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Hillsboro Heli Academy treats its students like family

Jen Nevans and Lisa Gordon | November 29, 2023

Estimated reading time 9 minutes, 34 seconds.

This sponsored article was created by Insight magazine, the sponsored content division of MHM Publishing, on behalf of Hillsboro Heli Academy.

For Mathias Seifert, becoming a helicopter pilot had been a lifelong goal for the Austrian native — a dream he had since he was a young boy watching his father fly a helicopter.

“Everybody says it’s the freedom,” Seifert said about his love for flying. “It’s just nice to sit in the helicopter, lift off and leave for a while. You’re just thinking about the moment — flying, controlling a helicopter and enjoying the landscape.”

Today, Seifert is living his dreams, working as a loadmaster and helicopter pilot for Wucher Helicopter in Austria. But the journey to get to this position started across the pond — in Troutdale, Oregon.

In 2018, at the age of 24, Seifert decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and travel to the U.S. to train at the same flight school his father graduated from in 1987.

Hillsboro Heli Academy partners with RotorSky in Austria to deliver an accelerated program that sees European students complete the requirements for their FAA and EASA helicopter licenses in as little as 14 months.

For Seifert and other European students like him, attending Hillsboro opened the door to a multitude of opportunities they wouldn’t have received in their home country.

From their first day in Troutdale, foreign students are treated like family and are paired with a peer mentor to help them adjust to American life. To prevent homesickness, Hillsboro staff organize regular extracurricular events to bring students and staff together. This includes heli camping trips where students and instructors fly out of the city life for a night of dinner, camp fires and sleeping under the stars.

“I met a lot of nice people at Hillsboro that I’m still in contact with today. Now, they’re flying all over the world,” Seifert said. “Hillsboro is like a big family where you can start building your network.”

Seifert enjoyed his experiences at Hillsboro so much that he returned in 2021 — this time as an instructor passing on his own knowledge and experiences to prospective helicopter pilots. “I really enjoyed being an instructor,” Seifert said. 

Hillsboro offers students the added incentive of an F-1 visa program, which allows them to remain in the U.S. and the opportunity to work for almost two years to build hours once their training is complete. It’s this visa that gives students the means to accumulate critical hours as a flight instructor, meaning they return to Europe as a marketable helicopter pilot.

Seifert was able to accumulate 1,200 flight hours from his time in the U.S. He has since taken that experience back to his home country where he’s now working alongside his father at Wucher.

Seifert flies an Airbus AS350 AStar, carrying out sightseeing flights and ferry flights. His goal from here is to become a utility pilot for Wucher, eager to take on the challenge of precision flying and longline work.

“This is a really nice feeling,” Seifert said about accomplishing his dream of becoming a helicopter pilot. “And I reached it faster than I thought. I’m still overwhelmed. I have to tell myself ‘Right now you’re sitting on the right side of the helicopter flying it. This is what you had dreamt of your entire life.’”

Seifert credits this accomplishment to Hillsboro, one of the only schools with a joint FAA/EASA licensing training, making it easier for new European pilots to get a job in their home country. 

Since it was founded in 1980, the school has trained people from more than 75 countries. Currently, Hillsboro is home to students from almost every continent, including current students from Italy, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Spain, Singapore, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico, just to name a few.

Its extensive graduate network reaches around the world and into every sector, including oil-and-gas, helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS), firefighting, and more.

Aside from its solid reputation, joint FAA/EASA program with F-1 visa, and its close family atmosphere, Hillsboro offers a host of additional advantages.

Its all-Robinson helicopter fleet of R22s and R44s provides a solid introduction to the industry’s preferred training platform. One-on-one instruction delivers personalized attention and permits a custom learning plan that is tailored to the student. In addition, Hillsboro’s location in the Pacific Northwest introduces students to every terrain imaginable, including the cascade mountain range, the Pacific Ocean and the desert climate of central Oregon, producing well-rounded pilots. 

“We have more than 43 years of experience operating as a helicopter school, training students from all over the world,” said Jared Friend, director of helicopter operations at Hillsboro. “We have all the resources students need to succeed, including simulators for instrument training and a partnership with a local English school if they need language assistance.”

Hillsboro hosts multiple information seminars across Europe each year. Friend encourages prospective students to reach out for seminar locations and dates if they are curious about helicopter pilot careers.

At the end of the day, he said, students feel at home at Hillsboro — and that’s worth a lot.

“What do you get at Hillsboro? Come here for professional, reputable helicopter training and have fun while you’re doing it,” Friend said. “Our students come for training and leave with a lifetime of memories.” 

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