If you're like me (and you're not, so that's good news for you), you've dreamed of piloting a helicopter. It's gotta be fun, right? You're soaring through the air, banking left, right, hovering, cutting zig zags across the wild blue yonder like a giant dragonfly.
And think of how fast you can get to work in the morning. Heck, you can take-off from your backyard and be sitting at your desk a few minutes later with an egg McMuffin and the coffee you got from the floating Sky-McDonald's (Coming Soon!), passing that traffic jam in a whoosh of air. Of course, parking in the city can be problematic, but if there's a yard or a field or a spare bit of parking lot, you have a landing pad.
I've dreamed about it so much that I looked into what it would take to get a helicopter pilot's license and just how much a bird costs, "bird" being what us future pilots call a helicopter. In my largesse, I'm going to share that information with you, the reader.
I contacted Charlie Duchek, owner and chief instructor at his own company, Midwest Helicopter, located at Spirit of St. Louis Airport, one of the largest helicopter pilot training facilities in North America, according to him. In fact, I went to have a sit down with Charlie and have a first hand look at his helicop...er, birds. Of course, I'm thinking I'm gonna get a free ride. More on that later.
It might be interesting to note how Duchek got his start in the world of whirlygigs. He owned a business, sold it, and found himself in an enviable position. "I had time and money at the same time," Duchek said. "I got my airplane and helicopter ratings and just became enamored of the helicopters."
I'm assuming that you, reader, like me, have neither money nor time. But that doesn't mean it can't be done. What exactly does Duchek find so enamoring? "It feels like a magic carpet," he said. "You can hover and remain stationary or you can go anyplace. Because you can fly lower the view is incredible."
Okay, I'm sold. Of course I've got to ask the big question: How much money are we talking about here? "It costs about $13,000 to get a private license, but to get all your ratings to be employable as a pilot it costs about $60,000," Duchek said. "Once you get out there, there are jobs and the jobs are stable."
The gears in my brain starting grinding their rusty way to some sort of plan. If you are pretty much guaranteed a well-paying job when you get your license, I wonder if somehow this training couldn't qualify for a student loan. The money isn't out of line for four years of college. I wish I had thought of it then, since I spent more than that back when you tied your horse up outside the administration building and carried your saddle-bags to class.
You can even get your license by studying on the evenings and weekends. Duchek said it would take you three to four years under those circumstances. So start now, and after three to four years you're a professional pilot, maybe piloting a corporate or traffic helicopter. If you want to be a medical pilot, you'll need a little more specialized training. And if you're thinking about actually owning a helicopter, that's gonna run you a half-a-million bucks. Pocket change.
So, did I get my free ride in a helicopter? He didn't offer one while we sat in his office, but I don't give up that easy. I insist on taking his picture out by one of the birds, of which he owns five. I snap his picture. No offer. I insist he gets in the helicopter so I can get a picture of him sitting at the controls. I snap his picture. I stand there, smiling stupidly. My head is screaming, "The keys are right there...in the ignition, man! Take me up!" But does he say, "You wanna go up?" No. No, he does not. Instead he says, "We done?"
"Yes," I say, kind of sad sacky. And I get in my earth-bound vehicle and begin the long drive home. And what do you know? I get stuck in a traffic jam. Helicopters suck.