A day in the life of an L3 Airline Academy cadet pilot

by George Botley on Aug 10 2017
"Hopping in the aircraft, completing the start-up checks, run-ups, taxi and take off, there's nothing that I have experienced to date that comes remotely close to the feeling of flight. If all you've done to date is fly as an airline passenger, then you are almost certainly in for a treat!"

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP goes the sound of my alarm clock as you join me at the bright and early time of 05:00 on Monday 17th July 2017. Through this post I aim to provide you with an insight into the life of a trainee at L3 Airline Academy but before we begin allow me to quickly introduce myself. My name's George, I'm 23 years old, recently graduated the University of the West of England and joined the then CTC Aviation in August 2016 on Whitetail course CP149G.

At the time of writing I'm around midway through the New Zealand flying phase of training and have recently completed PT1, our first progress flight test. If you're keen to learn more about both my background and the training to date then you can read my bio or check out my personal blog, Pilot George.

Today's insight is a VFR navigation flight as part of the foundation phase of training. The route will take us around the skies of the truly stunning Coromandel Peninsula and the aircraft we've been assigned is a Garmin G1000 equipped Cessna 172, registration ZK-ZAQ. With a flight time of two and a half hours, an off blocks time of 08:00 and the training centre opening at 06:00, we need to be there bang on doors opening to ensure the required planning and pre-flight is completed prior to my sign-out at 07:20.

It's always rather eerie being one of the first at the training centre, especially when it's still pitch black outside and there's not another soul to be seen. Even when people do start to arrive the look on their faces says "I'm tired" as their bodies slowly wake to the day ahead – you've got to love the good old circadian rhythm - still, it's nothing a drink of coffee and a tasty breakfast bar can't fix. At L3 Airline Academy trainees can be scheduled to start at any point between the published times of sunrise and sunset, morning and evening civil twilight to be exact, so thankfully we're not always in at the crack of dawn. The exception to this rule is night flying, but in that case you'll usually have the daytime off. There's also maximum duty hours that have to be adhered so I guess you could say scheduling somewhat emulates the airline environment in that respect.

When it comes to planning a navigation flight there's various paperwork that needs to be completed/checked before we can go. We begin by marking our route on the charts and noting down the associated distances, altitudes etc. on our flight log. We then move on to check the weather ensuring it's above legal minima before using the forecasts to help calculate headings, ground speeds and times enroute. Mass & Balance and associated Performance calculations help us to ensure that once loaded our aircraft is able to take off and land at each intended airport inside both the manufacturers' weight restrictions and available runway length(s). The final bit of admin, prior to going outside in the rather fresh winters air to pre-flight, is to check the NOTAMS, short for Notices to Air Men, which are issued by various authorities and notify of threats and considerations in flight. Examples of these include military training areas and/or danger zones being active thus closing applicable airspace, as well as runway closures and the presence of cranes and glider activity to name but a few.

With all the planning out the way we call by the operations desk to collect the aircraft tech-log and check it contains the required legal documents. We also check that the aircraft has enough hours remaining to accommodate our flight prior to its next scheduled service and that if outstanding maintenance items exist; they've been signed as completed or deferred as per manufacturer recommendations. If neither, then the aircraft simply can't fly. Donning a high vis., we then head outside to commence the pre-flight walk around. We check fuel and oil levels (topping up as required), fire extinguishers, first-aid kit validity, control surface movement, the presence of visible icing, propeller conditioning and lighting among other things. In the case of today's flight everything is in good working order although we will require de-icing prior to departure thanks to a visit from Jack Frost overnight. On completion of the pre-flight we head back inside to talk everything through with our assigned sign out instructor. We discuss the route itself plus receive a few on what to look out for enroute. Everything was in order and we were given the green light. Let's go explore!

Hopping in the aircraft, completing the start-up checks, run-ups, taxi and take off, there's nothing that I have experienced to date that comes remotely close to the feeling of flight. If all you've done to date is fly as an airline passenger, then you are almost certainly in for a treat. Be you at the controls of the C172 or the Katana, the elation as you lift from the ground is indescribable. I also can't think of a better place to learn than in New Zealand with thanks to its' peaceful lakes, high rising terrain, snow covered peaks, expanse of forestlands and ever-stretching coastlines. Couple those with the reflection of the sun and you'll no doubt be awe-struck by the result - I certainly was. The photos in this post are only the start of what to expect and if one things for sure it's that the sights of this nation will remain with me well into my career. I mean... not even the photos do it justice, it truly is breath-taking. If I had to pick my favourite spots to fly around, which is a difficult decision by the way, then I'd narrow it down to Raglan in the glinting sunlight, the white cliffs of New Plymouth, the Coromandel Peninsula (as per this 'day in the life' flight) and last but certainly not least, the almighty and snowy Ruapehu volcano complete with frozen crater lake visible from circa. 10,000 ft. The latter being very close to filming of Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings.

The Coromandel Peninsula flight was thoroughly enjoyable and you could see for miles and miles (around 50km). Tracking high along the western side Auckland's skyline was as clear as day and the Eastern side was just as beautiful with its' golden sandy beaches and winding mountain roads. Unfortunately, I don't have photos from the air but the above shots taken during our road trip there a few or so before help to demonstrate the views.

Returning back to Hamilton bang on two and half hours it was time to refuel the aircraft, taxi to the stand and check in from the flight. ZK-ZAQ did me proud but it was only a matter of minutes before another trainee took the tech-log off my hands to fly off on their own adventure. The fleet sure does work hard, but then again... so do the maintenance team!

At the time of writing I now have 91 hours to my name gained over 60+ flights and I'm loving every minute. The learning curve can be quite steep at times, especially for someone of no prior flying experience, and with my course mates and I progressing onto the multi-engine Diamond DA42 Twinstar this week I've no doubt it will continue to steepen. Heck, that's all part of the experience though, eh! If one thing's for sure though I'll certainly miss buzzing around the skies of New Zealand on my return to UK.

*Photography courtesy of George Botley.