Touchdown Careers (Learn to Fly)
Touchdown Careers is the ultimate and most updated source of information to anyone looking for a career in aviation, weather this be pilots, cabin crew, air traffic controllers to career instructors. Powered by Touchdown Radio, the aim is to inspire, educate and engage with the next and new breed of aviation professionals today.
All information is is backed up by a monthly FREE Seminar talking about various roles and routes available for various careers in the aviation industry. Our team will be engaging directly with Schools, Colleges & Universities across the U.K & Ireland including Wales & Scotland.
16 - 24 year olds will be the future of aviation for the next set of highly skilled individuals.
Take a look around the site and see any of the videos on our youtube channel of previous and past events. Don't forget we also have a full directory of Flying Schools, Clubs & Training Providers for you to choose from; Reach out to your local schools, airfields or commercial training providers to enquire directly.
We hope you find the information resourceful and help you on the next step of your career journey.
As you're finding out, there's a lot more to becoming a pilot than simply sitting in the cockpit. One key element of the pilot training is often seen as a bit of a chore, says Ash Holding, instructor and founder of PPL Groundschool, which specialises in teaching student pilots the required theoretical knowledge.
“Convincing students that a good grounding in theoretical knowledge is fundamental to becoming a good pilot,” Ash explains. “Most students can’t wait to get them out of the way. If we can get a student to attend the school for a day – to complete, say, Air Law – then they realise how the theoretical knowledge subjects interact with practical flying, and they can’t wait to come back.
“No-one likes exams but structured study with the support of a good groundschool is a great opportunity to consolidate your knowledge, meet other students and have a great time. You aren’t alone!”
There are nine exams you’ll have to pass in 18 months. The clock starts from the end of the calendar month when you first attempt an exam. You’ll have four attempts to pass any particular exam subject. If, after that, you still haven’t passed all the exams, then you’ll have to start again. Once all exams are passed, you have 24 months from the date of passing the last exam, during which time your licence must be issued.
If you are still working on a PPL or LAPL, the system for passing the written exams has been simplified. The requirement to pass all papers in six ‘sittings’ has gone, while the requirements remain to complete all within 18 months from the end of the month in which the first one was attempted, and pass each individual exam with no more than four attempts.
Note that a PPL student isn’t allowed to under take the practical Skill Test until they’ve attained a successful pass in all of the written exam papers.
One hundred hours
PPL students are required to undertake at least one hundred hours of theoretical knowledge training, which can be split among formal classroom work supported by other interactive forms of training and self-study. It may sound like a lot, but divide those hours by the number of exams, and you get a sensible amount of time per subject for learning.
There are many series of books available to teach all of the groundschool subjects, such as Trevor Thom's Air Pilot's Manual, the AFE PPL Course series by Jeremy Pratt and the Skills for Flight Ground Training series from Oxford Aviation Academy.
All of these contain the knowledge you need, although it's worth having a look at each to see which one suits you best. You’ll also find various DVDs, apps and even websites which can provide interactive training. However, there are times when face-to-face tuition really helps. “A quality explanation from an experienced instructor is priceless,” says Ash of PPL Groundschool. “We’re all different – some people cope well with self-study while others struggle, but a five-minute demonstration on how to calculate time, speed and distance calculations on a whizz-wheel can save a student hours of frustration.” If time is at a premium, you might consider signing up for an intensive groundschool course, where you study and complete all your exams in one go.
Intensive study can help with your continuity in learning, plus it’s a useful option for anyone learning to fly abroad, allowing you to focus fully on the physical flying once you’re overseas.
Turn over your paper...
All of the PPL exams are multiple choice, with between 12 and 16 questions giving you four possible choices and requiring a pass mark of 75 per cent. The only exception to this is the Radio Practical Exam, which is a pass or fail.
■ Air Law is just like the Highway Code for the air, so you have to complete this before going off on your first solo flight.
■ Human Performance & Limitations contains basic questions about your body and the effects of changes of the Earth’s atmosphere have on it.
■ Meteorology tests your understanding of what’s happening in the atmosphere, and how to read and interpret weather reports.
■ Navigation is an exam which your flying school will want you to pass before you start on your solo cross-country flights. You’ll be required to plan a flight during the exam, and
will be asked various questions about the route.
■ Aircraft General is a good exam to take early on, as it helps to develop your airframe and engine knowledge.
