Sunday, 2 December 2012

The end of the beginning...

Firstly an apology for not updating this blog since July! It's been an extremely busy time and only now have I really come around to looking at what I've abandoned over the past few months.

Since my last post (which doesn't seem as long ago as it actually is!) my day to day life has changed completely.

Having passed the Instrument Rating flight test on a glorious Friday morning in July, I was in the airline's Exeter hotel on the Sunday afternoon ready to start my type rating the following day. It was such a close turnaround and without the help and swift action of a certain few people I'm sure I'd be sat here now still waiting to get my hands on the yoke of the Canadian Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.

As I said in the last post, some people wait months; years to get into the right hand seat of a commercial aircraft. I had less than 48 hours.

The actual type rating includes one week induction with the airline followed by two weeks of ground school covering everything from the structure of the aircraft to the day to day paperwork expected to be completed when on line. Following this we are sent back to base to jump seat four sectors to see what the world of a line pilot is. After picking my jaw up off of the ground I was quickly shipped off to Farnborough to jump in the simulator and finally get to learn how to fly this thing.

Post sim. training comes the 'base training' (explained below) and then finally they put you in the real thing, passengers in the back and a destination in the flight management system. A whirlwind three months. In fact this is the first time I have actually had time to think back and realise how much we have achieved in such a short space of time.

So, to that Friday in July. After the ninety minute flight test I was given the good news and it was full steam ahead to get home to unpack, repack and try to find some time to get some revision in before heading to the south coast.

Clothes washed and ironed, they were back in the suitcase and before I knew it we were over Bristol starting the decent into Exeter on an equally warm Sunday afternoon. Having only flown once before on the Dash it was great to see what was going on in the back before jumping in the front only a few weeks later.

Arriving at the hotel where I would be staying for the next three weeks I met up with my colleagues who I had spent the previous fourteen months with as we tried to plan out what to expect for the week ahead.

The following morning bright and early, after breakfast, we were dropped off at the airline's state of the art training centre. Currently housing two simulators and dozens of classrooms the building caters for both internal and external airline needs for carriers around the world. It was great to see such a professional image from the very beginning.

We spent the first day completing all the relevant paper work and being informed as to how the following three months would unfold and what was to follow that. It was great to finally get a detailed view of what was to come.

Days two to five were spent becoming familiar with the airline and the environment the company works in. We complete our first aid and water training, our security training and most importantly our CRM (crew resource management) course.

The latter is designed to coach people into dealing with colleagues in a professional and acceptable manner. We were able to look at a number of case studies where flight crew had had their 'differences' which had led to problems both on the ground and in the air.

With all the general company based training complete we were given the weekend off!

Again, bright and early on the Monday morning we were shipped back to the training centre from the hotel to start the aircraft systems course covering everything from the communication facilities to the two grossly over powered engines they've fitted to the thing. This lasted just over a week and, apart from the electrics (I've probably mentioned I'm not a fan of electrics...) it was all very interesting! Following CAA exams we were all then allowed to complete the final part of the ground school.

This was completed on the final week in Exeter taking all of three days. It covered flight plans to icing operations and everything in between. This, again, was followed by CAA exams before they could sign us off for the simulator.

The three and a half weeks in Devon were intense. It was a lot of information to take on in such a short time frame, and if I'm being honest I don't think half of it stuck. It wasn't until I got into the simulator where I could relate what we had been told to seeing it in operation could I come to terms with it's purpose. Having said that, it was no greater than the ATPL study. In fact, as much as I loathed the fourteen exams that we took at the end of 2011 and into the start of this year I do now feel it was good practice for what was to come during my time in Exeter, albeit on a smaller scale.

One note I would like to make about those short weeks 'down south' was my new appreciation for the work cabin crew do in the air. Before starting the course I was aware of the work that went on in the cabin but not to the extent that the authorities and indeed the airlines in the UK do. The amount they need to know is quite mind boggling. About their aircraft, first aid, emergency procedures, current commercial operations and at the end of it all how to keep a smile on their face after eight hours on their feet. Having been on line for a few weeks now it has only cemented my view of what a great job they do. They are arguably any airline's greatest asset and in my opinion should be rewarded by the general public with much more respect than they receive.

Happy to have completed the ground school I was more excited at the following day's prospect. As part of the type rating every new First Officer or Captain on type gets to jump-seat for a number of sectors, depending on experience and basic license type. Having completed the 'traditional' frozen ATPL we were to sit on the middle seat for four sectors completed in one day.

Having never sat in the flight deck of a commercial aircraft during the critical stages of flight such as take-off and landing it was something I'd dreamed about doing as a kid and I'd finally got that opportunity. The whole crew were great and finally I got to jump into the third seat and see how it all goes down.

Checks done, push back complete, we were cleared to taxi to hold short of Runway 06 at Edinburgh. Destination Knock, Ireland.

"Jersey XXX" cleared for take-off Runway 06, winds 030, 5kts."

