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Pilot’s blog: My Route to the Sky

First of all, let me introduce myself.

I am Viktor, and I am from Russia. Currently I am looking for a pilot job. I have a FAA CPL with IR and ME ratings and 280 flight hours. I finished the first step, and I totally understand that it is only the beginning of a long path. If you know somebody who is interested in a low hour pilot, regardless of terms and payment size, please let me know, I will greatly appreciate it.

In my blog I am describing how I answered the very popular question “how to be a pilot” for myself, and will describe my next steps like getting my first pilot job and my career progress. Sometimes I post my thoughts and doubts here.

I was always looking at the sky with interest and curiosity since I was a small kid. The sky is attractive, marvelous for me. There is an infinity and freedom…

The main idea of this blog is a description of my pilot’s route “from zero to hero”. I was 30 when I had decided to completely change my career, and I still keep going.

Initially I started my blog in Russian, and since that time I made a bunch of long posts. I am working on translation, but since I don’t have very much time, I finished only about 50% of the whole content, and it still contains some typos and mistakes. If you want to read more, you may click on “Russian” link at the right side and use google translate for now, or just wait some time: I promise, I will translate all my posts manually as soon as I can.

The second point is that English is not my first language (probably you already noticed that), that’s why I highly appreciate if you state my mistakes in the comments. I will correct my posts to make them better. Nevertheless, my English is a little better than Google’s one, at least until Rise of the Machines πŸ™‚

My first discovery about flying was made rather late, and at first it seemed simple: everybody can fly. Literally everybody, without exceptions, and all you need is just desire. For me it was a hang glider: it turned out that there is a great community in Moscow, and it is open to everybody. One does not need a huge amount of money, one should not start from the very early ages. I heard a lot of myths and stories around that community, and they prevented me to look closer, but they were just myths. Once more I realized the simple thing: I just have to start, and I just have to move on. Don’t give up. So, it seems that it was just the right moment, and I finally made a DECISION. I want to fly!

So, anything else was a matter of time and persistence. I did not have problems with motivation, but time… Yes, I live in Moscow, and lifestyle is very fast here. You never have enough time. Therefore, I could not expedite my progress. Then I changed my job, got married, changed some other aspects of my life, and was not being able to find enough time for flying. But the idea was always alive.

After some time I started working remotely, and turned towards my passion again. Finally I made my first solo flight in dynamic flow, and landed at the place where I took off. You can find it here: Viktor hanggliding in Crimea, it’s better to watch it from about 1:50.

Time was passing, and at some moment I got enough courage to start my airplane pilot route. I think that now it is the greatest adventure in my whole life. I was searching tons of information about flight schools, I was reading a lot of forums. Actually I made a huge research. Possibly even more than needed. And finally I decided that it is time to start. No doubt, no fear. Just do it. Just move on.

I started reading books and listening liveatc. I was still sitting in Moscow and waiting for the better moment to go somewhere and start flying. Some more months passed. And I realized again: I can wait the rest of my life. The best moment is NOW. I should just do it.

In fact, I did not know how it would be, and where it could go; and I did not have a really detailed plan. But I definitely knew that I want to move on. To be honest, even now I still do not have a detailed plan further than some months: I am looking for opportunities.

I started in Czech Republic, then moved to the US for training. That decision will be explained in my further posts. I am still working, that’s why I cannot study full-time, and the progress is slower that it would be, but I definitely know that I will keep going.

At the Controls Again

It’s been quite a long time I did not fly: my previous flight was in Warsaw in October. I was studying ATPL subjects since then and did not practise at all.

Today I made a flight to renew my SEP (Single Engine Piston) VFR rating. We used Cessna 152, and I remembered the feeling of acceleration with 2 people on board on a grass runway – it seemed way too slow.

The weather was not perfect, but nothing critical, so we performed all required maneuvers. It’s so good to feel the flight controls again!

The bird
The weather does not look so good

ATPL Theory is done

Finally the EASA ATPL theoretical course is done and I got a certificate of completion. I can take exams in the CAA with this document.

The course was really tough. 4 months is definitely not enough without any prior knowledge, but even with some preparation it’s challenging. I took tests every day except Mondays, and I was studying about 7-8 hours per day. It was a nightmare.

From the other hand, I completed everything in less than 5 months: 4 months of online studies and 2 weeks in class. But, again, I already had some prior knowledge.

I was making some notes (actually I am still doing that), sort of condensed knowledge for each subject. Basically it’s some numbers and facts for a quick checkup before the exams. I have no more than 3-4 A4 pages for each subject, so it’s not a big deal to go through them in some minutes. I am adding some info to this website too, but I don’t have enough time for that.

ATPL Theory

It’s been a while I did not make an update, but I am still on the way to my first pilot job.

From January 2019 I am studying EASA ATPL theory subjects in a Polish flight school. Actually the online part is already finished (in April 2019), and it was very tough: you really need to study for about 7-8 hours per day to make it happen. I still did not quit my main job, so it was even worse for me. I was sleeping for about 6 hours per day on weekdays.