■ Flight Performance & Planning looks at how well an aeroplane performs in differing situations.
■ Communications asks questions about the operation and procedures of using an aircraft radio.
■ Operational Procedures has an emphasis on the operating rules and safety aspects of flying.
■ Principles of Flight ensures you have an understanding of the theory of flight and aerodynamics.
Other Aviation Careers
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The RAF is often the first port of call for many seeking a flying career in the military. It’s at least a 12-year service commitment, but during your time with the RAF, you can expect to fly fast jets, transport aircraft or helicopters.
Applicants must be aged between 17.5-25 years old. During the initial stages of the recruitment process you’ll be required to sit what is called the Airman Selection Test (AST). It consists of a number of different aptitude tests, which are designed to assess which careers in the RAF that you are most suited to.
As an officer, you will begin your RAF career with a 24-week Initial Officer Training (IOT) course at RAF College Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Pay during this time is £27,200 plus benefits, becoming £31,800 plus benefits afterwards. Training begins with Elementary Flying Training, flying the Tutor or Prefect aircraft, you’ll then be streamed to fast jet, multi-engine or rotary (helicopter) flying training. Fast jet pilots then train on the Texan before moving on to fly the Hawk T2 at RAF Valley, multi-engine pilots will train on the Phenom, while those training as rotary pilots will fly twin-engine Juno and Jupiter helicopters. Training ranges from 10 months to two years. Flight Lieutenant Chris Gordon, a Chinook helicopter pilot with the RAF, shows the mix of experiences you can expect: “Since I’ve been in the Air Force, I’ve had quite a few opportunities though, unfortunately, with me being a Chinook pilot, most of my time has been spent in a certain desert in Afghanistan,so I’ve had a lot of training and a lot of real-time operations. I’ve had a bit of time to do adventure training too, so I’ve been to Antigua sailing, skiing a couple of times and to Gibraltar. But really, it’s all about the day job, which is flying.”
As a general rule you’ll have GCSEs at grade C/4 or SNE at grade 5 or SCE Standard Grades at grade 2/SNE 5 in English and maths and at least three other subjects. You’ll also have at least 2 A2 Levels/3 Highers at grade C or above (excluding General Studies, Critical Thinking or Citizenship Studies), which must total a minimum of 64 UCAS points. You must also be able to meet a number of fitness and health criteria. Full details can be found on the RAF’s website.
Fleet Air Arm
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The Fleet Air Arm is the aviation branch of theRoyal Navy and is all about effective air power and support, both from the sea and shore bases, no matter what the weather conditions.
You could be dropping Royal Marines Commandos and their equipment into action, carrying out surveillance and anti submarine operations, and flying reconnaissance or search and rescue missions over land and sea. You should like the idea of flying in challenging environments, holding responsibility and making decisions, working with aircraft, and possess a sense of adventure.
The commission in the Royal Navy is a standard 12-year service, and the training varies in length depending on whether you learn to fly helicopters or fast jets.
Pilot Officers will train on salary of at least £27,000 and can also earn a BSc (Hons) degree while learning to fly. The fully funded, 30-month degree in aviation is accredited by the OU and would be recognised and valued by civilian employers when your period of service is over. After two years’ service, you’ll be earning at least £33,000 per year.
Will, a Wildcat pilot in the Fleet Air Arm,offers a tip to those applying: “When I took my aptitude test, around the age of 16, it was really quite similar to a lot of computer games out there – so if you’re good at your computer games, you’ll probably be good at the aptitude tests.
“For the pilot side of things, hand-eye coordination skills are needed, like using a joystick to keep a ball in the centre of the screen while the computer’s actively trying to push it off, and coordinating your hands with your feet to move the ball, things like that.”
And as for the type of flying you can expect? As an example, pilots flying the Wildcat are trained to fire the Sea Skua anti surface missile and the Sting Ray torpedo, an effective depth charge for blowing up submarines (proof that you don’t necessarily have to be a jet pilot to fly in an attack role), while the Merlin training will include Airborne Surveillance and Area Control.
Qualifications include the requirement for 72 UCAS points (for those who took A-Levels after January 2017) plus a successful flying aptitude test at RAF Cranwell – more information is available on the website.
