Wait - you're a First Officer at 21?!

Believing in yourself is the single most important thing if you want to become a pilot - at least that’s the view of Robbie Cockburn, who at 21 is a First Officer with Loganair. 

In a Q & A session with Future Mag, Robbie reveals his secret to becoming a pilot.

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HOW DID YOU BECOME A PILOT?

There are two ways to train to be a pilot, ‘modular’ and ‘integrated’. I chose the ‘modular’ method because it let me work and take the training at my own pace.

I enrolled on a professional flight training course pretty much as soon as I left school. It took me about two years to complete all the flying and theory exams which gave me a commercial pilot’s license.

WAS THERE A LIGHT-BULB MOMENT THAT ENCOURAGED YOU?

I was fortunate enough to travel a lot when I was younger, which started my fascination with airplanes.

For my fourteenth birthday I received a ‘trial lesson’ at a local airfield, basically an introductory flying lesson in a two seat Cessna for 30 minutes. I knew immediately I had been bitten by the flying ‘bug’.

HOW DID YOU MAKE IT HAPPEN?

I chose subjects to best prepare me for flying school, focusing on maths and physics.

One of the biggest burdens of training to be a pilot is the finance. I worked and saved as I was training to help fund the course, but I also had some family help. Thankfully, as soon as I completed my training, I was hired by Loganair.

WHAT OBSTACLES HAVE YOU FACED?

I did all of my flight training in Scotland and the weather hindered my training. Throughout the course there are around 23 theoretical exams and four practical flying exams. Remembering to be confident and believing in myself sometimes proved difficult! 

WHAT’S THE BEST BIT OF WHAT YOU DO?

Being an airline pilot is incredibly satisfying and rewarding. It’s also immensely rewarding to be trusted to control a multi-million pound aircraft full of passengers into some of the most amazing places in the UK.

And there’s plenty of opportunities to see new places. When we night stop somewhere, we always have a bit of time to spend before we leave. One of my favourite destinations is Orkney - It’s stunning. I always try to explore somewhere new.

WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?

Being a pilot does have some negatives. Early wake up calls can be demanding. I deal with airport security on a daily basis. I’ve had to miss special occasions due to rosters, and delays can be hard work to manage as well. However, I do think the benefits outweigh the negatives by a mile.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO ANYONE THINKING OF DOING SOMETHING SIMILAR TO YOU?

Do your research. Make sure to find out everything you can. Go to pilot careers shows and ask questions to get the full picture about a pilot’s life. If finance is preventing you from starting, find
a job, work hard and save as much as you can. The less debt you have the better. Get a pilot medical before you start - it will ensure you are medically fit to start your training and the sooner you get that, the better. And, most importantly, believe in yourself!

WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE FUTURE?

My plan at the moment is to stay with Loganair and become a Captain. The flying I get to do is some of the best and most challenging I’ll ever do in my flying career. Perhaps a few years down the line I’ll move on to flying something bigger on longer routes around the world but for now, I’m living the dream!

And just to prove Robbie can turn his hand to more than just flying a plane, he recalls that while he was training to be a pilot he was also learning to be a street performer.

I’m an expert in magic, juggling, whip- cracking and unicycling, regularly entertaining crowds at the Edinburgh Festival.

Finally, he has some advice he reckons he would have given his 16 year old self.

Aviation isn’t an obvious path for a lot of teenagers and my school didn’t really have the right information to push it as a career choice. I think many schools are in the same boat.

But there are a lot of different ways to get into it so it’s actually quite accessible. There are even courses in which you can get a degree. Whether it is degree courses, a modular or integrated course, or flying in your spare time, it shouldn’t be out of reach. It’s something to think about when choosing your courses for year 10 and year 11. 

CareersEmily Baulf