My name is Haytham and this is my story of how I tried to become a pilot.
Things might not go according to how we have planned or how we wish for it to turn out and that's alright. We take it in our stride to seek alternatives in attaining our set goals but at the very least we should be honest, upfront and transparent with ourselves as well as those around us.
No doubt we can't expect the same from others what we hold ourselves to and there is no denying that there are other more important things that requires absolute honesty and transparency.
However, you can't deem someone's journey as not that important. It is important.
It is important to them and they see the sacrifices they've made as huge, for that we shouldn’t fail them, can we?
The following account occurred between mid 2017 to mid 2018.
Passing immigration I waved back at my sisters and best friend who had accompanied me to send me off at the airport,
(I didn't want my mum to come because you know...it makes it harder)
I thought this is it, we're doing it. We as in myself, I'm doing it. Finally! On my way to a Flight School in Western Australia to realize my lifelong dream of becoming a Pilot.
Of course, I do not know what's in store but we journey positively. There are 16 – 18 year old(s) elsewhere in the world who have their PPL in hand, so why can’t I a 20 something year old achieve it?
I'm still thinking, when exactly I can actually call myself a pilot.
Boarding the plane, I’m thinking about all the good things the flight school had told me, picturing all the possible achievements they said that I could see myself achieve with their help, how they have the best instructors with the most approachable demeanor.
It's all exciting isn't it, yes it was and I believed them placing full faith in them.
So before this, I had no experience flying an actual plane whatsoever only that I have spent my early teens to early 20s flying Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 on my laptop when I should have been studying, watching hundreds of National Geographic’s Air Crash Investigation series when I should have been studying, not missing a single Air Show since 2008 by even skipping school during the trade days, commuting a total of 3.5hrs both ways from my home in the west to the airport in the east for a job that I knew wouldn’t really propel me any further, but still stuck it out for 6 months just so that I could be next to a B737, in a B777, around an A380.
Also at one point before embarking on my journey to attain my Private Pilot’s License, I thought it would be a great idea to undertake a Bachelor’s Degree. Everyone around me was doing it. Everyone was pursuing a degree of some sort. Naturally, I thought that I should do the same. – Now this is where you should stop yourself. Never give in to society’s pressure. If you want to do a degree it should be because you want to do a degree and put yourself in a better position for whatever reason that might be. Not because everyone else is doing it and so should I, otherwise I would feel left out.
No. That shouldn’t be the deciding factor. It was a costly mistake and I dropped out after a year.
We live and we learn.
I was advised to check out this flight school in person to see if I wanted to train with them and at the same time try and see if I can acclimatize to the Australian weather. Basically try and test the waters before committing. So I did. I decided to go to Australia and check things out for 7 days. I flew down to W.A for the first time in my life in July 2017. Completely unprepared, didn’t know it was right in the thick of winter and it was 3˚C when I landed. My body went into a shock. I didn’t even have a winter jacket, all I had was a regular jacket that did little to keep me warm. My Airbnb host came to pick me up at the airport and was very accommodating. I tried to learn to cater to my needs in those 7 days, but I couldn’t neither did I feed myself any proper meal for that 1 week. All I could think about was the freezing cold weather.
With a lot of unease, I navigated my way down to the local airport on the 2nd day. Pulled up to the flight school and walked in to a huge stove like wood heater that I only saw in movies. It was warm and I never left the side of it while talking to the founder of the school. Out the glass door and windows I could see a lot of light aircrafts, C172's and C152's taxiing, landing and taking off.
They told me that I could do a 30 minute TIF – Trial Introductory Flight, if I wanted. I thought that I had to make a prior reservation for the slot and pay in advance etc. No, they made it very seamless and told me that I could get in the aircraft right away and if I chose to come back and train with them, then they would allow me to include that half an hour into my log book. So I said sounds fantastic, alright sure, let’s go. I waited aside by the front desk while someone went to get a flight instructor from the office at the back.
Fairly young, like myself I thought. Probably my age but I never asked nor confirmed. Shook my hand, not a lot of eye contact but welcomed me and asked if I’m ready. I said yes. I signed the waiver, made a quick call back home, grabbed a headset for myself and out to the aircraft we walked.
Surprisingly, he said that I could have control of the aircraft but that he would guide me and occasionally intervene at every stage of the flight. My mind was exploding in excitement, he would handle the pre-flight checks, radio communication etc and all I needed to do was to fly and have a feel of the aircraft and I did. I did everything without having any assistance from my flight instructor, except when we were about to land. When we were about to land, my landing profile caused him some doubt because he found himself that he hadn’t needed to intervene so far even at take off, so he intervened with his inputs for landing. He asked if I had flown a plane before, I said no I have not.
