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As part of the activity box based on Amy Johnson and pilots we got to interview with the fabulous pilot Valerie Stait. 

Isla Macneil

1.  Did you  always aspire to be in your particular field?


No. Lots of pilots have family in aviation but not me. I think some vocations find you rather than the other way round and that was certainly the case with flying, once I started it was an all consuming passion-something I wanted to do all day every day. At college I specialised in graphic design and advertising and worked in the field for a while, then I went on a week's gliding course in York and didn't come home for two years- I got a job on the airfield helping run the summer courses and living in a caravan and paid £20 a week plus 15 minutes flying. Best job I ever had! After that I got my private licence and did a season's towing, studying for my pilot exams in the evenings then progressed through instructing to get enough hours to get my first airline job. I started as a copilot on turboprops round the Channel Islands, two years later I was flying a jet for Go, the then British Airways low cost airline. Easyjet took the airline over and flew as a captain with them all over Europe. Now I fly worldwide for a Hong Kong based company and have got to fly some of the long haul aircraft, including the jumbo jet Boeing 747. The next area I'd like to move into is working as an aviation psychologist so I'm currently running a psychology degree alongside my flying.

I think there's a widely held belief that your inital qualifications are the be all and end all but I'm proof that you be anything you want to be at any time, but you've got to be prepared to start at the bottom, put the work in and keep on going!

2. What  else did you want to be when you were growing up?

Age 6 I wanted to be an olympic gymnast (still do but hey, I'm 45 and 5'10" but a girl can dream) When I was 7 I wanted to have a ranch in Texas, I loved horses. Once I started flying, world aerobatics champion. Gotta aim high.

3. Who were your role models? 

As I've done a lot of competitive sports, I looked up to the stars of their day. Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci, the russian gymnasts when I was very young, Seb Coe and Daley Thompson and Torvill and Dean in the mid 80s when I was into highboard diving. My aviation heroes are the likes of Amy Johnson and the pioneers like Antoine de St Exupery and Ernest K Gann.

Are these still the same?  If not, who are your role models 
now?

I'm looking for psychology role models currently....

4. What training/qualifications did you need to gain?

The training for a pilot takes about two years, the rest you learn on the job.I took 15 exams plus numerous flight tests. The training is ongoing in my job, I have half a dozen checks a year, some in a simulator, some in the aeroplane, some for the safety procedures ( they have mockups where you get to go down the emergency slides or rescue teddies from smoke filled rooms!) and quizzes on technical aspects and procedures for the routes we fly which can get quite involved. In addition, every time you change aircraft type ( you can normally only fly one type at a time) you do a 3-5 month course to learn the new aeroplane. Luckily I enjoy studying!

5. What is the bet thing about your job?

Nothing beats seeing the sunrise over the snow capped Tian Shen mountains on the Chinese border just north of the himalayas, sometimes you see multiple sunrises and sunsets during the same flight. I also love the travel, every time getting off the aircraft is like walking through a door to a completely different world, it's mind boggling and amazing at the same time.

6. Is there  anything you don't like about your job?

The shift work and jet lag is very disruptive and I'm away from home a lot and my schedule changes often at the last minute, you miss many birthdays and Christmases and people don't understand when you cancel a get together because you're off to Bangkok.


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