Whatever your opinion of social media, it can be a great place to see inside the professional lives of people with fascinating jobs. Case in point is @pilot_ems.
flybe airline captain, Emma Tellesy’s Instagram following leapt from 1,000 to over 37,000 in 2019. Why? Because she explains life as a pilot in a way that’s accessible and understandable to all.
Emma, who flies the De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q400 (more commonly known as the Dash 8 Q400) focuses on a specific topic each time she posts. From explaining what happens on the ground during a flight turnaround, to how flight level (FL) is determined, followers gain an understanding and insight they might not have had before.
Although the tide is turning, just 5% of all pilots globally are women. Thanks to airlines addressing this imbalance, and positive role models like Emma, more and more girls, young women, and women can now ‘see what they want to be’.
Here, Emma shares how she went from a teenager with a dream to fully-fledged pilot.
When did you know you wanted to become a pilot?
I always loved watching “Airline”, the fly-on-the-wall easyJet documentary with my Dad. Then, at 13 years old we went on our first family holiday overseas. We travelled around Asia and Australasia for a month and flew eight times. I loved being pinned to my seat during take-off, and that was it. I’d caught the flying bug!
At 16 I had a trial flying lesson in a light aircraft. I happened to have a female flying instructor and told her that I wanted to be a pilot. She was so excited about my career goal that she let me have a longer lesson, which I was very happy about!
What was your route into flying?
While still at school, I researched the academic qualifications needed to become a pilot and learned that you don’t need a degree – this is a common misconception. However, I felt that going to university would be a good choice for me, giving me time to experience living away from home, and grow my independence, so I studied aeronautical engineering – I could have picked an easier topic for my three years of ‘growing up’ time!
Towards the end of my time at university I applied to CAE Oxford Aviation Academy to train as a commercial airline pilot. This involved a two-day assessment and interview process. I was thrilled to be accepted and began training within a month of graduating. Then, three months after completing training and becoming a commercial pilot, I started my first ever job as a pilot with flybe.
When did you first go solo? What was the aircraft, and what did it feel like?
My first solo flight was actually while I was at university and taking private lessons.
I learned to fly in a Cessna 152 at East Midlands Airport in the UK. One day, I’d been flying with my instructor and we pulled to the side of the taxiway and he said, “you’re ready to go solo” and got out of the plane! I was repeatedly going over the circuit in my head (taking off, circling the airfield, and landing). I requested permission to take off and was up and away. On my own!
It suddenly dawned on me that I had to land the plane on my own too. As I was downwind to land, I could see a TUI and Thomas Cook aircraft at the holding point, waiting for me to touch down. No pressure! I went into the flare (the moment you slightly lift the aircraft nose before touching down) and was expecting to feel the wheels touch the ground, but they didn’t. I dropped the plane down onto the runway and bounced! I hadn’t accounted for the fact that the aircraft was lighter without my instructor sitting beside me hence, when I went into the flare, I was a few feet too high. My instructor claimed he hadn’t seen my landing and asked how it was: “beautiful!”, I said! It turns out he was watching every moment…
What was the most challenging part of becoming a pilot?
Blocking other people’s limiting beliefs. People will always have an opinion. So many people laughed or rolled their eyes when I said I wanted to be a pilot, and it hurt – especially when friends reacted this way.
There were also moments that challenged my self-belief. At the very start of my flying journey I applied for a military training scholarship. The assessment was computer based and involved flying a plane on the screen. I had never played computer games. The maximum score was ten. I got zero. At the time, I was very upset. I was determined not to let this experience prevent me from reaching my dream, and realised the skill required for computer based assessments was something I could learn.
Can you give an overview of your flying career so far, including the planes you’ve flown?
I have been a commercial airline pilot for 12 years with Flybe, and a captain for the last four years. I currently fly the Dash 8 Q400 and I adore it. The aircraft only has auto trim for pitch, which means you have to manually trim for roll and yaw, which I love because you’re really flying. Obviously, when flying without autopilot, you have to manually trim all three – pitch, roll, and yaw.
My flying days started in a Cessna 152. While at CAE Oxford Aviation Academy I flew the Piper PA 28, and the Piper Seneca
How has sitting in the captain’s seat changed your role?
The biggest change is that you become a people manager overnight. You are in command of the entire aircraft, and this includes all passengers and crew. As captain you also oversee operations when on the ground, which includes ground handlers, dispatchers, baggage handlers, fuellers, ramp agents, and other operational personnel.
Each person has a valuable role to play in getting an aircraft and its passengers safely from A to B.
I work hard to set a relaxed and professional tone for the day ahead. I want people to think: “Oh, I’m working with Emma today, I’m happy about that!”
What are your flying goals for the future?
I’m very happy with where I’m at right now, and am going with the flow. In addition to flying, I also spend time working on the ground, training new pilots and pilots in recurrent training. I might look at becoming a line training captain in the future.
What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to be a pilot?
Remain focused on your dream, and hold onto your drive and determination. Also remember, you don’t always have to see the end goal – you just need to take one step at a time.
Focus on the solution, not the obstacle. If you fixate on an obstacle, you’re allowing it to block your way.
If you want something bad enough you’ll find a way to make it happen, and if not, you’ll find an excuse. I decided to follow my dream rather than excuses…
Do you have specific advice to women wanting to pursue a career in aviation?
My advice would be the same as above. The reality is that from time to time you’ll come across someone who has an opinion that you’re a female pilot, but thankfully this is getting less common. There’s no feature of gender that makes women and men any better than each other when it comes to flying a plane.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I’m getting paid to do what I love. I’m essentially doing my hobby for a living.
Take-off or landing?
Dream airport as a pilot?
London city. Only captains who have undergone extra training can land into London City Airport due to the steep descent over London, and the short runway. I love it!
Favourite plane of all-time?
The Boeing 747 without a doubt.
The best thing about flying is… the views you get to see along the way.
Favourite inflight meal?
The veggie or fish options.
Emma, thank you for taking the time to give an insight into life as a captain. It’s no surprise people love following your daily flying adventures on Instagram (@pilotems). If you know someone who would like to become a pilot, share this blog post with them. It might be the nudge they need to make their dream a reality. If you are considering a career in the skies, CAE is a good place to find useful information, as is the pilot section of the flybe website (you’re likely to spot Emma in some of the images!).