You’re about to be that guy—that guy that gets his first civilian flying job and can’t stop talking about how he used to do things in the military. Look, we get it; your military flying is the only gauge you have to measure your new civilian flying job. I’m here to tell you—it’s grating to hear the new guy prattle on about how he used to do things in the military.
Military pilots like structure and stability. Unfortunately, the civilian helicopter industry is not designed like the military. The taxpayers are not footing the bill; civil operators don’t waste time or money. Your military past is likely to be vastly different from your civilian future. Embrace that and, most importantly, be ready to learn a different way of doing things.
There are so many things you need to learn. There are so many people you need to meet. There’s much advice out there waiting for you. If you are a military pilot, you need to start networking now—in person.
Yes, you keep hearing that word, and putting it off until you are a bit closer to getting out. Don’t. Network now. Network years before getting out! If you’re in flight school right now and you haven’t been networking—do it! How else will you find out about all the transition tips that will adequately prepare you?
Had I properly networked as a student pilot, these are a few key things I would’ve known:
Keep Your Own Pilot Logbook - Keep it from Day One of flight school, in accordance with federal aviation regulations. Don’t let the military keep it for you.
Log More Night Unaided time - Get as much night unaided time as possible. There are many sectors of the industry that don’t have the luxury of utilizing night vision devices (NVDs) on the outside.
Get all your FAA Certificates - Get your CFI, CFII, type ratings, ATP, NVG endorsement, and FAA medical before leaving the military.
Résumé Review - Reach out for résumé templates, and résumé reviews.
I wasn’t ready, not even remotely ready, but you can be!
Ask and Listen - Whom do you call when deciding between jobs? How do you negotiate your salary? How do you prepare for a job flying single-pilot IFR? Which AMEs should you avoid? Whom do you see for your medical? Advice and answers will fall from your mentors’ mouths.
If you network years in advance, you can be ready.
Military pilots completely miss the fact that their skills are a given—it’s personality that separates. Most networking must be done in person. You can connect with someone online, but building genuine friendship solely over the internet won’t cut it. Employers and future coworkers want to meet you, get a feel for you, and maybe even have an adult beverage with you. It’s similar to the friendships forged in the military; there has to be a physical aspect, a point of bonding, the moment when your friendship just clicks.
It is difficult to get to a HeliSuccess or a HAI Heli-Expo in your last year of service. So start at least three or more years in advance of your separation.
You are busy. I appreciate the reasons mounting already: deployments, training, family commitments, money, time…so many reasons. Know this—attending civilian aviation events like HeliSuccess and Heli-Expo are two of the most worthwhile investments you can make in your future. Find a way to get there! You will need a head start to separate you from the rest of the military crowd.
About the author: Stacy Sheard’s career began as a U.S. Army Huey and Black Hawk pilot until leaving the military to pursue a commercial flying career. She has civil experience in charter, tour, ENG, EMS, corporate aviation, and as a Sikorsky production test pilot. She is currently a corporate pilot with EJM flying the AW139. She is an HAI board member.