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View from the cockpit

Release date:
July 2021

Watch a short video of Max landing at Redhill.

Air bp’s latest Sterling pilot scholar, 20-year-old Max Ellison from County Clare in Ireland, on fulfilling his ambition to achieve his PPL and proving why even ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things


While many of his fellow students are looking forward to a long summer break, Max Ellison is taking to the skies to achieve his private pilot’s licence (PPL). Having just finished his second year of studying aeronautical engineering at the University of Limerick in Ireland, he has temporarily relocated to the UK to complete his PPL as an Air bp Sterling pilot scholar at Redhill Aerodrome.


How did you hear about Air bp’s Sterling pilot scholarship?

I first heard about it through a previous scholar, Stephen Daly, who completed his PPL in 2018. I’ve become good friends with him as he is also now studying aeronautical engineering at Limerick. He definitely inspired me and showed me what I could achieve if I put my mind to it. Air bp is helping me directly now through the scholarship, which is valued at around £10,000, but they’ve also passively inspired me in the past through Stephen Daly.


Was a career in aviation always on the cards?

I definitely come from a line of aviation enthusiasts. Both my parents worked in finance in the aircraft leasing sector. My Dad’s offices were close to Shannon Airport and I used to love visiting him at work just so I could watch the aircraft operating there. My maternal grandfather was a doctor, but he also had his pilot’s licence and would often fly himself off to the west of Ireland for work. Meanwhile my great grandfather on my father’s side was one of the first non-commissioned officers to fly in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.


Prior to the scholarship, what flying experience had you had?

When I was younger, I attended summer camps and aviation related courses at a local aviation museum in Limerick and I now work there part-time. I am also a member of the Limerick Flying Club at Coonagh Airfield. It’s a small aerodrome surrounded by countryside and there is a great sense of community spirit, however it’s very different to Redhill in the UK where I’m doing my PPL. The runway is only 400m long x 8m wide and because the weather is so unreliable it can make flying difficult, especially when you’re learning as during adverse conditions the airfield has to close.


What are your long-term career goals?

My plan is to join the RAF in two years once I’ve finished my degree. To think I will also have my PPL by then is something I’m incredibly grateful for. The opportunity to achieve my PPL at Redhill through the Sterling pilot scholarship is invaluable and I just don’t think it would have been possible without Air bp’s support.


It’s still early in your pilot training journey, what are you most looking forward to?

I’m due to complete the PPL by early August and one of the things I’m most looking forward to at the moment is flying solo. I’m sure I’ll be nervous on the day, but I’m ready and I’m excited. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.


What have been the highlights of your training so far?

I feel so lucky as I’m just enjoying every day at the moment, but one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had at Redhill was the other day when I flew past a Spitfire that had taken off from London Biggin Hill. That was pretty special. When I’m at home studying for the theory side of the PPL and I hit a bit of a wall, I just have to step back and remind myself how fortunate I am to be in this position – doing my PPL in the UK. I really want to enjoy the whole process and give it my all.


Do you have any concerns about becoming a pilot?

The global pandemic has shown just how resilient this industry is and I am confident it will recover. In the longer term I’m more concerned with the role that automation will play in the cockpit. In 50 to 60 years, I can see that the demand for pilots who actually fly an aircraft will have diminished. Cockpits will be automated and pilots will simply be used to reassure passengers. That’s one of the reasons why I’m focused on pursuing a career in the RAF – of course you’re not exempt from autonomous capabilities in fighter jets, but it’s much more about the raw flying.


What is your message to other young people looking to achieve their PPL?

It would be to believe in yourself. Ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things… If you’re dedicated, if you put in the work and you’re persistent you can achieve whatever you set out to do – I actually applied for the Sterling pilot scholarship three times before being accepted. I was pretty laidback when I was younger and so many people told me that I was being unrealistic wanting to fly jets and go into the RAF. It’s still early days in my career but here I am studying aeronautical engineering and learning how to fly. I’m proving those naysayers wrong. And that’s in a large part thanks to Air bp!


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