircraft.

The very first mission whereby an Air force pilot deserve to encounter the Huey is at specialized Undergraduate Pilot training – Helicopter (SUPT-H) at fort Rucker, AL. (Technically, pilots right here fly the TH-1H variant.) You need to hear pilots pine because that the simplicity and fun of the mission! when you graduate SUPT-H and also do an operational assignment, you will do it be standard to return to “Mother Rucker” as an Instructor Pilot. Sure, that Alabama, however the town of Dothan is in reality a kind place. That close enough to the coast to issue and additionally reasonably close come bigger cities like Atlanta.

(The USAF newly awarded a contract to change the TH-1H to with Boeing/Leonardo’s MH-139. If you want to fly brand-new hotness, you might think about going ago to teach ~ deliveries start in 2021 or so.)

The Boeing (Leonardo) MH-139 looks favor a pretty badass replacement for the TH-1H. I doubt it’ll be limited to training role.

Operationally, the UH-1N has two main missions. It’s very first is VIP transport in Washington D.C. Huey pilots there acquire to paris anyone native generals come senators. That fascinating flying in part because you acquire to fly (and land!) in airspace that most pilots would gain shot under for also looking in ~ funny.

The other main Air pressure Huey mission is missile ar transport. Our atom missile bases cover huge swaths the the US. Gaining crews to and from the silos isn’t constantly feasible by car, therefore you get to shuttle people earlier and forth. However, it’s no all milk runs. You’re also a vital piece of a type of Air force mini-aerial cavalry. In case of an attack, that the base’s UH-1Ns the will occupational with large Security forces squadrons to fight the Commies. A friend of mine that did this job explained it having actually a gigantic helicopter playground where he got to play and innovate all the time for training. I think any type of helicopter pilot can like the job!

(There are also a pair units that still usage the UH-1N for search and also rescue. Check the list below for those.)

A 459th Airlift Squadron UH-1N Iroquoise helicopter paris over cherry blossom trees, April 11, 2019, at Yokota air Base, Japan. The 459 together maintains a forward presence in the Pacific and provides responsive airlift assistance for distinguished visitors, priority passengers, and cargo transport. (U.S. Air pressure photo by senior Airman Donald Hudson)

The final rotary-winged aircraft in the Air pressure isn’t a helicopter. It’s a tilt-rotor referred to as the CV-22 Osprey. This plane works solely for one-of-a-kind Operations since it changed the MH-53J numerous years ago. The CV-22 is special due to the fact that it’s fast…so fast that slow fighter and attack aircraft have a hard time maintaining up ~ above escort missions. The does infiltration/exfiltration of unique Operations pressures (SOF) to places and also for reasons that we can’t talk about on this open-source website. Just know that the mission is awesome. I have actually yet to talk v a CV-22 pilot who didn’t love the aircraft. If you desire to log systematic combat hrs in the USAF, the CV-22 is the way to go.

A CV-22 Osprey paris over the brand-new Mexico and also Colorado wilderness in August. The CV-22 participated in its first search and also rescue mission Oct. 5 once a tiny civilian plane crashed. (U.S. Air force photo/Staff Sgt. Markus Maier)

Although us can’t go into too numerous specifics here, you deserve to read about an exciting CV-22 mission wherein a girlfriend of mine winner the MacKay Trophy for heroism and sophisticated flying. (Be careful, this write-up will either do you never ever want to fly the CV-22, or will certainly make friend forever incapable of wanting to fly anything else.)

Back come Contents

USAF Helicopter Assignment Options

Although mission will dictate a many of how much you enjoy your job as one Air pressure helicopter pilot, place is additionally important. (If you have actually a family, location may it is in even more important!) For much better or for worse, there aren’t that numerous bases with rotary-wing units. This is the existing run-down.

TH-1H Huey (Soon to be MH-139)

The only location to fly this one is at fort Rucker, AL. (Yes, it is an army base.) you’ll spend about 6 month there because that training, then you have the right to go earlier as an IP later in life.