Army Air Corps
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You need to be a serving soldier or officer to volunteer for pilot training in the Army. The Army Air Corps (AAC) offers a number of 12-year Short Service Commissions each year to officer cadets, post-commissioning from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS). After that you start pilot training on fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Pass this and you’ll get your pilot’s wings.
From elementary flying training through to your operational training course typically takes a year, and on successful completion of the last phase, students are awarded their army pilots brevet (Wings) provisionally, which is confirmed on completion of a conversion to an operational army helicopter type. Pilots could fly the Apache, Gazelle, Bell 212, Squirrel, Defender and Wildcat during their flying career, depending upon AAC requirements.
You’ll earn £27,000 during your year of training at the RMAS, before commissioning and becoming a Second Lieutenant, on nearly £33,000 a year.
More focused on the combat side of military aviation, as a pilot in the AAC you will provide support for combat troops on the ground using your command and leadership skills and look after the welfare and career development of the soldiers under your command. Army pilots fly different types of aircraft, from Apache attack helicopters to fixed-wing aircraft packed with surveillance kit. According to the army, you’ll get plenty of flying experience and, with your aircraft’s crew, you play a key part in exercises and operations at home and overseas.
Sgt Thomas, an army helicopter pilot, explains, “The training is tough, but you learn all you need to know in achievable stages, and I’ve had the opportunity to fly numerous types. If you’ve ever thought about flying, this could be just the job for you.”
As before, there’s plenty more information on the army website.
Many dream of flying. However, having the time, plus the perception that it will be very expensive, that exams will be incredibly complex or perhaps a disability or an ongoing medical condition may stop some from even considering it.
However, microlights challenge all these perceptions and offer a truly affordable and accessible route into the wonderful world of exciting flying adventures! Modern microlights enjoy exceptional performance, have an excellent safety record and generally, if you are medically fit to drive a car, then you are fit to fly. There is also a strong UK community of disabled microlight flyers, some flying microlights with modified controls to help them overcome their limited mobility.
Importantly, you can get your licence for around half the price of an EASA PPL and go on to operate a microlight at a fraction of the cost of a traditional General Aviation aircraft like a Cessna 150 or Piper PA-28. With the same pot of money, you can fly more. In fact, a lot, lot more.
So why isn’t everyone doing it? Well, microlights can only fly in daylight under visual flight rules (i.e. you can’t fly in exceptionally poor weather or through cloud), cannot perform aerobatics and are limited to two seats. But if you can live with these limitations, then microlighting is a seriously cost-effective option offering endless opportunities to explore the UK, Europe and beyond.
As it implies, the microlight refers to a broad range of aircraft at the lighter end of general aviation and they come in two forms,fixed-wing and flexwing. Fixed-wing microlights are effectively lightweight aeroplanes and are controlled using stick and rudder in the traditional sense. They range from the simple tube and fabric Thruster cruising at 65mph to the sleek, carbon fibre Dynamic cruising at 125mph.
Flexwing microlights can trace their heritage back to powered hang-gliders and have the familiar triangular-shaped, fabric flexwing from which is suspended a tricycle fuselage pod accommodating the crew and pusher engine mounted behind. Flexwing flying is exciting stuff. You’re sitting out in the elements with helmet, gloves and warm suit, manoeuvring the aircraft by use of the big horizontal bar in front of you. But don’t be fooled by their heritage. The modern flexwing is a very capable tourer and UK pilots routinely fly them to Europe and beyond.
Two-seat microlights are currently limited to a maximum take-off weight of 450kg (472.5kg when fitted with a Ballistic Recovery System – a large parachute which is deployed in an emergency to bring the entire aircraft and its occupants safely down). This can limit payload especially for heavier crew members.
But these are exciting times for microlights. In October 2019, the CAA opened consultation to seek views on moving light aircraft weighing 450-600kg from European certification under EASA to Nation CAA regulation and oversight. Both the British
Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA) and Light Aircraft Association (LAA) support the option of upping the microlight weight limit to 600kg. The consultation closed in November 2019 and the CAA will provide its recommendation to the Department of Transport in the coming months. It certainly has very exciting implications for the future of microlighting and has the potential to provide an even greater choice of aeroplanes with exceptional load-carrying capability.
Microlighting in the UK is exceptionally popular and in January 2019, some 3,918 aircraft were registered with the UK CAA. The British Microlighting Aircraft Association is the national body, overseeing training, pilot licensing and airworthiness in conjunction with, and on behalf of, the CAA. The BMAA website, www.bmaa.org, is a great resource when looking to get into microlighting and they also produce an excellent monthly magazine, Microlight Flying.
