Graduate Profile

Liam, BSc Physics 2005 - Airline Pilot

I graduated from St Andrews with a BSc (Hons) in Physics in 2005 since then I have become an airline pilot based in the Southwest. I found that my Physics degree helped enormously throughout my flying training.

When I left university I studied at one of the UK's approved flight training centres for 18 months to become a professional pilot.


The first 6 months of the course was spent entirely in the classroom. We studied a range of subjects to prepare us for the 14 written exams. Some of the subjects included Meteorology, Radio Navigation, Communications and Principles of Flight. Whilst some of the subjects were interesting unfortunately this is the most boring part of flight training! If you stacked all the books on top of each other the resulting pile was over 2 feet high…I lost count of the number of highlighters I used.

The next 6 months were spent in Arizona for our basic flying training. In America we flew single engine aircraft whilst we learnt the basics of handling the aircraft and navigation using little more than a map and compass. Not only was the training good fun, navigating our way around the desert, but there was also time for a few road trips. Las Vegas, Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon weren't too far away…

Back in the UK we starting flying multi-engine aircraft. There was a greater emphasis on flying the aircraft using only the instruments on board the aircraft for navigation. This training was in preparation for the Instrument Rating flying test. This test is very difficult because it is so easy to fail! In my class of 24 around half passed first time, the rest received either a partial pass or fail. It is a key indicator of your ability for airlines so it is obviously important you do well!

In order to fly as aircrew for a passenger airline it is necessary to obtain a certificate in multi crew cooperation. This was completed in a full motion Boeing 737 simulator. We took it in turns to be the Captain and First Officer and acted the part of the flight crew of a medium sized jet. We would play out a variety of scenarios that a flight crew could reasonably expect to encounter. (Bad weather, passenger illness and equipment failures etc). This was great fun! After almost a year of training it felt like we were getting close to a real passenger aircraft!

Shortly after finishing my training I passed an interview and simulator assessment for an Airline based in the Southwest flying propeller driven aircraft. Much celebration followed!

On my first day at work I was back in the classroom to learn about the specific aircraft my employer operated. This was followed up with 2 weeks in the simulator. We also had tuition in Dangerous Goods, Security and Safety & Emergency Procedures. The exams don't stop there, every 6 months I have to take compulsory refresher courses!

I appreciate that the route to becoming an airline pilot sounds like two years of exams and flight tests but it is definitely worth it. It doesn't feel like a job at all because it really is great fun!