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Cadet stories: Dan

Lottie Watt02 Jun 2021 Posted in: FTA, cadets, why be a pilot, fatpl, pilot interview

We interview Dan who is a modular student at FTA and has trained throughout the pandemic. In addition to the following interview, we also have a video interview of Dan which you can watch here. 

When did you start your training and what stage are you at now?

I started my training in January 2020 and, being modular, I had already done the hour building and SEP phase so I was already slightly ahead of a few people that hadn’t commenced their training yet. They’d go straight into ground school. At the moment I’m doing my MEP ready to move to the IR hopefully within the next month or so.


I completed my hour building in Scotland. When I first joined FTA I had 150 hours but the requirement is 180 hours. There were three modular students on my course that had their private licences and needed some hour building. So, right after lockdown we made the most of a week’s gap between ground school modules, we flew go around Scotland for a week which was incredible.

I never thought I would get the opportunity to do that, let alone with people I’d only just met three months ago. That was because we were all in formation so were flying near enough wingtip to wingtip, about 100 meters, and we were talking over the radios on a frequency that we designated and we could just talk to each other. If anything changed, for example there were thunderstorms in the area at one point so we all had to divert, it was useful to be able to talk to each other over the radios and say ‘look, I’m not going here because have you seen the thunderstorms next to us?’ and they’re like ‘yeah let’s go to Glasgow instead of Edinburgh’.


How many of you were there?

In total there were 3 pilots, not including myself, and a few other of the guys that were integrated, so they were yet to fly and had no flying experience. They decided to come along as well which was nice so they really got the experience. It was just a lovely week for us all to get to know each other a little bit more after only knowing each other for a few months. Technically we sort of went on holiday which was quite nice, albeit quite a cold holiday once we got up to Scotland. It was a great bonding experience and not only that but as a pilot we all learned so much on that trip, like little things that we can improve on in our flight planning and we learned more about bigger airspaces and mountain flying… well, I wouldn’t really call it mountain flying. If you want mountain flying you go to France and the Alps but it’s close enough and just the lovely views. I think it’s the views that really got us. You could tell when we were all looking at the views because the radios were just silent- no one was talking. It was great.

Were you all flying solo or with others?

Some of us had passengers, so I had my girlfriend in my aircraft. James, a fellow modular student, had someone in his aircraft and another guy, Jason, was on his own. But we alternated who was flying solo so for example Jason wasn’t flying solo for the entire trip. Sometimes our passengers would swap about so I’d fly solo for a leg then James would, so we all got the experience of having someone in the cockpits with us or it did get quite lonely. It was a lovely trip and we timed it so well. We were being chased up north by bad weather and we got a really good day in Scotland and then we were chased back down again. It was really fortunate. We made the best that we could and because lockdown was just over we stayed at one of the integrated guy’s family home in Manchester. It was nice to meet his parents because his dad is a pilot so it was nice to have that conversation, meet his family and all get closer. We want to try and do a Europe one next. It would feel more like a holiday because you’d be going to places with different languages. That’s the plan I think next summer after we’ve all qualified, to celebrate. It was an expensive trip so it will take a long while to save for one round Europe.

How did you decide on FTA?

Being modular, I trained at Shoreham. I got my PPL. I started flying when I was 14 and first went solo at 16 and got my licence when I had just turned 18. I have always flown from Shoreham, I’ve lived down South all my life. FTA has always appealed to me because not only is it local but I’ve always seen the faces and got to know people by something as simple as sitting at the pumps if I was just refuelling or something I’d see an instructor. Through social media we’d all communicate and walking round you’d see one of the instructors and be like ‘you alright?’. It’s just a friendly atmosphere and I think, obviously like everyone says, the price is more reasonable and it’s attractive because you look at other companies and see the price and think, ‘god, I’m going to have to get massive loans out’ but FTA is more reasonable. I’ve spoken to people at other companies and you get the exact same, you’re not getting anything different. The training is the training and I feel FTA has more of a family atmosphere which I really like. You can walk round the ops room and be like ‘hello’ and you can talk to instructors and other people whereas I can imagine at the larger companies you walk around and don’t recognise people. As well, when I start my training I already know the local area so it’s not like I’m going to have to go to Bristol or Bournemouth or Oxford and learn a whole new airport and a new area. I already know the south coast and where Gatwick is relative to references on the ground. Just little things really. I know the controllers as well. You feel a bit more comfortable and relaxed and it’s just one less thing to think about because pilot training is intense and if you can mitigate that in any way that’s a positive thing. It’s always appealed to me. It’s a friendly vibe and I know people who have gone to FTA and say how good the training is. That’s what made it definite- when I started knowing people who were going there.

Has it been what you expected so far?


How did you find ATPL theory?