The UK has an extensive network of long-established Microlight Flying Schools full of passionate and highly experienced instructors. If you suspect the fun world of microlighting is for you, then identify a local school and book a trial lesson. Certainly age is no barrier. I have had friends learn in their 70s and children of friends get their licence at 17 after starting lessons at 14.
The National Private Pilot’s Licence (NPPL) with a microlight class rating requires a minimum of 25 hours of flying training, 10 of which must be solo and you must complete two cross-country trips of 40nm.
Medical fitness to fly is based on the DVLA Group 1 ordinary car standard and for most, there is no need for a medical, you
self-certify online. Like driving, there are a very limited number of medical conditions that will require follow-up but there are very few that will actually prevent you from flying.
With lessons with an instructor costing from £100 to perhaps £145 near London, a full course covering minimum 25 hour flight time with study material and examination fees will cost around £4,000.
Everyone learns at a different pace and your progress will be influenced by your budget, family and work commitments and, of course, the great British weather.
As with all flying training, few students pass in the minimum hours and the majority of students will take perhaps 35-45 hours so.
When you say ‘microlight’ people usually think of flexwing machines like this Pegasus Quantum. There are hundreds flying in the UK budget of around £5,000-£6,000 may be more realistic.
Look to enjoy the training experience and try not set unrealistic deadlines. As well as passing a flying General Skills Test (GST) in the air with an examiner, you have to pass five multiple choice exams covering air law, principles of flight, meteorology, aircraft technical and navigation. It may seem daunting but I guarantee it will be an incredible experience and for many, learning to fly will remain one of the greatest
achievements of their life.
Buy or rent?
Having realised your dream, it’s time to buy or rent within a club. Whilst the convenience of renting will suit some, if you fly regularly, it is generally far more cost-effective to own a microlight, either outright or with a group of like-minded enthusiasts in a syndicate. Again, you should carefully consider your needs, do you want to tour extensively or are you happy flying around the local patch enjoying the views and maybe dropping in on local strips?
Your level of ambition may of course develop as you gain experience but it’s good to have a clear starting point.
The new and used microlight markets have something for everyone with prices ranging from maybe £2,500 for an older airworthy flexwing such a Flash II Alpha to perhaps £90,000 for a brand new high-performance, modern tourer like a EuroStar SL complete with BRS and auto pilot. You can also choose to self-build a microlight from a kit. You can find daily listings of used microlights for sale on (https://afors.com) and the majority of modern, second-hand fixed-wings or flexwings in good condition range from £18k to £40k. Joint ownership is very common to split both the purchase and ongoing costs.
Whilst there is no limit to the size of the group, four to six is probably the most popular representing a good compromise between shared costs and aircraft availability. Besides sharing costs, groups pull together differing skills and most importantly, offer fantastic camaraderie as you set off on exotic flying adventures.
Microlights are powered by modern, reliable engines and have an excellent safety record. The most common engine is the 80hp Rotax 912UL which uses standard unleaded petrol from your local garage or unleaded aviation fuel though it can also use standard aviation gasoline (avgas) for short periods. It is very economical, and the 912 in our modern EuroStar aircraft only burns 10L/hr flying along at 95mph so an hourly fuel cost of around £13/hr.
A broad range
The owner of a microlight is responsible for the airworthiness of their aircraft and, as a result, can undertake as much of the maintenance as they feel comfortable. Many owners change oil, plugs, tyres and filters and get professional engineers to do more complex tasks like gearbox maintenance. We are lucky in the UK to have a number of excellent professional microlight engineers who have outstanding product knowledge and charge hourly rates around £45, much less than your local car dealer! Like your car, a BMAA Inspector will conduct an annual inspection and issue a permit to fly – this and the application fee will cost £300-400.
At this point it’s worth mentioning Single Seat De-Regulated (SSDR) aircraft. SSDR aircraft weigh up to 300kg (315kg with a BRS), do not require any approval or annual inspection and owners have complete freedom to make experimental modifications as required. Pilots still require a licence and third party insurance though, around 700 aircraft of the 3,918 UK microlight fleet operate as SSDR.
