Pilot Profiles: Katie Simmonds

What was it that initially triggered your interest in Flying and Aviation?
Ever since I can remember I’ve loved going to airports and going on holiday-who doesn’t right! But the most exciting part of the holiday for me was always being at the airport and then getting on the plane and loving the flying experience! My mum started a new hobby when I was 12….Gliding. And it was then that I had my first wonderful experience of flight and learning to fly. From then on I was hooked. The feeling of freedom and the beauty of the English landscape from above took my breath away.

How did you decide that you wanted to become a Pilot?
I would say that it actually took me a few years to say out load that I wanted to become a pilot. I was quite shy as a teenager and it seemed to me that to become a commercial pilot was almost too ambitious and out of my reach and not what people expected me to do.

The turning point for me and the moment of absolute inspiration and certainty that I wanted to become a pilot came when I was lucky enough to sit on the flight deck of a Boeing 767 when I was 16 on a holiday. The flight deck enthralled me! With the huge expanse of switches and lights and the amazing view out of the window. I watched how the captain and first officer handled the aeroplane and every other little aspect of the job. The crew were very kind and answered all my questions and gave me advice on how to become a pilot. I realised that it wasn’t black magic! It was something that I COULD achieve if I put my everything into it. But most importantly from that day, I had a role model- one of the pilots was a lady and that’s when in could imagine myself sat there-in my dream job.

Once you decided you wanted to follow a career in Aviation, what were your initial steps into turning this ambition into reality? How would you advise somebody who aspires to do the same?

My path to becoming a pilot:

-Learnt to fly at my local gliding club-flew solo (by myself) when I was 16. (You can now do this when you are 14!)
-Joined the Air Cadets
-Organised my own work experience at Southampton airport and then an extra voluntary week at Boscome Down airfield.
-Started my PPL when I was 17
-Went to university to study Meteorolgy and Geology (My back up plan if I couldn’t be a pilot was to work for the met office in weather forecasting). Whilst at university I joined the University Air Squadron and flew the RAF elementary flying programme in the Grob Tutor, including solo flying, navigation, aerobatics and formation flying.
-Joined Virgin Atlantic as cabin crew. Gained so much valuable knowledge on life working in the airlines. I took plenty of opportunities to sit in the flight deck for take off and landing where I learnt a huge amount from the crew and the flying operation.
-Whilst at Virgin I completed my PPL then did my tailwheel conversion so that I could fly the tow aeroplanes at my gliding club. I’d always wanted to do this, but it also enabled me to build hours and experience for free.
-Applied and was awarded a sponsorship from The Air League to cover the cost of my night rating
-Left Virgin to start full time ATPL ground school at Oxford Aviation Academy. I then enrolled onto the Modular flying course and completed my flying training in Phoenix, Arizona and at Kidlington in Oxfordshire.

With a shiny new licence in my hand 18 months later I applied to every airline and operator in the UK for a job!

What general advice would you give to aspiring Pilots?
If you really want to become a pilot…. believe you can do it, have confidence and put everything you’ve got into getting there. It’s not easy but the rewards and feeling of satisfaction doing a job that you love are well worth the effort in the early years of your career.

Sunset walk round the aircraft in JFK.

How long has it taken you to get to where you are now?
From leaving Virgin Atlantic as cabin crew in May 2011, to getting back, took me just under 6 years. Once I completed my flying training I got my first job with Ryanair flying the 737-800 for 2 years. I then worked for Thomson also flying the 737, this time based at my home airport Gatwick for 2 years, before my dream news came in that I had a Jumbo jet job with Virgin starting March 2017.

Which aspect of your journey into Aviation did you find to be most enjoyable?
Definitely joining Virgin Atlantic when I was 22 to become long haul cabin crew and travel the world on amazing aeroplanes. This was a very exciting and enjoyable time for me. My confidence grew and I made some very special life long friends through the whole experience. Which is even more lovely now that I get to fly with my friends having made the transition to becoming a pilot.

Which aspect of your journey into Aviation did you find most challenging?
The most challenging by far was the pressure I felt and put on my self in the ground school and flying training at Oxford. I knew that to give myself the best opportunity in starting my career not only did I have to pass all the exams first time, but I wanted to do my very best! This meant that my social life was basically on hold for 18 months and the purse strings were extremely tight.

If you had your time again, would there be anything that you may have done differently? If so, why?
I am very happy with how everything has panned out for me. There really is no ‘set’ route to becoming a pilot. Everyone has a deifferent story to tell. I always describe mine as the ‘scenic route’ to getting where I want to be, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The life experience you gain through different jobs is very important in helping you become a well rounded individual. Also, I hope that I still have a long and fulfilling career ahead of me with plenty more ambition and targets to reach (even though I started my flying career a little later than most)

Why Virgin Atlantic?
I live and breath Virgin Atlantic. It’s in my soul! When I left in 2011 to embark on my flying training, that was probably the biggest risk I have ever taken. I was leaving a great company that I loved working for to go and take on the biggest challenge of my life, hoping that one day I would make it back…..

It is true that working for Virgin is like being in a big family, we are all passionate about our roles in a company and brand that we love. But most importantly it’s the people at Virgin that make a job here stand out from anywhere else.

Which aspect of your future role and career are you most excited about?
I am excited to be apart of Virgin’s future as the airline moves forward and learning to fly the new aircraft that we have. Although I will be sad (like a lot of people) to see the 747 retire. It certainly is an iconic aircraft for Virgin.

I really hope that one day I can pool together all of the knowledge and experience I have gained in the industry particularly from some of the fantastic pilots, cabin crew, engineers and ground staff that I have had the pleasure of working with over the years and become a captain for Virgin Atlantic.

Cabin Crew days

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