The captain added juice to the engines and they reveled in it, rushing up to 90% of their maximum power within seconds. We were rolling, and fast. The aircraft is known for the disgusting amount of extra power Pratt and Whitney have fitted to it and I must say, I'm enjoying using it!

"80kts both." The First Officer checks both speed tapes but they're moving so fast the numbers are simply a blur.

"V1....rotate...V2." The Captain pulls gently aft on the control column and the nose duly follows pointing towards the sky.

"Positive climb."

"Gear up." The gear begin to stow themselves for the hour flight across to the west coast of Ireland. I take a small glance out of the side window and see the ground disappearing at over 4,000ft a minute. This thing is a rocket.

The aircraft is quickly cleaned up and accelerating to it's 210kt climb speed. Air traffic control are kind and direct us straight towards Belfast.

During the cruise it was great to talk to the flight crew about what they like about the aircraft and more importantly what they don't like! They were also very informative about everything else I wanted to know during the four flights.

We were soon on the approach into Knock and we were cleared for the full VOR procedure to land on the easterly facing runway. Who said airline flying was all radar vectors?!

As well as being known for being over powered the aircraft is equally famous for being a 'hard lander.' I've heard it called more expletive things but I think that will do for now. Anyway, the Captain did a good job of "not breaking anything" as the First Officer called it and we were on stand on time.

Three similar sectors followed including a trip down to Norwich and soon enough we were back on terra firma in Edinburgh.

As sad as it sounds it was a day I had dreamed about for many years and it wetted the appetite even more!

Next stop - the simulator.

No rest for the wicked. We were soon shipped down to Farnborough, one of the world's busiest and well known business aviation airports. Every day we would pass through to the training centre and see dozens of jets sat in the Hampshire sunshine including a number of 737s and A319s, owned (obviously) by those from the middle east. A place where the recession clearly forgot.

We spent about two weeks in the simulator firstly becoming familiar with our surroundings then jumping into the emergencies and problems associated with the aircraft and trust me; there is enough of them!

These ranged from problems with the anti-icing systems to engine failures at the most critical point in any flight; take-off. We were taught to deal with dozens of different scenarios and before our check ride in the sim; I think we'd done more single-engine flying than two-engined!

The Line Standards Test (LST) which is taken over two days encompasses everything we had been practicing over the three weeks. It is a CAA conducted examination in the simulator which assesses our skills in operating the aircraft.

The two weeks in "the box" was arguably the biggest learning curve of my short career so far and I think we as student pilots underestimated what was expected of us. We were soon made aware, however!

Thankfully all went to plan in the machine and we were finally signed off to jump in that right hand seat. This was getting real.

Base training. Arguably the most enjoyable part of the whole Type Rating. Base training involves completing six landings in the aircraft with a specially qualified Captain. Doing 'circuits' is something I've done many many times in both single and multi-engine piston aircraft. Doing it in something with 10,000 horse power was a little bit different. Being extremely light it was indescribable as the nose pointed itself towards the stars. It was like something from the launch pad at NASA!

After departure from Manchester we headed over to Durham Tees Valley in the North East of England. The flight was short and we were soon in the pattern. Back to the Warrior days! Well...kind of.

While we were 'wizzing' around the circuit it wasn't until after the third landing that we heard there was another aircraft in the pattern making left turns as opposed to ours to the right. 

The Training Captain makes a comment "good to hear they're keeping the weekend flyers out of our way."

"Jersey 22T, the aircraft making opposite patterns will be completing two circuits for every one of yours. Expect long downwinds." Hold on a minute...what on earth was coming in?! "Jersey 22T, do you have the Eurofighter in sight?"

Through the morning's mist we could see a small figure moving at great pace through the lower altitudes. We're happily sat at 1,500ft scooting on along at approximately 200mph and watching the approaching fighter. The plane approached the threshold and suddenly pointed its nose to the heavens and just by watching you could feel the heat increasing on the deck as the Royal Air Force commander injected huge amounts of Jet A1. The most advanced aircraft on any frequency was climbing fast, and that really is an understatement.

It swings to the left before joining us on an opposite downwind yet gladly overtaking us with ridiculous ease. He made a similar approach as we turned onto the final before being told to maintain runway heading.

Unfortunately due to commercial problems we were called back to base early and in turn I wasn't able to complete my required six circuits to add the aircraft to my new license. Due to that I again had to return to Durham later in the week to finish the landings and then head down to the airline's HQ followed by a trip to the Civil Aviation Authority at London Gatwick airport to collect my new EASA license. As Europe becomes more integrated the new Flight Crew license is new to everyone and over the coming months every pilot flying for a European airline will need to be in possession of one of these books. I'm quite proud to say I am one of the first to be carrying one of these around with me every day!

So that was that. I'm now qualified to sit in the right hand seat of one of these aircraft. To say that at Easter I was flying around in a single engine piston aircraft and now I'm busy working in one of the most over powered aircraft in the sky it's quite humbling to think what responsibility the airline are willing to put on us and for ourselves, where I for one am amazed how much we have learnt and come to understand over the past eighteen months. 

