19th December 2017

I Can Be... a Pilot 

i can be meets mandy hickson, a former tornado pilot in the royal air force

have you always wanted to be a pilot?

Mandy Hickson

Mandy Hickson

No. My interest in flying really grew when I joined the air training corps, a club run by the Royal Air Force (RAF) for 13 to 18 year olds. My mum first read about it when there was an article in the local newspaper, informing us that they were opening their doors to girls for the first time. 

What was the best thing about being a pilot?

It is challenging, demanding, exciting and I loved the fact that every day at work involves something different. When you are airborne, you enter another world, its like dancing around the clouds!

What did a typical day as a pilot involve?

It really depends whether you were serving on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, or whether you were based at home.

When flying from our home base, we would start the day with a ‘Met Brief’ (weather brief) at 0800 (the military way of saying 8am). Then we would spend about 2-3 hours planning our mission, have an hour briefing to prepare us, and an hour to walk out to the jet and start it up.

The flight would last about 2 hours and we'd do lots of different things - low level navigation, formation, bombing practice or air-to-air combat to name a few.

When we landed, the debrief lasted about an hour. In the debrief, you discuss what went well and not so well so that you can learn and be better the next time. The rest of your day is filled with secondary duties, such as combat survival and rescue officer training, entertainment or looking after the coffee bar for all of your colleagues! 

What advice would you give to a girl who was thinking about a career in the RAF?

Join the ATC (Air Training Corps) …its free! See if you like the environment, then go from there. 

What was the highlight of your career as a pilot? 

The highlight was definitely serving my country in over 50 combat missions flying the Tornado GR4 fighter plane over Iraq. 

Has being a woman affected your career at all? If so, how?

It probably made it a little more challenging as I was always the only female pilot on any squadron that I served on. I really enjoyed working with men though, although occasionally I did crave a little female conversation!

If you weren't a pilot, what would you have been? 

I originally considered a career in the police force, but I'm glad I became a pilot. 

What are your aspirations for the future? 

I've actually left the RAF now and I run my own business, where I talk as a keynote, motivational speaker.

I visit schools as well as businesses and the corporate world. I talk about how to overcome hurdles, resilience and grit to audiences all over the country and abroad. 

I've also just written a book, so I am hoping to get that published in 2018.