I Get Paid For This

Paul Gibbs

Low-level manoeuvring around coastal inlets in challenging weather conditions while seeing dolphins and orcas: Paul Gibbs patrols the Scottish waters.

How did you get into flying? 

I’ve always wanted to be a pilot. Even at primary school I was single-minded. After Air Scouts, I joined the Air Training Corps and was awarded an RAF Flying Scholarship when I was 18. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t manage to join the RAF as a direct entry pilot, but was instead selected as a cadet pilot by Air Atlantique. 

Tell us about your job?

I’m an F406 maritime patrol captain for Marine Scotland. We operate from our base in Inverness, patrolling primarily Scottish waters and recording any suspected illegal activity. Patrols can occur at any time as there’s always a crew of captain, co-pilot and task specialist on standby. 

“Minima for low-level ops is 100ft on the radio altimeter”

My favourite patrol is a ‘West Coaster’, which involves lots of dynamic low-level manoeuvring, often in stunning weather. 

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 last 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 radio altimeter. We have strict minimum speeds to keep us safe when banking at low level, which are monitored by our operations team. You need to feel comfortable flying in marginal weather at very low level. Sometimes there’s a lot going on at once – identifying several dozen closely packed trawlers, remembering which ones have already been checked, whilst maintaining an agreed altitude limit or lateral position due to nearby oil rig helicopters, and still flying safely. That’s why the most important attribute for a Marine Patrol Captain is a high level of situational awareness.

What training did you have?

After several years flying light twins, the F406 and DC-6 with Air Atlantique, I transferred to Highland Airways and became a training captain. Later I joined Flybe and worked as a contract pilot on the Embraer in China. Although I had previous experience of fisheries protection and pollution monitoring flying, 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 – being taught by a guy who I had taught all those years ago!

What’s been your favourite flight?

Flying my little Tipsy Nipper from Inverness back to Gosport in 2018. I got to fly my own aeroplane, over my childhood home, past my schools, and land it at Lee-on-Solent, an airfield where I spent most of my teenage years. To top it off, it was exactly the 50th anniversary of my Nipper’s first flight.

And your favourite airfield?

Lee-on-Solent. I’m a Gosport boy born and bred, and have spent so much time at the old HMS Daedalus, flying model aircraft, gliding and powered flight. My first flight was in an Air Atlantique DC-3 at Daedalus Air Day. I’m pleased to see how Solent Airfield, as it’s now known, has evolved, and not been lost from GA.

Do you get to fly much outside of work?

I’m rarely on the ground. Living next to Inverness Airport, I can be airborne within 20 minutes of leaving home. Fortunately I have a very understanding wife, who doesn’t grumble when I pop out for some aerobatics in my Nipper! I also manage a Jet Provost operation and have flown more than 50 people, which is a true privilege. Recently, I acquired a Trago Mills SAH-1 prototype which holds a special place in British aviation history .

What’s your most valuable career advice?

Don’t believe you have to be someone special to achieve a flying career. Motivation and determination are key factors. I came from a humble council estate background, but grabbed whatever opportunities existed, such as scholarships and sponsorships.

Be cheerful and keep your enthusiasm, even when those around you are losing theirs.

Flying CV

Maritime patrol captain Paul Gibbs flies an F406 on patrols for  Marine Scotland.

Started current job March 2020
Now flying Reims F406 Caravan 11 (for work), Nipper 3A, Trago Mills SAH-1, Jet Provost 5A
Favourite aircraft Extra 230. ‘It’s the nicest handling aircraft I’ve ever flown. However, nothing comes close to the fun-to-pound ratio  and pure flying pleasure I get from my Tipsy Nipper.’
Hours at job start Approx. 13,500
Hours now Approx. 13,800
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