Interview with Jonathan Willis – easyJet A320 Captain and Air Racer

Today I have another interview with Jonathan Willis easyJet A320 Captain and Air Racer. I thought it would be good to speak to someone who does airline and GA flying and ask if they think that staying in touch with the GA world is essential.
I was introduced to Jonathan by the assistant editor of Pilot magazine who I met in the wonderful Blackbushe cafe.

G-TNGO at Abbeville

How did you do your training?
My training first involved a couple of one week gliding holidays at Dunstable in my early twenties. A couple of years later I started my powered flying training. I did this full time and did it the modular way. I completed half in Vero Beach, Florida at Flight Safety International, the ground school in London and my CPL/IR (Commercial Pilots Licence/Instrument Rating) with Frozen ATPL (Airline Transport Pilots Licence) at Cabair in Cranfield. Once I’d got my CPL/IR, I did a Jet Appreciation course at Oxford which was 4 hours on a generic fixed base 737 sim. 

What was the most difficult part?
The hardest part was the BCPL flight test in Florida (CPL in today’s terms). You could say that it was like a PPL GFT and NAV test in one but with tighter tolerances. With a typical test time of 3 hours, it was as much a test of endurance as it was skill. I only attained a partial pass on my first attempt. The problem with this test is that it is mostly a VFR examination and VFR is somewhat subjective. An IR (instrument rating) however is purely a numbers game with a bit of handling skill thrown in which is easier in my opinion.

What do you think of the changes of training between when you did it and now?
I fly with a lot of newly trained people and we often compare notes on what we did for our IR and the equipment we used. Most have done their IR on the DA42 Twin Star with the G1000. I’ve not flown this but it does sound a little easier when you’re presented with a track line compared with doing an IR in the Grumman Cougar with its steam driven gauges which is what I did mine on. However, none of the pilots I fly with who have trained on the DA42 lack any of the necessary skills to operate an Airbus and if anything, being fully conversant on the G1000 or equivalent is probably more useful when converting onto an EFIS equipped airliner.
With regard to course content, this seems largely unchanged since I did my training 20 years ago.

What advice do you have for trainees?
There will always be someone better than you in some or all of the areas of your course, accept this, achieve what you can and you’ll find that your instructors and fellow pupils will warm to you, you’ll relax more and therefore progress more rapidly and probably enjoy the training experience more.
When you make a mistake, don’t be angry with yourself (I know this is easier said than done). Instructors don’t want to see this because this negativity can inhibit further learning. Acknowledge your fault, verbalise it in a calm manner and move on. We are organic beings who make stupid and I repeat stupid mistakes and often the same one more than once.

Could you tell me about the flying jobs you have had?
My first flying job was flying the BAC 1-11 for AB Airlines who were also known as Air Bristol. These old jets were built in the 1960s and were the perfect airliner to transition onto from an old fashioned light piston twin owing to the commonality of old fashioned instrumentation. I loved this job and would still be there today had they not gone bankrupt in 1999. The BAC 1-11 had a fairly basic autopilot by today’s standard, no manual thrust, flight management computer or area navigation. This made the job extremely rewarding as you had to calculate you top of decent by using your 2.5 times table instead of the more common 3 times table of more modern jets owing to its low by-pass ratio jet engines, navigate using raw data VORs, NDB,s or even dead reckoning if a VOR was out of range (if only the passengers knew!) and then when a bit closer to the ground, good old fashioned seat of the pants hand flying.
I then joined GB Airways in 2000 and spent 2 years flying their B737 300/400s before converting onto their Airbus 320s and 321s. They were nice airline who put lifestyle above pay in their order of priorities.
In 2008 GB Airways were bought by Easyjet with whom I have stayed with since.

USAF Alconbury

How is life working for easyJet?
Easyjet are a good company to work for. They have a wide variety of destinations, lots bases across Europe potentially allowing you to live in a variety of countries and they pay well. The only negatives from a personal point of view is that the work shifts can be very tiring. For example in one week you may be rostered to fly 5 consecutive early duties each with a report time between 5am and 630am. Three of those five days might involve 4 sector duties. You then might have three days off and then the next block of 5 duties will have late finishes, sometimes as late as 3 am and again with three or four of those 5 days work being 4 sector duties. In fairness to Easyjet however, they do have fatigue management system in place and so if when you get up for your day’s duty you feel too tired to carry it out, you can call them and they will take you off that duty. This is a vital safety valve for which they should be commended. The only other negative is the lack of nightstops at most of the bases. This means that each day tends to merge into the next as there isn’t much social interaction between the crew.


How did you get into air racing?
I’ve always enjoyed watching or reading about the Reno air-races and often wished for an equivalent to be available in the UK. Then one day I read an article in a UK GA magazine about air-racing in the UK. I went with my family to Compton Abbas to watch one, really liked what I saw and then set about revalidating my SEP and finding an aircraft that I could rent to race. Once these were obtained, I enrolled onto an Air Race course run by Roger Hayes and then entered my first race at North Weald in a C152.

