At Aviation Job Search we recently spoke to Craig Walchester, a student pilot who kindly shared his path to becoming a student pilot, what his schedule is like and careers advice for aspiring aviation professionals.
Why did you pursue a career in the aviation industry?
My passion for aviation began at a very early age when my father would regularly take me to the Manchester Airport viewing area, so I guess I owe my enthusiasm for aviation to him. As I grew older, I joined the air cadets but due to my parents’ work commitments meant getting to the venue was very difficult and sadly after only several weeks, had to stop.
Fast forward a further 8 years to the age of 21, my newlywed wife purchased me a 1 hour flight experience, as a gift. This took place at Donair Flying Club, East Midlands Airport. This was the very first time I got to take control of a “real’’ aircraft, which was the 1984 Piper Warrior PA-28 161, G-BPRY. I was hooked!
Can you detail the path you have taken?
To date, I have followed the modular training route. I first gained my Private Pilots Licence (PPL SEP) in 2012. Due to starting a family at around the same time, the flying had to intermittently stop once acquiring the license, due to my financial circumstances. However, I was fortunate enough to be able to revalidate my SEP privileges in 2018.
I obtained a class 1 medical certificate before proceeding further, this I felt was crucial before committing to any further training. At this point, I would strongly advise anyone embarking on this journey to discuss any medical history, illnesses, or disorders with an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) as they may render you unable to obtain the needed certificate which would be needed to allow you to utilise the privileges on the various licenses, etc.
Having successfully obtained the desired class 1 medical certificate, I soon completed the Night Rating training. This only took about 1 week, working it in with my busy work schedule, and coupled with the good weather experienced at the time, all went accordingly. Seeing the sights including my own home at night from above was spectacular and an unforgettable experience!
In summary, the N.R. was fun and it was incredible to see the transformation between night and day-flying. The ground becomes an intricate network of streetlights and vast expanses of dark openness between towns and cities of what are usually large green fields.
I began the ATPL Theory training by May 2018, again on a modular basis with CATS Aviation Training, this took me just over 2 years from start to finish, which included multiple exam cancellations due to the Covid pandemic. This extended the course duration by about 4 months. I must stress at this point, that the ATPL theory course was by far the hardest thing I have had to achieve, please don’t underestimate it!
Ensure that you can spare a minimum of 10 hours per week in the early stages and double this as you get nearer to exams. Everyone learns at different paces and only you can determine what your limits are. By the exam stage, I was averaging 14 hour days of intense study. Interestingly, in comparison, at the start I struggled to cope with just 2 hours a day, things do get better!
Due to the mentioned cancellations of ATPL theory examinations, I missed my initial slot which had been allocated to me by Central Flight Training, based at Tatenhill airfield. I should have commenced further training on the 26th of May 2020. This meant that I then had to wait in turn until July 2021 until I could start the Multi-Engine Piston aircraft training (MEP), using a 1979 Beechcraft Duchess 76, G-BXXT.
The first time I got to take control of G-XT, I recall having the biggest smile on my face as we passed 500ft AGL. For the 1st time in what felt like in forever, things were now on the right track, the ATPL theory out of the way and now thundering through the sky in a twin-engine aircraft. Life’s good!
Having completed the MEP course, I moved straight onto the Competency Based Instrument Rating (CBIR) using the same twin-engine aircraft. During this time, I spent approximately 26 hours in an FNPT2 (CAA approved fixed base simulator), before starting training in the actual aircraft (G-BXXT), which enables the student to practice the I.R. procedures at a fraction of the cost.
In my case, I was taught how to deal with more complex procedures like you would find around London, which proved challenging but very rewarding once achieved.
On writing this, I am currently just over halfway through this training and once completed shall be completing the Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL), again straight after, and intend on remaining with CFT. who have been fantastic throughout.
What is your schedule like as a student pilot?
As a student pilot life can be very hectic. For myself, as a sole trader running my own business find it difficult on occasion, but it is critical to find a ‘’work-life balance” as one without the other usually results in a poor performance in the aircraft as your state of mind is affected; tried and tested! This I have come to learn, understand, and respect.
We are all human! Making a mistake is all a process of learning, as a student of 35 years of age, I can safely say that all the knowledge I possess to date has derived from some success but mostly because of many failures. The most important factor is to not allow these failures to overwhelm you, use them to your advantage and learn or adjust whatever it may be that you are doing or trying to achieve; so that in the end you succeed!
On a typical training day, I wake up at around 06:00 to check weather charts for the day, this helps me to make an informed decision as to what to expect. Sometimes the flights are simply canceled; sometimes even in the space between leaving home and arriving at the airport/airfield, the weather can hamper your intended plans.
Be prepared for disappointment as the weather is a force which should not be reckoned with, sadly there are a significant number of cases regarding ‘controlled flight into terrain’. Certainly, do not ever feel pressured when making your decision, to fly or not to fly. As the Captain of an aircraft in P1 capacity (Pilot in command) it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of you, your passengers, and those on the ground.
On days where the flight doesn’t go ahead, could be weather or even mechanically related; on these occasions, I make the most of being able to revise past ATPL theory papers or learn the material needed for any upcoming sections to the training currently being undertaken. Always aim to be as resourceful as possible with the time you have!
Can you share what it training costs financially?
To date, PPL, Night Rating, ATPL Theory, Hour Building, MEP, CBIR has cost somewhere in the region of £30,800, and anticipate a further £25,000 until I am ready to apply to an airline.
This will constitute finishing the CBIR, CPL, UPRT (Upset Prevention & Recovery Training), and APS-MCC (Airline Pilots Standards Multi-Crew Co-operation Training)
How do you manage the effects on your mental health of intensive training?
It is important to make time for yourself. As mentioned, in my case, the ‘’work-life” balance is critical, and aviation has to fit somewhere in between to maximise the potential, one key area of focus being cockpit management.
I think anyone who tries to run a business, support a family whilst embarking on such a mission, and try their best to achieve a high standard would be lying if they said at no point, they didn’t feel it was all too much. It is tough.
It does get easier; you just have to constantly tweak your lifestyle and schedules and eventually it all fits together like a puzzle. If you can learn to manage everything outside of flying, you will undoubtedly notice a significant improvement in your wellbeing which in turn reflects tenfold in the aviate!
How long will it take you to complete the training?
I had hoped to be complete by the end of 2021, but of late I have had several setbacks mainly due to weather conditions preventing me from flying. I now predict to complete somewhere around March/April 2022, that would be ideal.
What 3 tips would you give to an aspiring pilot?
1. If possible, get all your funds ready beforehand. This will undoubtedly be beneficial in the long run.
2. Stay focused. It is too easy to allow yourself to be drawn in by the vast expenses and when you are up in the sky burning substantial amounts of money, the absolute last thing you should be thinking is “if I mess this up, I’ve got to do it again!” I find that a brief intense workout before the start of the training day helps to focus the mind substantially.
3. When choosing a training provider, look well into what suits you best, (including your family as in my case). You do not need to spend hundreds of thousands to obtain the required licenses to get the flight deck of an airline (A vast array of other commercial pilot roles available too!) This has been proven many times over.
For me, the modular route worked best as I could still earn money by carrying out my day job and train alongside. In general, it is also the cheapest option but usually takes longer. The Integrated route, usually being more expensive precludes you from working but is a great way to train and is usually quicker. The biggest drawback which this route presents is the financial aspect.
Read more on a career as a pilot here: https://www.aviationjobsearch.com/career-hub/articles/career-advice/pilot