One year of flying

So it has dawned on me that my one year flying anniversary was this month, so I thought I would reflect on what I have achieved and learnt in the last one year of flying.
I remember my first lesson pretty well, I remember not really liking the feeling of the plane rocking on take off. It took me a good 4-5 lessons before I was totally comfortable with feeling every slight bump and the turbulence. I lucked out as I had great instructors who really took an interest in my training, I feel this is very important.
My first solo was very memorable, I had been at the stage of being ready for a few weeks but the weather wasn’t playing ball. Eventually I got it done on a lunch break from work. The realisation that the plane climbs so much faster with just two people in it was awesome fun. I love the fact that you are in charge and it is your responsibility to get it down on the ground and there is nobody else to help you.
The next big thing was the cross country qualifier. The feeling of being let loose to fly across the country and land at other aerodromes is amazing. My first contact with radar, doing over hand joins (for just the second time) and navigating long distances! This day will never be forgotten and was a huge milestone in my PPL.
The most nerve-racking part was the PPL skills test. The nerves building up to it, the actual flight and trying to remember everything, the landing back at the airfield and waiting to see how you did (I passed!).
Now that I had my licence it was time for the first flight with a passenger. One of the joys of getting your licence is the ability to take people flying with you, so they can see what you have been working on. Also knowing that they have the faith to come up with you and trust you as pilot in command is a great feeling.
Lastly it was time to pick an ATPL ground school and then the work put into the material (on going work). It is hard work doing it around a full-time job but still fun at the same time.

It has been a fun year of flying and I feel like I have achieved a lot. I hope the next year is just as good and I can’t wait for all the adventures that lay ahead.

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Interview with Joel Garabedian A320 First Officer at British Airways

Helping us to keep our eyes on the prize we have an Interview with Joel Garabedian A320 First Officer at British Airways. Some of you might remember seeing Joel in A Very British Airline that aired on the BBC last year. We took some time to catch up with him and find out what he is up to now, and if he has any advice for budding aviators.

Joel Garabedian

1. What made you want to become a pilot?
When I was little I was fascinated by aeroplanes. I collected all of the parts of a magazine called “Take Off”, and when we got our first PC I spent ages playing on a very early version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. This was in the 1990s, so we didn’t have the Internet, and because I didn’t know anyone who was a pilot, there was no way of finding out about flying as a profession. I decided to become a musician, and after my GCSEs attended music college. I had to pick some A-Levels to go with the music course, and being quite technically minded, I chose Maths and Computing. I found I really enjoyed computer programming, and decided to pursue that as a career, keeping music as a hobby. This led to a degree in Software Engineering, and a job as a programmer in the video game industry. I moved to Horsham to work for Sega in 2008, and got back in touch with an old friend from secondary school who was an airline pilot. We’d meet regularly, and my interest in flying started again. My parents bought me a trial flying lesson for Christmas in 2008, and as soon as I took off for the first time, I was hooked and knew I wanted to fly.

2. You had your PPL for a while before you got on the FPP, did you always have plans of going commercial?
I became a PPL holder in December 2009. Soon after that I’d visited all the airfields I could afford to fly to, and I wanted to develop my flying skills further. Someone put me in touch with a British Airways FO who ran a flying club at Shoreham, operating (among other types) a Bulldog and a Super Decathlon, and after my first aerobatic flight I did all my flying there. I was exposed to aerobatics, tailwheel, formation and farm strip flying, in an environment that mixed professional pilots and PPLs in perfect harmony. I was completely addicted and found I was wishing my way through each week at work to go flying at the weekends.
But it was just after the big financial crash of 2008. I’ve always been quite risk averse, and in my late 20’s, with a job I enjoyed, I decided I wasn’t prepared to risk it all to become a professional pilot. The first wave of the FPP was announced in 2011, and I decided I’d have one shot at it. I’d always loved British Airways, and decided that the FPP was the lowest risk way into a career as a professional pilot. My plan was that if I didn’t make it in, it wasn’t meant to be, and I’d stick to flying for fun.

