I learned to fly at the Airways Flying Club, Booker, Buckinghamshire, England where, in 1969/70, I earned my PPL, IMC rating and night rating.
At the time I was learning to fly I was working as cabin crew for British European Airways in Tridents and – occasionally – the Comet 4C (only used for charters by then). This gave me a taste for working with a crew.
Accepted into the RAF in 1970, trained on Jet Provost Mk3 and Mk5 at RAF Linton on Ouse, did multi-engine training in the Vickers Varsity (loved the big Bristol Hercules radial piston engines – machines from another era) at RAF Oakington near Cambridge, then on to the Operational Conversion Unit for the Lockheed C-130K Hercules at RAF Thorney Island, followed by my first operational post as a working copilot on LXX Sqn based at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.
In 1976 I was posted to the Central Flying School (RAF Cranwell) to train as a Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI), and on graduation returned to RAF Linton on Ouse, but this time as an instructor.
After about two years as a QFI I lost my aircrew medical category because of a mysterious neurological illness, and reckoned I’d better do something else for a living because I didn’t see myself getting my aircrew medical category back again.
I had always dallied with the idea of being a journalist, so I thought I’d try it, and applied to Flight International. In 1979, after 6 months’ probation, they took me on as Air Transport Reporter.
The rest is Flightglobal history, but in parallel I worked freelance for international news broadcasting media and for documentary channels like Discovery and National Geographic. I still do.
And I still work with Flightglobal as their Consulting Editor.
PS: Just to clarify – for those whose comments suggest they presume I have been desk-bound since arriving at Flight in 1979 – I do get some proper flying in from time to time.
I have to do that, just to stay up to date with cockpit technology.
Although my medical category still does not allow me to fly solo or in command, I fly all sorts of aircraft, but by law there has to be a captain in the other seat. Even more regularly I “fly” simulators.
Types I have flown for real since then (always at the manufacturer or with an agency like the FAA) include the Airbus A300, A320, A340-600 the Boeing 727-100, 737-500, 777-200, and Bombardier’s Twin Otter and Dash 8 series. And a Supermarine Spitfire Mk 9 (the Boultbee Spirfire)!
Simulators I have spent recent time in include all the current production types from Boeing and Airbus, including the A380. And a few years ago, Concorde!
I don’t consider myself current in anything, but at least I can talk with – and understand – active line pilots and manufacturers’ test pilots when they tell me about their jobs, the aeroplanes, cockpit equipment, and developing techniques or SOPs.
I spend time with the manufacturers’ test and training pilots while they are developing training programmes for new types or marques that have not even entered service yet.
With airlines that are permitted by law to do this, I am sometimes made supernumerary crew so I can jump-seat on line flights to observe SOPs, best use of automation, and new GNSS-based approaches.
That’s what my job is: learning from people who do it for a living so I can write about it.