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.
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!