3. How did you find the transition to integrated training?
Both integrated and modular training are extremely hard work! I’d been out of full time education for eight years, so effectively going back to school with no income was a big shock! It’s talked about a lot, but the issue with the groundschool isn’t that it’s difficult, it’s that there’s so much of it. It’s a knowledge retention and recall exercise. I made notes each day which I typed up in the evenings. It was time consuming but I found it helped me to remember the content. When it came to revision I just needed a quick flick through my notes. It’s very tempting to just train yourself to pass the exams, but the knowledge you gain in groundschool can be very useful, particularly in subjects like Meteorology and Principles Of Flight.

The flying training was strange at first – I had around 150 hours at the time, but had to go back to lessons like “Effects Of Controls”. I loved it – I just endeavoured to do everything to the absolute best of my ability. I think previous flying is both a blessing and a curse – in some ways it helps, but there will be subtle differences you’ll have to unlearn. Being used to flying in and out of short grass strips my instinct was to aim for the threshold. You obviously don’t do that in commercial operations, but conditioning myself to aim for the touchdown zone was harder than I thought it would be.

4. Tell us a bit more about your type rating and line training.
After the CPL ME/IR myself and my coursemates stayed on at FTE to do a Jet Orientation Course designed by British Airways, which aimed to get us up to speed for our Type Rating. This involved 44 hours in a 737 simulator. BA deliberately chose the 737 over the Airbus so we’d concentrate on the crew aspects of the JOC and not the technical details. We then had some time off before the Type Rating started at British Airways. The Type Rating comprises two weeks of groundschool, then 13 simulator sessions. The groundschool focuses on the technical aspects of the aircraft – how the systems and the flight control laws work. We also had a fixed base simulator, where we were able to practice setting the aircraft up, and ECAM handling. There are a number of progress tests, and then an exam at the end of the groundschool phase. The simulator phase is very challenging – each session is four hours long, and there are specific goals that have to be achieved. The first session involves general handling, take-offs and landings, then it’s straight into non-normals for the remainder. Managing failures, engine failure after take-off (EFATO), rejected take-off (RTO), low visibility operations (LVO), and a huge list of other skills you need to gain to operate a commercial jet safely. The 12th sim is a Skill Test, where you’re required to demonstrate everyhing you’ve learned. The 13th sim is a practice for Base Training, where you fly circuits in the Airbus.
Base Training itself is an amazing experience. It’s the first time you’ve handled the real aircraft, and even taxying such a big machine is amazing! Many people say that Base Training is the most fun they’ve had flying a jet, although if I’m honest, I was so nervous at the time that I’m not sure I enjoyed it on the day! Like all other aspects of flying training, you’re required to perform to a very high level, and that adds a lot of pressure. Looking back I enjoyed it though, and now I have over 2000 hours on the Airbus, I’d quite like to have another go!
Line training was fantastic. The trainers at British Airways are superb, and the course is very well designed. There’s a large number of discussion items you cover with the trainers during line training, covering topics like fuel policy, terrain awareness and other areas. I still remember a Rome nightstop near Christmas during my Line Training, sitting outside the Pantheon and discussing diversions, then flying back to Heathrow and onto Munich for the night where we went to a Christmas market. That’s when it really started to sink in that I’d become a professional pilot!
joel garabedian
5. You have now been flying the line for a while, what have you learned
You learn something every day you come to work. It’s hard to explain exactly what you learn, but over time you notice that your capacity starts to increase. When you first start, you’re very much caught up in the here and now of flying the aeroplane. As you start to build experience, you’re able to think ahead much better, and when something out of the ordinary happens, you’re in a better position to deal with it. Flight school only teaches you how to fly an aeroplane, and being a commercial pilot is only partly about flying. The only way you can build experience in other aspects of the job is by exposing yourself to as many aspects of the operation as you can.

6. Do you still fly light aircraft?
I do! As soon as I was back in the UK after completing the course at FTE I returned to my flying club. The CFI there is a British Airways pilot, and it was him who suggested I apply for the FPP back in 2011. It was a really special place, with some beautiful and rare aircraft. I hold an EASA Aerobatic Rating and last summer I realised another goal when I became a Class Rating Instructor and started teaching. Sadly the club closed its doors recently, but I still see the other members regularly, and we’re looking to set up a group with one of the aircraft. I absolutely love my job, but flying light aircraft is the purest form of flying. I’d urge anyone who wants to become an airline pilot to keep flying light aircraft if they can.