As long as I’ve wanted to become a pilot, at school I’ve always struggled with theory but I wanted to try and push myself to do the best I can. I knew if I was going to struggle at any point it would be around the theory so I was going in with an open mind. I did try really hard and it has obviously paid off. People say it is really hard and it is hard but if you don’t prepare and concentrate and you’re lazy about it that’s when it does become difficult. I’ve found the ATPL’s really good. Over half or three quarters of ground school has obviously been at home but I’ve found the instructors are always there if I was struggling. Yes, they do have other commitments obviously but they’d always be like ‘I can’t do today but I can do another day’. Even if it meant staying after lesson, they’d find that time to fit you in and put you at ease if you were struggling. They always give you quizzes which I quite enjoyed, to make sure you’re a) going in and b) understanding it properly. It gives you a bit more confidence it. It’s been a good time at ground school and I’ve enjoyed it but it’s a shame we didn’t get to do it in person, it was over teams, because you miss that element of having a joke in the classroom or going to talk to the guys during the breaks, saying ‘what do you think of that?’ and being able to help each other. But we’ve worked our way round it. We did teams calls at the weekends, we did quizzes together, as a group not with the instructors, to talk to everyone and again to get to know them. Even if it wasn’t aviation related quizzes just to have general quizzes at the weekends and just relax and have a bit of a laugh and talk to everyone and ask ‘why have you come here?’ and ask ‘did you always want to do this from school?’ and what sort of experience and jobs they’ve had, have they been cabin crew? Or worked in the ground aspect? There are people from different backgrounds, and you pick things up that help along the way. I’ve been quite fortunate with the guys I have met. We are quite a close group and we’ve bonded really well and we get along like a house on fire. It’s great.

Why did you choose to become pilot did you always want to?

Yeah. From a very young age I always wanted to be a train driver. That was a big aspiration of mine and my grandad who works for a simulator company took me flying in a small aircraft and then into one of the simulators one day because he was babysitting me. From that moment on I couldn’t get off Youtube watching airplane videos and from that moment on I was like ‘that’s it, I don’t want to be a train driver anymore I want to be a pilot’. I was about 8 years old so it’s been cemented in my head from a young age.

What was it that made you want to be a pilot?

It sounds weird… now I am a qualified pilot it’s the flying. I love the landing- coming into the approach, flying into the approach… it’s the satisfaction of landing an aircraft. At the beginning I think it was that control. You’ve got 100/200 tons underneath your bum and you’re flying at 500 miles an hour. It’s that feeling of freedom. I think it definitely came out of me in lockdown. When lockdown started to ease and I could fly again I thought ‘you know what, I can get in this aircraft and I can just fly away from all the problems and leave everything on the ground’ and you are in your element and all you think about is flying and you just forget about everything that’s going on and it’s just such a stress release. There is nothing but air traffic controllers to interrupt the flight and there is a real sense of freedom. You can fly anywhere. I like the aspect of getting my grandad or dad or family members or friends and saying ‘I’ve got the aircraft tomorrow, do you want to go to the Isle of Wight for some lunch?’ or Kent or France. I love adrenaline. I love adventure and spontaneity. I think that’s where it comes from.

What has been your favourite aspect of pilot training so far?

Getting to know everyone. Everyone’s been so friendly. Everyone’s very similar because to be a pilot you need certain interests and attributes and personalities and I think that’s very obvious when you sit in a classroom full of us. We are all quite similar to a certain extent and I think that’s why we all get along so well, we have such passion and interest in it. I’ve been on many socially distanced walks with some of the guys. Even though we’re not in ground school and they’re flying it’s nice to see them. It’s that sort of friendship where just because we’ve finished one stage and we don’t see each other in the flight school we talk and it’s interesting to go on a 3 hour walk and non-stop talk about aviation and be so passionate about it and be able to talk about flying… ‘this happened to me the other day, I had a low voltage issue or air traffic controller issue’ and it’s talking about that and it’s nice. That’s definitely been the best part, I’m quite a social person so I like meeting new people and stuff. Obviously because I’ve not done any flying at FTA yet I would’ve said the flying but because I’ve not done any flying at FTA yet and I got my license somewhere else I’m not going to start talking about that.

What’s been your least favourite part or what have you found the hardest?

I think in terms of actual ground school, definitely some of the subjects I found really hard but when you first start learning it or look at the scope of the week you think ‘oh my god I’ve got to learn this’ and it’s really daunting but 9 times out of 10 it does sink in and you actually understand it. I found that quite hard sometimes and thought ‘I just want this all to be over and to start flying’ but you’ve got to get through it, everyone does. I think personally for my group the hardest thing has been the whole COVID situation. With COVID and with Brexit… it’s all just come at once and at the wrong time and just as lockdown finishes we’re still doing ground school but as soon as ground school finishes lockdown starts again so we couldn’t do the exams. We had to retain information for longer and keep revising but obviously it’s nothing that could be helped, there’s nothing that can be done about the whole COVID situation. Couldn’t have been any more unlucky in terms of timing. Just before we were meant to do our first set of exams we went into the first lockdown. So we had to move onto the next stage.

How did you stay motivated and focused?

