My name is Olivier, I’m 43 years old. I am a French airline pilot. I am the only one in my family interested by planes. And I wonder how I became so passionate about aviation and flying. Trying to understand how my passion for aviation aroused, I remembered a childhood memory.
When I was 6 years old, we moved to a new apartment. Our neighbour was a cabin crew for UTA, at the time the second largest French airline, flying from Paris to dream destinations such as Australia, South Africa, Singapore, La Réunion island or Tahiti. Back from her trips overseas, she used to offer me small gifts like postcards, key rings, goodies…
Maybe she was part of the explanation. Ten years ago, I sent her a letter explaining I was a private pilot (as this time), and in her moving answer, she wrote: « I’m pretty sure a good fairy filed in your cradle with this quest of sky and travel, and my “contribution” by my presence in your neighbourhood was just a little reminder on your way. But I am very touched that you share with me the memory. » I was moved by these words too. Yes, maybe a fairy godmother looks at the cradle of each of us to lay the seeds of a passion…
These seeds continued to grow, and at 15 years old, I was reading aviation magazines at the public library. The title of one of them was « Aviation & Private Pilot ». Two years later, I was able to work for this magazine for a month, as a summer job. I did my very first flight in a light plane with the editor in chief, in a nice Cessna Centurion, out of Lognes airfield, close to Paris. After this memorable flight, I bought the private pilot handbook… which laid on a shelf for almost 10 years. Of course, from time to time, I was reading a chapter or another, but I didn’t really have enough either time or money to fly.
I started my PPL training in 2000, and 10 years after my first flight, I took off from the very same runway, at LFPL, flying a Robin DR400 with my flight instructor. I passed my test the year after, and flew as a private pilot for 9 years, with friends, family and colleagues to make them discover how nice it is to travel in a light plane, overflying beautiful landscapes before relaxing for a nice weekend in nice places like the Atlantic french islands (Ouessant, Belle-Ile or Yeu). I had a chance to fly in the USA only two months after my PPL skill test, in Nevada and California, doing amazing things for a young private pilot, like landing on an airport at 8 000 feet or in the Death Valley, where your altimeter reads a negative altitude on short final.
I flew in French West Indies, flying from Grand Case airfield on Saint-Martin island, and practising touch and go with a flight instructor in Saint-Barth, famous for its very challenging approach above the hill.
In 2003, I had the unique opportunity to be in the student seat of an Aero L29, a military jet trainer used in most of the Warsaw Pact countries in the 1960s. With the owner, we flew from Paris to Nouakchott. This was a wonderful trip, my very first in Africa, through Spain, Morroco and Mauritania.
A few weeks after this amazing trip, I had another unique experience, one of my best aviation memory: a flight onboard Concorde, for the last commercial flight of the beautiful bird with Air France. A supersonic loop over the Atlantic. An incredible 1h45 flight, on the edge of the stratosphere, where the colour of the sky is not the same, a dark blue, so close to space… And a memorable arrival at Charles-de-Gaulle airport with firemen trucks, a long taxi across the airport, with a salute to the Concorde fans, and another one to the Air France staff in front of the airline headquarters.
The year after, back to Africa. I flew a Cessna 172 with the Toulouse-Saint Louis du Sénégal air race. More than 20 light planes flying along the famous route created in the late 1910s by the Aeropostale pilots like Jean Mermoz and Antoine de Saint Exupery (and dozens of other anonymous heroes).
I was jump seating a lot during these years and flight after flight, I realized I wanted to be an airline pilot. I was almost 35 years old when I started my professional training. I decided to do all my training in English, and prepare my theoretical ATPL exams with Bristol Ground School. Then I went to Bristol for my CPL and IR training, flying the Piper Arrow and the Seneca. Thereafter, I came back to France for my Flight Instructor Rating.
I was an instructor in an air club near to Paris for a few months, then I was hired to fly a Beech 200 in Paris-Le Bourget Airport. I flew this aircraft for 5 years and almost 2 000 hours, first as a First Officer, then as a Captain. Our missions were Medevac flights (organs transportation and ambulance flights), freight and VIP flights. I flew to almost 150 different airports, from big ones as Amsterdam or Charles de Gaulle to small airfields in 20 different countries.
This was a very enriching experience. In this company, I was flying 30-year-old planes with classical instrumentation, an old GPS not coupled with the autopilot (we flew using the heading mode for departure, cruise and arrival), with a lot of technical issues. It definitely helps to gain good airmanship and captaincy skills.
Then I flew a brand new Daher-Socata TBM 900, very fast plane (330 knots TAS). I was there for the delivery of the aircraft at the factory and flew the first flight. That was the first time in my pilot’s life I was flying a plane that has flown only 3 hours! I flew the plane for a few months only, but what a pleasure to fly a modern plane, with a glass cockpit, so different from the 1960’s panel of the old Super King Air!
I started to use Flight Sim years ago when the design was very basic. I joined Ivao in 2008 but didn’t fly a lot at the beginning. In 2014, as I was flying the Beech 200 in Bordeaux, two friends of mine came to see the plane. One of them proposed to do a livery for the King Air, using the exact paint of my company’s plane. When he finished it, I really wanted to try it, so I bought the last version of Flight Simulator and flew with the King Air. And decided it would be funnier to do it online. Thanks to him, I am back on Ivao, mostly as ATC at Lyon-Saint Exupery.
Recently, my pilot career took a new direction, as I passed the Cityjet assessment. Last summer, I did my Avro RJ85 Type Rating, my first on a jet. Another memorable experience was my first flight on the real plane, taking off from Dublin to fly to Shannon where I did the base check. A few days before, I was practising traffic patterns with a PPL student in Toussus-le-Noble, a general aviation airfield close to Paris, and I was now doing the same exercise, but flying a 42 tons and four engine jet… My Line Training will start soon. A new chapter of my pilot’s life is starting.
I love to read and to write, and as a matter of fact, my first job was a journalist. I own a (very small) edition company (www.ankidoo.com), and during the last 10 years, I published aviation books (in French), including several written by a friend, ATR42 Captain and TRI, another one by a pilot who started to fly just after World War II, and a book of a cabin crew and private pilot. I wrote and published, a few years ago, a book about my flights as a private pilot, and will publish by the end of the year another one to share my flight experiences in Africa.