7. What are your future goals? Do you plan to change type?
I love flying the aeroplane, so for the time being I’m very happy on short haul, which involves far more handling of the aircraft. Ultimately it would be fantastic to achieve a short haul command, but that’s a long way off, and I’m very happy in the right hand seat. One of the great things about British Airways is that we can bid to change seat and fleet each year, so if my aspirations change, I can bid accordingly.

8. What advice do you have for us aspiring pilots?
I meet a lot of aspiring pilots at recruitment shows, and they’re often extremely focused on their goal, but sometimes I’m not sure they’ve really thought about what flying passengers is all about. Remember that the job is only partly about flying – you’ll need very strong interpersonal skills too, as you’ll be communicating with Ground Staff, Engineers, Cabin Crew, the Captain, ATC, and many others! Any experience you have which gives you evidence of communication skills will be of benefit, whether it’s a DofE award or a job serving customers.

When applying for cadet schemes, make sure you read the application questions very carefully, and have a good think about your answers before you press submit. Imagine who will read your application, and if they read 500 others at the same time, will yours stand out? Lastly, don’t try to second guess what the airline is looking for in an applicant. Just be yourself!

Checkout flight at Elstree with MAK Aviation

With the closures at Cranfield over the next few months I needed somewhere to fly in the meantime at weekends, so I decided to have a checkout flight at Elstree with MAK Aviation.
Elstree is a really strange airfield which is surrounded by airspace. Luton to the north, Stansted to the east, London city to the south-east and Heathrow to the South. As you can see, it is really easy to have an infringement in this area. Cranfield is a much better airfield for local flights in my opinion as the nearest airspace is Luton to the south but if you head north then you are clear until Coventry.
On top of this the circuit at Elstree isn’t a proper circuit but more of an oval which is kinda strange and takes some getting use to.
The airfield is drastically busier than Cranfield also with around 100 general aviation aircraft being based there compared to maybe 15 at Cranfield.
The plane we was flying is a French built Cessna 172. This plane is strange for a few reasons, firstly the speed is in Mph with Kts on the inner scale. I never knew any planes had Mph as their main indicator so I found this quite weird. On top of this it also has 40 degrees of flaps, I remember reading about a couple of accidents that was put down to 40 degrees of flaps being selected. On top of this the flaps are electric so you count like 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi to get flaps 3.
For these two reasons extra care must be taken when flying this aircraft.
Anyway, we did a flight and did some basic climbing & descending, handling, practice forced landings, heading & altitude holding. We then came back into the circuit and on the first approach I had to go around due to someone still being on the runway. I then did one touch and go followed by a full stop landing. There wasn’t much to say about it, but it was good to get back in the air after a month.
Over the winter I am looking to complete my night rating. Elstree can’t do night ratings at weekends and Cranfield isn’t open at weekends so I am still undecided where I will actually complete this as it seems I will have to head to the airfield after work which is an inconvenience either way.
I must admit out of the two airfields I think Cranfield is better if you just want to do some local flights for currency.

Class 1 medical revalidation

Dr Cranstons Office
Dr Cranstons Office

So it has been around a year since I got my initial class 1 medical so I had to have a class 1 medical revalidation.

To do this you have to search for an AME and then book to go see them. My local AME who was recommended to me by my housemate was Dr David Cranston, so I popped along to get it done.
I wasn’t totally sure what to expect with the revalidation, but the receptionist told me that it is not as in-depth as the initial (she wasn’t lying).
First was a bit of form filling about medical history etc, nothing really to report here.
Second was the peeing in a cup section, I don’t think I really need to go into detail here 🙂
Then it was time to go and see the AME. The Dr took my blood pressure, asked me to read the bottom line of his eye chart, a paragraph of text, listened to my breathing, asked me if anything has changed or if I had been to see a doctor, and that was about it. The revalidation was over for another year and a new class 1 was printed for me.
Oh we did talk about the training path I am taking and the flying he used to do but that’s not part of the medical.
I came out and paid the £168 fee and was in and out in an hour! Why couldn’t the initial be this easy?