I had a test every day except Monday and an exam every 2 days. They are very similar, but the exam covers more topics than a test. They are all multiple choice questions.

I had a sort of day-off on Monday (the only day in a week without tests), but actually I used it to study.

Each test contains 30 questions, and the time limit is 50 minutes. It’s barely enough for General Navigation and Performance, but for other subjects it’s OK. Sometimes I needed only about 10 minutes (for example, most of Air Law questions require only knowledge).

Sometimes I submitted my result literally within the last minute (fortunately only a few times). Bu finally I made it! I made it all, and I succeeded! I can’t believe it!

Now the offline part is going on. That part lasts 2 weeks (70 hours). Every day I have offline classes in Poland.

EASA theory exams can be taken in any EASA member state. With some preparations it’s true for practical exams as well. I have 2 obvious options: Poland and Czech Republic. I prefer Czech Republic – there is less bureaucracy there, and it’s just better to fly. There are much more schools and instructors, more aerodromes, more English-speaking ATS, more aircrafts available. Czech aeronautical online services are also much better than Polish ones.

What’s next? I am going to obtain the EASA IR and CPL. And now I need to obtain a medical, renew my SEP (Single Engine Piston) rating and pass theoretical ATPL exams. Then probably MCC (Multi-Crew Cooperation) and JOC (Jet Orientation Course) – they are required for airlines. If I have some free time and money, it would be fun to get an EASA SES (Single Engine Sea).

As a result I will have standalone FAA and EASA commercial licenses. Hopefully it increase my value as a potential candidate.

And what’s now? I am going to fly, of course! It’s the greatest part of all this stuff!

ATPL – Operational Procedures

As I already mentioned, I enrolled into the online EASA ATPL theory course from a Polish flight school (Ventum Air). The course duration is 4 months, and the schedule is very tough since I have to learn 14 subjects. I have some prior knowledge – not sure whether it is even possible without it.

After Air Law and Meteorology I switched to Operational Procedures. Did I say that Air Law or Meteorology is rather complicated and require a lot of memorizing? I withdraw my statement. They are very cool and logical compared to Operational Procedures.

Basically the subject is a compilation of other EASA subjects and various ICAO documents. You should memorize tons of statements and numbers. Actually it’s not that bad as it seems, but it’s the most boring subject of the entire EASA syllabus. I just don’t like boring subjects πŸ™‚

EASA ATPL Theory

The blog is still alive, and the dream is coming true somehow. I haven’t flown more than 2 months, but I subscribed for a theory course in a Polish flight school. It is an online ATPL course with 2 weeks on-site. So, why Poland? The country is close to Russia, and the price is not very high. I have Oxford ATPL books, and I use the school’s software for studying too.

In Poland I needed a police approval for enrolling in a program, something like a TSA clearance in the US. It is not a big deal, but takes some time.

The schedule is very tight. It is a 14-weeks course, about 45 hours per week. I am studying after work, and all the weekends. The subjects contain a lot of information. Now I am studying Air Law, and basically it is a collection of facts and numbers for memorizing. I have tests every day except Monday, and some mock exams every two days. Monday is supposed to be a holiday, but I study anyway.

I also have an AviationExam subscription, and I use it too. I like the comments section, sometimes some useful mnemonics or tricks for memorizing can be found there. But I am a bit frustrated by people like ‘I don’t want to remember everything, I don’t want to learn, I cannot read the question carefully, I want just to know how to push and pull my yoke and how to engage my autopilot’. Yes, it is a lot of information, but it is not really anything too complicated, one should not be a superhero to pass these exams.

From my opinion, the good pilot should make wise decisions, know more and constantly learn. Anybody can fly the airplane, but being a pilot is much more than that. It’s about decisions and responsibility. I want to be professional and experienced, both in flying and in knowing what to do.

Anyway it’s fun: I am a student again. I am not flying, and I feel like I am pushing in my head those facts jumping on them to make them fit there πŸ™‚

For now I have a plan for 2019, and then we’ll see. Again there is no any guarantee, the schedule is tough, and it’s incredibly expensive. But it’s an adventure, and the reward is flying. It definitely worths it.

Job Search

More than a year passed since I started searching a good flight school. I started with Europe (and finally got my PPL), then obtained a FAA CPL in the US. It required a lot of effort, I checked out tons of information. Generally I suppose that I made a right decision.

Now I understand that it was pretty easy compared to getting a first pilot job. I was understanding that when I started my journey, but some abstract knowledge differs from posessing a license and not having any job available. Let me can explain a little more. There are plenty of schools across the US and Europe. As a result, one should only analyze available information, feedback etc. Almost every school wants you as their student. In other words, the problem is to pick the most convenient one, in terms of instructors, policies, price etc. No doubt that it is a difficult choice, but you still have a lot of options. Finally you will have a license, sooner or later.

The job market is a totally different story. Nobody wants a brand new pilot with 200 hours in a small piston aircraft. In Russia nobody wants a pilot with foreign license at all. In other words, I have no valuable experience. I have only a great passion to fly and pretty good English. And I have my license, of course.

