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News > Bradfieldian Stories > Following his flying dream

Following his flying dream

Max O'Connor (C 13-18) joins British Airways as a Pilot
Max celebrating his CPL pass
Max celebrating his CPL pass

Max O’Connor (C 13-18) left Bradfield in 2018 with the goal of training as a commercial pilot and joining an airline. In the Leaver’s Yearbook, his Housemaster Andy Golding wrote: “I am delighted that he has such a passion that he can continue and pursue beyond his time at Bradfield. Listening to Max talking about his RAF and flying experience fills me with huge confidence that he has chosen the correct career path, he is so passionate and his face lights up when he talks about becoming a pilot. I am excited for him and his future, an excellent career path that will take him to new heights!”

It was not the conventional way of doing things after leaving school and the journey was less than straightforward for Max, particularly as soon after he left school, life was interrupted for all of us by Covid. Max originally applied to EasyJet who at the time had a future pilot scheme taking only 18 months to qualify and received an offer to start at the end of March 2020. Max adds “This as you can imagine never ended up happening, in fact it was a stroke of luck it didn’t happen. Had I started a month earlier, I would have had to continue training and would have finished into a post Covid economy with no jobs.” As a result, he had a rethink at this point and decided to take the modular route, involving sourcing his own personal training at different schools to acquire all the different licences and ratings, until he was ready to join an airline.

Max began his journey at his local flying school, White Waltham Airfield, an old World War 2 grass airfield which was once home to the Air Transport Auxillary. There he learnt the fundamental skills to fly. It also happens to be in the most challenging airspace in Europe, due to its close proximity to London Heathrow, so he remembers being thrown in at the deep end. He completed his Private Pilot’s Licence between the Covid lockdowns, finishing in December 2020. 

After his Private Pilot’s Licence, the challenge was to build flying hours at a time when the influence of the Covid lockdowns was still crippling airlines and jobs were non-existent for new pilots. Max therefore, spent the next 18 months ‘hour building’ while the airline industry recovered and waiting for things to improve. He knew the next few stages of his training would take just over a year, so he tried to manage his progress to finish at the right time.

Max finished his hour building and joined Leading Edge Aviation who are based in Oxford, in November 2022 to complete his ground school. This was a long 8 months of study. They say that the ground school theory for a Commercial Pilot Licence is like drinking from a fire hose. There’s a lot of information to take in and not a lot of time to learn it. The course is split into 3 modules, and you take official exams every 3 months or so for 4 or 5 different subjects. The pass mark is 75% and he finished this in June 2023 with an average of 88%. Max remembers this is the hardest part of his training and it was also during this period that he regularly overflew Bradfield en route from Cornwall and Wales and shared a photograph in the gallery below which he took of Bradfield from the air.

Max completed his Advanced Flight Training in 2023 on the DA42 a multi-engine aircraft made by an Austrian company called Diamond. This was a huge step up for him with more modern equipment and a much faster cruise speed. After this, he passed his Commercial Pilot’s Licence flight test in October 2023 another important milestone.

Instrument Rating followed which is learning to fly without looking outside. Max said “You simulate this by wearing a “hood”, you wear it around your head and it stops you from seeing outside. During this time, I spent 30 hours in a simulator and 25 hours flying in the south of England. It was the most enjoyable part of training, as during the cruise the workload is lower, and you can look around and take in the changing views.” Max completed this training in December 2023. Learning to fly with another pilot is another skill and done in an airline simulator which takes 40 hours. Being taught how to communicate effectively and brief each other is an important part of flying and something that up until then he had never had to do due to all operations being single pilot.

The very last stage was Upset Prevention Training which teaches you to recover the aircraft when it is in an unusual attitude, i.e. upside down. Max said “for some people is a great part of training but my stomach thought otherwise, and I can firmly say I will be doing everything in my career to make sure I’m not flying upside down!” With all the licences he needed, Max had another stroke of luck when British Airways opened up their recruitment for newly qualified pilots (something that had been closed since 2019) and he applied in late 2023. The application process involved 2 interviews and a group task. This took place at their head office, Waterside. He passed this and 2 weeks after training he was offered a place as a First Officer on the A320 aircraft based at London Heathrow, where is he now finishing his final training.

Max was thrilled that after 3 and half years and a few setbacks he had landed his dream job. During training there had been occasions when looking back he thinks it would have been more sensible to pick a more stable career, but with close-monitoring of the industry and persistence, Max had made it work. He is now undertaking his fleet training at British Airways to begin flying as a First Officer in July 2024.

Max says his Bradfield experience was key to where he is today. At school he had no idea what he wanted to do 10 years on. It was joining the Combined Cadet Force RAF section that changed everything. Max remembers, “We were lucky enough to go on a fair few air experience flights and from that first flight I knew that’s what I wanted to do and quickly realised university wasn’t for me. The skills and experiences I had leading the RAF section in my last year I have used in all my airline interviews since.”

Of the job interview process Max explains “Airline interviews are very different to conventional job interviews. As you’ve all got an identical licence with identical hours and experience it requires you to have other strings to your bow, in order to stand out. The questions are all competency-based questions, so the experiences I had in the CCF are used heavily in this. Skills to manage people are also used daily and the discipline and organisational skills I learnt, I use in my flying every day.”  Max is very grateful to his family for helping to fund his training and to shop around for the most affordable options during this period. Most integrated students have to pay upfront for all their training, so it helped him to spread the cost out over 3 years.

For Max his favourite part of his job is definitely the places you see and the sense of freedom. “When you look outside the view is never the same, the clouds are always different the sun is always lighting the sky in a new way. Being able to do my hour building, fly to the Isle of Wight, then go to the beach and then fly back home low level around the coast. All in an afternoon! That’s something that I still can't quite believe I am able to do. “

After discovering his passion for flying in the CCF at school, his patience and determination has helped Max to succeed and find himself a career he loves. If anyone is interested in following a similar path, the steps involved are listed below, or you can contact Max via the Bradfield Society office and he will help answer any questions if he can.

The stages of training to be pilot, are as follows:

Private Pilot’s Licence – 3 months of basic flight training

Hour Building – 125 hours of flying to build experience

Night Rating – 5 hours of learning to fly at night

Ground School – 8 months long consisting of 14 subjects with an exam for each subject

Multi-engine Rating – Learning how to fly with two engines and a bit faster!

Multi-engine Commercial Pilot’s Licence – 25 hours of flight training with a 2 hour flight exam

Multi-engine Instrument Rating – learning to fly on flight instruments alone in poor weather conditions

Multi-Crew Corporation – Learning how to fly together with someone else and split the workload (easier said than done, as to up until this point you’ve been doing everything single pilot!)

Advanced Upset Prevention Training – learning how to recover the aircraft from unexpected situations.

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