I think Youtube actually. Watching flying related videos and the motivational music over the top gets you in the zone. You sometimes don’t even watch the video. You just go off into another world in your head thinking about what it would be like to be in that position. That was definitely a big motivator. Again, all the guys motivated each other. Every time there was someone who said they were struggling we’d all message them and say, ‘don’t worry, it’s fine, we’re going to get through this together, if you need any help go on teams and we’ll have a little teams call, we’ll do some revision sessions together, some quizzes’. That was really nice and the odd occasion go on the teams call just to talk and catch up. Some people went home, so that would be Manchester or the Midlands, Norwich, so it was nice for them to see some familiar faces and know we’re still doing the training course. Obviously being at home all day every day, yes we were learning from it but because of the situation it just didn’t feel like we were training to be a pilot because you’re just sitting in your bedroom at your desk. When you’re in the classroom it’s a bit different, because you’re wearing the uniform and you can hear planes all round you. The motivation was each other, supporting each other and making sure everyone was alright. I never thought I’d bond so much with the flying guys on my course. We’ve got quite personal connections now and I’d like to think we’d keep in contact for a long time.

Has there ever been a time when you doubted yourself or what you could achieve?

I’d like to say I’ve remained confident but obviously everyone has a breaking point. I’ve had times, especially with lockdown, that if the prime minister announced something that wasn’t great news like lockdown was extending further or we were going back into lockdown, or cases were rising, I thought ‘oh no I’m never going to get anywhere it’s going to take years’ and I started to really sometimes go ‘am I ever going to get there?’ but like I said you’d just message some of the guys and they’d be like ‘yeah it’s alright’ and you’d have a little talk with them, rant away, and you’d forget about it by the end of the call. But I’d like to say I stayed fairly confident with it. In terms of theory I stayed quite confident with it, making sure I was keeping things ticking over in my head. Just before you get to the exams your start doubting yourself, thinking ‘oh my god am I really ready?’ but then you do the exam and as you come out you’d be like yeah I was ready. Like I said, I’ve never been one for theory, I sit down and everything falls out of my mind.

What does your typical day at flight school look like at the moment?

I like to have a good routine, that’s the way I work. As soon as I get up, I make breakfast and coffee and shower, all the norm. I always leave more than enough time to drive to FTA because the drive is 30 mins but I always leave another 20-30 minutes/half hour in case of traffic. I prepare for the flight (for example reading NOTAMs), while I’m eating my breakfast. I also run through anything that I’ve been studying the night before, so for example if it was a bit of multi-engine theory I’d be going over the systems and making sure I still know that. If I was flying, I’d be going over my flight plans because I’d normally plan the route and do everything the day before/night before so I think in the morning it’s consolidating that information and double-checking the weather, making sure it’s actually flyable. Checking the winds, updating the flight plan with the new updated predicted winds to make sure you’re not going to be flying off course. It’s checking over everything whereas the night before is when you’re actually doing the planning. I do all that before I leave and then drive up to FTA and if I’m a bit early sit in the car and look at the planes outside. That’s enough motivation as it is. Then walk into FTA and do what I need to do.

What do you do in your free time?

At the moment I go on walks, walk the dog. I’ve just moved into my girlfriend’s annex so I’m settling in there but normally if it wasn’t lockdown I’d be riding my motorbike and trying to do something a bit different. I’m always trying to… for example do something like go on a steam railway. I just don’t like being inside, I’m always out doing something. My bank doesn’t like it but I’m always out ice skating if it’s in the winter and keeping busy. Flying is one of them, actually. I normally try and see if I can go flying in my spare time if the aircraft is available but I’m not one for sitting inside. It is weird to go from always being out, meeting mates, going to the pub, going to the railways, going to the beach, going to the pier to just walking in the forest. It’s a big step. I try and vary it up but sometimes you do come across the same routes.

Do you have any advice for future students or people who aren’t sure whether or not to start straining now?

The essential point is ensuring that this is something you really want and are committed to. The training costs a lot of money, and you don’t want to start and discover midway through you get airsick for example.

Completing a trial flight at a flying club would prove a great experience. The flight will cover the basic principles, the mechanics and aerodynamics.

Commercial flight training is intense and can be stressful at times, you need to be passionate about it or you’ll struggle with finding the motivation.

If you’re in two minds, I suggest getting a job within the industry for a year or two years to experience what it’s like. I used to work as cabin crew for Easyjet, and it proved great experience. I enjoyed the routine of airline rostering so, getting up at 5.30 am one week and the next having flights that land at 2.30 am. The days are fairly long and although I am quite flexible, I enjoyed the structure.

You know your rosta 4 weeks beforehand so whilst it was nice to know what you’re doing, fatigue can still set in. You can become quite tired the job does test you. Being in the air, exposed to the decrease in can affect your thinking.

A 1-2 hour flight, getting a feel for the controls, that’s when you really know if you do or don’t want to do it. In fact, I think it is so useful it could be made a mandatory requirement, as some people have with aptitude tests. That said, I have not met anyone in training who has regretted their decision, but I have met people working in the industry who don’t enjoy it and have regrets. It’s disappointing to witness because there are some people out there who would love to be so fortunate but, meeting people who feel like this are the exception rather than the rule.

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