What attracts you to the sport?
Aspects that attract me to the sport are:
It’s not easy to do well and this forces me to hone my flying skills
I love seeing how fast something will go and then tweaking it to try make it go faster!!!
It’s reason to fly somewhere
Great social scene

Do you feel it is important to stay in touch with GA as an airline pilot?
GA flying and Airline flying are so different that I don’t think it’s important for an airline pilot to stay in touch with GA. However, I have noticed that during extended periods where I’ve not flown GA a slight drop in my overall situational awareness. Perhaps its to do with the fact that when you’re in a GA aircraft on your own, you have to look over your shoulder more as there’s no one else to do it for you.

What is the best part of being a pilot?
The best part of being a commercial pilot are the days off because when you’ve had a long week, then oh boy do you enjoy them. However, there are times when you fly an approach into somewhere with breathtaking scenery such as Innsbruck and you think …what a privilege and you wouldn’t change it for the Earth. Regarding GA, hell, I love everything about it, well everything except the cost and the fact that one always seems to be running late!

I would like to thank Jonathan for taking the time to talk to me and I hope that you enjoyed his interview.

Interview with Lauren Richardson, Aerobatics display pilot

It has been a while since we did an interview, so I am very happy to bring you an Interview with Lauren Richardson, Aerobatics display pilot.
As we all know there are many different types of flying that you can do, so it’s great to have Lauren talk about Aerobatics.
If you don’t know about Lauren, then she is a 29 year old PPL holder who has been flying for around 10 years and displaying Aerobatics for 5. You can check her out in the following video!

  1. Hi Lauren, how did you get into flying?
    I’d always wanted to fly for as long as I can remember – from the very first time as a child I asked my parents what the thing was that was drawing a line in the sky over our house. Not being from a monied family I never put too much thought into actually getting into aviation as it was obviously something we as a family could never afford. I decided to leave school when I was 16 to do an apprenticeship in engineering, and when I’d completed that and begun earning a decent wage, I set about saving what spare money I had toward taking flying lessons – I was 19 or 20 when I took my first lesson and loved it.

  2. Tell me about your initial training?
    By the time I’d saved enough money to actually contemplate learning to fly (I didn’t want to get into any debt, or start flying without the means to complete my PPL so this took a while), I lived alongside the runway at RAF Halton – home to a small flying club who catered not just for service personnel, but for a limited number of civilians (mostly local) too. I was fortunate to be allowed to join the club and train there to get my PPL.
    I spent the majority of my time on the venerable Cessna 152, with a mix of some PA28 and even some Cessna 182 flying to mix things up a little. I remember enjoying the challenge of learning to fly immensely, and I think to date, my first solo is still my proudest flying achievement.

  3. How did you end up flying aerobatics?
    People ask me this one all the time, and the answer is simple yet probably quite disappointing. Basically, I got bored. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing A-to-B flying or hiring C152/PA28s to take your mates for a spin, it just wasn’t enough to keep me entertained once I’d gained a few hours. I’ve always needed to be challenged in every aspect of my life or I lose interest. I can distinctly remember one flight where I went out alone in a C152 with no real aim or goal other than to keep some form of currency, when I suddenly realised I wasn’t actually enjoying it all that much. Once the challenge of learning to fly had seemingly finished and I’d got my license, ticked the box, I guess I really needed something else to force me to continue to learn. This is where aerobatics came in (after nearly a 2 year complete layoff from flying after that C152 flight actually). I had a go in a friend of a friend’s Pitts S2A (something I’d always wanted a go in, just so I could say I’d had a go in a Pitts! I didn’t want him to actually turn it upside down…).
    After some persuasion I let the instructor demonstrate a loop to me and that was it – the moment I sat there, looking up through the canopy at the ground BELOW me, I was hooked. I had to do more. It was like a hit of a narcotic, an instant addiction, a challenge that I knew would always be far greater than I could ever perceive myself.

  4. You fly a Pitts Special S1-S, what makes this plane so special?
    Just look at her!
    In all seriousness, she’s about the best value aerobatic aeroplane you can buy. Incredibly capable but still with the character of a biplane. What’s not to love?Lauren Richardson 2
  5. You have achieved so much, how did you manage to progress to where you are at now?
    There are many stories to tell but the truth is, everything I’ve done and achieved has been a result of three key elements: sheer stubbornness/determination, intense hard work (that has at times necessitated some heartbreaking sacrifice), and the support and enthusiasm of some amazing people in the community around me.
    It hasn’t been easy, it has been harder than I can express in words. At times it honestly hasn’t seemed worth it, but each time I’ve felt low something or someone has picked me up – I have a picture on my wall drawn by a 4 year old girl of my aeroplane flying over her family at an airshow a couple of years ago that I look at every now and then as a reminder. I have a selection of emails from people telling me their own stories of things that my efforts and journey have inspired them to go and do. The messages of encouragement and thanks make all the hardship worth it. To inspire and bring some joy into other people’s lives through my own love affair with flying is a huge privilege and something I hope to never lose sight of.

