In the first of a new series of pilot cadet profiles, aimed at showing the wide variety of people who train to become pilots, we talked to Paulina Gacek, who’s training towards her ATPL at Bristol Groundschool, and has some inspirational words about how to follow your pilot dreams…
How long have you wanted to become a pilot and why?
Shortly before my third birthday (on 6 June 1993, actually!) my mother took me for a flight in a light aircraft over and through the mountains of Poland, where I grew up. Whilst I know that the scenery would have provided a truly spectacular view, it’s interesting that I cannot recall what I saw very well, apart from thinking that buildings looked like my toy LEGO models! However, what I clearly do remember, and can regenerate in a heartbeat each time I fly or simply think about flying, is a deep and overwhelming feeling of happiness, freedom and inner comfort being in the airborne environment. So, given the personal impact of that life experience, it is understandable that, for 22 years now, I have been consumed by my desire to become a pilot; with every cell in my body, I know that flying is something I was born and, moreover, meant to do. Flying simply brings so much beauty, magic and satisfaction that a day will not pass without me thinking about it and I absolutely know that I will never have enough of it.
What type of training are you undertaking and what stage of pilot training are you currently in?
Well, my quest to become a pilot comprises of both modular and integrated training that I have broken down into three ‘stepping stones’. The first stepping stone was to achieve a Private Pilot Licence and then consolidate the training by building hours (modular training). Shortly after, I commenced the ATPL ground study course with Bristol Ground School – a modular course which I consider the second stepping stone of my journey. Having now passed all 14 exams at the first attempt, and within the minimum number of sittings, I will soon commence an integrated flying training course that will result in the award of a full Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL), Instrument Rating (IR) and a Multi Engine (ME) rating. At that point I will hold a frozen Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL) and hope to become a competitive candidate for selection to an airline… hopefully the third and final stepping stone towards my dream of becoming a pilot!
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Sometimes the word ‘challenge’ carries a negative connotation but, for me I consider the countless challenges I have faced thus far as positive experiences that have ultimately served to strengthen my professional knowledge, skills and understanding of aviation. However, If I were to identify two of the greatest challenges, the first would be simply getting a ‘foot in the door’ so that I felt in a position to begin my journey. To do that, I drafted numerous letters to airports and aviation companies, volunteering to work for free or offer whatever support anyone may need. Eventually, I secured basic employment at a local airport and, although my earnings were less than £1 per hour, that wasn’t a factor that concerned me in the slightest – I was now part of the aviation industry and learning!
“With every cell in my body, I know that flying is something I was born and, moreover, meant to do”
From my research, I knew that the 14 ATPL exams would be tough and, on reflection, they are a huge challenge that I am very proud to have overcome. I remember asking myself, “How could I work full time as cabin crew with such reactive rosters and study?” “How could I secure enough time off work to allow me to complete the brush-up study weeks and exams?” “How can I keep saving my money to pay for the training?” I battled against each of these challenges and questions, eventually answering them all with actions and achievements. Truly, if you want something as much as I do, you will overcome any challenge that you face and I look forward to the next!
What’s been your favourite part of training so far?
That’s an easy question to answer. Having been awarded my PPL in South Africa, I needed to hour-build and consolidate my training. What could be better than flying solo or with like-minded friends across such a beautiful continent? Sharing my passion with others, having the freedom to simply plan a route and fly it and discovering the limits of my aircraft whilst gaining confidence in my ability as a pilot were all key ingredients of a truly special and favourite part of my professional training that I will never forget.
What’s the next step for you once you have your licence?
I like the sound of that! Well, initially, I will be applying for a position with all major airlines as a First Officer, flying either long or short haul. But I see this element as being far from the end of my journey; career progression is very much the top of my agenda! If I am fortunate enough to be offered a position, my longer term plan is to continue studying and training hard in order to be selected for a captaincy. From there, I will look to become a training captain and achieve a senior role within the airline’s pilot cadre. This may sound a little ambitious coming from someone who has not yet achieved their licence but I am passionate, driven and utterly determined to get to where I want to be. I feel that I can offer so much to a prospective employer, not least commitment, loyalty and achievement – as evidenced throughout my career journey so far!
Your three words to describe a flying career?
Aviation Love Story
What words of advice would you pass on to any aspiring pilot hoping to follow the same route as you?
You must commit. If you want something so much then committing to the cause should come naturally. There is no doubt that you will face challenges, obstacles, limits, testing times and situations that may lead you to question yourself. Yet you must remember that each of these instances make you stronger and that through self-discipline, effort and sheer hard work, you will find a way. You must never lose sight of your dream and, as I have always said to myself since childhood… “follow your bliss.”