Cadet Diaries – meet our future pilots in training

By: Dave Gunner

November 8, 2016

Cadet landingOur Pilot Cadet Scheme – Future Flyers – attracts thousands of applicants. But who are the successful ones and what is their training like? We asked our first intake to tell us a bit about themselves and let us know how it was all going:

Pilot Cadet John Ford

Jon Ford

Before the Future Flyers Programme, I spent 8 years in the Royal Navy. Initially I was an Air Traffic Controller and then moved into a reconnaissance role, scouting landing sites for Sea King helicopters. The problem with both of these jobs was that I spent all of my time on the ground looking up at the aircraft I wanted to be flying. Airline Pilot has been my dream job since before I can remember and I had been looking for a way in to the industry throughout the year long notice period I had to complete with the Navy. A couple of months before I left, the Future Flyers Programme opened and after a lot of preparation – and maybe some luck – I got a place! Since joining the scheme I have had so many great experiences in a really wide range of situations but one that really stands out for me is the first supernumerary flight on a Virgin Atlantic aircraft. During these flights, we are able to shadow the pilots through the whole flight operation. From planning in the gatehouse at Heathrow to the crew hotel in Dubai and back again we are able to sit in the flight deck jumpseat all the way from takeoff to landing, watching the whole thing from the from the front row. Whilst it may sound like a small thing, since the first time I stepped onto an airliner all I wanted to do was see what goes on through the front window, marvel at the views and get my hands on the controls all the way to touchdown. I was not disappointed! The views were fantastic and watching the flight happen right in front of me was a fantastic experience. Seeing how close this is to becoming my job week in week out is both a great reward for the hard work so far and a superb motivator for the hard yards still to come. The trip also gave me a chance to start learning so many of the things that can’t be taught from a book. Talking to the Pilots, the Cabin Crew and all of the ground staff I was able to benefit from their combined experience to see what the whole operation is all about. I will always be grateful to Virgin Atlantic for giving me this chance and would encourage anyone with a similar dream to mine to apply for the Future Flyers Scheme – you could be having a similar experience next year!

Jon Ford, 32

Vicky Smith

Vicky Smith

The first time I realised I wanted to fly I was 9 years old. I was at an air show with my Dad watching the Red Arrows and I told him one day that would be me. Fast forward 20 years and after 10 years working on the other side of the door as cabin crew I’ve almost finished my training ready to fly something still red – just slightly bigger!

For me, the highlight of my training has to be the first time I flew the aircraft solo. The morning started with a pre solo check flight, I went flying with my instructor and we practiced some take off and landings before taxiing back on to our stand. He jumped out and left me to start setting up the aircraft. It was only when I looked outside and saw my instructor and course mates waving me off that it really started to sink in that I was now on my own. Air Traffic Control gave me clearance to takeoff and the nerves really started to hit. Looking down the runway I set the thrust levers to full power and off I went! Before I knew it I was airborne, I looked to my right (where my instructor would normally be sat) and there was no one there. After so long dreaming of this day I was finally doing it – I was flying! I flew my circuit and no more than 6 minutes later, I had completed my first solo landing. It was one of the scariest but most rewarding things I think I have ever done and 6 minutes that I will never forget! Now we are coming to the end of our training it is amazing to look back and see how far we have all come. I am really looking forward to starting on the line and meeting more of the Virgin Atlantic team. Finally, I can say I am living the dream!

Vicky Smith, 29

Rob Bissett

Rob Bissett

I was lucky enough to have spent a fantastic 8 years working for Virgin Atlantic before I got on to the Future Flyers Programme – mostly planning the Virgin Atlantic fleet and network but also a stint in the more operational areas. It’s been a great grounding in how the airline works and a valuable source of staff travel info for the other guys and girls! However I’d always wanted to be flying the planes rather than planning where they went so to get on to this scheme was really a dream come true.

The course so far has had so many highlights (flying solo around the desert, getting to do some aerobatics, jump seat trips on the flight deck and flying the full motion flight sims) so picking one is really hard however I’m going to go for an incredible road trip we managed around the West Coast of the US. Not only did we get to see some amazing sights (see the photos!), it was 2 weeks spent having an absolute blast with 5 other great guys and girls. It’s amazing how well you get to know people when you spend 8 hours sat in a car with them!! It’s a bit of a cliché, but you really will build some brilliant friendships throughout the course. If you’ve ever dreamt of being a pilot, this scheme can give you that chance and with one of the best airlines in the business.

