I feel privileged to be in my 21st year of flying airplanes. I was going to use the word ‘lucky’ but I truly believe that by the choices and actions you take, you create your own luck in this game. I was introduced to flying by my uncle who was an airline pilot and by watching air displays as a young boy every year at the air show in Eastbourne. I knew that flying was what I wanted to do as a career straight away. I was inspired by the agility of the aircraft, the speed, noise and power of the fast jets and the precision and excitement of watching the Red Arrows. I thought of being a pilot as a way to travel the world and it was a career that was respected by society.
I came from a very humble upbringing. My father was a driving instructor and mother worked as a receptionist. When my career advisor asked me what I wanted to do for a living, I said I wanted to be a pilot. I will always remember him laughing when I gave my answer because, and I quote, that was “unachievable for someone like me”. I was further annoyed by him organising work experience for me at a bank instead. I was determined to prove him wrong and pursue my ambition even more. So, I joined the RAF Air Cadets. Joining the RAF Air Cadets, however, gently pushed me towards choosing a military career to begin with. Fast forward a ‘few’ years and there I was in the Synchro Pair of the Red Arrows flying inverted at 100ft and at 700 knots closing speed towards another airplane down Eastbourne seafront. It was a real “pinch-my-self” moment and one I’ll never forget.
As we all know, becoming an airline pilot takes determination and a lot of hard work. During my final year in the Red Arrows, I worked extremely hard to complete my ATPL exams. We were on a 12-week tour of North America and I studied for the exams in my hotel room in the evenings and any spare time I had, whilst also managing the intense pressures of the tour and delivering a world-class flying performance. At times, I was quite overwhelmed and remembered the words of a sports psychologist I worked with in my early RAF career who said, “you can’t eat an elephant whole”. What he meant was to break tasks down into small bite-sized chunks, prioritise and focus on each small piece in turn. Using a step-by-step approach to achieving those chunks to the best of your ability will allow you to ‘eat the elephant’. It worked. I successfully passed my exams after the tour and completed my CPL/IR and also passed selection for British Airways. Life was good and I completed my A320 type rating. Then Covid struck…First in, last out…thanks BALPA.
I can sympathise with the position a lot of you find yourselves in. Here I was, suddenly unemployed. It was a real blow and if I’m honest, I hit quite a low point. This was where I fell back on the resilience, I had learned through the tough times I had experienced in my career.
I lost seven close friends and colleagues through flying accidents during my time in the RAF. I found each loss extremely tough and staying focused in pursuing my ambitions was difficult. It may seem trivial, but this was important to me and a real test of resilience and ‘bouncing back’. I applied to the Red Arrows several times and eventually got selected on my 6th application. Each rejection was devastating to me. I learned to dust myself off after each rejection, reflect and review my application and performance. I identified what I did well and what I could have done better. Each further selection was a stronger performance and eventually, I ticked all the boxes to realise my dream.
Also, I believe Pilots are bad at opening up and keep things stewing inside them not feeling able to share their issues to save face and appear strong. I believe admitting your weaknesses shows strength. You never know, the person you are talking to might just have the solution. Covid has been bad for keeping us isolated. One of the things I most enjoyed about the RAF was going to the bar for a beer after work to talk, to share experiences. It brings you closer as a pilot community as we are there for each other. That’s why I think it is great that we have got together this evening to talk and to learn, if anything, just to talk pilot language once again.
Plan and be patient for the industry to recover because it will. If you make the decision to drive delivery vans or do something similar to get by for a while, don’t view that as a bad thing, instead be content that it’s a positive action in bringing in some immediate income to pay the bills and part of the plan to become a paid Pilot again. Try and stay relevant in aviation and keep your licence current if you possibly can. You never know what opportunities may present themselves suddenly.
I suggest ditching those negative whatsapp groups that bring each other into a negative spiral descent. Instead, surround yourself with positive people. Remain focused and put energy into things that you can influence. This is a bump in your journey as a pilot but also an opportunity to learn and improve your resilience. By overcoming this hurdle, all future challenges (because there will be more) will be a breeze as you will fall back on this experience and be proud that you overcame it.
Things will recover and you will succeed if you remain determined and resilient.
welcome aboard the new airside
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