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Cadet Stories: Isabelle

Charlotte Berrystone08 Mar 2022 Posted in: cadet, Women in Aviation International

We recently caught up with Isabelle who is about to start the next phase of her pilot training with us - the Full Advanced Package. She explained why she decided to come to FTA and her passion for becoming a pilot. 

Why did you decide to come to FTA? 

Initially I went round all the major flight schools. I went and completed ground school and, I’ll be honest, had a rather negative experience. In terms of the school, obviously no one enjoys ground school to a certain extent, it’s a lot of hard work! I just really struggled with the communication from my previous school and the lack of support was difficult during such an intense period of my life. So when I left that school and decided to move I went round and looked at some more local schools and different schools to the main ones that everyone goes to. I came across FTA, which was 1) local to me and 2) as soon as I walked in, I knew that this was the right environment for me to learn and develop as a pilot in training.

It was much nicer that the person you’re emailing and talking to is sat upstairs, any problems I can go and speak to someone face to face. The instructors were all very welcoming and supportive, after having such a bad experience somewhere else, for me that was the number one thing that I was looking for to continue my training. I have to admit, I have enjoyed every second and it has been exactly what I wanted it to be, you matter there and they want you to have a good time and be successful.


So your move had nothing to do with the pandemic? 

I was moving regardless, but I moved onto a modular course. I was integrated but because of COVID I felt moving to a modular course and controlling the time frame in which I achieve a ATPL licence was the best decision for me. The integrated course was set to finish in Summer 2021 and for me having a licence and no job wasn’t ideal. I’ve really enjoyed the modular route so far, I am just coming to the end of my hour building phase and very excited to start my IR/CPL!

Isabelle 1


Did you consider taking a break in between changing courses? 

I did. I started my training in December 2019 and COVID hit really in the March so ground school got cut for a little bit before everyone got used to using zoom. I carried on with ground school and finished in the August and then I had August to February off, I spent a few months trying to find a school and deciding what the plan was going forward because it was still quite early days of COVID, so I wasn’t really sure if COVID was here to stay or not at this point. I took a break, waited to see what COVID did, and found a school I wanted to join and then I went down to FTA at the beginning of December 2020, began my PPL mid-February 2021, and completed it in 45 hours by early May! It was such a great experience and I can’t wait to get back to training for my IR/CPL with FTA.


Why did you choose to become a pilot? Did you always know that was what you wanted to do? 

It’s a bit of a long story really. When I was a child I always wanted to go into aviation, I was obsessed with flying, but I never really thought you could be a pilot as a female, especially back then. I am 26 so it was about 15 years ago and female pilots were very rare then. I thought I wanted to be cabin crew so I became cabin crew for 4 years when I was 19. Then after being in the industry I realised I really didn’t enjoy the role: I loved the industry but I wanted to fly the plane. There are a few female pilots at BA, I went to Europe for a night with a female pilot and I was talking to her about her experience and she was in her 20’s when she decided to change, she was a turnaround manager and took the leap to be a pilot, she was talking to me about her experience in training and encouraging me to go for it, a very inspirational lady, I just wish I could remember her name so I could thank her! Within a few months of that trip, I had left BA and begun my flight training! 


What has been your favourite aspect of flight school so far? 

My favourite aspect has been doing my cross-country flight. I had been a little nervous flying at the beginning but Callum, my main instructor, has been really good taking his time with me and getting me to feel confident. When it was my cross-country, I was nervous because I had to go and land at two airports I’d never been too, so I did Shoreham to Lydd to Southend and back to Shoreham on my own. I remember landing in Southend which was my final airport and thinking ‘I just have to fly home now’, ‘this has actually been really fun, I don’t know why I was nervous’ and it just clicked for me that I can fly the plane. My cross country gave me quite a lot of confidence. Now 130 hours later in my log book and numerous cross country’s it’s quite nice to look back and see how far I have come since that day!


Isabelle 3


What was the worst part of the training so far? 