Rob Bissett, 31

Tom Dalton

Tom Dalton


Having taken my first flying lesson at just ten years old (albeit not yet actually tall enough to see over the dashboard), it was an amazing experience that stuck with me for many years to come. Although I always wanted to be a pilot, I actually ended up studying Aerospace Engineering at Bristol University, completing one of those four years at a small aerospace college in Toulouse, France. Finishing university, I found myself working as a snowboard instructor in New Zealand, Japan and France totalling up 9 winter seasons on snow and fighting the urge for some summer heat. I was also taking flying lessons in my spare time and volunteering at a small scenic flight tour operator as a spare pair of hands on the hangar floor. When the Future Flyers Programme opened for the first time, I knew this was my chance to chase the job I had always dreamt of and, since then, the journey has been absolutely incredible. To say I’ve learnt a lot on the training programme so far would be rather an understatement, but it’s been more fun than I ever could have imagined and the six of us have had some brilliant times together. One of my most memorable moments to date has to be the solo land away flights during our flight training in Phoenix, Arizona. This involved flying over 200 miles across the Arizona desert in a small, single engine propeller aircraft (Diamond DA40), stopping off at another airport en route for a quick bite to eat. It was incredibly rewarding and a flight I will undoubtedly remember for the rest of my life. If you’ve ever dreamt of becoming a pilot then this amazing opportunity could soon see you joining us amongst the Virgin Atlantic family and learning to fly for one of the world’s most iconic airlines!

Tom Dalton, 27

Keeley Hines

Keeley Hines

Having completed an aviation degree that included obtaining a Private Pilots Licence, I became involved in airline operations for several UK based airlines, which included working at Virgin Atlantic for two and a half years. Having been interested in aviation from a young age, I applied for the Future Flyers Programme and was lucky enough to be accepted. I have thoroughly enjoyed the training and look forward to flying around the world for Virgin Atlantic in the new year.

After we returned from Phoenix, the next stage of training took us to Bournemouth for two weeks; the purpose of this phase was to educate us in Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT). UPRT is the ability to recognise when an aircraft is flying in an abnormal state such as pitch, roll or speed, and applying the correct techniques in order to recover the aircraft to a stable and safe flight path. Events where UPRT techniques are required are very few and far between, however it is vitally important that we are trained to recognise these situations.

We had three, one hour lessons for UPRT in a Slignsby T67 firefly, which is an ex RAF trainer, chosen for it controllability over a wide range of speeds and orientations. These lessons involved first being demonstrated an abnormal state followed by the appropriate recovery technique, we then attempted the exercise ourselves; it was an enjoyable and an immensely useful experience.

Keeley Hines, 28

Kieran Grimes

Kieran Grimes

Aviation has always been a lifelong passion of mine having a strong family background in the airline industry dating back to the days of Trans World Airlines. After catching the “aviation bug”, I have always dreamed of becoming a pilot. When I was in school/college I tried to involve myself in everything I could related to aviation including Air Cadets and work experience at airshows. When I was older I eventually joined Virgin Care in an administrative role and was lucky enough to join EasyJet as cabin crew for ten months based out of Gatwick. This was a great experience and allowed me to see the inner workings of an airline and made me appreciate the complexity of the operation. Over the course of our 18 months of pilot training I have been fortunate enough to have had some amazing experiences but would have to say that the full-motion Airbus simulator training has been a particular highlight of mine. Having always dreamed of flying an airliner, the chance to fly a realistic airbus simulator using airline procedures in all different types of weather and emergency conditions has been a challenging, but very fulfilling experience. There’s nothing that can top the feeling of being at the end of a runway and applying full power on a multi-million pound simulator and I can’t wait to fly the real thing in the next few months. Going through the process with the fantastic team at Virgin Atlantic has been the icing on the cake!

Kieran Grimes, 22

Many thanks to the cadets for taking time out from their training to write about their experiences. If you want to find out more about our pilot cadet scheme and how to apply visit our Future Flyers page here.


Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.

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