Ask Captain Richard (callsign 'Dad')
Hi fellow aviation enthusiasts. I am Captain Richard. I first learnt to fly as a military helicopter pilot before transferring to flying fixed-wing aircraft. I have now been flying as a commercial pilot for nearly twenty years flying to airports and cities all over the world.
Our daughter, Talitha, came up with a list of questions for me. Here are my answers. If you have any other questions, please send them through, I'd love to hear from you.
How long did it take you to get your commercial pilots licence?
We exercise the privilege of flying commercial aircraft by having an Airline Transport Passenger Licence. I first of all trained as a helicopter pilot in the military then spent another two years studying for my professional licence. Things have changed for the better and it now takes around 18 months to two years to get an ATPL and start flying for a living.
Is it like getting a driving licence, once you have it, that’s it?
I wish that I could say ‘yes’ but the reality is that as pilots we are have our flying skills tested every six months in the simulator. We practice flying approaches, automatic landings and engine failures amongst other things to make sure that we can carry out our day-to-day job safely.
How do you cope with the different time zones?
As a long-haul pilot it can be really tough flying to a different city where the clock is different to the one on your kitchen wall by eight hours or even more. The change in time zone can mean that you want to sleep when it is daytime in the new city or you want to have lunch when it is the middle of the night wherever you are. I try to keep my sleep patterns as close possible to those at home. Sometimes this means that I am in the gym at 3am or eating my breakfast at 5pm!
Do you get to see anything of the cities you fly into?
Some short flights are what we call ‘turn-arounds,’ which means I fly into an airport, then fly back out again very shortly afterwards without ever having left the airport or the aircraft. Mostly though, I get ‘layovers’ between my flights which gives me time to get out and about in the destination.
What is your favourite destination?
That’s a really hard one. I don’t think I could choose. I have flown to so many fabulous cities, they all have their different charms and attractions. Best of all, they all have different types of food to try!
What do you like best about your job?
The breath-taking view from the cockpit window looking down at the ground and up at the night sky. When I get to my destination I really enjoy getting to see so many different sites and so experiencing many diverse cultures. Being able to indulge my other passion – photography – I’m so lucky to be able to wander through a different country each week taking photos.
What are your most memorable flying moments?
It was always a memorable flight flying from Los Angeles over the North Pole and under the Northern Lights. The light show on this route one particular night was spectacular – the benefit of being in the cockpit is that as we flew along we could look directly upwards at the northern lights and on that night it was like walking under brightly glowing and colourful bed sheets billowing in the wind.
What is your favourite type of flying?
Before flying big jets I spent a number of years as a helicopter pilot. I have to say that whilst flying a large airliner full of passengers to exotic destinations is fulfilling, it is no where near as much fun as flying a small helicopter low level and above the rolling countryside or along mountain valleys before then landing in remote location such as a forest clearings (or, on one occasion, the field next to my parents' house!).
Do you fly more than one type of aircraft?
Generally commercial pilots only fly one type of airplane at a time. Of course, you can learn to fly a new type of airplane either within your company or when you move to a new one. Some airlines allow their pilots to fly more than one aircraft type if they have a 'common type rating'. I currently fly both the Boeing 777 and the Boeing 787 as they have a common type rating. Often pilots stay flying planes from the same manufacturer as the design and operating philosophy will be familiar them.