Bristow, January 10, 2021 - ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND - Janine Lythe and Mathew Reid joined the Bristow team in Aberdeen in January 2020, as part of a fully sponsored Instrument Rating training program designed to develop a new generation of helicopter pilots. They recently discussed the initial stages of their training with Bristow:
What made you want to pursue a career in aviation?
Mat: “I knew very early on that I wanted to be a pilot and have always been involved in aviation in some way. I joined my local RAF Air Training Corps as a cadet as a teenager and volunteered at a gliding squadron when I turned 16. After studying aerospace engineering at university, I worked for a helicopter operator on the ramp as ground support. This was a great learning experience as I was exposed to the different disciplines involved in helicopter operations.”
Janine: “After completing a degree in Forensic Science and Criminology at university, I worked for Northamptonshire County Council, but I knew it wasn’t the career for me. I made a list of the things I enjoyed and where I felt my strengths were. Everything started pointing to aviation – it was a sector I had a definite interest in, so I visited a local flight school to explore the idea. As soon as I sat in a helicopter I thought, ‘This is what I’m meant to do’.”
Can you describe the process of learning to fly with Instrument Rating (IR)?
Mat: “The training has been quite intense, and such a fantastic experience. We started at Castle Air Academy in Gloucester, where we completed three days of ground school on an AW109 aircraft. This was followed by 40 hours in a simulator, learning Instrument Flying Rules (IFR), which means we can pilot the aircraft using only the on-board instruments, with no reliance on visibility. For our final IFR exam, we completed 10 hours in a simulator where we couldn’t see anything – we had to rely completely on those instruments – followed by a two-hour flight test.”
Janine: “IR has quite a steep learning curve, but we have both really enjoyed it. After finishing at Castle Air, we joined the team in Aberdeen for ground school, which included 80 hours training in the Sikorsky S-92 simulator, before completing a two-day skills test. In addition to the IFR and visual aspects, we were tested on our knowledge of flight procedures throughout, with Mat and I alternating between pilot flying and pilot monitoring roles. As part of this process, we simulated an entire flight which included take-off, navigating to an offshore oil installation and then returning to land back at an airport in really poor visibility.”
What exams did you to complete before flying with passengers?
Mat: “We had to complete a further two exams before flying with passengers. First, we completed a ‘sim to aircraft’ flight – this involved two hours of piloting a real S-92, to allow us to finalize our type rating course and have that aircraft type on our flying license. It was amazing to take the controls of an S-92 in the air and it felt reassuringly familiar in a lot of ways thanks to the hours of practice we had completed in the simulator.”
Janine: “The second step was completing our ‘day decks’, which involved undertaking at least five safe take-off and landing procedures from an offshore installation during daylight. This was the most nerve-wracking part of the training, as it was a very new experience – you have to handle the complexity of flying a large aircraft in limited air space, on an offshore asset where people are at work. After the first landing, I felt much more at ease and then just really enjoyed the rest of the flight.
How has the experience of training on the line been?
Mat: “Having successfully passed our initial IR training, we knew how to fly helicopters proficiently – line training allows us to focus on learning how to fly in a professional, offshore environment.
“There is a lot to consider, with changing weather conditions and the potential need to re-plan your route if a landing site needed to change for any reason. You have to maintain situational awareness at all times, which makes the support we receive from the rest of the team invaluable. It’s been a brilliant experience.”
Janine: “Every stage of training to be a pilot involves a steep learning curve, but it has been managed really well, so I haven’t felt overwhelmed at any point. There was a lot to learn including flight planning systems which take into account a number of aspects such as weather conditions, NOTAMs – otherwise known as notice to airmen, fuel requirements and your flight route. I had some experience of this, but there always lots of lessons to be learned.
“For my first flight, I had the pilot flying role throughout and my line training Captain took the pilot monitoring role. This gave me a great opportunity to get some more hands-on flying experience on an S-92, while gaining a greater understanding of what happens during a commercial offshore flight. The line training Captains are all very supportive and have so much knowledge and experience to share.”
Has any part of the process been particularly enjoyable or challenging?
anine: “The most enjoyable and the most challenging parts are actually the same – offshore landings. The visual references you use to maneuver are different to what I am used to, and at first, it’s a very surreal experience to land on a rig in the North Sea. I’m also really enjoying the multi-crew aspect, especially growing in the pilot monitoring role as I come from a single-pilot background. On my first day I wondered how anybody managed to listen to two radios at once, as there can be a lot of communication between the various air and ground units, but thankfully it’s become second nature already.”
Mat: “Ground school put us in a great position and made our transition to line training easier. Like Janine, my favorite experience so far has definitely been the initial deck landings on a rig. It was something I’d never experienced before, and it was really out of my comfort zone so when I completed my first landing I had such a great sense of achievement. While the whole process has been challenging, we’ve been well supported by such an experienced team, which has made the process so enjoyable.”
How has Covid-19 created additional challenges for you as a pilot?
Janine: “I’m very grateful that we were both able to keep flying throughout the lockdown, supporting our customers’ operations and we could continue our training. Like every business environment during this time, extra measures were put in place including screens being installed to separate crew from passengers, and additional sanitization being introduced. These guidelines started to come in during my second week of line training, so in a way it was easier for me, as they were the first procedures I learned.”
Mat: “I’m definitely thankful that I’ve been able to continue my training and progression even through the pandemic. Bristow has done a fantastic job of ensuring the safety of its crews and passengers. While it’s not quite how imagined my career would start, the new processes were introduced seamlessly, and that ensured there was no disturbance to training or service delivery.”
Bristow operates the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to support oil and gas offshore companies and for search and rescue on behalf HM Coastguard