16:03 PM

Helicopter flight school opens at Tampa Executive Airport

Tampa Bay Aviation is one of the few flight schools in Florida offering training for both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The Pinellas-based company is now expanding at Tampa Executive Airport (VDF).

Student pilots interested in learning to fly a helicopter now have a new option for training in Tampa.

Pinellas-based Tampa Bay Aviation is expanding its operation to serve students on the Hillsborough side of Tampa Bay with a new facility at Tampa Executive Airport (VDF). 

The mom-and-pop flight school opened in 2012 with one plane and one helicopter based at Clearwater Airpark (CLW) but has since grown to its current size with more than 300 student pilots enrolled. 

“To my knowledge, we’re the only fixed wing and helicopter operation in Florida,” said Flint Crump, General Manager for Tampa Bay Aviation. “There’s really not much opportunity for helicopter training between Tampa and Orlando, so by opening a location at Tampa Executive, we make ourselves more accessible to students.” 

Crump says Tampa Executive, with its two runways and large open fields, is a perfect place to learn to fly helicopters.

“In a lot of ways, it’s better suited for helicopter training,” said Crump. “There’s just more space.” 

The flight school began operating at VDF in late November and already has students lining up for lessons. 

“We’ve only been operating for about three months, but its already getting busy,” said Crump. 

Kevin Watkins is one of Tampa Bay Aviation’s Certified Flight Instructors. He says learning to fly a helicopter is completely different from learning to fly a plane. 

“You’re constantly adjusting with both of your feet and both of your hands,” said Watkins. “That is really challenging in the beginning, but it is really rewarding when you master that over time.” 

He says the school’s students come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some are busy doctors looking to save time while commuting across the state to perform surgeries. Others are young aviators looking to begin a full-time career flying medical helicopters, law enforcement choppers, or to work as a tour or charter pilot. 

“We try to gear it towards people with jobs and busy careers,” said Crump. “If you can only fly twice a week, that’s fine. If you can only do it on the weekends, you do it on the weekends. You set your own schedule.” 

Lessons can be scheduled seven days a week from 7 a.m. until dark. Students learn to fly in either an R-22 or the larger R-44 with at least 35 flight hours required to earn a private helicopter pilot’s license. 

And for those unsure if flying a helicopter is for them, the school offers discovery flights for $189. 

“You get about a half hour of actual flight time, and during the flight, you do get to put your hands on the controls and actually fly the helicopter,” said Crump. “I would say 90 percent of the people come out of the introductory flight saying, I want to become a pilot.”