Meet a Pilot: Philip Lunn, Aviator and Artist

By: andrewbowman

August 17, 2010

Having previously featured a couple of members of our immediate vtravelled community, we thought we’d widen the net and introduce someone at the very heart of the Virgin Atlantic experience.

As a long-haul pilot with VA, Philip Lunn is responsible for getting us all where we want to go. Amazingly, aside of jetsetting around the globe, he also finds time for art.

Born in Peterborough in 1962, Philip has been many things including a cook, aircraft engineer, smallholder, hang-glider manufacturer and flying instructor, before settling into his current career. A lifelong need to express creativity manifested itself again some 14 years ago. This led, through life classes, an AVCE in painting and drawing and a BA (Hons.) to his present studies for a Masters Degree in Fine Art.

We wanted to find out what made this inspirational aviator artist tick and what the links were between his two careers”¦


Pilot Philip Lunn on his travels

Philip Lunn on his travels


Philip, what made you decide to become a pilot and how long have you been flying with us?

My Father is, and always was, an aviation ‘nut’ and I guess I inherited the ‘bug’ from him. Once I joined the ATC (Air Training Corps) as a young boy, and through them experienced both powered flying and gliding, I never seriously considered any other career. I joined Virgin Atlantic in 1999.

Tell us something about your training and early flying days, and what did it feel like the very first time you piloted a Virgin Atlantic jet?

I was lucky enough to win a flying scholarship as a teenager which started my flying career. I then scrimped and saved until I gained a private pilot’s licence. I also flew gliders, hang gliders and Microlight aircraft before becoming a flying instructor. I then studied for and gained an Airline Transport Pilots Licence, worked as a night-freight pilot before getting the “˜plum’ job with Virgin.  Training on any “˜big jet’ entails lots of simulator flying first, but at the end of that came the day that I, along with several new colleagues, went up to Prestwick airport in Scotland to fly “˜circuits and bumps’ in a 250 tonne Airbus A340, an exhilarating and memorable day out!

What’s your favourite VA destination and why?

This is probably the hardest question I get asked as I am really lucky in that I don’t dislike any of Virgin’s destinations, they all have something to appeal: Hong Kong for its drama and seething metropolis, Los Angeles for freeway driving to the beach with the radio on and the sun shining; Tokyo for the best sushi and chilli noodle soup in the world; India for its incredible sights and smells – just visit the spice market in Delhi; Cape Town for its fabulous setting, people and seafood.


Chadni Chowk spice market, Delhi by Christian Haugen on Flickr

Chadni Chowk spice market, Delhi by Christian Haugen on Flickr


If you really forced me to pick one though it would probably be New York. There is nothing quite like wandering endlessly around Manhattan’s blocks with someone or something to catch the eye on every street and every corner.

What would you recommend to a first-time visitor as an absolute must-see or must-do for New York?

Bring good walking shoes and then set off early (you’ll be up early anyway with the jet-lag) walk through Central Park, head South West and grab the best American Breakfast you’ll eat in any one of the hundreds of diners that you like the look of. Pop up the Empire State Building for some really fresh air! Then hop on a boat trip around the entire Island of Manhattan. Late afternoon relax with a cocktail in the revolving restaurant atop the Times Square Marriot. Freshen up and then take a yellow cab (not to be missed!) down to Greenwich Village for an Italian dinner in any of the wonderfully bohemian pavement restaurants. You’ll probably be too tired for a show but check out the Broadway returns just in case”¦

Where would you love to see VA flying to in the future?

I’d really like Virgin to get into South America, the people, scenery and culture all look dramatic and passionate, who wouldn’t want to jet off to Rio for a couple of days?


Philip at his "day job"

Philip at his “day job”


Is it as glamorous a job as everyone thinks it is?

Another frequently asked question! Ask me as I stand in yet another airport queue and I’d probably say no. Ask me again as we pull the stick back on take-off into a beautiful sunset, heading for a couple of days on Safari near Johannesburg and I think you could guess my reply!

Unusually for a pilot (probably!) you’re currently doing a Masters degree in Fine Art. Where does your passion for art come from?

I always had an artistic streak and nearly went to art school after my secondary education but flying took priority. Once I started visiting all these fabulous destinations I had amazing opportunities to see different places, people and cultures, all incredibly stimulating – the artist in me just couldn’t ignore that.

As part of your degree you’re putting together a rather unusual interactive project. Can you tell us something about the concept and what inspired it?

My studies at present are concerned with concepts such as; Time, Jet-Lag, Globalisation, Social networking, memory and communications technology.  In some ways I consider myself a modern day “˜Grand Tourist’ and wanted to examine just how our present day experience varies from the original travellers. Some of the most striking differences are the ways in which we humans interact on a social level in the digital age.

Of particular interest in this context are social changes brought about by instant messaging, emailing and texting, many commentators see these forms of communication as paradoxically reducing our human ability to interact on a face-to-face level. While we all “˜talk’ to lots of people through social networking and email, we are becoming less able to hold ordinary, face-to-face conversations.


'twenty four hours' installation by Philip Lunn

‘twenty four hours’ installation by Philip Lunn


For the work “˜twenty four hours’ I have a gallery space with 23 computer screens mounted on a huge wall, each one will be connected via video conferencing software to a volunteer. Each volunteer will be in a different time zone around the world and will come and go ‘online’ during the exhibition whenever they want to in response to their own needs and their own local clocks. Overall this might result in a kind of ‘shifting horizon’ of live screens across the installation during the event with some screens blank and some live.

Any visitor to the gallery will be able to pick up the telephone next to the screen and talk directly to any of the worldwide volunteers; will they have anything to say?

You’re looking for volunteers to get involved – what will they have to do?

Any volunteer would only need to go online during the exhibition for as much or as little time as they are able or want to. They would be able to see the viewer in the gallery and interact with them if the viewer picks up the telephone. I will not tell anybody what to say, the volunteer and the viewer can have a conversation like they might if they had just met face-to-face.

What are your plans for the future?

Flying Long-haul is an amazing job which provides me with some unique experiences from which to make art, I very much intend to keep doing both. My immediate aim following my Masters study is to establish a studio and gallery from which to make and show my work.



‘twenty four hours’ by Philip Lunn


If you’re interested in volunteering to take part in Philip’s ongoing work, please let us know, or contact him via his website:

If Philip’s own travels to Virgin Atlantic destinations have inspired you, you can book flights to any of them here.

Thanks to Flickr photographer Christian Haugen for the Delhi image. All other photos courtesy of Philip Lunn.

Want to know more? Please fire away with questions or comments in the box below. Thanks! And remember to check-in again for more profiles of our jet-setting pilots and crew.

Categories: Our People