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View from the cockpit

Release date:
September 2022
While most of her friends have spent the summer celebrating the end of their final school exams, 18-year-old Elise Hammond has been working towards her private pilot licence (PPL) thanks to Air bp’s Sterling pilot scholar programme. She tells us what it means to be learning to fly before she can drive and why she has plenty to thank the Air Cadets for.  


Have you always had your heart set on pursuing a career in aviation?


I have always loved maths, the sciences, problem solving and finding out how things work. So, aerospace engineering (which I’m about to start studying at Swansea University this September) is a good fit for me. I have just completed an extended diploma with three distinction stars in engineering at UTC Reading, which is essentially the same as doing three A-levels. 


Have you come from a family of engineers or aviators?


My grandfather was an engineer. He designed jigs and other bits for cars, so that’s probably where I get my interest in engineering from. As for my interest in aviation I joined the Air Cadets when I was 14 and helped start up a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) at my college. I have been fortunate to enjoy six experience flights with the cadets, some of which involved aerobatics. I also won a scholarship through the cadets which gave me 12 hours of flying instruction ahead of starting my PPL. 


Will you carry on flying while at university?


My plan is to join the university Air Squadron, which is sponsored by the RAF. 


How did you come across Air bp’s Sterling pilot scholarship?


Being in the Air Cadets gives you exposure to scholarship programmes and aviation events and earlier this year I attended an event at Heathrow called Pilot Careers Live. The Honourable Company of Air Pilots, through whom Air bp organises and sponsors its Sterling pilot scholars, had a stand there and they encouraged me to apply. 


What have been the highlights of learning to fly?


I’m doing my PPL with Blackbushe Aviation at Blackbushe Airport just outside of London and have completed around 25 hours of flying time so far. My first solo flight has been without doubt my biggest highlight to date. Part of the course to gain the PPL involves the qualifying cross country (QXC) which involves flying solo to different locations. It’s fair to say I’m a mixture of nervous and excited about that bit as it entails lots of planning to take-off and land at different airfields. 


What do your friends think about you having spent the summer learning to fly?


They all find it amusing that I’m learning to fly before I can drive, but they’ve been supportive and think it’s a great thing to be doing. I didn’t really have the means to fund my PPL on my own especially with university starting, so receiving the scholarship has been a game changer. I’m hugely grateful to Air bp for this opportunity. 


What are your career plans ultimately?


After university I hope to join the RAF as an engineering officer and I hope to continue flying so I can keep my PPL and get some other ratings. Ultimately, I’d like to build on my RAF career by getting my commercial pilot’s licence and working in that sector. 


How challenging is it for young people wanting to pursue a career in aviation today?


There’s obviously a financial barrier for most young people. That’s why scholarships, such as those provided by Air bp, and organisations including the Air Cadets are so important. They provide a fundamental steppingstone for young people to get involved in aviation, make the necessary connections and gain experience. 


What is your outlook for aviation, in terms of the rise of automated services and the focus on sustainability?


I’m a firm believer that you can only put so much automation into something before human input is needed for decision making and being able to respond to emergency situations. As for sustainability, a huge amount still needs to be done in terms of addressing climate change and aviation’s carbon emissions. We all need to be pushing for as sustainable an industry as possible, however there will always be a demand for aviation and I’m excited about being part of the industry’s sustainable growth. 


What is your message to other young people looking to pursue a career in aviation?


Take every opportunity that you possibly can! Even if it’s not necessarily flying an aircraft, if you can get some experience working with an administration or engineering team within the aviation sector that will be hugely valuable. And I’m biased but join the Air Cadets! 


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