  6. What advice do you have for anyone who want’s to follow in your footsteps?
    Honestly? I’d probably say don’t.
    Unless you’re willing to pursue a goal that will cost everything you earn, scare you senseless, make you ache and hurt and cry and wonder why you even bother…
    If however, you’re willing to give everything of yourself to pursue a dream, and the dream you have is the same as mine, feel free to get in touch and if I can help I will.
    The best advice really is to do what makes you happy. Flying airshows and aerobatics isn’t for everyone but there are a few of us out there who would be lost without it. The sheer joy and freedom is unbeatable, which is why I do it!

  7. What is your favourite aerobatic moves and why?
    It’s very hard to pick just one, so I’m going to list a few:
    The avalanche: a flick roll on top of a loop. There’s just something joyous about the gentle tumble-dryer experience that needs to be felt to be understood.
    Tailslides: straight up until you run out of momentum and thrust, close the throttle and the aeroplane literally drops backward out of the sky on its tail controlled by nothing but gravity. When you get these right they can be insanely violent when the machine transitions from tail down to nose down – it flops very suddenly. I have a video on youtube where you can hear me laughing out loud, they’re so much fun.

  8. What are your goals going forward with your flying?

    Short term:
    Display a few more interesting types (I was honoured to be given a Russian Yak 50 to display last year and I just LOVED it – more of this please!). Write more articles for the aviation magazines (I’m an occasional contributor for Pilot – with Pitts Special and Yak 50 air tests both published, as well as the odd opinion piece). Do more aerobatic and complex/tailwheel instruction. Fly more. Become a better pilot.
    Medium term:
    Do more work as a STEM ambassador and help more youngsters into aviation/engineering. Make a move from engineering for a living into flying.  Do more speaking engagements. Fly more. Become a better pilot.
    Long term:

    Learn to fly historic types and end up as a warbird display pilot. Fly more. Become a better pilot.

    lauren richardson

  9. What are your views on the numbers of female pilots?
    Obviously I’d love to have more women to fly with. Big steps are being made forward by lots of different flying groups to open more women’s eyes to the possibility that they might make good pilots, which ultimately is all we can do. Not everyone wants to fly, not everyone can and not everyone is given the opportunity to. All we can do is try to stack the odds in the favour of those that may want and be able to do it.

  10. You are now doing your ATPL’s, what are your long term goals?
    I’m going through ATPL ground school with Bristol Groundschool and the Wings Alliance (who I’m delighted to say are supporting me as sponsors for the 2017 display season) as I’m wanting to get my CPL and make a bit of a career move into some form of flying for a living (I display on a PPL and the money raised only contributes to the cost of owning and keeping the aeroplane). Ultimately I’d love to get into commercial helicopter flying but it’ll be a few years before I have any chance of affording to do this. In the meantime, CPL, ME/IR if I can afford it – I’d like to do some varied jobs, maybe in the corporate or air ambulance arenas as I’ve no interest in heading to the airlines.

  11. Is there anything you would like to add?
    Flying is amazing, never take for granted the freedom and joy of flight as not everyone gets to experience it. Never stop loving what you do, never stop being scared. The day the dangers no longer scare you or you no longer love what you do, it’s time to move on.
    Never give up on a dream, no matter how nuts it may seem. Determination and hard work are often the keys to opportunity.


I would like to thank Lauren for taking the time to speak to us and you can read all about Lauren and her adventures on her website

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!

Interview with Matt Dearden from Worst Place To Be A Pilot

I am very excited to bring this Interview with Matt Dearden from Worst Place To Be A Pilot. I am sure most of us have seen the show and if you haven’t then you really should as it’s amazing! We manage to get a few minutes with him during some of his downtime from the flying.

matt dearden

1. Please tell me about your training for your fATPL.

Modular training was always the way I was going to gain my fATPL. When I started my journey to becoming a commercial pilot I was working in Bristol in IT and had nowhere near enough money to give up that job and go down the integrated route. So I started with my PPL with Aeros who were based just down the road from my office at Filton, Bristol. This took me around nine months although I probably could have completed it quicker but I wasn’t in a rush at the time.
Next came the decision of where to do my commercial training. Although Aeros offered commercial training, this was only from their Gloucester base which was just a bit too far away for me so I decided to go with Bristol Flying Centre who were based at Bristol International Airport. This was only 15 minutes from my house which was very convenient and saved me a lot of money in travel and accommodation. I also managed to negotiate a decent hourly rate with them on a PA28 for my hour-building which I completed just under two years, although a year of that was taken up studying for the ATPL theory exams.
For the ATPL theory there was only one choice, Bristol Ground School. The fact they were based in Cheddar which is a five minute cycle from my house was just a coincidence. No other ground school has their reputation and I wasn’t disappointed. The course materials, structure and teaching on the brush-up courses was excellent and I achieved an average of just under 98% for all the subjects which I passed on the first go.
Then it was on to the multi-engine and instrument rating. Having done all my hour building from Bristol, I was very familiar with operating from such a busy commercial airport and mixing with the big jets which definitely gave me an advantage. However, learning to fly a six-pack equipped Piper Seneca II under instrument conditions was, and still is, the hardest flying I have ever done! By doing the multi-engine and IR first, you get a large credit towards the commercial licence which I completed in a Piper Turbo Arrow III. This was a fantastic aircraft to fly and being so fast meant it wasn’t as affected by drift as a slower type. I actually continued to fly it on occasion after completing my fATPL as I enjoyed it so much.