As they are light, modern microlights enjoy excellent performance and happily operate from grass strips as short as 200m and that opens up a huge number of exciting options for touring off the beaten track. There are at least 1,500 landing sites available to microlights in the UK with new grass strips coming online all the time. You may even know someone with a suitable field – under UK law you can land anywhere if you have the landowner’s permission. Many owners choose to base their aircraft on farm strips away from the formality of larger airfields where hangarage is more expensive.
From the above you’ll get a sense of just how affordable microlighting is. Our four-man group owns a wonderful 2008 Evektor EuroStar. G-CEVS is a high-performance and very well-equipped, two-seat tourer fitted with the latest GPS navigation and collision avoidance systems. We pay £30/hr which includes fuel, maintenance and a contribution to a fund to purchase a new engine at around 4,000 hours. In addition, we pay £60/month each to cover hangarage and insurance. As a result, we can afford to fly a lot, and I average about 140 hours a year costing me £4,920 (£4,200 for the hourly and £720 for the fixed costs).
Microlighting is a very sociable hobby and most of our exciting adventures involve flying alongside friends in other microlights.
Microlighting allows you to explore the beautiful planet like never before. There’s nothing quite like island-hopping around the West Coast of Scotland flying at low-level in a loose formation of aircraft, camping overnight and walking to the local pub with your mates – truly magical! Most European countries accept UK microlights and the UK NPPL (Microlight) pilot qualification. As a result, in the summer months UK microlights can be found touring the length and breadth of Europe. Impressively, some Great British microlight adventurers have made the USA and Canada, whilst Yorkshireman Dave Sykes (himself a paraplegic) flew solo all the way to Australia in his flexwing totally unsupported.
There’s never been a better time to get into microlighting. The licence is still relatively affordable, there is a huge range of modern microlights offering outstanding performance with great choice in the new and second-hand market and operating costs that make regular flying truly achievable. But most of all, it is full of funny, kind and generous characters who really know how to fly for fun.
Glider pilots use three main types of rising air to stay aloft
Thermals Columns of rising air produced when the sun heats the atmosphere
Ridge or hill lift Air pushed upwards when it blows against the edge of a slope
Mountain wave Currents of air that rise over the top of hills or mountains and the flow and rebound, creating a wave-like motion which can continue for hundreds of miles.
Gliding is an affordable way to take to the skies, especially when you consider that powered aircraft hire can cost around £150 per hour. At most gliding clubs, you can expect to pay around £20 per hour to hire a glider,
£30 for an aerotow launch or £8 for a winch launch. The average club membership cost is around £350 per year, which compares favourably to the annual fees for other leisure activities, such as golf or tennis.
To help with personal budgets, a number of clubs offer an all in, fixed-price ‘to solo’ package, with these fees often being reduced for students and junior members. What’s more, gliding for the under-25s is heavily subsidised by the BGA, via generous bursaries, and by individual clubs, which run their own schemes for juniors.
Young pilots can fly solo at 14 years old. There’s a vibrant junior gliding community which organises its own competitions, expeditions and social events. At the other end of the age spectrum, pilots can keep flying into their seventies and eighties, as long as they can meet fitness levels, which are essentially the same as those needed to drive a car.
Most long thermal cross-country flights, particularly in England, take place throughout the warmer summer months. However, clubs in hillier regions of the UK – i.e. most of Scotland, Wales and the Pennines – often encounter some of their best soaring conditions during the autumn and spring. In the main, though, the optimal weather conditions for gliding are sunny and not too windy. Flight training occurs throughout the year, weather permitting.
Although it isn’t always the best for cross-country flights, the period from September to March can be a great time to learn to fly, as gliding clubs are less busy, which
allows you to make rapid progress to solo standard. Generally speaking, the only things that will stop you flying are persistent rain, low cloud and gusts of wind over 30mph!
Some gliding clubs also have powered aircraft onsite. The mix of operations works well, as care is taken and suitable briefings are held for all – when it comes to gliding, launch cables and ground movements need thinking about. Of course, powered aircraft should only fly into a gliding site with prior permission.
With gliding sites throughout the UK, stretching from the Highlands of Scotland to the south-west tip of England, wherever you live you’re never far from a club. All of them welcome visitors, so please pop along and find out at first hand what our sport is about. You can find your nearest club via our website, www.gliding.co.uk, and if you’re driving past one, please just drop in and ask if you can have a look around, you’ll be made very welcome.
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