Growing Up Flying

At the end of every school year, I couldn't wait to get back to the airfield. Cleaning microlights wasn't fun. I'd usually be covered head to toe in muck but I knew that 8 hours of cleaning for 5 days, meant a free flight at the end of the week. Even at that stage in my life I was just desperate to be around aircraft.

When I was 16, the thought of getting my driving license didn't even cross my mind. All my time was dedicated to getting my piloting license. Every waking hour outside of school I would study flight manuals, read piloting magazines and, of course, wash microlights. It didn’t completely cover the costs of my training, but with some help from my incredibly supportive parents, I was able to get those precious hours into my log book.

Although my first flight was on a flex wing microlight (basically a hang glider with an engine stuck on the back!), my flight training was in the venerable Piper Warrior, an aircraft most aspiring pilots start off in. It was in a Piper Warrior that I first took to the skies by myself, and the feeling of pure escape, the detachment from the world in a machine I have complete control over, is an experience that has never left me, and I still feel to this day. There is nothing quite like being all by yourself, whether its 2800ft, or 28,000ft, with the engines rumbling along happily, and just taking a moment to sit back, wonder at the world, and feel all troubles fade away.

At 18, I got really lucky.

Due to my dual citizenship (New Zealand and the UK) I was able to attend commercial flight training school in New Zealand without the hideous cost as the New Zealand government offered loans for this program. After 3 years I returned to the UK and I immediately converted my NZ Commercial Pilots’ Licence to the European-wide JAA (FAA equivalent) system. Then I went in search of my first job.

I knew it would be hard. We all know that regardless of the initial low pay, many people are still looking for work in this industry. And like many, my first paying job was instructing, so I spent a year teaching future private pilots. It was at this time that I was offered the chance to fly a single engine Socata TB-20 to Cairo, and met some fantastic people in the aviation industry.

After my instructing I spent 6 months flying aerial survey for Google Maps, in twin engine Partenavias and Aztecs. This sounds more interesting than it is! In the summer we regularly flew 12hrs a day, starting at sunrise and only stopping for fuel before finishing at sunset. Lots of hand flying very straight lines back and forth, whilst at the same time looking around for anyone who doesn’t realise you are there! The work was never tedious though, and to be released by myself in a twin was incredible.

Unfortunately, when my initial 6 month contract ran out the recession hit the UK, and we were all scratching around for work. I found a job in Papua New Guinea and was invited there to try my hand at bush flying. Whilst the flying was incredible, the pay wasn’t, and I was forced to return to the UK hopefully to find something which paid a reasonable salary. It was at this time that I was approached by the same student whose aircraft I had flown to Cairo, but this time he wanted it taken from England to Abu Dhabi. This whole trip was an amazing experience which I hope to cover in a later blog.

And so to today, flying the King Air for charter around Europe. It is now 2 years since I started at my present company, just after my return from Abu Dhabi. During my first year and a half I was flying twin piston aircraft. I spent 2 winters on the piston, flying right through some of the worst weather imaginable (heavy icing, unpredictable airport closures due to snow, high winds etc), in aircraft where situational awareness is key. The King Air is simply a joy to fly, rugged, with lots of power, and will go in and out of most airfields the piston counterpart operates into. There is a very good reason they are the longest running turbo-prop in production.

Watch for upcoming blog posts on

  • flying in the ash-cloud emergency when all large planes were grounded across Europe
  • my crazy trip ferrying the Socata to Abu Dubai (and engine outage!)
  • unique weather issues in the UK
  • and more...

I'm excited to start this blog and get feedback from other pilots, airline personnel and aviation enthusiasts alike. I'd love to hear your stories and let me know what you would like me to cover on the blog. Happy flying!


Judy May 23, 2011 at 09:05 pm

Looking forward to more blogs - sounds like the perfect life for you.

Peter WARWICK July 11, 2011 at 07:47 pm

Saul, I very much enjoy your postings. You sound very content with your vocation. Keep the postings coming.