2. So you were qualified with your licence, how was the job hunt?

2009 was not a good time to be looking for a flying job. House prices were crashing, pilots were being laid off all over the place and the UK and most of Europe was entering a recession. So I applied to any operator, anywhere in the world flying any type of aircraft. I didn’t get a single bite until a friend told me about an operator in Indonesia flying Cessna C208 Caravans which ultimately turned out to be by first flying job with just 230 hours or so to my name.

3. You then ended up in Indonesia, how did that come about?

Although I had heard of Indonesia, I didn’t know exactly where it was but I applied anyway and was offered an interview in Munich with one of their senior pilots who lived there. I then heard nothing for a couple of months before an email out of the blue on a Sunday morning appeared in my inbox offering me the job and asking me to start in ten days time! So I resigned from my IT job on the Monday morning, packed my bags and bought a one-way ticket to Jakarta.

4. What is it like flying out there? How does it differ from everywhere else?

I have been here nearly seven years now and in that time have worked my way up the company from my original starting job as a co-pilot on the Caravans. I now fly the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter, single pilot, in the mountains and jungles of Indonesia’s western most province, Papua. Whilst the Caravan flying is basically an airline operation with a multi-crew environment and very regimented flying, the Porter operation in Papua is pure bush flying. I enjoy the challenges this kind of flying offers as you are free from the constraints of almost all other types of commercial flying and so do what you have to-do to get the job done safely. I can’t think of any other kind of flying that requires you to fly under a cloud layer, below the mountains and up a valley towards an airstrip so steep that you could barely drive a Land Rover up it. Oh and there’s no go-arounds!

matt dearden susi air

5. What does an average day consist of for you?

There’s not really such a thing as an average day from my current base of Wamena as we tend to do a lot of spot charters. We do however have a number of government contracts which are for subsidised routes from and to certain airstrips. A normal day will start with a 5:30am departure, or whenever the sun rises, to maximize the morning calmness. Once the sun gets up and starts heating the mountainsides you get all manner of winds and weather that are not safe to operate in when it comes to the really short airstrips.

6. For anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps, what advice do you have?

If you really only want to do bush flying then don’t bother getting an EASA fATPL. It’s expensive, time consuming and of no advantage over the cheaper and easier to obtain FAA CPL/IR which is accepted in any of the places you might wish to fly in the bush (e.g. Africa or SE Asia). Of course like most pilots I see come out here, bush flying is not for everyone and most pilots move on after a few years into an airline or similar job.

7. What aircraft have you been able to fly and which one is your favourite?

I’m often asked this and I guess it depends on what kind of flying you want to do. I’ve flown a few different types, from warbirds like the Catalina and Spitfire to more normal types like the Cub and Piper Warrior. I enjoy flying almost any aircraft and operating a Catalina on the water is absolutely awesome! However if I had to pick one type it would be the Piper Cub. No other aircraft I have flown has encapsulated the enjoyment of just hopping in and going for a flight like a Cub. It’s beautifully harmonised on the controls, incredibly simple to operate and has it’s third wheel at the right end.

8. What did you think of the tv show Worst place to be a pilot?

I loved being able to share what I do with not just my friends and family but also anyone who’s interested in bush flying. It’s the main reason I keep a blog. It is always very difficult to explain to people quite what it is I do, so having a TV series had made it much easier! It has also opened the eyes of many pilots to a type of career they probably didn’t even know existed. Even today I still get people asking me when will they make a second series? Sadly I just don’t know the answer to that one but I’m sure it would be a hit, just like the first one.

9. Do you ever see yourself returning to the UK and looking for an airline job?

Well, if you had asked me a couple of years ago I’d have said no way. However, as I get older I am starting to realise that there is more to life than bush flying. As much as I love the flying, living in such a remote location is hard and I now find myself wanting to do other things and in order to do that I need to be back in the UK. However, despite thousands of hours logged it seems airlines are not especially interested in my kind of flying experience so I’ll keep on flying the bush until something else takes my fancy.

10. Is there anything you would like to add?

If you want a flying job deeply enough you can make it happen but you need to be flexible. Be willing to take any flying job, anywhere in the world as a first step on the ladder. It is far better than waiting for your dream job to come along!


We would like to thank Matt for taking the time to speak to us, please make sure that you follow him on his blog Bush Flying Diaries. If you would like to share your story then please contact us on the contact page.