ATPL Theory Month 4: Revision

Just a quick recap on ATPL Theory Month 4: Revision.
Bristol hand outs
As I have my revision week booked for November and my first exams booked for December (General Navigation, Meteorology, Instrumentation & Human Performance & Limitations). With these looming I have taken my first look at the question banks this month to get familiar with the phrasing and style of the questions. I have focused my time on General Navigation where I try to work through 30 questions a day and Meteorology where I try to work through 70 questions a day.
I try to do some General Navigation every day so that I get faster with the CRP and also how to do it is fresh in my mind.
I don’t think just learning question bank answers is much help so if I can’t work it out I then look online or through my material to work out how to get the answer some areas are a lot harder than others but I just keep cracking on and working through them.
The work load is high and as I haven’t sat any exams it’s hard to know what the correct exam technique is.
I deliberately left a long time before finishing the material and sitting my first exams (3 months). The reason for this is so I don’t feel time pressure and that I can be really prepared when December rolls round and I sit the exams.
I have a few days away coming up so I am happy to take a break and not deal with any study for the first time in about a year (PPL then ATPL’s). My brain is overloaded and I think that this will be good to have a break and just chill out a little bit.
It is hard work however, and doing it around a full-time job is even harder, you have to be pretty dedicated to keep this up.

Is this the end of General Aviation at Cranfield?

I got a few emails in the last few days that has made me think to myself, Is this the end of General Aviation at Cranfield?
Clear Blue Skies Cranfield
The latest email I have received has stated that due to a controller shortage that the airport will be closed every weekend from 24th September until the March 2017. On top of this there are the following closures.

September 2016: 15th-18th for Festival of Flight.
20th – 25th September possibly to relay the runway.
November 2016: 3rd
December 2016: 21st, 24th-27th
February 2017: 8th
March 2017: 1st

Single ATCO days – Opening times will be 0900-1100 / 1600-1800. Prior Permission Required.
October 2016: 14th
November 2016: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 7th, 18th
December 2016: 2nd, 16th, 19th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd
January 2017: 20th
February 2017: 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 24th, 27th, 28th
March 2017: 2nd, 3rd, 24th

As you can see, this is a horribly unworkable situation for just about everyone involved. As a student I completed my PPL (Private Pilot Licence) on weekends. I am sure there are students that will be massively impacted by this, especially the ones who are also trying to complete their training around a full time job.
I guess I can consider myself lucky as I have completed my PPL, if I was still training now I would be in a pretty bad situation. I just wouldn’t have the time to complete it mid-week and I would be left with no choice but to change schools.
The schools / flying clubs based there will also be pretty badly impacted. At my school the weekend flying is normally non stop. This is also a lot of cash that they now cannot earn, and GA schools work to a pretty tight margins, so I can only imagine that this is really going to affect them.
If the schools / flying clubs are not making that much money then you have to question their ability to survive. The airfield has already lost some famous schools like Cabair (twice) and Bonus Aviation.
I know people have a love / hate relationship with Cranfield, however it really is a nice place to fly from. Is it the cheapest? Most defiantly not, but it has full ATC, fire services and well maintained facilities.
The lack of weekend flying means that finding the time to actually fly is going to be a lot harder, I work a 9-5 and winter is coming up so it gets dark a lot quicker. This is ok at the moment as I need to complete a night rating but what about after that? The thought of having to book half days to go flying until March is not really an ideal situation.
I hope everyone can come together and find a workable situation for Cranfield, I know there are suggestions of a radio service being put on for the weekends. I will wait to see if anything will come from it but I will not be holding my breath.

Hour Building: Cranfield – Grafham water – Sywell – Cranfield

Yesterday I went back to the airfield for Hour Building: Cranfield – Grafham water – Sywell – Cranfield.
Local flight cranfield

I took my friend up for the first time on what is quickly becoming my go to local flight route for people on their first flight.
From Cranfield I did a left turnout and headed over Bedford and up towards Grafham Water (11 mins). From here we then head west over Wellingborough and overhead Sywell airport (18 mins). We then head south back to Olney (8 mins) which is a VRP (Visual Reporting Point) for Cranfield, so I request the join from here.
It was actually a really nice day for a flight which was good considering the weather on Saturday was awful. It was also the 28th day since my last flight and my school has a rule that any time outside of this you have to do two circuits with an instructor first which can be an annoyance when you are trying to build P1 hours.
Something weird did happen on this flight however. As we were setting out past Bedford, the low voltage light came on twice. I found this strange as the Amp meter was not showing a discharge at all. I was considering a return to Cranfield when the light decided to stop lighting up and as Grafham water is right next to a runway at Little Stanton I decided at that point it was better to continue.
The light stayed out until the leg from Sywell to Cranfield. This was 7.5 mins flight time and around 3 mins in it started doing it again, but didn’t go out at all, just constant flashing. Once again the amp meter was not showing a discharge from the battery. I had planned to go into the circuit, but I decided it was better to land and report it to the school so they could investigate.
I am curious to find out what the issue was next time I go up there, unfortunately this won’t be for a month now as I will be away on a much needed break towards the end of the month for a few days.

