We are particularly proud of one of our recently qualified students, Max Wood who obtained his private pilots licence in May 2018 at the age of 20. During his training Max worked extremely hard with his instructor, Jonathan Cormack, to overcome various challenges including dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, attention deficit disorder and issues with fine motor skills to realize his dream of obtaining a private pilots licence.
From the beginning it was very clear that Max was passionate about aircraft and aviation. Quite often during training Max was able to name all the corporate jets sitting on the apron at Bristol Airport as he walked out to one of the club’s PA28s. And he had a very good idea about the instruments and how planes fly, gleaned from many hours on his flight simulator.
We asked Max some questions regarding his PPL training with us to form this great case study.
Why did you want to obtain your private pilots licence?
I’ve always wanted to become a pilot. School was a challenge for me and even though my parents were able to organise plenty of support, I was never very strong academically. I’ve worked really hard to overcome things though. I only learned to write when I was seventeen years old. I’ve also put a lot of effort into developing my confidence in dealing with people. There was a time when I couldn’t look a stranger in the eye: now I am quite outgoing and I can strike up conversations with others easily.
What did you find difficult about the training?
I knew that I would find the ground school exams a challenge and so I asked for one-to-one tuition on these. I told my instructor that reading the text books would be no good because I’m a very visual person. He prepared special slides which were full of pictures, including videos and animations. We practiced questions together until I felt confident enough to take the papers.
The CAA say that it is fine to have the learning challenges that I have as long as I can pass the exams unaided. So whereas I was allowed a reader, prompter and scribe in school exams, I was not for the PPL tests. This was challenging because the questions are sometimes worded in a difficult way with double negatives and other ambiguities. I had to work really hard to understand what the examiner meant and how to respond.
How did you find the practical side of the training?
The actual flying was relatively easy for me and I found I was good at it. I got into the circuit after about eight hours and this was the first challenge because, of course, it brings together everything that you’ve learnt in one short space of time together with the radio and a bunch of checklist items.
I find it hard memorising things and so I made post-it notes to remind me of the pre-landing checks and the key elements of the radio. Like many other students I’ve talked to, I found the radio quite scary for a long time. Bristol is full air traffic control and they don’t take prisoners. Once, when I was stumbling over my words I let out a few swear words – cursing myself – and got a “Hey watch out there!” From the crew of a Ryanair flight waiting at the hold.
What part of the PPL training did you find the most difficult?
Preparing for the skills test was really hard work. It took me a while to master in-flight diversions with all the mental maths and juggling charts and other equipment in the cockpit. In the end I got really good at it. I know Jonathan was impressed and so was one of the other instructors who helped me with some brush-up on stalls the day before my test.
I think Jonathan was quite tough on me in training, maybe be because he had just completed the commercial licenses and was applying a similar level of rigour. If I was a bit out on my altitude, or got a radio call slightly wrong, he would be onto it and we had really long debriefs after each flight because he’d be writing it all down. That turned out to be a good thing though because, on test day, the flight with the examiner seemed a lot easier!
Now you have your pilots licence what’s next?
I can’t wait to take my family flying. I’m going to be sensible though, building up slowly with some local flights on my own and then gradually extending to new airfields and further away. I want to build my hours and experience before I take other people up.
What would you say to anyone who wants to obtain their PPL but has similar learning challenges?
To anyone who has learning challenges like mine that wants to learn to fly I’d say, “go for it”. It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance, more so than for others, but it’s worth it. I hope, by writing this article, it will inspire others who think that they can’t manage it, to have a go. If one person reads this and then decides to pursue their dream it will have been worth it.
I also hope that flying clubs will actively encourage people like me to get involved. I was very lucky that Bristol and Wessex had such a positive attitude and their instructors went over and above the normal call of duty to support me in fulfilling my dream.
It’s been an amazing journey so far and I’m excited about what the future holds. The sky is no longer the limit!
Photos captured by Simon Fewkes.