Interview with Tarik Merryface, Qualified Modular Pilot

Today we have an interview with Tarik Merryface, qualified modular pilot, but you may know him better as the man behind the YouTube channel Merryface Aviation.
Tarik has recently completed his CPL / ME / IR at Diamond flight academy in Sweden, so we took the time to catch up with him.


merryface aviation

What made you first take up flight training?
I used to play around with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 when I was a young teenager, so flying had always been in the back of my mind. One summer I got the opportunity to go do a week long glider holiday camp. I went to St Girons, a tiny airfield at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains. I was sitting in the glider during my very first flight whilst the instructor flew round and round in circles, making the most of a thermal he’d found next to the airfield.
“Are you getting motion sick?” He asked me.
“Nope.” How could I be? I was having the time of my life.
“Well, maybe you should become a pilot!”
So I thought, why the hell not? In retrospect I’m pretty sure it was a light hearted joke, but that joke made me dream and today I’m completely hooked to aviation.


What route did you take for your training and can you explain your route?
I decided to go modular for my training. I did my PPL in France while I was at school. At the time I wanted to go down the integrated route, but my parents really wanted for me to go to university first. I’m glad that I did. For a good three years I was checking forums and flight school websites every day, scoping out the market. It gave me a much deeper understanding of flight training, the ongoing job situation, and how flight schools work.
I realised that the integrated route was actually a huge financial risk, despite some of its advantages at the time. I also saw the difference in cost, and the flexibility that the modular route allowed. I was able to do my ATPL ground-school while I was still at university thanks to Bristol’s distance learning. I then did my CPL MEIR, that’s the commercial, instrument and multi engine, at Diamond Flight Academy in Sweden. It was pretty awesome as we were flying the Da42, a fantastic aircraft that bridges the technologies of airline flight decks and the techniques used in general aviation. I then did the MCC and JOC at Simtech in Dublin. This was done in a generic 737 simulator and it was a heck of a lot of fun.


What part of your training did you find most challenging?
I think everyone else who has done it would agree that the toughest part when you’re a modular student is the ATPL theory, especially when you do it via distance learning. For me this was especially true because I did the ATPL theory when I was studying at University. Imagine trying to do all your university work whilst studying to pass 14 exams!  I had to study for two and a half years nonstop without any proper holidays. I’d wake up early every morning to do an hour or two of studying for the ATPL before continuing with my university life. And then when my university exams were over I didn’t get a holiday like my classmates, I’d have to start studying full time for the ATPL throughout the summer, before taking the exams at the end of the summer holidays. After I finished with those exams I’d have about three days before starting the next university year. There was no respite. It was mentally exhausting and it pushed me to my limits. It was tough and in a way I wish I had gone about it differently but I’m still glad for the experience. Although it was hard, I absolutely loved studying the ATPL stuff. With every new fact that I learned I felt more and more like a professional pilot. It kept me motivated when I was in university in any case.


What part did you find the most rewarding?
That’s a difficult one, because so much of flight training is achieving things you’ve never done before and getting that feeling of accomplishment. I think many people talk about their first solo, so I’ll go with something else. That would have to be the day I passed my MEIR skills test. I had completed the CPL skills test the day before and so I knew that the bulk of my training had finally paid off. It’s exhilarating, especially when you do intensive training like the one I did in Sweden. In the space of two months I went from being a VFR single engine pilot to flying a state of the art multiengine aircraft on instruments. I had also messed up on my very first hold as well, so I had been nervous throughout the entire flight. I recovered though and that’s what examiners want to see. We’re not immune to errors and the examiners don’t look for perfection, they look for corrective action whenever a mistake has been made. It was such an intense emotion it actually took me a couple of days to get a grasp on what I was feeling. I even made a video because of it, where I ramble on for a while. It was surprisingly well received for a poorly planned video.


What advice would you give to any one who is starting down this route?
That’s another tough one, because there are so many things I’d like to share with people starting their training. It’s one of the main purposes for my channel! I’ll only give a few general tips. First off, be patient. It’s a really complex world with several different regulations that contradict each other and are inconveniently vague or limiting. Take your time doing things and take a deep breath when dealing with the bureaucracy involved in aviation. It’s maddening. I for instance, have been waiting for over two months to convert my medical from one EASA country to another, despite being assured that it would only take two weeks to do. Things will get done, just don’t get angry and be proactive.
My second piece of advice is to do your research. Don’t jump at the first opportunity you get to start flight training. Flight schools, especially integrated flight schools, have mastered the art of marketing and to some extent, manipulation. They entrance you in ways that few other industries can. I’ve never seen anything like it. I did a selection for one of the major integrated flight schools, knowing that I wouldn’t be training with them, just for the experience. I can tell you that despite my research, my confidence in what I wanted to do for my own training, they were able to put me in a trance. They make everything sound so easy and perfect. It doesn’t mean that these schools are bad, it just means they’re businesses, and that’s how they make money. And they’re bloody good at it.
Two more pieces of advice. Be humble. Employers don’t care if you have a masters in aeronautical engineering from the university of Cambridge and a letter of recommendation from Bob Hoover if you’re cocky. If your attitude is wrong, you’re out. That’s especially true for low hour pilots. Understand that aviation is like medicine, it’s a lifelong learning process. If you don’t like learning, aviation isn’t for you. Always have the mentality of the student. Be confident in what you know, but also be willing to learn more and to accept that some of your fundamental beliefs might be wrong. Otherwise you’ll make a dangerous pilot, and nobody wants that.
My final piece of advice is to thoroughly investigate schools associated with the name Sheldon England. I’ll just leave it at that.