ATPL Theory: Module 1 is Complete

Good news, ATPL Theory: Module 1 is complete.

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 12.27.29

Slightly earlier than anticipated I have completed the theory (all the lessons) in module 1 of the Bristol Ground School ATP digital software.
I have booked my revision course for November which may seem like quite a while away but really it isn’t. Also the course before the November course is on the 3rd of October which is far too soon.
What I will do now is use the question bank to get up to speed on what areas they will really be testing in the exams and to look for areas I need to go back and revise.
The issue is some subjects I haven’t looked at for months now, so I need to go back through and make sure that the information has stuck.
I won’t be sitting the exams until the first week of December as I have an exam centre where I live so I didn’t see much point in staying in Bristol and paying the extra fees to stay there to sit them just two weeks earlier than I could here.
From the first quick look at the Bristol question bank it seems quite intuitive and easy to work out how to use. I suspect I will be putting a LOT of time into this over the next month or two.
It seems like finishing the subjects in the CBT is only 50% of the work, now I need to get exam ready which seems to be a completely different thing from learning the information as presented.
Out of all the subjects, I must admit General Navigation is giving me the most cause for concern so I will be spending a lot of time going through that and getting up to speed with the methods etc.

ATPL Theory Month 3: Meteorology and General Navigation

Just an update from me about ATPL theory month 3: Meteorology and General Navigation.

ATPL Theory Month 3 - Instrumentation and General Navigation

As you can see from the graph I am making great progress through the module and am scheduled to complete it mid September. I must admit I thought that Meteorology was quite complicated however then I started General Navigation which is normally referred to as Gen Nav.
I don’t really have the words to describe my initial feelings however this GIF does a pretty good job.

Gen Nav blew my mind, this is where the maths comes into play, big time.
There are areas you have to draw graphs, areas you have to use the CRP-5, areas you need to use the calculator, you need to know formulas, division factors and there are areas you have to spend time working out what exactly they are even trying to ask you!
I have booked my revision week for November and will take the exams the first week of December. I must admit this subject has me the most worried of the four I have to take. I have a lot of time to practice and get up to scratch before then and I anticipate that a lot of the time will be spent on Gen Nav.
I think the best way to go about Gen Nav is to hit the question banks, not to learn the answers to the questions as they could easily change figures, but so that you can work out how to answer the questions constantly. Literally keep practising until you can work them out! When you can’t work something out go back to the material and relearn, I don’t see any other way to go about this.
It has been a pretty intense 3 months studying before and after work to get to this point but at least the first part of module 1 is almost at an end.


Registering for ATPL exams with the UK CAA

Once you start your ATPL study, eventually you will need to sit some exams. In this post I will go through the process of registering for ATPL exams with the UK CAA.
Navigation planning
The first link you will need is this one. This is where you register on the UK CAA website to be able to take your exams.
The CAA will then ask your for your details and then to upload copies of some documents. The first one is a passport, driving licence or national ID card. Next you will need to upload proof of address. If you have a PPL or letter from the UK CAA they suggest that you use this.
They will take a few days to verify your documents and then send you an email when it is done.
Now you have to log back into the portal and register for the flight crew licence service. Your application once again goes back to the UK CAA who will let you know when the service is available to you in the portal.
You would think you are done at this point but you would be wrong! Now you have to register with your school and they have to accept you as a student, so more waiting lies ahead.
Once your school has accepted you, you can now log in once again and FINALLY book an exam!
As you can see this is quite a time-consuming activity so make sure that you do it as soon as possible as you don’t want to leave it till the last min!
Now you just have the small matter of passing all 14 exams!