“Another natural phenomenon I experienced for the first time this year was St. Elmo’s Fire. This is a visible luminous electrical discharge across the windscreen, which is blue or violet in color, and looks very similar to that of lightning. It occurs when the atmosphere becomes charged and a strong electrical potential between the air and the aircraft causes a discharge of plasma. The St. Elmo’s fire plasma beams are spectacular to watch, lighting up the flight deck with their intense, bright beam.”
What is your favorite destination to fly over?
Mark Vanhoenacker: “I think nighttime arrivals to London Heathrow are spectacular. As pilots, we see it every day, but I try to remember that on every one of my flights there are most likely several customers who are seeing this city for the very first time. That helps me to retain my own excitement and sense of wonder.”
Hannah Wells: A vista that never fails to impress me from the flight deck window is that of the Greek islands. The shockingly turquoise-blue of the sea contrasts beautifully against the sun-drenched Islands with their sandy beaches and picturesque towns. Flying over these islands always makes me wish I was going on holiday with the passengers too! I also love flying over Blackpool in the UK when the Illuminations are on throughout winter. Blackpool Tower, all three piers and the promenade look spectacular all lit up by the twinkling lights, which are visible from the aircraft on a clear evening. This holds a special place in my heart as it is where I grew up and is where my family live.”
Do you wear sunglasses every day?
Hannah Wells: “One of the great things about my job is that I get to see the sunshine every day at work! I always make sure to carry my sunglasses with me in my flying bag. As pilots, our eyesight is tested every year at our medical, so it is important we look after our eyes while flying. We don’t need to wear a special type of sunglasses; they just can’t be polarized as this can affect the visibility of the screens in the flight deck.”
Do you get bored while you’re on autopilot? Can you do other things during that portion of the flight?
Mark Vanhoenacker: “On longer flights, we may have three or four pilots, ensuring we each get a break of at least a few hours. On the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, we have a bunk—a little bedroom tucked away above the first cabin—where we can sleep while the miles pass by. If it’s a daylight flight, I might read or watch a film.”
Do pilots eat the same plane food as the passengers, or is there a secret pilot menu?
Clive Richardson: “Our Flexjet passengers enjoy exceptional, bespoke cuisine on our flights; it’s part of our personalized Red Label service ethos and served in a fine dining style by our cabin servers. Often, our pilots will enjoy crew meals from the same suppliers—it could be sushi, salads, or a beautiful fruit or cheese plate. Ultimately as a pilot, you’re traveling so much of the time so it’s important to focus on eating clean and healthy.”
Do you have an aviation watch? If so, which one?
Mark Vanhoenacker: “The history of the wristwatch is closely linked to aviation—Louis Cartier created one so that the pioneering Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont could keep an eye on the time with both hands on the controls. Some pilots have aviation-style watches, but smartwatches are probably more popular now, especially as so many pilots—we’re a health-conscious community—use them to track their fitness regimes.”
Do you have a script for making passenger announcements? Why are these so detailed?
Hannah Wells: “We are provided with some guidelines for making passenger announcements from the flight deck. However, we try to tailor our announcements to each specific flight, so they sound natural, friendly and approachable, as well as being informative. We always provide updates to the passengers whenever they are required, to ensure passengers have an understanding of the situation and the progress of the flight.”