What is your favourite aircraft?
It all depends for what. In terms of nice and easy VFR flying and going out for a local flight, I’d have to go with the Piper Cub. It’s a beautifully simple aircraft to fly, yet devilishly tricky to fly well. It barely needs a checklist it’s so easy to fly, it’s slow, and you can open the door in flight, giving you excellent views. It epitomises the adventurous spirit of the old aviators. For flying more complex operations, I fell in love with the Da42. Again, it’s simple to fly, yet it has such an incredible range of functions. It feels right. It’s basically a giant glider with two engines attached to its wings and with state of the art avionics in the cockpit. I’m so glad I got to train in it.
My dream aircraft though would have to be the Cessna Caravan. It’s the beast that can land anywhere. Its powerful turboprop engine can take it to the most incredible places and it can land in most extreme airfields. It’s also very versatile. It can be used for passenger transport, medical flights, skydiving and bush flying. It can really go anywhere.


If you could do anything differently, what would that be?
If I could do anything differently it would be the way I took my ATPL exams. You get a maximum of 6 exam period sittings. So I don’t understand why my ground school strongly encouraged us to do all 14 exams in two sittings. For someone like me, who was studying almost every day for two and a half years straight, it was too much pressure and it resulted in unnecessary resits. My recommendation is to do the exams in four sittings. That way they’re well spread out, but you still have two more sittings in case you fail anything. 


I see you want to be a flight instructor, what are your reasons for this?
I love teaching and I love learning. The fact is, the best way to learn something is to teach it. I said this once in one of my videos and someone responded by saying that I was wrong, that students made mistakes all the time and that I would pick up their habits. I can tell you, as someone who taught Krav Maga for a while, that that commenter couldn’t be further from the truth. Students ask questions that you never even considered before. A lot of the times you genuinely don’t know the answer. In these cases you get an excellent opportunity for the both of you to learn. You show the student how to look up answers to their questions, by going through the process of finding the answer for them, together. A good instructor must be able to say “I don’t know.” By teaching the student how to look for answers, an instructor is also teaching them a valuable piloting lesson that no textbook could ever teach. This sort of thing is for me, what makes the prospect of flight instructing so intriguing. I want to be a better pilot, and I want to help others become better pilots. Becoming a flight instructor is a major step in order to do this.


Tell me about your YouTube channel and what you get from that?
I started my Youtube Channel, Merryface Aviation, to do a series called Mayday Talk. This was simply a series where I looked at aviation accidents and incidents and talked about them. My Youtube channel is and always will be a place for learning about aviation and sharing aviation. As I started making videos though I came up with more and more video ideas for the channel. To me every video is special, no matter how many views, likes or dislikes they get. It has given me a whole lot to think about. My most viewed video for instance, is the least popular one. I oversimplified things in it and said something that was actually pretty off. Today, with the training and experience I have, it’s actually quite embarrassing, but I decided to keep it online. It’s a risk, as future employers might see it and believe that’s how I think today, but to me, it shows me that I have evolved, that I’m still evolving. Learning, practising and becoming aviation is all about a dynamic movement of knowledge, skills and beliefs. The only thing that should never change is the attitude of wanting to improve and learn at all times.
The channel has also given me the chance to meet loads of people in aviation. It’s also cool to get recognised during my training courses. It’s happened to me a few times now and each time I got a positive feedback, which is flattering. One time, a fellow student, and now good friend, came up to me and said, “you saved my gen nav exam! I owe you a beer!” He was referring to my CRP videos. That was definitely one of those moments where I thought, yup, it’s worth it.


Anything else you would like to add?
Keep the passion alive. Aviation needs more pilots, both in the private and professional sectors. It may look intimidating from the outside, but it’s an amazing community. Just thinking about the fact that I am a pilot, that I have that privilege, fills me with joy. I want aviation to become more accessible, and that starts with more people speaking up and saying that they want access to aviation. Happy flying!


We would like to thank Tarik for taking the time to talk to us, if you don’t follow him, make sure that visit his YouTube channel and make sure that you subscribe! After watching a few videos you will see his raw passion for flying and I am sure he will be successful in everything he does. If you would like to share your story, then please contact me!

Interview with Yago Aguilar, CTC Aviation integrated pilot

In the second of our pilot interviews we have an interview with Yago Aguilar, CTC Aviation integrated pilot.
I know what you are thinking, but this blog is called modular pilot? Yes that is true but it is good to hear everyone’s story, everyone you meet on your journey can add something for you to take away. We will all end up with a fATPL and share a lot of the same experiences.

Yago_Post CPL LST

Did you train integrated or modular?

I went through the integrated route with flight training.

Which school did you go to?

I trained at CTC Aviation. I started in July 2014 and finished the Wings ATPL integrated course in February of this year.

