So today I wanted to talk a little bit more to someone who makes travelling possible for us. Whether you’re going on holiday, travelling long term, visiting family or even getting to work! Whatever it is, without Pilots, where would we be in the world? I always wanted to chat with a Pilot but never had the opportunity to. What if I could get an Interview with a Pilot? I made this my personal challenge.
After some searching, I found someone! I have recently been communicating with Pilot and gentleman Nick Anderson (Twitter | Website) who has recently retired after 25 years from Virgin Atlantic. He kindly allowed me into his head to share his incredible story and answered a few questions you wanted to find out! As well as providing us with a few of his own pictures and his incredible back story. Lets get to it, shall we?
I grew up in a flying family. My father was a wartime Sunderland flying boat pilot for the Royal Australian Air Force based in Plymouth and my mother was in the WRAF (Women’s Royal Air Force) and worked as a wireless telegrapher intercepting coded German Morse. After the war, Dad became a civil airline pilot so I grew up in a pilot’s family.
I idolised my Dad and really wanted to follow in his footsteps.
I started by becoming an Air Cadet and learning to fly gliders but then won an RAF scholarship to learn to fly powered aircraft. Although I wanted to fly civil airliners it was really hard to get training so I joined the Royal Air Force! I worked with them flying fast jet fighters for 19 years before moving to the civilian side of flying.
I have never owned my own aircraft and, since I have always had more chances to fly than I really wanted, I have never felt the need to do more. Flying in the Air Force I learned to do all the exciting things like high speed low flying, aerobatics, formation flying and such so there is very little in the flying world I haven’t done, however, I’m a little past doing some of the more demanding flying now.
I’d happily tell you about anything unusual that I have seen but I have never seen a UFO and am very suspicious of those who claim to have done so. Things we see in the air usually have a perfectly normal explanation and those that are unexplained are unlikely to be visitors from outer space!
I have, though, seen some amazing sights. Noctilucent clouds (Nick’s photo below) are rare but stunningly beautiful. Pale blue in colour they exist in the mesosphere, about 50 miles above the earth’s surface and can only be seen when the sun’s rays hit them at exactly the right angle, just after the sun drops below the horizon. I have seen the front of my aircraft covered in St Elmo’s fire and other remarkable sights such as perfectly circular rainbows and the Aurora Borealis. At night, I once flew past a line of intense thunderstorms over the Himalayas that lit the sky with their lightning from as far in front as we could see to as far behind… a 100 mile long natural firework display that was stunning!
It’s a natural reaction to try to put someone’s flying anxiety to rest by assuring them that flying in an airliner is the safest form of travel. That rarely helps since a phobia isn’t based on logic. I would recommend staying away from alcohol and drugs since they can often lead to other problems. My advice is to practice calming techniques such as breathing exercises and to learn as much about the experience you’re about to undertake as you can so that when you hear a funny noise or see something a bit odd you already know what it is. If you have a severe problem then there are plenty of flying fear courses and they are often very successful and if you live in the UK I can recommend Flight Fear Solutions (click here)
There have been many. My first solo, earning my RAF wings, flying my F4 Phantom fighter in close formation with Soviet Bear bombers whilst policing the skies during the Cold War and commanding my first airliner but one of the most memorable would be my last landing at the famous Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong (photo below). The airport had a notorious approach that involved flying at roof top height round the Checker Board in centre of Kowloon. It was always a challenge.
I had a couple of heart stopping moments when flying in the RAF since we were doing a very demanding job often in difficult circumstances. In the civilian world of flying airliners, I can honestly say that nothing has ever been scary.
I have had various system and engine failures but an airliner has so many backups that serious problems are incredibly rare. The media will always make a big deal of even a minor problem which annoys me very much because they will try to make things appear dangerous to sell their output. In reality, major problems are very rare and accidents even more unlikely.
I suppose my worse day was landing in Shanghai during a typhoon but we got the aircraft down safely. The worse bit was trying to get everyone off the aircraft since it was being blown around so much we couldn’t get steps up against the side safely. Eventually they found us a spot at the terminal where we were sheltered and we got our long-suffering passengers off okay!
All my civilian flying has been long haul so depending on the length of the flight, we might have one or two extra pilots. During those long flights the extra pilots will take turns to sit at the controls and give us a break so we can sleep. Most long haul airliners have a special area to allow the crew to sleep in bunks for a few hours so that they are rested for the landing.
I used to love flying to Tokyo since Japan is such an unusual country and has some wonderful food but we stopped that route a while back. I love being in New York since it’s a city that is exciting and there is always something going on. My favourite is Hong Kong… a wonderful mix of oriental and occidental where East meets West. Great sights, fabulous shopping, warm weather and brilliant night life.
A few myths that need busting for sure.
Yes we do fly the aircraft ourselves and always when the conditions are difficult. No, computers don’t fly the aircraft for us. Many modern airliners have them to help navigate, move the flight controls, monitor the systems and even flush the toilets! We may not hand fly the aircraft all the time but that has been the case since the 1950’s when autopilots became commonplace.
It is often a very demanding job and we have to prove our skills during simulator checks every 6 or 9 months plus passing regular technical exams. As a pilot you are always having to learn new skills and failing a test or a medical can easily bring a career to a grinding halt.
In the cabin, our crew work hard to make your flight comfortable and pleasant but they are not there to clean up after your badly behaved children, break up fights between drunken passengers or be shouted at! They are the people who will try to save your life if you have a heart attack. Cabin Crew will guide you out of a burning aircraft or ensure you have oxygen when you need it. Finally, Cabin Crew deserve your respect and thanks, not your abuse.
One of the reasons that air travel is so safe is that we work to incredibly high safely standards. Help us to make your flight even more safe by paying attention to the safety video, noting where your emergency exits are, reading the safety card and listening carefully to the crew’s instructions. In the incredibly rare likelihood of you being asked to evacuate the aircraft in an emergency, leave your bags and belongings behind. If you delay, you might be putting someone else’s life at risk.
But most of all, enjoy and wonder at the marvellous thing you are accomplishing. When you fly in an airliner you will be cruising along several miles above the earth doing hundreds of miles an hour. Outside the air will be thinner than on Everest and colder than the Arctic but you can kick off your shoes and enjoy a glass of wine. It’s really not a commonplace achievement and you should take a moment to enjoy the sensation of doing something that was unheard of before 1912.
You asked me what I intend to do now I’m retired. I am a photographer; Podcaster and I lecture about aviation so that will keep me busy. There is also a lovely gliding centre nearby so, after a gap of 46 years, I might go back that!
You should all listen to the Airline Pilot Guy show podcast to find out more about the how’s, why’s and when’s of airliner flying from the experts. Find us at www.AirlinePilotGuy.com or on any podcast app.
Thanks so much Nick for answering all the questions and sharing your story!
I hope you enjoyed this collaboration. Nick has an incredible story and I wanted to share with you all!
Please let me know what you thought of this post! I’d love to hear your feedback.
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