Obviously giving us the license and then letting us loose on the aeroplane isn't as straight forward as it sounds. For a certain number of sectors running over around three weeks we're seated next to a Training Captain. Someone who is trained to a very high standard to instruct on 'the line' and familiarise us flying day to day with passengers and cabin crew sat behind us. 

This is designed so that at the end of the three weeks we can take a line check ride with a 'normal' captain where the training captain sits on the jump seat and assesses whether I am fit and able to operate to company standard. Thankfully the day went to plan and I was "released to the line."

I'm a very lucky person. I have a fantastic job, some fantastic friends and most of all a fantastic family. Without so many of them I wouldn't have been able to achieve what I have. Their support has been amazing. To think, two years ago around now I applied to attend an assessment day and this evening I'm sat in my hotel room having completed my first six monthly line check yesterday is truly unbelievable. 

I've experienced something amazing, too many high points to mention and thankfully only a small number of low points to brush over. Having said that; for those who have followed this blog for a long time will know, there was one major low point that when the company that were tasked with training us went into administration it put a lot of strain on hundreds of students and their families. I was one of the very fortunate ones and although in the long term it has added pressures being blessed with support from an airline the initial burden was managed so swiftly and professionally by those here in Exeter. The fight for those who have lost so much continues and I wish them all the very best of luck with their legal challenge and their continued training.

In my time in the United States, Ireland and the UK I have come across some indescribable people. Some I know I'll be in touch with for many many years to come. I have met characters from quite literally every corner of the globe. From America to Australia, from Sweden to Colombia and many other places in between. Not to mention some of the more 'exotic' destinations such as Kazakhstan! 

Now imagine mixing those people with experiences such as watching the sun rise over the Atlantic every morning from 8,000ft. Being raised to 25,000ft in a decompression chamber; doing barrel rolls in an Extra 300, flying across Ireland and into the UK in a Seneca and then finally taking the seat of a commercial aircraft are things I just can't put into words. 

I used to roll out of my pit at 8am and it was the hardest task in the world. I now wake at 4am and have no problems in getting out of bed. How many other people can say that? When we grow up we all change our mind in what we want to do to pay the bills. Everyone wants to be a fireman or a nurse, a policeman or a doctor. I never had that. I always knew what I wanted to do. It seems now that as people approach my ripe old age of twenty one years they have exhausted every career path in their minds and are simply lost in how to move forward. I, again, am fortunate to have had one direction since I was a small boy and I am now proud and blessed to be able to say I can enjoy my life as a pilot.

Thank you for reading over the past twenty months.


  1. Hey, what an exciting read! Things really moved fast for you! So happy for you. Congrats on everything you have accomplished.

  2. Congratulations on the arrival at the beginning of your new journey! It's been a pleasure following your nascent career and I do hope that you will continue posting as and when. All the very best- LSP

    1. Thank you, not sure whether that will be a possibility but hopefully!

  3. Congratulations, you got there!

  4. Thanks for the update! Having followed your blog from the beginning, it is very gratifying to hear of your success in achieving your goal. Best of luck to you...

  5. Hey, congrats to you!

    I have enjoyed reading your posts since Aviatrix recommended you...

    I recently flew Flybe Southampton to Jersey and back in a day, the crew were fantastic and the flight was early both ways, I actually got home in the evening when we were supposed to be arriving - brilliant! And the crew kindly allowed me to take a picture of the flight deck - I admit it, I'm just a 45 year old kid! I had to laugh at the energy rating on the side of the fuselage, just like the ones you get on fridges...

    I spoke to a First Officer on the bus to the car park and asked him about his stripes, is it right that FO's have 2 and Captains have 3? I always thought it was 3 and 4...

    I hope you'll be able to blog about your flights in the future, although I know that can prove difficult sometimes..

    All the best

    Dave from the UK (Fareham nr EGHI)

    1. Hi Dave,

      I'm glad you enjoyed your journey!

      As with most airlines our Captains have 4 stripes, Senior FOs 3 stripes and normal FOs 2.

      Thank you for following over the past however many months.

  6. Firstly, I am unbelievably jealous of you! Secondly, I am also in awe of you. Major congratulations for what you have achieved so far and what you will go on to achieve in your future. An inspiration in many ways.

  7. Only just seen this but that you very much Tom!

  8. Is there still life as a pilot?

  9. Hey! There is indeed, working away (too hard in my opinion!)

    All is well! Hope you are too.

  10. Nice Blog,

    Some personal qualities are essential for becoming a commercial pilot:

    1. The pilot has to be a multi-tasker,

    2. He/ she has to be a good communicator,

    3. He /she can remain calm under pressure or under any unexpected occurrences,

    4. He / she should be confident,

    5. He/ she should not arrogant or boastful,

    Pilot Training

  11. I agree with you Sonia ... you have missed on some points for ex - he/she must be very well disciplined