Tell me about how your training went?

The training was demanding but overall it went very well. The school gave me the opportunity to start in Hamilton, New Zealand which was an amazing experience. This meant I that I did both my ATPL theory as well as most of my flying out there.
I learned to fly in a Diamond DA-20. It was such a fun aircraft to fly and perfect for VFR with the large one-piece windscreen. I loved it because you felt very connected to the controls of the airplane, pretty responsive when manoeuvring. After finishing my VFR flying I then began IFR training in a Cessna 172S and that was great fun too. In fact I recall that quite thrilling initially because that’s the first time you actually get to fly into clouds! It was a chance to begin appreciating what it’s like to fly in deteriorated weather too.
From there on I moved onto the Diamond DA-42. I recall my first multi-engine flight being my favourite lesson in my training. Mainly because that meant I got to have my hands on something bigger and with a lot more performance! I remember that lesson vividly. Opening the canopy and immediately noticing how much larger the aircraft is and how you have a big engine sitting at each side of your windscreen, 2 power levers, retractable landing gear and a glass cockpit. I recall that first take-off epic! Applying full thrust with the brakes on, releasing the brakes and being pushed right back into your seat. I would be lying if I mentioned my colleagues and I all didn’t have a bit of a grin at first! It was an absolute pleasure to fly, very gracious and felt more stable than the DA-20 I learned to fly in. Eventually I got to my last flight which was my CPL LST. It was an intense period but the hard work paid off.
After finishing in New Zealand I then proceeded to the IFR phase of in Bournemouth, UK which took about 2 months. My instructor was such a cool character. I learned a lot from him being an ex corporate jet captain and really appreciated his advice and feedback throughout. I enjoyed flying around the UK especially because that was the first time I was flying in European airspace, a place I thought my future job would revolve around. The airspace is busy and you constantly hear the airline traffic on the radio which makes it more intriguing. Eventually I did my IR LST and went onto Upset Recovery Training in a Slingsby Firefly. That was the first time I got to really experience throwing an aircraft around the sky! It was awesome!
And finally I concluded my training in Southampton, UK where with a colleague we worked together in a Boeing 737-300 simulator towards our MCC/JOC certificates. This was my favourite part of training because that was the first time I was really sitting in the flight deck of a jet airliner, working as a crew with a colleague and operating a jet. It made me realise how enjoyable the teamwork aspect is of operating a jet airliner. The last simulator session I did was in a full motion 737-800 and that was fantastic! It sounded like the real thing and looked like the real thing and certainly gave the impression it felt pretty real too with the simulator’s hydraulics kicking in the motion. That was the most authentic airliner flying experience I had up to date.

Is there any advice you can give anyone?

Flight training is demanding so my first piece of advice I would give anyone that goes into it is to give it your all! It is constant hard work, a lot of study and self-discipline, but there are so many enjoyable moments in it. It certainly is a time you’ll never forget.
I know I did an integrated route to training, and this is posted in a modular pilot blog, but I have also met modular trainees who have joined me in the IFR phase in the UK and up to MCC/JOC training. And like myself they too have been successful in being placed with one my school’s partner airlines. If you’re training modular I would definitely advise you do your CPL/IR with a school that can provide a comprehensive package for you, one that also includes MCC/JOC training, and if they can even offer placement with an airline, then the better! CTC Aviation would be an excellent recommendation because they have many airline connections, unrivalled, and what you want as you finish training is to have the greatest number of opportunities available!
Furthermore, I would definitely recommend you pursue a higher education after high school. It doesn’t hurt to have a degree. I did a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering before starting flight training, not only to be a better pilot but also as a backup plan in the unfortunate event I were to lose my medical. The career of a pilot is dependent on your medical wellbeing. So it is really good to have something you can fall back on and that’s why I think obtaining a degree in something you like is invaluable. The years of university are also some of the best you experience, as they are both academically and personally fruitful.
Finally, enjoy flight training! It can be tough and it is a big financial commitment too, but don’t forget to enjoy all the great moments in it! Work really hard, and let that bring you results!

How long did you wait after qualifying to get a job offer?

I was fortunate to be called for a selection with easyJet just 2 weeks after I finished my training. And it’s a great pleasure to say I’ll be joining them as a First Officer in June on the Airbus A320 fleet!

What made you want to be a pilot?

It was an accumulation of many experiences I’ve had since I was kid. I’ve always been fascinated with aviation, especially commercial aviation from having travelled many times as a passenger. I still get that slight rush of excitement when I board an airplane. The more I got to experience flying the more I liked it. I took a trial lesson at a Dutch aerodrome back in 2008 and I loved it. And I think my ultimate determination in wanting to become a pilot came to me once I experienced that same year what it’s like to be in the controls of a jet airliner. A close friend of the family was a 737-800 pilot at the time and knew I loved flying and was considering it as a career. He invited me in that year of 2008 to a full motion simulator of the 737 and allowed me to do a few take-offs and landings. That, was certainly the moment where I realised I really wanted to become a pilot. I was mesmerised by the experience, of what it’s like to be in command of that, and realised I strongly wanted pursue the career of an airline pilot.
If you could do it again, would you do anything differently?

