Learn to Fly

Other careers

Don’t think that being a pilot only means flying airliners! There are numerous great flying careers, such as, being an instructor, a maritime patrol pilot, or an RFDS pilot… Here are six stories from the pilots who know ALL about it…

RAF QFI/display pilot

When Seb Davey was 11, while on a BAC One-Eleven airliner to France, he went to see the flight deck – and stayed in the cockpit the entire flight. He decided then and there that he wanted to become a pilot, and once back in the UK joined the Air Cadets.

Seb says, “As well as being a Qualified Flight Instructor (QFI) on the Atlas A400M at RAF Brize Norton, I’m a BBMF display pilot at RAF Coningsby.

“Instructing brings variety. One day I teach theory in the classroom, the next I’m in the simulator flying with night goggles, in the circuit doing take-offs and landings, or on my way to Cyprus on a long-haul flight.”

Seb started as a Reserve in 1995. Later, in 1999 he joined the regular RAF and became a military pilot. In 2013 he was taken on by BBMF, which is where he started training on the Dakota. 

“My first operational airdrop in Afghanistan in 2006, the culmination of everything I’d trained for in my life. It was the heaviest ever airdrop from a British C130J.”

Seb’s career advice is, “You have to know what you want, and do your best to get there, including putting yourself forward.”

RFDS pilot

Cornelius Mitchley is the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s senior base pilot, covering Australia’s south-west region in a PC-12, providing 24/7 emergency retrievals and patient transfers. 

He says, “There are no scheduled flights. After a call out, we check weather, Notams and depart to the patient within an hour. 

“A typical day consists of many short flights, transferring eight to nine patients with, in total, between two and eight hours of stick time. 

“The PC-12 is essentially a flying intensive care unit. It’s like having a hospital ward in the back of the aircraft.” 

He added, “As an RFDS pilot, you have to be able to adapt, to situations such as inflight emergencies.”

Cornelius originally joined an airline on an ATPL cadetship in 2008, then moved to the RFDS in 2015.

“All company conversion training is conducted in aircraft and apart from flying the PC-12, you also learn about comms with crew and patients.” As for airfields, Cornelius loves ‘anything short and gravel’.

Career advice? Savour the moments in the air. As pilots, we get caught up in ‘work’ pressures. 

Production/training pilot

As a production and training pilot Monessa Balzhiser flies F-16 and F-35 fighters.

She says, “In high school I decided I wanted to become an astronaut. In 2000 I joined the USAF Academy, with a love of aviation, but zero flight experience. I decided to forego becoming an astronaut and continue to fly fighters.”

After graduating from USAF Academy in 2004, she went straight into pilot training, learning to fly on the T-6 and the T-38. 

‘In 2006, I started my F-16 training and in 2007, I got to fly the F-16 for the USAF. 

“In 2016, I left the USAF and was a stay-at-home mum – which was harder than any training I’ve ever done – before joining Lockheed Martin in 2018. I was first selected to fly the F-16 and in June 2021, after six weeks of training and 12 simulator scenarios, I got to fly the F-35,” adds Monessa.

“Flying these fighter jets is incredible. You’re hitting almost Mach 2.0, faster than the speed of sound.”

Monessa says her favourite flight was a combat mission she flew in the Middle East in 2015. 

“Our guys on the ground were overrun by enemy forces, so they called us in. Together with my wingman in another F-16, I dropped bombs nearby to provide time to escape.”

Maritime surveillance pilot

Paul Gibbs is a F406 maritime patrol captain for Marine Scotland, operating from Inverness, and recording any suspected illegal activity.

Paul says, “Scottish weather is notoriously changeable and challenging, which brings satisfaction after a successful flight. 

“Another exciting aspect of this work is encountering marine wildlife. We often see dolphins and orcas, and one winter we spotted humpback whales west of Shetland.

“The flying is simply awesome. It’s very dynamic. Our minima for low-level operations is 100ft on the altimeter.”

After several years flying the F406 and DC-6 with Air Atlantique, Paul transferred to Highland Airways and became a training captain. He says, “When joining Marine Scotland it’d been nearly 11 years since I’d last flown the F406, so I was required to do most of the type rating again.”

As a Gosport boy born and bred, Paul enjoyed flying his little Tipsy Nipper from Inverness back to Gosport several years ago – airborne over his childhood home, landing at Lee-on-Solent, an airfield where he spent many teenage years.

Paul has sage career advice, “Determination and motivation are key. I came from a humble council estate, but grabbed all opportunities I could.”


As Head of Training for RAF Sport Aircraft and an Air Experience Flight pilot, Matt Lane flies Air Cadets in the Grob Tutor. 

“For some, it’s the first time in an aircraft. Introducing these youngsters to aviation is a real honour.

“I’m also a civil flight instructor/examiner in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

“An instructor’s most important quality is empathy. You have to be able to put yourself in the mind of your student and see things through their eyes.  

“Flight examining lets me help other pilots to achieve their dreams and ambitions, which is a big privilege. ”

In 1998, Matt became an RAF engineering officer and staff pilot, and since 2016 has been flying the Grob Tutor. 

He is one of the few engineering officers who also has RAF Reserve pilot wings. 

“Alongside my RAF work and family life, I’ve gradually built up my civilian qualifications. I’m a big fan of the modular commercial training route as it allows you to add ratings when time and money allow.” 

And Matt offers this advice, “Make the most of the people you know. While aviation is a big industry, it is also small – everyone knows each other, making networking important. Pilots are always happy to help.”

Pipeline survey pilot

Variety is the spice of life for helicopter pilot James Geary, who combines flying pipeline surveys with instructing.

Says James, “Utility flying is hands-on and takes me all over the country. 

“Flying gas pipeline surveys are done at 500ft. Occasionally there’s a threat and we need to land immediately – for example if someone is digging right on the pipeline. Depending on the terrain, these immediate landings can be very challenging.”

On of the things James loves most about his job is the variety and the stunning scenery, particularly when he is flying in the Lake District, Wales or Scotland.

He adds, “Interpersonal skills are vital in this work. Although it’s a single-pilot operation, you need to operate as part of a team – the observer becomes your partner for the week.”

As an instructor with Helicentre at Leicester, James teaches PPL, CPL and type ratings in the R44 and the Cabri G2. “Combining the two is a nice mix.”

After obtaining his PPL(A), he became an Air Cadets instructor on the Vigilant motor glider which gave him a taste for instructing.

And James also loves the sea! He adds, “I sail in my spare time. It allows me to think of time in hours, rather than seconds.”

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