“I’ve never had anyone be so good on the first flight especially on a TIF, that was very good mate. It was all you, I only intervened right before touch down. I can’t say that I believe you when you said you’ve never flown an aircraft before”
And that’s how I met my flight instructor.
After the short flight, I had a lengthy chat with the founder and he was explaining about the pioneering days of his flight school and what the various and typical pathways are to becoming a pilot. He was a character himself and ended the conversation by saying that if I had more questions, I could come in to chat with the flight instructor again before flying back home.
The remaining days that I had were spent exploring Perth. I rented my Airbnb host’s car and visited a few horse farms which I’ve always wanted to see and tried to visually map out possible eateries, hangout spots, grocery shops, mosques and if possible try and make some acquaintances and exchange numbers. Which I’m so grateful to have met such friends.
One day prior to departing for Singapore, I drove down to the school again and had another lengthy talk with the flight instructor this time. I asked as many questions as I could conjure up. Of course I wouldn’t have been able to ask certain questions due to my naivety back then because it didn’t occur to me. I walked past a few notable flight schools that were run by the Airlines, made my way to the pilot’s shop to buy a Pilot’s Logbook as something tangible to hold, look at and encourage myself to come back and pursue my PPL with full commitment.
I decided that I would wait for winter to pass before coming back. I never experienced winter in my life before this.
Going full throttle
Fast forward a month and a half later, I’m in W.A. I stayed at the same Airbnb at West Churchill Avenue when I first came to check out the Flight School in July, for slightly more than 13 days before finding a place through Gumtree for like $100 per week in Kardinya – the cheapest I could find after making house visits to 20 different locations within a radius of about 40 minutes ‘drive using the flight school as the starting point. Some houses while visiting had left their doors unlocked and you can tell that it had actually been abandoned for some time. It was also during these 13 days that I was running high and low to find and buy a car because I thought I was going to be in Australia for a good while. The Airbnb host had 2 cars and said that I could rent one of it for an additional $25-$28/per day until I find one for my own. Keep in mind that I had already started flight lessons on the 3rd day after having arrived. Signed the papers, bought the books, terminal charts, E6B, airport maps and flight rulers, everything one may need to complete their PPL. I don’t know what I was thinking. Probably by this time desperation was starting to take over. Between house visits (hoping to find a better one before saying yes to the house in Kardinya), flight lessons, trying to study for ground school and getting a reasonable car, I was mounting pressure on myself.
*** If you are unsure about the contract/terms and conditions of your flight training program or sense that certain clauses are trying to tie you down disadvantageously DO NOT SIGN***
I made the mistake of signing the papers which the option I ticked required me to pay an additional $250 for access to online CPL books and materials which will be made available to me after acquiring my PPL, so that I wouldn’t have to pay the unsubsidized fuel rate for my PPL flight lessons and this $250 is non-refundable.
So I signed without knowing fully what it actually meant and neither did I know any better to ask more questions and nor were they keen on further elaborating on the terms.
Flight Schools will come up with all sorts of attractive incentives. Do not budge your morals and always think clearly and practically. You will not lose out. Their goal is to try and drag out your training for as long as possible so that they get the most amount of money out of you. Now I’m not saying all Flight Schools are like that. Just that the one I ended up choosing happen to put in a lot of effort in coming up with slogans such as “We make pilots here”, “We sell dreams here” and “We are the Largest…” On hindsight, that should already have been an indication to not proceed with them. But at least they let me log my TIF 0.5 hrs into my logbook. Right? It still helps with the overall count towards my PPL requirement.
Money was being used like a leaking tap at this point and I told myself I had to find a car as soon as I can so that I can move into the rental house in Kardinya although I was still on the fence about it. I couldn’t rely on public transport. Also I wasn’t able to find proper food until the 4th day because I keep taking the wrong turn and ending up on the highway. Didn’t know where the grocery store was, didn’t know where the affordable Asian eateries was, and didn’t feel comfortable buying pasta to cook in the pots at the Airbnb. So I just had bread with nutella the whole time with tea and bottled water. It became my staple until I found a car and moved into the rental house in Kardinya.