UH-1N Huey

F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming (Missile Support)Malmstrom AFB, Montana (Missile Support)Minot AFB, north Dakota (Missile Support)Andrews AFB, Maryland (VIP Transport)Fairchild AFB, Washington (Rescue)Yokota AB, Japan (Transport and also Rescue)Eglin AFB, Florida (Flight Test)Kirtland AFB, brand-new Mexico (Rescue)

HH-60G (Soon to be HH-60W)

Moody AFB, GeorgiaDavis-Monthan AFB, new MexicoNellis AFB, NevadaAviano air Base, ItalyKadena AFB, Okinawa, Japan


Hurlburt Field, FloridaCannon AFB, new MexicoKirtland AFB, brand-new Mexico (Rescue)RAF Mildenhall, united KingdomKadena AFB, Okinawa, Japan
A U.S. Air force CV-22 Osprey indigenous the 352nd special Operations Wing, RAF Mildenhall, performs a flyover throughout the Mi Amigo 75th Anniversary flypast event Feb. 22, 2019, in ~ Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, unified Kingdom. The aircraft flew end the park where countless U.K. Inhabitants honored the storage of the ten please U.S. Airmen who passed away when your war-crippled B-17 flying Fortress crash landed to stop killing occupants and nearby children. (U.S. Air force photo through Airman 1st Class. Jennifer Zima)

HH-60 and also CV-22 to make reservation Units

We’ll discuss more about this later, however there are also several great units where you can fly USAF helicopters in the guard or Reserve. Most of them space HH-60 units, despite a former energetic Duty CV-22 pilot may have the ability to do part CV-22 instructing at Kirtland AFB.

Anchorage, AlaskaMountain View, CaliforniaNellis AFB, NevadaTucson, ArizonaKirtland AFB, brand-new MexicoPatrick AFB, FloridaWesthampton Beach, new York

Here’s a screenshot indigenous the Map reflecting those locations:

Back come Contents

Track choose Gamesmanship

When i was a UPT college student at Laughlin AFB, helicopters were very unpopular. One guy in our course wanted them, and also he acquired it. Once I was ago at Laughlin AFB as an IP, helicopters were fairly popular. You essentially had to be in the top three in your class to get one. Don’t assume you can slack off and get one since nobody rather will want it.

If girlfriend really, really desire to fly rotary-winged aircraft, you’ll should let your IPs know. Then, you need to actually perform well so the they’ll want to fight for you. More than once, there to be classes v two or even three students who really want helos. The IPs communicated that reality up the chain early and we gained extra slot that had been allocated come bases wherein fewer (or no) students want helos.

Air force ROTC cadets native the university of southerly Mississippi drive in a TH-1H helicopter as part of Pathways to Blue April 7, 2018, ~ above Keesler Air pressure Base, Mississippi. Cadets obtained an orientation flight in addition to hands-on briefings on technical and flying operations in support of the waiting Force’s Diversity strategic Roadmap program. Keesler was house to 280 cadets indigenous 15 colleges April 6-7 as part of Pathways come Blue, a diversity outreach occasion hosted by the second Air Force. (U.S. Air force photo by Andre’ Askew)

In the airline we speak “bid what you want, desire what you bid.” A most students obtain stuck in a mindset of, “I recognize I won’t obtain my #1 choice. Ns going to put X instead of Y so the I’ll acquire one of my peak choices.” Don’t carry out that. Nobody cares. You need to not placed helos uneven you really want them.

This shouldn’t be something you have to think tough about. If you check out my descriptions of those missions and also it acquired you very excited, then you’d most likely be okay there. If, after analysis the descriptions of those missions, friend still don’t feel strongly one of two people way, i recommend leaving it to someone else.

Back to Contents

Helicopter tasks After energetic Duty

We’ve already mentioned the Guard and also Reserve rotary-wing flying opportunities in the air Force. These units are situated at fantastic places, depending on what kind of climate you choose living in. You could do a whole lot worse than applying the Ideal army Career route at among these units.

If you have actually your heart collection on life somewhere else, girlfriend may have actually the choice of delivering to the Army, Navy, naval Corps, or coast Guard to continue your military business as a helicopter pilot. You could transfer to energetic Duty, nationwide Guard, or reserve components.

