Military to Civilian Flying Transition – A Pilot’s Tale

Wow, where did the last twenty odd years ago? The decision to leave the RAF seemed natural, but as the day loomed, I needed to ensure that I had made other good choices. If you are a military pilot and decide that you wish to continue flying outside of the services, then, without exception, you will need to get a licence, be that fixed-wing or rotary.

When I started my study plan, there weren’t many options. I won’t mention the name of the first study books I purchased, of which there were at least six, but they were written by ex- RAF Vulcan navigators who cared a lot about Mercator projections but would tut at the sight of a calculator. I almost gave up in despair.

I didn’t make it past book 2, then enter stage left, Bristol Groundschool. I remember the two lovely white folders that held the whole ATPL course to this day. I was back in the game. Alex and his team understood the military mind (this isn’t a reference to military intelligence, which is, of course, an oxymoron). I remember the course being what you needed to know explained in a way that even a helicopter pilot could understand.

BGS’s crammers were stacked with QSPs from all three services at the time – no internet back then, unlike now, so you had to decamp to the Southwest for a week of hard graft. I struck gold with the B&B at Churchill!

As we arrive at the present day, BGS has grown and adapted to the new way of study and learning. I don’t think the exams are any more accessible, but the available information and the means of obtaining it are. The white A4 folders may be gone, but in their place are webinars, online libraries, and a databank of exam questions. I asked BGS, and if you still want printed material, you can get it as an optional extra.

Fitting in study around a busy service life is a challenge. I remember burning the midnight oil during Search & Rescue shifts in a dark Falkland Islands bedroom, trying to work out the weather between London and New York at FL350 in October, wishing I was at FL350 between London and New York!

Now you can study remotely at your own pace, which is a fantastic development. If you feel isolated, it is mitigated by a BGS private Facebook Group with instructor support. You will not be alone in your wonder about the type of questions being asked! Fellow students can be a great resource but also a fantastic reassurance.

COVID changed everything, but BGS rose to the challenge and now offers 5-day revision weeks online and with some directly in-person. These changes allow you to study the entire course from wherever you are. The webinar library is available 24/7, along with a question bank.

Not being a business that stands still, BGS now offer non-BGS students the BGS Webinar Library via subscription with access to over 200 hours of pre-recorded webinars covering the ATPL(A) and ATPL(H) syllabus; what a fantastic asset to have if you feel like going it alone.

Making the military to civil transition is not an easy one. BGS are, without a doubt, a training company with a fine pedigree that will help you every step of the way. It worked for me and many others; there are BGS alumni everywhere you go in commercial aviation, which I think speaks for itself.


Chris Cooper

About the Author – Chris Cooper

I have been flying something for as long as I can remember.  From model aeroplanes to heavy helicopters and everything in between, I have amassed over 11,000 hours of flying.  Deeply passionate about aviation safety, I love giving back where I can.  I hold an ATPL(H) and CPL(A) and fly my Van’s RV3 whenever possible. My other passion is technology and the web, having run my own high turnover e-commerce business and now run a copywriting and online strategy business.  I have been a commercial training captain and am still a CAA Nominated Post Holder, a Director of the British Helicopter Association, and an Upper Freeman of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots. 


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