We talked to Integrated student, William Blackburn, about his passion for aviation and how he’s getting on with his pilot training at FTA.
There are a number of people at FTA that seem to have a genuine, obsession with flying and until I came here, I hadn’t met others that shared my obsession. It’s really nice to be in an environment with so many others that feel the same
Why do you want to learn to fly?
Ever since I was a small child I have been in love with flying. No-one else in my family shares my obsession, it’s just something I came to fall in love with on my own. My Grandad had a love of transport but only from a general perspective.
What inspired you to fly – was there a role model or key event in your life?
I can remember when I first became inspired, we went to Ronaldsway and it was so interesting seeing the planes take off and land – carrying passengers to different destinations around the world. It was when I was doing my A levels, that I really decided to try and be a pilot.
I can’t put into words how much I love planes - I could just sit on the end of a runway for hours and watch planes take off and land. There are a number of people at FTA that seem to have a genuine, obsession with flying and until I came here, I hadn’t met others that shared my obsession. It’s really nice to be in an environment with so many others that feel the same.
I feel like the instructors here at FTA really care about you and they adapt their training styles to suit you. When I did my training with one of the other flight schools, I felt that we were part of a big factory line. I asked a question once, when I was sitting in the aircraft and I was told not to ask questions and that I should already know the answer. Studying in that pressured environment really knocked my confidence at the time.
I also had no consistency with my instructors at my previous school. They would all say different things and sometimes I could go a week without flying, because the scheduling had gone wrong. It sounds silly but when you’ve had a week without flying it can really worry you. You want to get as much time in the plane as you can.
At FTA everyone is lovely and supportive. Some of the other students have given me advice about flying, shown me apps I can use and told me about things to do locally in Shoreham and Brighton.
I spent some time training in New Zealand. It was a great experience and something I am so glad I had the opportunity to do but the training was really intense; you were allowed little time to refresh and recover from the day before, you had perhaps one day off a week and you didn’t know when that time would be scheduled.
I feel lucky that I come from the Isle of Man and can turn back to the Island for support. It’s such a small place which is warm and safe and it’s great to have that to go back to, to get some perspective and relax.
How was your first solo flight?
My first solo flight was amazing! I remember that I’d been trying to do it a few times throughout the week but due to the weather it kept being delayed. I finally managed to do it on the Saturday and I remember feeling totally nervous doing my check flight with an instructor. Fortunately, my three dual circuits were near enough the most perfect circuits I'd ever flown, so he got out and told me to line up ready for my first solo. It didn't actually realise that my instructor wasn't with me until I’d climbed up to 500ft agl, I did my lookout before my turn and saw the empty seat next to me. It was totally surreal! I can't even describe how proud of myself I was when I was up there; the first results of all of my childhood ambitions and hard work were beginning to pay off and come true. When I landed and received my instructions to taxi off the runway, the Air Traffic Controller congratulated me over the radio and it was a really lovely touch at the end of my flight. I then finished my solo and all of my colleagues were waiting for me at the fuel pumps as I came back in, waiting to congratulate me. It was the most amazing feeling and is definitely one that is going to stay with me for the rest of my life.
Why did you choose FTA?
I chose FTA because I noticed straight away that the school used Diamond aircraft for their training fleet, which was very important to me, because Diamond aircraft are the aircraft that I did all of my hour building with and I knew they were very reliable and straightforward to fly.
Secondly, FTA has fantastic facilities. All but one of their Diamond aircraft are equipped with glass cockpits and the Garmin G1000 computers, which is some of the most technologically advanced flying equipment available at the moment. It really helps you prepare for the transition into the jet airlines.
Thirdly the location is fantastic. Shoreham is a lovely place to fly from and it’s a beautiful coastal location. The fact that FTA operates from there at Brighton City Airport - so close to London's airspace - is fantastic. It forces you to work so much harder in the cockpit as you are working around some of the busiest airspace in the world. Again, this is great preparation for life within the industry. I previously did some training in New Zealand and while the experience was fantastic, I feel like I have learnt so much more from FTA, by being exposed to working in UK airspace so early on in my training.
What's important to you in your choice of flight school?
What’s important to me in a choice of flight school, is having somewhere that meets all my needs. Becoming a pilot is a big financial commitment and for that exact reason you want to feel like you're getting quality instruction and value for your money. I believe that at FTA you get all of that.