The Marines have actually MV-22s that might make for an easy transfer for an Air force CV-22 pilot. However, in mine opinion, if girlfriend think you can eventually want to deliver to another branch the service, your ideal bet is to paris the HH-60. The various other branches all fly this aircraft, and also they’re usual in safety or reserve units.

Most the these solutions will allow you to transfer at the very same rank you had on energetic Duty. However, if you move to the army be careful what girlfriend choose. Military officer helicopter pilots don’t fly really much. After ~ a specific point in your career, they’re intended to spend almost all of their time on staff work and also administrivia. If this is exactly how you aspire to spend your career, then go for it. If you’re transferring for the flying, then execute not, for any reason, go to the army as one officer.

The military may provide you the alternative to readjust over to end up being a Warrant Officer once you transfer. If you’re make the switch to do a the majority of flying, and also potentially go after an airline paris career together well, this might be the right alternative for you. They’ll probably make you begin out together a lowly WO-2, however if paris is your focus, that shouldn’t be a big deal. Yes sir a lot more to this discussion, however it’s frankly past the border of’s expertise. If you’re challenged with this choice, speak to some military pilots and think hard around your ultimate career goals.

Outside the military, the US federal government has a wide variety of helicopter flying jobs available. United state Customs and also Border Patrol, the FBI, the room of Energy, and many other agencies have pilot work available. As a military pilot, you’re most likely to have actually lots that hours and also qualifications, make you very competitive for these jobs. They’ll generally credit her years the military business toward a federal retirement. If you proceed serving in the safety or Reserves, you may be able to earn both a civil federal government pension and a armed forces pension.

Outside the commonwealth government, countless lower levels of federal government have helicopter flying jobs as well. Most legislation enforcement agencies have actually some kind of rotary-winged aircraft. Part fire department are big enough to have an air wing together well. I have a friend who flew because that our county sheriff’s office for plenty of years and has a watch bottomless fount of exceptional flying story to tell…like the moment that the biker he was tracking struck a cop top top the ground. My girlfriend cornered him, landing the helicopter, jumped out, take it the guy down, and also arrested him. Bad. Ass.

Many corporate trip departments also have helicopters because that transport. These are frequently really nice aircraft v all kinds of bells and also whistles. These work (and the Customs and Border Patrol) frequently offer dual-qualification methods for pilots through fixed-wing experience and ratings. These work are good deals in and also of themselves, but if you want to go after fixed-wing flying later in life, they’re a godsend.

Another exciting and meaningful form of helicopter paris is air ambulance. This pilots job-related odd hours and also usually have to sit alert for days in ~ a time. However, they obtain to fly on NVGs and land places that even numerous helicopter pilots would fairly not go. If these pilots space flying, castle out due to the fact that someone is hurt and mission success is a life-or-death matter. If you’re walking to miss out on exciting, fulfilling paris after leaving energetic Duty, this is a good option.

We’ve unable to do through several of the higher-paying helicopter pilot jobs that have the right to potentially market pretty kind schedules. There space some other great helicopter work out there. Countless of them space considered much more “entry level,” though they’d make awesome side-hustles if your family wants to settle down somewhere specific. Some instances include:

Helicopter flight InstructorOil communication transportAerial tour pilotCivilian search and rescue outfitsAerial camera job-related (Hollywood)

We’ll leaving things right here for now and also move on to one other form of task that military helicopter pilots can obtain after active Duty: airline pilot.

Back to Contents

Rotary to Airline Transition

It supplied to be that the airline weren’t interested in hiring helicopter pilots. This might have been just one of the main determinants that made choosing helicopters in ~ track select in UPT unpopular. Thankfully, an recurring pilot shortage has readjusted all this.

Every regional airline is hurting because that pilots. Both they and their insurance companies realize that a army helicopter pilot has actually a riches of real-world flying experience that no 1500-hr Cessna CFI can ever hope come match. Practically every local airline worth functioning for now has actually a rotary-wing come airline program that caters to army helicopter pilots. Part programs even pay a training pin money for a pilot to walk earn fixed-wing multi-engine ratings and log sufficient hours to meet part 121 airline requirements.

