Ever get cynical about the aviation business? It’s a tired cliché that old hacks (like those you’ll find most days at FTN towers) are sceptical by nature, having been exposed to the darker reaches of human nature, and airline catering, just once too often.
Nevertheless, even our hardened hearts were warmed recently by an evening spent at the Young Aviators dinner – an event hosted by The Air League and The Honourable Company of Air Pilots (HCAP) for their respective youth sections: The Leading Edge and Air Pilots – Young Members. The dinner was attended not just by young aviators and aspiring aviators, but also by a number of airline and military aviation recruitment representatives. Think British Airways, Virgin, Easyjet, the RAF and the Navy amongst others and you’ll realise it was probably a very good place to be if you wanted to meet the right people (we’ve assumed the invitation to FTN was some sort of clerical error, unlikely to be repeated).
On the entirely arbitrary FTN scale, speech of the evening went to Richard Pillans, Boeing Defence UK Chief Test Pilot and guest speaker.
“As a boy, I had to pick up an extra paper round in Petersfield to save for flying lessons. I started lessons at the age of sixteen and got my pilot’s licence at seventeen. That was even before I could drive a car.”
Richard studied avionic systems engineering with Bristol University before joining the Army. Speaking of his time serving in the Army Air Corps and becoming a test pilot he said, “We had some great times around the world. I liked the feeling of doing something useful, contributing to the nation’s security. My role then became to help improve the helicopter and check it was safe for others to fly. I created a technique to land Apaches safely when the rotors cause a dust cloud, which can reduce visibility to zero. It was about getting the best out of both pilot and autopilot, working together. I like thinking about how many crashes it may have prevented since then, and in the future.”
Richard also offered sage advice for a long and successful life, given to him by a 93 year-old neighbour he plays at chess:
- Always keep on improving your position;
- Have fun along the way;
- Don’t die young.
By common consent, faux pas of the evening went to FTN, who enquired of a partner of one of the pilots we were speaking to whether he had any interest at all in flying. He replied nonchalantly that he had just finished flying Hawks at RAF Valley and was about to start conversion training for the Typhoon. Yes – probably interested in flying then.
We met enough young pilots working hard to achieve their dreams, and enough older pilots working to help them get there, to remind us that for all the fashionable cynicism we encounter (and sometimes practice ourselves) in the flying business, there is no shortage of keen aviators out there, following their hearts just as countless pilots have before them. It’s not always a quick or easy path, and some stage or another they’re all going to need a certain amount of luck or just a helping hand to help them achieve their goals.
So, if you’re looking to make a career in aviation, or just enjoy your aviation interest, or maybe want to ‘put something back’ into aviation, this event alone is just another good reason to belong to at least one of the august aviation societies out there.