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VHR Interviews a Fighter Jet Pilot

  • by: Adrian Mansfield
  • On: 20, Nov 2019
4 min read

At the Dubai Air Show 2019, VHR’s team are meeting business leaders and industry pioneers. Mid-week, our recruiters caught up with a fighter jet pilot.

Here VHR interviews Charlie Hallum on what he does every day, the highlights of his Aviation career and his advice for those wanting to follow in his footsteps.

Describe a Day in the Life of a Fighter Jet Pilot

‘I live and work in the USA. On the ship we operate with night currency and work to an unusual time schedule: from 4am to 12pm, with a night landing every 7 days, for safety reasons.

‘Before our flights, we plan each mission and have a flight brief that lasts around 30-40 minutes. We then put on our flight gear and start flying. There are a number of launches and recoveries throughout the day 1:15 mins or 1:30 but dependent on mission can last up to 7 hours. Debrief then happens - what happened what should have happened how you can improve.

‘After flying, our time is our own. Some of us have additional ground jobs on the ship, such as Safety Officers, because only a certain number of people are allowed on the ship at any one time. In our free time we study, sleep and use the gym around set mealtimes all together.’

What Training is Needed to Fly in the Navy?

‘You must qualify as an Officer after an extensive training process. I graduated from University and flight school, and then went through a timeline of learning increasingly complex aircraft – trainees usually go from propeller to jet trainer. Squadron training teaches you the aircraft you have to fly, and then a front-line squadron enables you to be deployed on an aircraft carrier.

‘Fitness testing is tough, and it’s meant to be: to fight another aircraft one-on-one, you need to be in good shape and able to withstand G-Force as well as adrenaline and many other environmental factors. Physical fitness can be the difference between winning and losing.’

How Has Your Role Changed Since You Started?

‘The more senior you become, the more responsibility you have. To enable everyone to learn as much as they can, as fast and effectively as possible, there is a constant turnover of people in ground roles to experience every aspect of Military Aviation.

‘Now I’m an instructor teaching people how to fly. I have to be aware of more and more complicated tactics, as the threats against us are becoming increasingly complicated. Technology and aircraft systems are advancing so fast and enabling more sophisticated and more challenging threats.’

What Has Been the Best Moment of Your Career So Far?

‘My best moment was the whole process of getting accepted to top gun and training to be an instructor. I love teaching new recruits and seeing them grow into excellent pilots.’

How Is Your Career Different to Your Expectations?

‘I didn’t expect the collaborative style of learning – the squad that teach and learn from each other develop together. Going through deployment on aircrafts is eye-opening – I am currently experiencing the longest nuclear carrier deployment ever and potentially the longest carrier ever. On my second deployment, I can see people on their first deployment feel cut off and disconnected from the world like I did.

‘I also didn’t expect rubbish Internet signal everywhere! We have very weak connection so have to use dial-up Internet.’

Are You Impacted by the Pilot Shortage, And What Do You Think is the Solution?

‘Even if there are fewer heads available, we are still tasked with the same amount of work. The skills shortage is making us a lot busier. At first, we were 15 and now we are down to thirteen – once colleagues come up to a three-year point, they often feel the need to move on and progress in career.

‘The shortage of skills around the world has given me greater opportunities inside and outside of the Military. I would recommend trainees start through the Military: it pushes you to be a better pilot with training you couldn’t benefit from otherwise.

‘I think a major reason behind the shortage is the high cost involved to get started in your career. New recruits used to be able to go to local airports to fly small planes, but they now have to pay larger costs to do this. Airlines are also requiring a higher number of flying hours before interested candidates can even submit an application. America requires on average 1,500 hours prior to application, which is a difficult barrier to overcome – applicants may have to work for a regional airline to build time to apply for legacy.

‘More flights with high demand for air travel across the globe means that the industry will need to treat the shortage as a matter of urgency.’

What Do You Think Your Role Will Look Like in 10 Years?

‘Aviation technology innovation could see supersonic aircraft making a comeback to follow on from the Concord. A decade into the future, we might be flying different types of aircraft – planes that can take off and land vertically, or smaller planes and electric aircraft.’

What Advice Would You Give to Someone Looking to Start a Similar Career?

‘Be passionate about your future career and don’t try to hide it. Be open and work hard. Being a fighter pilot is a young person’s game, so don’t wait – say exactly what you want to do and your desires in the industry. This heightens the chances of opportunity.

‘Don’t take no for an answer. Build a thick skin and don’t give up. I was told I wasn’t physically qualified because I suffered migraines at high school; my physical screening results disqualified me from Aviation and the Military. However, I persevered and got lucky – I met the Head Flight Sargent of the Navy, made my case to him, worked my hardest, and he helped me through. Had I not met this person and had my case taken under his own wing I wouldn’t have been able to get past the gates.

‘Another challenge I encountered early on was my seasickness. I started out suffering badly with travel sickness, but the Military training helped me adjust my body and now I don’t suffer at all. When starting out in your career, you need to have a mindset of, “This is what I am going to do, and nothing will stop me”.’

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