The circuit training really took it out of me, that was probably the worst part of the training so far. It was a little stressful and I lost a lot of confidence when I was on the circuits because if you have bad weather one day or there’s a cross-wind. I expected to land perfectly every single time but, at the time I only had about 10/15 hours so I was never going to land the plane perfectly on every circuit. I have realised that it’s not about trying to be perfect, it’s just about flying the aircraft safely. When I got rid of that mentality everything came together. Then I moved onto my navigation, which was probably the best part of my PPL.


Has there ever been a time, during your training or before, when you have doubted yourself? How did you overcome this? 

There was one lesson when I got in my own head and I thought ‘I just can’t do this’ whilst I was flying and the flight was going really badly and then I landed and I remember sitting in the briefing room with Callum and I just burst into tears. I remember saying ‘I don’t think I can do it, I don’t think I can fly’. Callum was absolutely amazing with me. It was probably one of the reasons I chose FTA. He reassured me, saying, ‘you can do this, I have seen you do it before. You are just having a bad day. We all have bad days. Go home, clear your head, and come back and we’ll try again another day’. I came back and everything was absolutely fine, I had a really good flight the next time. Flight training is quite up and down. I remember during ground school I had a few moments where I just felt like I wasn’t ever going to get it; it feels like it’s rocket science sometimes! Normally, as soon as you get to that point it just clicks and you’re like ‘actually, it’s okay, I can do this’. I think now coming towards the end of my hour building, it’s easy to let things knock your confidence, but with time and experience you soon learn to grow resilience in these situations. 


What have you found useful during the pandemic to help you to stay focused? 

It has been hard, I have to admit. It was especially hard when I took my break between ground school and FTA. There were times when I wondered if this was the right school and if the airlines would be recruiting. A lot of my social circle are in aviation and they all said they had flown through 9/11 and the financial crash, they would tell me ‘you’ve come this far and done the hard part of your ATPL’s, you might as well do the fun part’, so that was really motivating as well, knowing that I had done all of the ground school and now I get to learn to fly. That was the only way for me to get through it, and to know that all these other pilots had had the same experience. If you want anything enough, you’ll eventually get it. It might just take a bit of time. 


Isabelle 2


What does your typical day at flight school look like? 

It depends what kind of flight I am doing, but I’ll describe a navigation flight. I would normally get there an hour or two beforehand. I would plan my route, so draw it out on my map, and then I would work out my tracks and my distances and my speed. I would then work out my diversions as well, so if I got lost I would know how to get back on track. I’d work out which route I want to fly because of the winds and weather. I’d plan who I am going to talk to on my route, so Farnborough or which airports I am going to go to. Southend is radar control so it is a restricted area and you have to get permission to enter. There are three different people you need to talk to going into Southend. It is not like Shoreham where you can speak to one person on first contact to landing. I then go through the NOTAM’s and any restrictions on the route so if there is anything that is going to effect my flying, like airport closures. I then talk it through with one of the instructors to make sure that I haven’t missed anything and they’re happy for me to go. I’ll then take off, do my flight, and then I will come back. I usually fill the fuel up when I come back. Then sometimes I will debrief if I have flown with an instructor but obviously if it was a solo flight I’ll just debrief with myself; think about what I could have improved on and what I think went well. I normally have a chat with an instructor at least to say ‘this is what happened, this is what went well, and this is what could have gone better’.


Do you have any advice for future students, or women in particular? 

I don’t know if many females still feel like this, but if you are daunted because aviation is a male-dominated environment, I would say not to be at all. It is not as if people don’t want you there or you are not accepted, I completely found the opposite. People are really supportive and forthcoming with helping.

Also to really research what route is best for you, I started off integrated and switched to a modular course because of COVID, but in hindsight with or without COVID I think modular was the best route for me. The experience and confidence I have gained hour building has been incredible, having to make a lot of decisions for yourself and plan your course I think is a really important learning stage of becoming a captain one day.


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