I don’t think I would do it any different. Maybe only one thing I would change would be where I stayed in New Zealand. My school offered excellent accommodation nearby the airport that is great for flight training, as you want to be close to the airport. However, there is no other option, but if I could have had the choice to also live in a city during the time, I would have. I enjoy getting to know people from different backgrounds, learning about new cultures and experience the local life a country has to offer.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

I think that’s about it. I hope hearing about my experience and advice helps, and answers any questions. It’s been a pleasure for me to share my experience. At the moment I am preparing things for my upcoming Type Rating course and what’s ahead. Being extremely busy in the process and distracted, having done this has allowed me to reminisce the beautiful moments I had in my training. I would like to wish all the best of luck to anyone that pursues this profession, and while flight training is hard work, to savour every bit of it! Enjoy the ride!


Congratulations to Yago on his employment with easyJet and after just two weeks of finishing his course! I hope you have all enjoyed his story, if you would like to contribute yours you can contact me.

Interview with Paul Whittingham, A320 First Officer at easyJet

I am happy to bring to you the first of our pilot interviews, this is an interview with Paul Whittingham, A320 first officer at easyJet. I plan to have more of these going forward to help all student pilots understand what the job is like and the different routes people take to get a job.

Paul Whittingham Airbus

What route did you take for your pilot training?

Modular route

How long did it take?

4 years from start to finish, but this was deliberately slow. I started training in 2008 when the world was apparently ending and no signs of any recruitment, so it didn’t make sense to rush through the training. The APTL exams took the longest, 2 years which I did from home.

What was the reason you took this route?

No other choice! Only secure loans were offered for integrated training which I just didn’t have the means to do. The modular route was my only option.

Do you have any advice for people following the same path?

Don’t stress too much with the details, there’s many schools and routes for modular training but the all end up with an fATPL, so don’t stress about which is ‘best’ just do what suits you.., financially or due to location. Do what is most likely to get you there, my experience is that airlines aren’t too fussed where you did your training, whatever the integrated schools might say, as long as you have a license and pass their own assessments. That said airlines cosy up to integrated schools and most major airlines will recruit almost all people from them. Be prepared to get overlooked for those to try various angles to make contacts and find a job. You need a bit of luck on your side, to be in the right place at the right time.

How long did it take you to find your first job?

From finishing training in mid 2012, I had a job offer by sept 2013. This was from easyJet as part of an internal part-sponsored scheme. I worked for them in their operations department, a job I’d gotten whilst doing my exams in the hope it may lead somewhere at the right time.

Tell me about the type rating?

The type rating was tough, working your way through pretty much every failure possible on an Airbus with only experience of a twin prop is quite a leap. But it’s perfectly doable, it requires some dedicated time, we did it as a group away at CTC and lived together during the 6 weeks, it was an intense time, all your spare time taken up with preparation and sim sessions. It was fun too though!

What is your day to day job like?

Every day has a different start time and finish time. Each week starts and ends of a different weekday with a different number of days off and there is no pattern I.e. A random roster pattern. You work with different people every day. Sometimes early starts, other times late finishes. Your day could be 6 hours long or more than 13 hours depending you your route. 2 sectors or up to 6 at some bases but only 4 for me. So it’s extremely varied and you have to be prepared for that. But it’s great, you start in briefing room meet your capt and go through flight plans, weather, routes etc. Walk out and prep the aircraft then off you go. You’re away from an office, no managers breathing down your neck, you have complete autonomy, besides keeping the captain happy and sticking to SOPs of course. The days can become very tiring, and at times monotonous if doing the same routes in height of summer, it’s easy to become complacent. But as far as jobs go it’s well paid eventually, and when the aircraft is on the ground you aren’t working anymore, no emails to reply to no stress about targets or projects. You turn up and do your job, then go home. You don’t get that with many well paid jobs these days.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to be a pilot?

Do your research about what’s involved, both the training and the job, make sure it’s really what you want as it’s a long and expensive road. Once you’re decided, commit to it and don’t give up! There was no other option for me than to complete training and find a job, no plan b. I know people with ATPLs that have not managed to find a job, it’s a lot of money down the drain. If your older than 30 then get it done as quick as possible, especially now as recruitment is happening all over, it’s a good time to get qualified. Being in my 30s for type rating and line training I found it challenging, I think people in their early 20s find it easier (old dog, new tricks and all that). Either during or after training, try to get a job in the industry, anything you can as this is something employers do like to see, it’s shows commitment and who knows where it may lead. I took a £10k pay cut and a 2 hour commute for my first job in ops for a cargo airline whilst trying to pay for my own training, far from ideal, but this job helped me to get into easyJet which resulted in a paid type rating and a job as FO, it works and is an extra angle to try. Overall enjoy the training and your hour building, you’ll probably never afford to do so much flying again for fun. Go abroad where possible, UK is very expensive to fly.


If you would like to contribute your story then please feel free to contact me.