February 24, 2020
How did a 15-year-old aircraft enthusiast arrange to meet up with one of our senior training captains and get invited on a tour of our operation, including an hour on a top of the range flight simulator? It’s all down to social media and happened when Kenzie Waddell’s skills as a photographer caught the eye of our very own Captain Instagram. We caught up with them both and asked about their time together.
What’s your role at the airline?
I’m an Airbus training captain flying both the A330 and A350 aircraft, training and checking all of our Airbus pilots.
You describe your job as the best job in the world. Why?
Actually my hashtag now is #bestjobintheworldjustgotbetter. My parents always told me that if you can find something you love doing and someone will pay you to do it, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’ve been flying since I was 18 and paid for it since I was 19. I fly because I love it, and now, with the introduction of the A350 and being part of the entry into service team, this job just got better.
What’s so special about this aircraft?
I’ve been flying Airbus aircraft since 1989, starting on the A320, then the A340 and A330. I’ve amassed over 20,000 hours flying these aircraft. The A350 is the certainly the ultimate Airbus. Airbus have 50 years’ experience designing and building world-class airliners, competing against the older, established Boeing. They’ve stuck to their Airbus family concept of designing a flight deck that is familiar to all Airbus pilots from the A220 to the A380. The operating philosophy and procedures are the same, but with the A350 they listened to pilots, engineers and airline management and perfected so many things, it would take a whole extra blog post to list them .
Tell us about the recent Glasgow training flights?
At the end of August last year, after we took delivery of our first Airbus A350-1000, I was part of a team of 12 A350 training captains who took the aircraft to Glasgow and spent 6 days getting to know it. We familiarised ourselves by practicing procedures and approaches and then training other new (lucky) pilots onto this amazing airliner.
How did Kenzie first come to your attention?
My daughter had recently set up an Instagram account for me @captainchris, and while at Glasgow I noticed some local plane spotters were posting beautiful photos of G-VLUX. I contacted a few of them and gave them details of our training sorties to assist with their photos. Kenzie was one of these spotters.
What is the relationship between pilots and plane spotters, and how did you manage to wangle Kenzie a coveted slot in the simulator?
We love plane spotters and regularly see them dotted around the airports of the world. They all share a similar passion for aviation and in some areas are more knowledgeable than me. Pilots are natural born show offs, so who wouldn’t like a world of paparazzi fans?
With Kenzie, I contacted our social media team highlighting the quality of his photos, and suggested I could offer him a flight with me in our Virgin Atlantic A350 simulator.
Describe the simulator? What is it used for?
The simulator is an essential training tool that allows us to simulate scenarios that are impossible to practice in a real aircraft; engine failures and fires at critical phases of flight, for example. Pilots are shown many complicated scenarios, and work through complex procedures to enable them to handle any real life situation.
You can read more about our simulators here.
How did Kenzie do?
Kenzie’s of a computer game generation and is a Flight Simulator (video game) expert. He flew the A350 like he’s been flying for years, which in many ways he has. We did a few take offs and landings advancing to an engine failure take-off and an instrument landing approach into New York JFK at night in a blizzard. He was simply excellent and showed plenty of aptitude.
What advice did you give Kenzie at the end of his flight?
Set goals, and stick to them. Hopefully one day before I retire I’ll get to train Kenzie as a Virgin Atlantic pilot.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m Mackenzie Waddell, a 15 year old boy from Glasgow, Scotland. I go to a local school in Erskine and in the free time I have between schoolwork, I fly a Piper Tomahawk around the area. I’m also at the gym very frequently. I aspire to be a commercial pilot in the future, and maybe even in the position of Chris Pohl himself.
Where are you currently on your journey?
Currently, I’m on the circuit phase of my PPL (private pilot’s licence) training. I’ve completed stalls, turns, climbs and descents and for circuits I’m flying down to Prestwick Airport, performing 3–4 circuits per flight.
How did it feel to see your photos on our account and then get the invite to fly the sim?
When Chris and the Virgin Atlantic account shared my photos I felt honoured that one of my favourite airlines and one of the coolest captains I know had taken notice, and liked them enough to repost a couple of my images for themselves!
When I got the email from Chris, and Sarah and Vicky in the Virgin Atlantic social media team, I gave the phone to my dad because I couldn’t get over the excitement from reading the title. I thought it wasn’t actually happening but it gradually sunk in over the next six weeks.
Tell us about the sim
The sim was truly incredible. I had never had the experience of sitting in a 300+ tonne aircraft before, never mind handling one! From Chris’s extreme knowledge about the aircraft, I learned many things I never knew about aircraft in general and the A350 in particular, such as the landing gear having to be lowered no later than seven miles until touchdown. The sim was even better than they said! It gave me a true insight into the pilot world.
What else did you get up to at Heathrow?
My dad and I got special passes to be allowed airside on the apron, along with Vicky from the social media team and one of the engineers, Ian Arnell. We drove around and got to see every terminal from a totally different perspective to what I’m used to seeing from behind the fence! After a tour of the airport we arrived at G-VPRD, the aircraft that was at GLA in October, which is the one I have the best memories of. Seeing the inside of the aircraft in the flesh was amazing. After flying in the simulator the day before, getting to sit in the actual flight deck of the aircraft was incredible! After that we headed back to the maintenance hangar where we first got to watch a 787 do an engine run and then we got to go onboard. I had never been on an A350 or 787, and it was such an awesome thing to experience two aircraft from two competing companies.
What will you take away from your time with us?
From the two days I spent with Virgin Atlantic I learned that the airline really feels like one giant family and that teamwork is really important. Everyone is extremely polite and friendly, they welcomed me and made me feel totally at ease, even though I was much younger than anyone else there. I also learned just how inspiring Chris Pohl is. From seeing him from the other side of the airport fence to meeting him in the flesh, he never failed to impress with his incredible skill and endless knowledge – his passion for flying is contagious! The whole experience has given me a real boost of confidence for when I can apply for roles at airlines in the future.
We now have four Airbus A350-1000 aircraft flying on our New York routes. With four more joining our fleet this year there will be more opportunities than ever to fly the latest and greatest airliner in the sky. Book your flights on our website