Part of CAT's Women in Aviation series

Cliché as it might sound, I’ve always wanted to be a pilot. I have been fascinated with aeroplanes ever since I first flew with my father in a Robin over the magnificent cliffs of the Isle of Wight.

From there, it was always my dream. I studied hard at school, I was never one of the cool kids. There were no scholarships around when I was applying for pilot training and so I applied to university as a back-up. I was accepted to study Physics at Imperial University London, but turned it down when I was accepted to Oxford Aviation Academy at 18.

Unfortunately, due to funding issues, I found myself unable to start a month before the course began. I was, to say the least, devastated. I had to make a new plan.

I decided to travel, working as a wakeboard instructor around the world, meanwhile reapplying to university to study Aerospace Engineering. After my degree, I moved to London for work, trying to save for my pilot training. One day, out of the blue, my parents called and said they could loan me some money to start my training. I called CAE Oxford immediately and asked how soon I could start, they said they had a space on the course starting next week. I went in for an assessment on the Monday, passed, and started on the Friday.

The training is hard. Someone once described it to me as “trying to drink from a fire hose” I’d say that’s pretty accurate. You start with six months of ground school split into two phases. Each phase has seven subjects and seven exams. I knew I would have to study hard, but nothing can prepare you for the shear amount of information that is thrown at you. You simply have to keep your head down and keep working. Once you’ve passed those that’s when you actually get to touch an aircraft. You fly straight out to Arizona, and stay for four to six months to learn all the basics of flying and navigation in VFR conditions. Again, it’s continual testing. The relief never comes, as you pass one test you’re thinking ok what’s coming in the next one. But I can safely say those first solo flights over the spectacular Arizona desert are something I will never forget.

Once back in the UK with your Commercial Pilots Licence, you then go on to complete your instrument rating, again the work load does not let up. There is some multi crew training after that in the simulators and that’s when you receive your frozen Air Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL). Then it’s time to apply for jobs.

My pilot training tested me in so many ways. My motivation, dedication, having to put normal life and its problems aside so that you can achieve your goals, which is sometimes not as easy as it might seem. One thing I would say to anyone starting out is that you really have to want it and be aware that you will have setbacks. No one learns at a constant gradient, at some point you will encounter something that someone else finds easy but you struggle with. So long as you accept this, tackle it head on and keep going you will make it through. I told myself I was never going to let anything get in the way, and that’s what got me through.

Now that I am on the line, working for a commercial airline, you truly realise that the learning never stops. Not only about flying and the aircraft, but about every department that makes an airline work, about understanding people, solving problematic situations and about yourself. Every day is different, every crew is different, every aircraft is different and every passenger is different. I approach every day with an open mind, you need to have an awareness of the whole situation in order to get over the little hiccups and problems that arise day to day.

It’s a stressful and tiring environment, in which you have to be on top of your game and alert at all times. As pilots, I feel like most of us are perfectionists. The reality is you will never have a perfect flight. What have I learnt about myself? How to deal with failure, harness that disappointment and approach the next inevitable challenge with humility, strength and authenticity.

www.charlottethepilot.com