These are good deals, and also I think that a helicopter pilot should not hesitate to take advantage of one as a begin to one airline career. The regionals could absorb every single helicopter pilot to come native the DOD and still discover themselves woefully short-staffed.

I talk to a most pilots that don’t want to do a regional airline touch & go because they think they’re over the small-time companies. (For a summary of the regional Airline T&G, examine out this problem of TPNQ.) Don’t hear to the people who bad-mouth this path. Regionals paris under component 121 similar to the majors. Gift a captain there puts you in command that a crew transporting up come 76 passengers. There are actually some significant potential advantages to preventing by a regional before you go to the majors. It’s a an excellent way to end up being an airline pilot.

I understand that part helicopter pilots finish up nervous about jumping into an airline training regime for a multi-engine turbojet plane after doing small or no fixed-wing paris for number of years. It’s absolutely something come prepare for, yet please nothing let this are afraid keep you from making the move. The regional airlines know specifically who they’re dealing with. They’ve trained numerous pilots choose you in the current past. They understand your strengths and also weaknesses, and they have lots of practice focusing on what you need to be ready. If you’re really worried, execute a few extra hrs of civilian paris to prepare, yet I think that it won’t even be necessary for most skilled military aviators.

Outside that the really flying, yes sir a rapidly growing organization, the rotary to Airline Group, or RTAG, dedicated to help helicopter pilots make that transition. They have a growing Facebook group, and also they’ve held terrific conventions because that the last 2 years. If ns were a helicopter pilot, i wouldn’t hesitate to sign up with that group.

I likewise happen to it is in the employee Writer because that The Pilot Network, a neighborhood of virtually 30,000 pilots working with each other to aid each other attain their aviation goals. From virtual articles, come podcasts, come our quarterly newsletter, TPNQ, come our annual conference, TPNx, we additionally have a wide range of resources for any kind of pilot spring to change from the military to the airlines. We have actually a private neighborhood website that needs a subscription, however you have the right to get free access to every little thing we develop at, our on facebook group, or the other web links I just listed.

It is absolutely feasible to it is in a military rotary-wing pilot and also then transition to the airlines. This just scratches the surface ar of the resources easily accessible to help make that happen.

Back to Contents


Tracking helicopters in UPT offers you awesome methods to paris awesome aircraft accomplishing amazing missions. A rotary-wing army pilot has access to a variety of distinct careers the won’t even be alternatives for pilots who have only flown fixed-wing aircraft. Although they i will not ~ have all of your options, the current hiring atmosphere makes airline pilot a really realistic future job for any kind of military helicopter pilot. Basically, tracking helicopters in UPT offers you every the options.

A USAF CV-22B methods inserting troops via fast-rope.

Although there are a lot of of an excellent reasons to be a helicopter pilot, ns don’t recommend picking it in ~ UPT track pick on a whim. You need to only prioritize helicopters if you have a deep desire to it is in a component of that mission throughout your armed forces career.

If girlfriend fit the description, you should let your UPT flight commander know around your goals and you need to work difficult to rank together high in your course as possible. In my experience, UPT classes acquire an average of 1 helicopter slot in ~ most. If there’s an ext than one human in your course who wants helos, it’s possible for your management to get more, however it will certainly only occur if friend start communicating early, and you do it overwhelmingly noticeable that you’re worthy the the opportunity.

Good lucky if you’re approaching UPT monitor select! us hope the you’ve earned her shot at the type of flying you want. If that happens to encompass rotary-winged flying, you have actually an exciting career ahead of you.

Back come Contents


Image Credits:

The function image because that this post is a Kirtland AFB HH-60 taken by second Lt. Jered Trujillo:

The gorgeous HH-60W shot is top top Lockheed Martin’s flickr page, and comes indigenous their main page here:

The TH-1H image is from:

The UH-1N picture is courtesy of:

The USAF CV-22B refueling is from:

See more:

The CV-22B fast-roping is from:

The CV-22B canyon operation is from: