Zoe Franklin – pilot and author

By: Dave Gunner

November 30, 2020

Zoe Franklin, one of our Airbus A350 pilots, has just published her first children's book. As you might expect, it features aviation, but also has a powerful message to children about achieving their dreams. We caught up with Zoe to ask her about her life as a pilot and how the book came about.

What’s your story? How did you get into aviation?

My inspiration to become a pilot came from my Dad, who was a pilot in the Royal Air Force before becoming a long haul pilot for a large airline. Although he left the RAF when I was only 6, I was already interested in aviation at this point, and before the end of Primary School I was firmly set on the idea of becoming a pilot when I grew up. I had my first flying lesson the age of 12 and from that point on I was hooked. I joined the Air Training Corps and then the Combined Cadet Force in the RAF section at school and once I was at university I joined the Manchester And Salford University Air Squadron where I went solo for the very first time.  A couple of months after graduating from university I was on an aeroplane to New Zealand to commence flying training with CTC.  After 18 months of intensive training and study for my ATPL exams I graduated from CTC and started flying for Monarch Airlines on the B757 before retraining on the A320 series. I flew for Monarch Airlines for 5 years before landing my dream job of flying for Virgin Atlantic on the A340, I had an incredible time flying the only 4 engined aeroplane I am ever likely to fly and then the arrival of the A330 meant that I was able to fly both aircraft types. I was lucky enough in summer 2019 to be offered a place on an A350 course in Toulouse to train to fly the latest in Airbus technology and I am so grateful to have been offered this opportunity and thankful to have been able to accept.  The A350 is a beautiful aeroplane in every way, outside and inside the cabin and flight deck and a real pleasure to fly.

Author and pilot. That’s got quite a ring to it. How did it come about?

My dream since being a young child has always been to become a pilot, this is always what I was going to do and this is what I have always focused on achieving. However, as well as this plan, ever since a local author visited my class whilst I was at Primary School a seed was planted that one day I could write and publish my own book. I have a fairly vivid imagination and I have come up with a number of potential stories over the years but it wasn’t until I was on maternity leave raising my son, Sebastian, that I took the time to sit down and start getting ideas down.  When Sebastian was taking his afternoon naps I would sit down at the computer and write, I finished the story around the time I returned to work in 2017 but it wasn’t until early 2020 that I decided to get my book published.  I worked with my publishers, Austin Macauley Publishers, and with my illustrator, Neil Smithers, to bring the book from an idea to reality.

What made you come up with the idea for the book?

The book takes us on a journey with Ada and Emily as they decide to become engineers and pilots, build their own aeroplane and fly it on adventures. This is something that I always day dreamed about as a child, having my own aeroplane in the shed to just take out and fly wherever I chose, being able to go off and explore other destinations, cities, countries, to me it is just a really exciting concept. I also got some inspiration for this story from my Dad, he has always built Radio Controlled aeroplanes in the garden shed so the shed in the book is based on his shed and he actually makes an appearance in the book as Uncle Alistair with wings and a propeller based on items from a model of his.

What effect are you hoping the book will have on its young readers?

Primarily I hope that the story and the adventures that Ada and Emily go on are enjoyed.  I would be absolutely delighted though if young readers were influenced by this story to follow their own dreams doing whatever they want, to own their dream and make it happen.  Ada and Emily engineer and fly their own aeroplane and it would be amazing if this idea resonated with the readers and started a dream within them to become engineers and pilots in the future. I was so fortunate growing up that I never even considered that being a girl would stop me from being a pilot and I want young readers to have the same mindset, it doesn’t matter who you are, if you have the dream to become a pilot and you focus and chase that dream you can make it happen.

Can you describe a typical day as one of our pilots?

There’s not really such a thing as a ‘typical day’ in aviation, every day at work there are so many variables that are different every time, from different colleagues onboard in the flight deck and the cabin, different weather at departure airfield, destination or en route, different technical elements to consider and different departure and arrivals. This is part of what makes my job so enjoyable, the fact that no two sectors are ever the same.  The working day starts by meeting the other pilot(s) and receiving the paperwork, including the flight plans with our route, flight time, altitudes, and fuel requirements amongst other things, the weather details and any notices to air crew that might be relevant to us on that day. Then we go and meet the cabin crew and pass on any information to them that they require and receive information from them that might be relevant for the flight. After this we walk to the aeroplane and being the process of setting the aircraft up for the flight, checking various systems, walking around the outside of the aeroplane to ensure that everything is safe for us to fly and then finally, once all passengers are onboard, we’re ready to shut the aircraft doors and request push back and start from Air Traffic Control. Once the engines have started and the ground crew are safely away form the aeroplane we’re ready to taxi out to the runway, carrying out several check along the way including checking our flight controls and ensuring that everything is set up correctly for the departure. Once we’re ready and Air Traffic have cleared us to lineup on the runway and take off we taxi onto thruway and stand our thrust levers up to give us the required amount of thrust for the conditions of the day (which we calculated during the aircraft set up) and begin accelerating down the runway until we reach the speed at which the aeroplane is ready to fly. Pulling back slightly on the side stick allows us to become airborne and start our flight.  The beginning portions of the climb out are very busy with a lot of instructions coming from Air Traffic Control in terms of headings and altitude changes on our way up to out final cruising level but once we’ve reached our initial cruising flight level things calm down a bit. We carry out checks of the systems and gather any weather updates we require. On departure from London Heathrow on our way across the Atlantic to the USA we also need to request clearance to cross what is known as the ‘oceanic’ portion of the flight where there is no normal radio coverage and we have to rely on the High Frequency radio as well as the modern datalink systems that we have which allow Air Traffic Control to keep track of the progress of each aeroplane and also communicate via a form of text message. During the cruise portion of the flight our primary role is to monitor the systems, navigation and fuel flow and also constantly generate plans in the event that a diversion is required. As we get closer to the destination we will update the weather at the destination airfield as well as the airfields the vicinity of our planned destination.  Again, this is just to ensure that we always have several back up plans in the event that, for whatever reason, we are unable to land at our chosen airfield. Prior to the descent we carry out a thorough brief regarding the arrival and our contingency plans,  speak to the passengers with an update ad the begin our descent. This portion of the flight becomes very busy again, especially as we descend lower and there are more aeroplanes making their way to the same airport. Air Traffic and our navigation systems help to guide us to the runway, after landing we make our way to the gate where we taxi on slowly, shut down the engines and give permission for the airbridge to be attached and passengers to disembark.  After that we just have a few bits of paperwork to fill in and we shut down the aeroplane and disembark ourselves and make our way with the rest of the crew through the airport and, if we are down route, to the bus that takes us all to our hotel for the night.

What’s the best part of your job?

This is a really difficult question to answer.  I became a pilot because I love flying, I love getting the aircraft set up and getting the aeroplane into the skies.  I really enjoy the job of flying the aeroplane and everything that goes with this.  I also love getting to work with so many amazing and interesting people and hearing about their journeys in life, the pilots and cabin crew at Virgin Atlantic are truly fabulous individuals so getting to work with them is another highlight for me.  Flying for a long haul airline also means that I get to spend some time down route once we arrive at our destination. This is another great part of my job, getting to visit New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Barbados all within one month really is fantastic. I love to explore and get to know the cities we fly to and check out all of the tourist spots as well as go off the beaten track and get to know the cities I visit frequently. Whether I’m Shark Cage diving in Cape Town, on a horseback safari near Johannesburg, visiting a hidden bar in Atlanta or running through Central Park, I just feel truly lucky to be able to do a job I love so much.

What do you get up to out of work?

I really enjoy staying fit when I’m not at work.  I run a lot, I tend to run one or two half marathons each year and I ran the Brighton Marathon a few years ago. I love that I can run when I’m down route too, it’s such a great way to get to know the destinations. I also enjoy boxing and I work out with my local kettlebells group, which is always a lot of fun. The rest of the time is spent with my 4 year old son, we’re often exploring the local woods or pretending to be zoo keepers at home.

Tell us about a great little place you’ve discovered on your travels

Last year I was lucky enough to be rostered a 5 night trip to Havana, I had never been to Cuba prior to this trip and I was determined to be able to explore as much as possible whilst I was there. The contrast between the different areas of the city was incredible and I found the city fascinating.  One evening I went out for dinner with several members of my flight and cabin crew and we found a gorgeous rooftop restaurant called Lamparilla.  In front of the entrance were many brightly coloured umbrellas hanging from wires across the street and just after we’d been served out main course there was a power cut across the whole of the area that we were in. Everything went dark but the amazing restaurant staff kept everything flowing with their backup systems and we ate magnificent food by candle light.

Dave Gunner

Dave Gunner

I love telling the story of our people, our planes, our places and our planet through Ruby Blog.

Categories: Our Experience