To celebrate International Women’s Day, we caught up with our female students about their journey to becoming a pilot in a male-dominated industry.
Steph Smith has aspired to become a pilot since childhood. After spending 15 years in the aviation industry as an aircraft engineer, she is embarking on her ATPL studies with the assistance of a Bristol Groundschool scholarship, which she received from the British Women Pilots’ Association.
Here she shares her story about why she chose to become a pilot, her experience training with Bristol Groundschool and what advice she would give to other women looking to become pilots.
How did you get into aviation?
I started flying gliders when I was 10, my Dad had a trial flight and I decided I had to give it a go too. My first winch launch was an 800ft cable break, but that didn’t put me off. My love of flying has matured and progressively become more expensive, as my taste for powered flying and desire to fly all of the warbirds has grown.
Why did you choose a career as a pilot?
From a young age, I declared I wanted to be a pilot, but the finances just weren’t available to me at the time, so I became an aircraft engineer instead. A friend once said ‘Engineers are just frustrated pilots’, the more I thought about it the more I identified with it. So now I am chasing the dream to fly for a living.
What’s your favourite part about being a pilot?
The freedom, being able to jump in an aircraft and head off wherever takes my fancy. Sharing the experience with friends and family has been awesome too, so far I have taken my mum, my husband and our dog flying.
What’s been the best part of your pilot training so far?
The night rating training was really enjoyable, my favourite first solo so far! I did my training with Brize Flying Club, it was slightly surreal to be flying from the base I work at and be in the circuit in a PA28 with all the large transport aircraft. The first lesson as we pushed the aircraft out, an A400M taxied past, I have never felt so small in a GA aircraft before! I know how large the aircraft is as I work on them, but at that moment it just seemed so much bigger.
How are you finding studying for your ATPL theory exams with BGS?
Right now I am partway through Module 1, with the revision week booked for May. Instrumentation has been the easiest topic to study so far, as it’s very similar to the material covered in my aircraft-type courses for my Part 66 B1 licence. It can seem daunting to be studying at home alone, however, the webinars really help expand on the written notes and the Facebook group is a great source of encouragement and information.
What are your plans for the future?
At the end of March I am booked on a Sailplane Tow Rating course, I plan to use this qualification to help hour build towards my ATPL. Long term I’m not 100% certain, I know I do not plan to go to the airlines. I’m looking for something a little more unusual or quirky, roles like flying for the British Antarctic Survey or commercial seaplanes really appeal to me.
What advice would you give other women looking to become pilots?
Visit your local airfield or flying club and ask lots of questions, then consider joining an organisation like the British Women Pilots’ Association. They offer support and guidance, scholarships and the opportunity to make friends with pilots of all ages, types of flying and stages of their aviation journey. The BWPA has offered me invaluable experiences and supported me with a BWPA Easy PPL Ground School Scholarship in 2020 and then a BWPA Bristol Groundschool ATPL Scholarship in 2022.