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All about me - becoming a student pilot

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

When I kept being asked how I got into aviation and what I studied at school to get to where I am, I realised that I have never written a post on who I am or what started this passion for me; so introducing this blog post... all about me. It's a little personal but I hope it gives you a bit of background on who I am and where I come from.

I've decided to split this blog into two parts. Part one, about my childhood and what I studied in school, and then part two will focus on what work experience I did as that's something that people ask me quite often as well.

So welcome to part one.

Back to the beginning

I was born on the 2nd of April 2000 in Kent, England. Two years later my little sister, Imogen, came along. We were really lucky in that our Mum has a passion for travelling, and so we would visit Spain every summer for a couple of weeks. Part of our family live in Denmark, so we would also take a lot of trips to visit them. All of these trips of course meant taking an airplane. I remember from a young age persuading my sister to let me have the window seat just so I could watch the plane take off and the world pass underneath... but I'm pretty sure this is a normal sibling argument to have 😂. The point of me saying this, is that I have never had a fear of flying, as I actually took my first flight at just 8 weeks old, and have flown regularly since then.

My family and I on holiday in Spain, 2005.

School life

The first school I attended from three years old was a small little school, where everyone pretty much knew everyone. I stayed at this school until I was eleven, when I took the 11+ and got accepted into a grammar school. So in Year 7 off I went to a grammar school, which had 120 students per academic year... a little different from my close knit primary school. It was the only mixed grammar school in my area, and I was so excited to start there. However I only ended up staying at this school for two and a half years.

My first day of primary school, 2004. My first day of secondary school, 2011.

At the age of 7, I got really into swimming and joined a competitive Swimming Club. At 9 years old I started racing. By 11 I was in the top squad of the club, and there was nothing more that I loved than this sport. I was training 20 hour weeks, which was a lot to incorporate with school, and required my parents waking up at 3.30am to take me to training, and not getting home until 11pm in the evenings. It was a lot to ask of them.

My sister and I after a swim competition, 2010. My first swim team.

When I was 13 years old, I got the opportunity to attend a boarding school in the South West of England on a sport/academic scholarship. The school had a world class swimming programme run by Robin Brew, a Former Olympic & British Record Holder. If I'm being honest, whilst I was doing quite well academically at my Grammar school, I didn't really love it, and so when I was presented with this opportunity I jumped at it. Two weeks later, my bags were packed, and thirteen year old me was moving 6 hours across the country just to go to school.

Looking back, that was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. Initially I did really well in my swimming. I was the Age Group County Champion of Devon, I competed at regionals for various different events and I was part of the team which placed 1st at the South West Regional Championships, and a relay team that won ESSA Nationals. I was able to go on training camps abroad and race all over the place. Being part of the Kelly Swimming team was something I will always be proud of. Swimming was something I loved but was never really 'it' for me. I knew that it wasn't something I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing, and was never something that I wanted to make a career out of, I just had a really strong love for the sport. That's why I was extremely lucky that the school, as well as providing an excellent swimming programme, offered me the chance to do well academically.

Sport teams at my boarding school, 2015.

In 2015 I sat my first GCSE exam. The rest I sat in 2016. My results were 10 GCSE examinations all grades A*- A in; Mathematics, English Literature, Core Science, Additional Science, Further Additional Science, Spanish, French, Statistics, Religious Studies, Physical Education and 1 GCSE examination grade B in English Language. I also completed an ECDL Qualification in ICT. 20 hours a week of intense swim training along with studying for school really taught me time management skills and how to work hard.

Mount Kelly also offered me the opportunity to do a variety of extra-curricular activities that I believe I really benefited from as a young adult, and from a young age started developing some of my skills that I would later need to start training to be a pilot.

Some of these activities were the CCF (Combined Cadet Force), Duke of Edinburgh award, LAMDA Public Speaking, and Sports Leadership. I really couldn't recommend activities such as these ones more, to improve communication and leadership skills.

CCF trip, 2016.

In 2016, I found aviation. I made the really tough decision to pack up my pack bags and leave my boarding school to go back home for sixth form. I had made some of the best friends and some of the best memories of my life at Kelly, but to be able to fly, I needed to be near home. And that was that. I moved back to Kent for sixth form where I took A-Levels in Chemistry, Maths and Spanish in 2018. I also studied Biology in year one. I chose these options as they gave me a versatile set of skills, not because they were required by the flight school I chose.


My interest in aviation began on my sixteenth birthday when my Grandad, who was a PPL holder himself, and my Dad, gifted me a trial flying lesson in a Cessna 172 at Rochester Airport. I went flying on the 8th of April with an instructor, who I would later begin my PPL with, Colin, and my Mum in the back seat. I really think that I will always remember that day. I'd only ever been in a commercial airliner prior to this. I remember seeing a metal wire connected to the door and asking Colin what it was for. His response was to keep the door held on so it wouldn't fall off mid-flight. I remember in that moment thinking 'boyyyyy this isn't for everyone'. To this day, I still don't know if he was joking... but I doubt it.

Colin, my instructor, and I (Left), and my Grandad, Mum, Dad and I (Right) after my first ever flight 8th April 2016.

During that lesson, when handed a £200,000 machine at 2000 feet, rather than being overwhelmed by the prospect, I knew that learning to fly was something I just had to do.

I began working towards my PPL. I never had considered the aviation industry as one that I would work in, as the only pilots I had ever known were all male. At the start, it was purely just for my enjoyment. It wasn't until my school asked me to start considering what I wanted to apply for at university, and my Mum asked me if I had considered aviation, that I discovered that there were opportunities for young females like myself. A lot of my self belief, and initial passion for flying I have Colin to thank for. He was absolutely fantastic and told me that I had what it took, which really boosted my confidence to choose this path. I am so grateful that I had such an encouraging first instructor and he will always be a big part of my journey.

I actually only managed to ever get 13 hours of flight time towards my PPL before getting accepted into CAE. The lovely British weather had a lot to do with that, and Rochester having a grass runway didn't help the case. Once I was accepted into CAE, I decided to save the money and put a pause to my training as I knew the Integrated route was designed to take me from zero experience. I also established my medical suitability for commercial piloting by passing my Class 1 EASA medical... that was a day in itself and a story for another blog post.

End note

That pretty much wraps up my upbringing into a quick post. I hope that by sharing my experiences in school, as well as in my free time, it has been useful to the people who asked. I know it's a super personal blog post, but I really hope that it can help to achieve the goal of my blog; inspiring people like myself to join me on this career path.

I wasn't born knowing that flying was what I wanted to do, I found out by going on a trial flight - something I can't recommend more if you think you might want to be a pilot.

Like I mentioned at the top of this post, part two will focus on what I did work experience wise, and how that benefited me on my journey so far, so keep an eye out for that soon✈️.

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Ashleigh Saunders
Ashleigh Saunders
Feb 09, 2022

So inspirational Honor! Incredible what you’ve achieved already! Can’t wait to share the skies with a great female pilot ✈️💪🏼

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