Becoming a commercial airline pilot takes time, unrelenting dedication, determination and passion for flight.
22 year old Ellie Bateman has all of the above in abundance.
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, and raised in Lancashire, England, Ellie’s love for aviation and travel began to surface from an early age. Over the years, her innate passion flourished, and strengthened each time she travelled with her family. Ellie focused on her studies throughout GCSEs and A Levels, moving ever closer to her dream of becoming a pilot.
Today, Ellie is a student pilot with CAE, a global leader in training for civil aviation, and other industries. She’s based at CAE Oxford, and is well on her way to transitioning from classroom to cockpit as a commercial pilot.
It’s a privilege to feature Ellie’s inspiring story so far as part of this mini blog series on women in aviation. I’ll leave you in Ellie’s safe flying hands to share more about her journey into the skies.
Welome, Ellie. When did you know that flying was for you?
I have always had a passion for flying, even from a young age. The earliest signs of me wanting to fly was when I was four years old. I asked for a magic carpet for Christmas so that I could fly around the house. Ever since then my curiosity and interest in aviation has grown.
Did you, or do you have a role model who inspired you to fly?
Around eight years ago, I saw a female captain walking through Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. She confirmed for me that I really did want to be a pilot, and that there was no reason as to why I couldn’t be. Ever since then I have been keen to inspire other young females to persue this career.
What was your route into flying?
The first big step I took towards a career in aviation was attending a future pilots career convention at Heathrow. This was an eye opener for me and confirmed that commercial flying was my preferred route into the aviation industry. I began to research flying schools which catered for training pilots commercially and attended their open days.
After exploring my options, I came to the conclusion that not only was CAE for me, but the Airline transport pilot license (ATPL) programme at CAE was also well suited. I am now a self-sponsored cadet in training at their facility, and one step closer to my dream.
Tell us about pilot training and what it involves
Training at CAE Oxford is broken down into three main components over a 16-18 month period. The first phase of the course is ground school. This is based in Oxford, and lasts around seven months. During this time, you study 14 subjects, and sit 14 ATPL examinations. This part of the course is split into two phases (phase one and phase two), and you study seven subjects within each phase. Once the written exams are complete you move onto focus on the flying examinations.
The first part of your flying training is based on working towards your Commercial Pilots License (CPL). This takes place out in Phoenix, Arizona, and normally takes around 6 months to complete. Most of the flying you do out in Phoenix is VFR (visual flying) which means you have to have reference to the ground at all times.
Once you have gained your CPL you come back to the UK for the final part of your training which is focused on working towards you Instrument Rating (IR). This phase lasts around three months and is based back in Oxford. Most of the flying you complete back in the UK is focused on enhancing your flying skills using the aircraft’s flight instruments, without necessarily even seeing your surroundings (i.e. in clouds).
What’s been the most challenging part of training so far?
Personally, ground school has been the most challenging part of the training so far. I started ground school in May of 2018 and finished my studies in the December of 2018. In order to cover 14 subjects in depth within seven months, I completed 30 hours of classroom time per week, did computer-based training in the evenings, and spent weekends revising. The constant studying and intensity of ground school really tested my ability to stay motivated, especially considering I only got in an aircraft once during the seven months. The sad thing is it wasn’t even to go flying – it was a classroom trip down to the hangar to see how things we had been learning about worked!
For each subject studied during ground school, we sat a progress test, school final exam and an official EASA examination as well. So in the short space of seven months I sat around 42 exams all of which were on subjects that I started learning about eight to twelve weeks beforehand. The amount of new information I had to learn, understand and retain in such a short space of time was unbelievable and is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
When did you first go solo? What did it feel like?
My first solo took place out in Phoenix, Arizona on March 2, 2019. It was honestly one of the best feelings in the world – one which I don’t think I can put into words.
How many hours did you fly with an instructor before going solo for the first time?
I had a total of 20 hours with my instructor before going solo for the first time.
Which aircraft have you flown so far?
I have flown the Cessna C150, Piper Archer PA28-181, Seminole PA44-180, Extra 300L and I’m currently training for my Instrument Rating on the Seneca V PA34-220T.
What aircraft would you like to fly once you become a qualified commercial pilot?
The Boeing 747 also known as the ‘Jumbo’.
What’s the best thing about training so far?
The feeling of achievement is definitely the best thing about my training so far. The training programme itself is a rigorous process and every part of the training is just as challenging as the previous phase. It’s surprising how many hurdles you can overcome when your put your mind to it.
What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to be a pilot?
The journey to get to where you want to be is by no means easy. However, the rewards along the way and the overall outcome are so worth it. If you are passionate enough about wanting to be a pilot, then putting the hard work in for something that you want, will only ever be rewarding in return.
I can’t believe where I was this time last year compared to where I am now. It’s amazing how much I’ve learnt and what I’ve achieved along the way in such a short space of time!
Any specific advice to women wanting to pursue a career in aviation?
Speaking from my own experience, there have been times throughout my training when I have doubted myself and wondered if I am capable of the task at hand. There are still moments now where I sit back and think, ‘am I ever going to be able to do that?’ However, if you work hard and give it your all (even when you feel like giving up) there is always a way to be the best version of yourself.
Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes, but aviation is an industry where we learn from our own mistakes made in training. I think most pilots will agree with me that they have all had a hard landing, a flight that could have gone better, or a radio call where their tongue got tied. But at the end of the day if they hadn’t experienced this, they wouldn’t have the skills they have today.
If you want to pursue a career in aviation, you should go for it. There is no reason why you shouldn’t, and remember – do not ever give up!
Some quick questions for you, Ellie
Take-off or landing?
Take-off – the feeling of getting airborne is like no other!
Dream airport for take-off and landing as a pilot?
I would love to take off from Queenstown Airport, New Zealand, and I would love to land at Toronto City Airport.
Favourite destination for a break?
Cape Town in South Africa
Favourite plane of all time?
It would have to be the Piper Archer because it was the first plane I went solo in, and will forever be such a milestone in my aviation career. Every time I see one I just think back to that moment and the feeling of getting airborne without an instructor for the first time. Something I can’t put into words but will always remember!
Finish the sentence…
The best thing about flying is…… the feeling of being airborne and the view that goes with it. From seeing the sunrise on those early peaceful mornings, to cloud surfing, watching the sunset and flying above the city lights at night.
Ellie, thank you for sharing your experience of pilot training so far. What a year you’ve had, and what exciting times you have in front of you! You’re an inspiration to the next generation of aviators, and I am sure everyone reading this will join me in wishing you the very best as you complete your training with CAE.