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Training for the CPL (H) – Part 2

Post written by Capt. David Harwood CPL (H).


Once you’ve completed all the assessment papers for module 1 and AFT have marked them to assess your progress, you can book the exams at the CAA. These are held on fixed dates every 2 months at Gatwick. In the mean time, you need to spend one week at AFT for a brush-up course. This is a requirement of the distance learning course that you spend 10% of the study time in-house, but it’s also very useful as you get together with other students and discuss areas you’re not 100% happy with.

After the module 1 exams, you repeat the study process for module 2 subjects. However, you don’t need to pass all module 1 subjects before you can start module 2 subjects. I decided to sit all 5 exams from module 1 at my first visit to the CAA. I then sat 3 exams from module 2 on my second visit, leaving “Aircraft General Knowledge” until the third visit on it’s own as this is a huge subject.

Each exam has a 75% pass mark. You can visit the CAA to sit all 9 exams in a maximum of 6 visits (within 18 months of the first visit) and you can re-sit a failed exam up to 3 times. Thankfully, I passed all my exams first time without any re-sits necessary. But if I needed to re-sit any subject, I’d have done it on my third visit also.

From receiving all the study material in August 2008, taking the exams in January, May & July this 2009, it took me 11 months to complete them all. That was based on an average of about 4 hours studying per day, 5 days a week. You can do  it faster, but I get tired of studying after a few hours and was also hour building at the same time. I also know others who were struggling to get finished within the 18 months allowed from the first exam. Don’t under-estimate the work involved and bear in mind also, that I was essentially doing this full time!!!!

Flight Training

So, all theory exams passed, that just leaves the flight training to sort out.

As AFT don’t do the helicopter flight training, I could basically choose where and who I wanted to do it with. I wanted a very experienced pilot with many thousands of hours experience. Having looked around at various schools, I decided to do my training with Geoff Day at Sandtoft Helicopters Ltd. Geoff is a hugely experienced and respected pilot in the industry. The benefit of doing the training with Geoff is he likes to do the full training (35 hrs including night rating) within a 3 weeks period, he books the CAA for the following day and it’s all completed in less than one month. I preferred this way rather than stretching it out over a few months, but it was hard work.

I also chose to do the training in a Bell 206 Jetranger owned by a good friend of mine, Joel. Geoff had no problem with that and also has many hours experience on the Jetranger. The machine does have to be approved for the purpose of the test though at a cost of £170!! The training was hard work, but enjoyable. We were flying 5 days a week, up to the 4 hours a day maximum. With all the briefing and planning involved, that meant 09:00 until 17:00 each day.

The flying training is based on the 5 stages of the CAA flight test.

Stage 1 – You start with the pre-planned navigation leg. On this leg, you must fly the planned heading and only change heading by calculated dead-reckoning which you explain as you’re calculating. When you leave the “start point” you must advise your heading, speed, chosen altitude and ETA at destination. At the “initial point” you then “track crawl” using the OS map to the destination point (eg farm house or small village). Once you’ve found the destination, you “track crawl” to another pre-planned point using the CAA ¼ mill chart, advising chosen altitude, speed, approx. heading and ETA.

Stage 2 – You’ll then be asked to pick up a specific radial on a VOR and asked to track that radial.

Stage 3 – You’ll then be asked to divert to another point. This is not pre-planned, so you need to estimate a heading, advise chosen altitude, speed and ETA, then “track crawl” using the CAA ¼ mill chart.

Stage 4 – You’ll be asked to put a hood on to obscure your view outside the aircraft. With the aid of the flight instruments only, you’ll be asked to fly straight/level, perform level 360 turns, climbing & descending turns, unusual attitude recovery etc. to demonstrate your ability to fly on instruments only.

Stage 5 – You’ll then be asked to demonstrate your general handling skills both off-airfield and on-airfield. This will include simulated emergency procedures (warning lights, autos, PFL’s), confined area landings, limited power take-offs & landings, sloping ground etc. etc. etc.

All the above has to be demonstrated with you in “command”, working the radio, navigating and maintaining situational awareness at all times. If you bust controlled airspace, don’t expect someone to help you. You’ve just failed the test if that happens.

The CPL flight test is just a more accurate extension to the PPL test. You need to demonstrate you can fly accurately in all situations and remain in control, even in emergency situations, following detailed procedures to the book. There’s nothing brand new that you won’t have covered at PPL stage, but there is more meat on the bone and accuracy involved.

My own flight test was conducted by the CAA’s chief examiner Fred Cross and the aircraft you fly takes on a new identity of it’s own in that it is assigned it’s own call sign for the duration of the exam. This call sign is allocated to the examiner and in this case was Exam 19 . Although you’re apprehensive and anxious to get the test done, Fred was very methodical and professional without being cold and unfriendly. I was very comfortable with Fred and the test went very well. I didn’t give him any reason to fail me at any stage and was overjoyed when he advised I’d passed the test first time.


So, I’ve now spent a small fortune on a commercial pilots licence and can indeed fly a helicopter now. I have 250 hrs experience including 120 hours on the Jetranger. I passed all my PPL & CPL exams first time, achieving 90% average. After all that work, dedication and proving my ability, what’s my chances of getting any work in this profession???

If you’re thinking of doing the same, think long and hard, do your homework and go into it knowing what’s involved!!!!


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