From the beginning, you’re assigned to your primary instructor and this instructor stays with you throughout the different phases of your training. This is important, because it allows for consistency and also you build up a great relationship with your instructor and they help identify your strengths and weaknesses, in order to work on them with you. The instructors at FTA are all fantastic, they’re always there and willing to help whenever you require it and never make you feel bad about asking questions, which is good beacuse I ask a lot of questions!
Because FTA is a less corporate style school, you get more of a personal approach. Everybody knows you by name and is interested to hear how you’re getting on. The other students are all very friendly. In the past month of being here, I have made some very good friends and they offer great support and also help you whenever you need it.
Overall, having a school in the market like FTA is vital I think, because what they offer is quite unique. They tailor their approach completely to you as an individual and help build your confidence from the get go, which is very important and helps you to have the best shot of achieving your dreams of being a commercial airline pilot.
How did you find out about FTA?
I found out about FTA first of all through a Google search, that brought me to their very professional looking website. It was very user friendly, contained every bit of information I required and their courses were well marketed, which I appreciate, coming from my previous career as a marketing assistant.
What aspect of your training do you most enjoy?
The aspect of my training that I enjoy the most is, ironically, the stage that I'm going through at the moment which is completing navigation routes and diversions. My instructor, David, has been creating lots of routes for me and making each one more challenging than the one before, which I think is great! It’s really forcing me out of my comfort zone and there’s no better feeling than when you manage to stick to your route and get to your destinations on time, whilst navigating the airspace and other obstacles such as danger zones and gliding sites. You feel a really big sense of satisfaction and achievement when you manage to do it and that's what the buzz of flying is all about.
What's your most memorable or rewarding moment in your training so far?
So far, the most memorable moment in my training was passing my first Progress Test back in December at my previous training school. This basically consisted of flying a navigation leg, plotting a diversion and then doing some general handling and basic instrument flying. It was one of the toughest flights I've done so far because it was a real test of everything that I’d been learning and consolidating over the past few months of training. During the flight, my plane suffered a technical fault when we were on short final. Fortunately we followed safety procedures and landed safely, so everything was fine. When my examiner told me that I’d passed I felt so elated. It was an affirmation that I’d progressed well with my flying career so far, that I was making positive steps in the right direction and getting one stage closer to achieving my dream.
Do you have any advice for others, thinking about pilot training?
My advice to anyone thinking about pilot training is to follow your dreams and go for it! There are lots of things to think about obviously; the main one being the financial implications. But if you want something badly enough, you'll find a way of making your dream happen. There’s no better feeling than the rush you get during the take off roll and initial climb up to altitude. You can't beat the views that you get out of your 'office window' that's for sure! I’ve spent the past four years of my life pursuing careers that my heart wasn't truly in and it was no way to live your life. I am 100% sure that I made the right decision for me. If you have a burning desire to work within this industry and have the will to work hard, then you will not be disappointed and you will reap the rewards. You'll find, like me, that you fall more and more in love with this job as each day goes by.
What are your next training steps?
Currently I am at the end of FTA's phase 3, which means I am due to take my second progress test imminently and I will then move onto Phase 4, which is the final phase of training. This is where you go on to complete your 'Commercial Pilots License Skills Test' and 'Multi-Engine Instrument Rating'. These two tests, combined with all of your flying hours and ATPL ground school exams, give you what's known as a 'Frozen Air Transport Pilots License', which entitles you, along with FTA's Multi Crew Cooperation course, to apply for jobs with an airline as a First Officer. The next few months are going to be very intense, but I'm so excited for the challenge and I know with the support that FTA continues to give me, that this will make the process a lot easier.
What are your ultimate career goals?
The dream is to have my own plane and my aspiration is to do gliding – I’ve always wanted to give it a go. But I still need to get mum up in the plane with me; in fact I’d love to take mum and dad up with me, as a thank you for everything they’ve done. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have been able to realise my dreams – what better parents to have than those who support you to realise your dreams.
What do you do when you’re not training (to be a pilot)?
When I’m not flying, training or studying I love to relax and get some fresh air. When I’ve finished at the school at I always give myself a couple of hours before I go home, I put on my headphones, turn on Spotify and just unplug from the world. Then it’s back home at 6.30pm to hit the books for a few hours, going over everything from the day and preparing for the next.
William now works as a pilot for a Private Ambulance company.