Welcome to the 25th “Share Your Story” post. Pilots from around the world write in featuring their flight experiences, promoting their blogs, websites, social media, novels, etc. These posts show future aviators the diverse range of careers available to them. More details + how to participate can be found via the following: Click Here and Get Involved

So, my aviation journey begins at the tender age of 16. I had just finished high school in the UK, and was contemplating what I wanted to do with my life. Many options crossed my mind, but eventually I decided I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. I have no idea where this came from, having no friends or family in aviation, but my mind was set. There was only one problem. Money. Being a 16 year old, my bank balance was approximately £17, and my parents certainly couldn’t afford the £100,000 I needed to train as a chopper pilot in the UK. As such, I looked around for other options.

Firstly, I contacted the Royal Air Force. I passed the initial interviews and went for my medical. Being 6”5’, I was not eligible for a pilot, as they screen everyone for fast jets, and I was told if I ejected, I’d lose my kneecaps. So, the search then brought me to the Army. The British Army isn’t that large, but it has a very good aviation regiment, called the Army Air Corps, who operate a selection of helicopters. I applied, passed the barrage of mental and physical testing, and was offered a scholarship to go to university. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Having a love for all sports (particularly volleyball), I attended the UK’s number one sports university – Loughborough University, and studied Physics. During my time at university, I worked my way through the volleyball ranks, until I played in the highest division in the UK, and represented UK universities in Europe.

Everything was going exactly to plan until my final year. As part of my course, I picked an elective which involved playing rugby, as it was a nice break from the intense physics. One day, 3 months before my final exams, I was playing rugby, and had a bad knee injury, completely rupturing my ACL, and severely damaging the cartilage and tendons in my left knee. I had surgery soon afterwards, but was medically discharged from the Army before I’d even joined!

I had to replan my life. Quickly. I tried to think of any other way I could go into aviation, but nothing emerged. I graduated from university and had to find a job. I applied to a random selection of positions, and the best of the bunch ended up being in business analysis. So then started 2 years stuck in front of a computer screen, yearning to be in the air…

Little did Ben know at the time that he’d soon be flying this Etihad A320 below:

… At this point in my life, my father started getting very ill, and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He unfortunately passed away later that year. This event made me realize I didn’t want to spend my life typing away on excel, so against all advise, used my inheritance money to start my flying training.
I researched pretty much every flying school I could find to work out what was best for my circumstances. I didn’t have enough cash to enroll in the ab-initio UK flying schools, so I went down the modular route. The plan was to start my training in South Africa. The weather would be nice, the aircraft are cheaper to hire, and the airspace is less congested, for easier initial flying. I then planned to return to the UK to complete my CPL/IR, and look for a job.
Off I went to South Africa. Everything there was great. The air school I enrolled in was excellent – we received a very good ground school for the PPL exams, which made passing them a breeze. This then gave me a lot of confidence when I FINALLY took to the skies, flying out of Port Alfred. The scenery in South Africa is beautiful, with golden beaches as far as the eye can see. Giraffes could often be spotted just after departure, and the weather was beautiful. I progressed well with the flying, and received my PPL after 45 hours. After that, the real fun began. We were given a lot of opportunities to plan our own navs, and build hours however we see fit (under the guidance of the instructors). The longest nav, and my most fun flying experience was taking 3 PA28s from the east coast, all the way up to Johannesburg, into Botswana, then home via Kruger National Park. The whole trip lasted 6 days, and I will never forget that experience, with 5 of my friends.

After passing about 100 hours, I started looking for jobs online and managed to get an interview for the Etihad Airways cadet scheme. After 3 sets of tests and interviews, I was offered a position as a cadet pilot. I would have to start my training with Etihad from scratch, but I didn’t care. It was a guaranteed A320 job!

I joined Etihad right at the end of 2010, where we started full time ATPL ground school. Aviation was my life 24/7, and after 8 months of intensive ground school, I successfully passed the 14 ATPL subjects first time. I then completed the flying element of the training, and received my ME/CPL/IR.
Ben – Top Row, Far Right

At this point with Etihad, there was a backlog of cadets going from training, to the 320 type rating, and I used this opportunity to head back the UK to do some volleyball training. Although, this time it was sitting volleyball. After my rugby incident, I was unable to play regular volleyball, and was officially classified as “minimally disabled” by the British Paralympic Association, so was eligible to play for the sitting volleyball team. Most players are amputees, but having legs is no advantage, as they really just get in the way. With this sport, I was lucky enough to get selected for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and represented Great Britain, getting into the quarter finals.
Ben – Red Shirt, Top Right

Post-paralmypics, I got back on the books and started my A320 type rating in Abu Dhabi. Studying was intense again, but after 6 months I got my hands on the actual aircraft for base training. The feeling of flying this 70 tonne aeroplane was the greatest thing I’d ever done. Everything was becoming very real, and soon I’d be flying passengers around! The touch an goes were a success, and I was cleared for line training.
My very first flight was flying from Abu Dhabi to Baghdad. It was a very daunting experience. I had been training for this moment for 4 years now, and to be honest, the whole flight was a blur. I was focusing so much on getting my procedures correct and not missing ATC calls, I didn’t really have much time to take in what I was actually doing.
As my confidence grew over the next few flights, I started appreciating what I was doing, and how much I love my job. I get to fly to destinations in the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. I love flying into the coastal airports, such as Larnaca and Beirut, as you get beautiful views, as well as a bit of a challenge with crosswinds. I now have 60 sectors under my belt, and have 25 left until I’m officially released as a first officer.

Thanks so much Ben for writing in and sharing your story. You’re the first A320 pilot to have written in, as well as being the first paralympian, that’s pretty incredible!

It’s great to hear that you’re almost 100% certified to fly as an F/O for Etihad. I can’t wait to read more about some of the cool destinations that you’re getting to fly into.

Thanks again for writing in and participating in the Share Your Story section of the blog,

Swayne Martin 
Martins Aviation / From Private to Professional Pilot
Twitter: @MartinsAviation
Youtube: MartinsAviation1 

About The Author

If you want to become a pilot, I want to make your journey just a little easier. I'm a First Officer for Envoy Air, one of the largest regional airlines in the world, and have partnered with industry leaders like the U.S. Air Force to teach about various aviation careers. For a full bio, click the "About" tab above. Use the "Contact" tab to shoot me a message.

10 Responses

  1. Karlene Petitt

    Ben, Yours is a fabulous story! I am so sorry for the loss of your father, but he left you with a great gift to make your dreams come true. He gave you your wake up call. Don’t settle when there are dreams to be had.

    And your commitment to sports parallels a commitment to life. Dedication. Hard work. And Team Work. Setting goals and making them happen. Life is a game we learn all our lessons for when they count.

    I hope you’ll join me on Flight to Success. http://karlenepetitt.blogspot.com/ You are truly a motivation!

    Swayne, Thank you for sharing another great story!!

  2. Ben Hall

    Thanks for everyone’s comments, and thanks to Swayne for his excellent blog. Keep up the splendid work sir.

    • Swayne Martin

      No problem Ben! I can’t wait to see what else you’ll do over at Etihad. Make sure to write back soon about some new adventures. Maybe you’ll soon be flying in their widebodies!

      Thanks so much for writing in, one of the best!,


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