What can I do? I will apply to small carriers, again and again. What else? I will increase my hours and obtain additional ratings. Moreover, I will study for my EASA ATPL. Probably at some moment some company (or even a country) will experience a pilot shortage, and I am going to take any opportunity. And even if nothing like that happens, I am going to increase my experience. Some day I will have enough qualification for taking my first job. I am moving on.

Free Flight

The blog is still alive, as like the idea πŸ™‚

Last week I traveled to Prague. It was not related to my aviation progress, but I did not want to miss the opportunity to fly while being in Europe, so I tried to find an airplane. Unfortunately I had a very tight schedule, and it did not happen.

I had a day in Warsaw though, thus I signed up for ATPL theory course there. It is a distant learning with just 2 weeks on site. I signed the papers, and now I am waiting for the Polish CAA approval.

At the aerodrome I realized that I still have some time, and there are some planes available πŸ™‚ I tried to hire a plane, but did not succeed. Neither Ventum Air nor Salt Aviation could help me with that. When I had almost lost my hope I spotted a small building with the label “Runway Pilot School”. I entered there and asked for a plane, and voila! They provided both an airplane and a safety pilot in some minutes!

I got a nice Cessna 172, but it was a fuel injection modification with 180hp engine. It has fuel pumps, and does not have carb heater. It climbs faster than I used to in C172, and it flies nicely πŸ™‚

One more flight hour, and my first flight in Poland!

What’s Next?

The question is relevant probably for almost every brand new pilot, especially outside of the US.

Finally the moment comes when the student becomes a pilot. But the license is just the beginning. Employers are looking for experience, and a flight school gives just a basic one. Usually the typical path for an American is becoming a flight instructor, and gaining more and more flight time. But for foreigners it sometimes does not work: it’s hard to find that much of student pilots in any other country, so flight instructors are not in demand.

The other problem is that there is not so many general aviation jobs in Russia, and most of airlines require aviation degree from one of 5 Russian institutions. By that I really mean a degree, not just a license.

What can I have? I speak Russian, English and French, I have a master’s degree (but not in aviation field), and a commercial license with IR and ME. What can I do? Aerophotography, parachute dropping, banner towing, scenic flights, power lines inspection. I will try to find something like that in Russia or outside, and will still fly to gain more experience.

I will also try to find something in Canada, I am thinking about some flight instructor program with internship. Hopefully I will work it out.

Multi-engine Checkride…

… or the story about letters collection.

I’ve already written about my oral part of the multi-engine checkride. The weather have not become acceptable for it that day, so I got a Letter of Discontinuance. It means that the checkride was interrupted for some reason (the weather in my case).

The weather still did not improve the next day, so my checkride was moved to Friday. It is not a big deal, in overall I was waiting for less than two weeks, which is not so long in Florida.

The weather on Friday was great: there sky was clear, and there was almost on wind.

During the checkride the student should demonstrate the proficiency in various tasks. It started from normal takeoff and landing, and I did a good job.

Short field takeoff and landing were good too, and the approach was very stable and smooth. It was not so hard to maintain the flight path in that weather.

There is one small detail in our airport: we have a powerline rather close to the runway, so touching down at the numbers is kinda dangerous. I asked to use a different target point, about 1000 feet from the runway threshold. It is totally OK to touch down at the selected point to simulate the short field, but you must tell the examiner that you’re going to ‘shift’ the beginning of the runway. Moreover, it can be even considered as a good decision making. The goal is to check the ability of precise airplane control, so if you make it as you planned, it’s much better than always using the real beginning of some long runway and brushing the trees.

During the next takeoff the examiner cut the power of one engine. I set engines to idle and stopped the airplane.

We took off once more, then approximately at the pattern altitude the examiner started to very slowly pull the power lever of one engine. I recognized that it was an ‘engine failure’ exercise too late, so I failed today.

As a result I got a Letter of Disapproval, it means that I have to fly once more. Luckily the examiner had some time at the next day. So today I called my instructor, and we practiced engine failures some more today.

It was a sunny Saturday… Today I was ready to any examiner’s actions. On engine failure exercises, if the examiner touched power lever, I reacted even earlier than I had felt any turning tendency.

We flew all the required maneuvers, minimum control speed demonstration. During the actual engine shutdown (there is an exercise for that) I did not manage to start the engine in the air. It just did not start even with excessive speed, I believe that it did not fully return to a fine prop blades angle. I used the corresponding checklist and finally started it using the starter after some attempts.

Then we continued with instrument flying, followed by GPS approach. During the maneuvers I found out that attitude indicator partially failed: it showed some bank angle during a level flight. I cross-checked it by some small turns, closely monitoring the attitude indicator and turn coordinator and confirmed the malfunction. So I had kind of a real-life partial panel during an instrument flight.

All went well today. Finally we landed, and the examiner congratulated me with a new shiny rating.

It took 20 flight hours: 15 I made towards my complex endorsement, and 5 additional hours just to improve my skills. I can’t understand how some people can make it in just 5 hours πŸ™‚