Something about the house in Kardinya
I said yes to the house in Kardinya. It was a very run down house and it was the only house that was obviously mature looking sandwiched between modern and elegant looking houses on the entire street. Owned by an Iranian engineer if my memory serves me right. The house is completely empty. No appliances, no central heating, no furnishings, too many doors with empty rooms, just a skeleton. Well I couldn’t stay at the Airbnb forever. It just wasn’t going to be feasible. I needed a place with hot running water and working lights and the landlord needed someone trustworthy to stay in the house to ‘take care’ of it as he was going to demolish it in 6 months’ time. I then understood why it was $100 per week.
So I thought great, I don’t have to worry about finding a place for the next 6 months, I don’t have to drive half an hour from the Airbnb to the airport anymore, instead now I only needed to drive 15 minutes to the airport. Money saved on fuel for the car equals to more time in the aircraft. Oh yes and I managed to buy a used car. I’m not even going to go into that, I bought it from a Lebanese car dealer somewhere in the outskirts of the city and moved out of the Airbnb to Kardinya in my car on the same day. So the agreement was that I would rent the last room at the back of the house for $100/per week because it was the smallest room including water usage, and since I was the only one in the house I could have the whole place to myself even though I was only paying for the room at the back. There wasn’t any printed tenancy contract and I didn’t know there needed to be such a thing as a tenancy contract, he just asked me to write on a piece of paper a generic tenancy agreement saying I would tend to the house and rose garden as needed, be prompt in paying the rent, he would come to collect the rent every 2 weeks, name, contact etc.
It was 8 p.m and he took the paper from me and said “I’ll look for other people who can also rent the rooms here that way you’re not alone and you will be able to split the electricity bill with them. But don’t worry it’s not going to come up to a lot, take care.”
I stood in the middle of an empty house all alone. First thing I did was to close all the unoccupied room doors and slept with the washroom and kitchen lights on. It was very rough. I told myself that I would come back just as winter had passed. I thought spring would be much bearable but I was wrong. I shivered throughout the night in the bitter cold. Only to wake up early morning with sore joints pacing the hallway waiting for the sun to come up. Temperatures dipped to 7˚C degrees at night and rising to only about 11˚C to 13˚C degrees in the day. Mind you this house doesn’t have any central heating nor were the walls well insulated. The cold temperature flowed through every wall and window. It would be a week before I even knew what an electric blanket was.
My everyday life in W.A will be randomly described in the coming narrations as I picked up the pace in my flight training.
Getting into a routine and finding normalcy
Took me awhile to adjust living in the house. The neighborhood libraries would become my place of hangout because there was free Wi-Fi. On days that I don’t have flight lessons I’ll be at the library, connected to the Wi-Fi I’d video call home and study my books for hours. Sometimes I would go to the mosque where I have made lifelong friends and who were ready to come to my aide, which I did need at one point. Other than that I mostly stayed at the house. I also found it weird to call it my home. So if I’m on a call with my family I would say I’m on my way back to the house, or I just refer to the entire house as the room.
Slowly but surely I found my routine. For the better part of September to early December I was flying at most twice a week with a break of at least 3 to 4 days in between each flight. I eased through much of the basics by mid-October, covered the PPL syllabus of straight and level, effects of controls, climbing and descending, medium level turns and I even participated in an Air Race – which I’ll come to later. I’m living my dream I thought. This is what I’ve always wanted to do and I’m training to be qualified to do just that for the rest of my life. I was genuinely content and felt productive. Of course, some days were better than others.
On the 10th day after moving into Kardinya, homesickness suddenly hit me like a huge tsunami.
It was so random. I didn’t even know what was wrong. I just cried the whole day, while trying to cook some pasta. Didn’t reply to any Whats-app messages. I didn’t want to be by myself and called one of the elders to whom I was introduced to when I first went to the mosque. Night was soon approaching and he asked if I could get to him right away before sunset. I said yes I’ll drive over. The mosque is a 40 minutes’ drive away. I had no control over myself and my eyes wouldn’t stop tearing the entire drive. He became my father figure and guardian - my biggest supporter for the many months I would find myself in Perth while training to become a pilot.
next week I’ll dive a little bit more into detail about the flight lessons I did in the months of October and November, my medical, lessons leading up to my first solo and the solo itself. Touching a little bit on Visa and how I heated up the house or just part of it.
“.....I think I was about to do my 4th touch-and-go maneuver when my instructor asked me to vacate the runway and pull up to the Northern Apron.
Immediately I thought I did something wrong.”