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  • Dyfrig Gibbs

Fit to fly - pt 3

pilot training blog

Pregnant again! Minor miracle baby no.2! I'm not sure that I subscribe to the idea that there is a perfect time to get pregnant, but it always happens at the perfect time. For us, this time, it happened literally 2 weeks after being told it would be very difficult, and at a time when it was the last thing on our agenda. Bella had just set up her childminding business and we were hell bent on getting me on an 18month integrated training course.

Be obstinate about your destination but entirely flexible on your route, embrace every new challenge with acceptance and positivity - they will improve the journey. This is the philosophical discovery of my quest so far.

Before we discovered Bear was on his way, I was running into a sizeable solid obstacle named funding - we couldn't find the securities required to release the rather large loan for integrated training. I started to bang my head against it a little - which isn't very productive. Then, one sunny afternoon in August, Bella sheepishly (she knows how desperate I am to get on a course and start training) called me in from mowing the lawn, sat me down and revealed our surprise. It is a wonderful shock. I am, we are, elated. Aria will have the sibling we dearly want her to have and with a lovely age gap. Having been given the strength and courage to pursue my dream from my first child, not for one moment did I feel the second was jeopardising it. His impending arrival did however, make me reassess the route - he gave me the freedom to stop banging my head against the integrated course option and get creative with my thoughts regarding other methods of training and financing. In a few quick months I came up with the plan outlined in this website. Finally, through the unlikeliest of sources, we have the most credible and coherent plan for successful navigation as a family through the training..... to date - it may change again. Better get my medical sorted.

It has been a gift, this respiratory system challenge of mine. Throughout the period of not-knowing and re-planning, one thing has been constant, my focus on attaining an un-restricted class 1 medical. I have run through the Autumn and into the wettest of Welsh winters. Luckily I love running in the rain. To get up and go running in torrential conditions is to take control of your destiny, it's saying, i'm doing this no matter what you throw at me. The other wonderful thing about running is that it's a perfect expression of one of life's oldest adages - the reward is directly proportional to your effort. You get out what you put in. As I empty my lungs climbing the steep valley side under perpetual dark threatening skies I can hear my reward in the elongated thunderous rumble of twin jet aircraft joining or leaving the great cross Atlantic sky path. By the early part of this year i'm as ready as i'll ever be. Also there's no more room in the house, for balloons - it looks like i've been a little too inspired by the film "Up".

18/02/16 - I have done all I can do, it's in the lap of the gods now. I'm due at Gatwick at 1345. I start the day with a 6am run, It's a perfect blue bird crisp morning and the early sky commute is well under way. A constant flow of over head traffic is pointing me to London. It's a 4 hour drive with no delays, I leave myself 5 and get there an hour early.

Aviation house - the CAA headquarters, is located on the southern boundary of Gatwick airport, just south of the runway, which is nearly perfectly east/west - headings 08/26. I parked. Between me and the runway is the headquarters, a road and a very large mesh fence. I had 45 minutes to spend and there was only 1 option. I walked right up to the fence, risked being mistaken for a runway protester, and stood watching and analysing the approach and landing attitudes. I couldn't peel myself away... every time a plane landed I would turn to head back and then think... just one more. I stayed transfixed, transported and inspired but also calm and confident that this day would usher me closer to the other side of the fence.

I signed in, before there was a chance for any nerves to start messing with me a technician led me to a tiny box room housing the machine I have been visualising obliterating with my hurricane power super breath. The test this time is more thorough, I have to do 2 long full and slow exhales first, to measure my lung volume then the 3 forceful exhalations. The technician shows me back to the waiting room and informs me the specialist will call me. This is where I sit and watch a kids dream being shattered, and I chatted to 2 lads about their plans,1 was going to go to CTC and the other Jerez - if all went well for them today. I had loads to tell them about both places and they asked about my flying experience. It was the first time I noticed how far along the path I have already travelled. The doctor called me, a tall, broad confident man with a warm smile, I liked him already. My results were in front of him - I saw no anguish on his face. "Well you have massive lungs Dyfrig - in the 112 percentile" I can't hide my smile. "and the speed at which you empty them entirely is in the 95 percentile" I am feeling pretty good right now "But your FEV1 score is still a tad low" (68%, 2% better, but 2% short) "You have big lungs and small pipes Dyfrig" I'm deflating again. "It's not necessarily a problem it could just be your physiology" He goes on to explain the relevance of this test to commercial aviation. A small airway is a sign of an Asthmatic airway, which is a reactive airway. When such a respiratory system is stressed in certain ways it reacts by constricting with varying degrees and consequences. If you're on an airliner that experiences a rapid decompression at 40,000ft your lungs will empty in a second. If they are sensitive you may well end up in an uncontrolled coughing fit. If you are trying to command an aircraft that has had a rapid decompression at 40,000ft a coughing fit is not helpful. It is great to finally understand why I have gone through this process - so I can handle a rapid decompression whilst in command of an airliner. Awesome. But can I? "We cannot put you in a decompression chamber Dyfrig, but we can make you run which has a similar effect if you run hard enough" I smile again - i'll be in my element, I think. "If your FEV1 score after the run drops by more than 10% you will be restricted to multi-crew operations, if it drops by 20% you fail entirely. Under 10% and you will pass un-restricted."

I run for 6 minutes around the CAA, watching the planes land and feeling buoyant - probably just because i'm running and I love it. I love the thought too of being able to handle decompression at 40,000ft. Straight after the run I take the test again, and then again 10 minutes later in case I have a delayed reaction. Then I wait. I wait long enough for the nerves to finally start messing with me. I suddenly realise that I was so relaxed after my run that I don't think I tried that hard when I pushed the air out of my lungs. I worried. The doc calls me in, honestly he's less smiley this time - my heart is sinking. "Well Dyfrig, your FEV1 has dropped" as I write this down i'm refraining from swearing on this page to articulate my thoughts in that moment. He continues "But it hasn't dropped by much at all - i'll send my findings to NATS and they'll issue you with an un-restricted class 1 medical." FUCKING GET IN THERE!

The home leg from Gatwick is much longer than the outbound, and I am revelling in every second of it. It's Friday, rush hour on the M25. It takes 4 hours just to get to Reading, It feels like the greatest traffic jam in history. I am the happiest amongst Heathrow's captured audience, totally transfixed again by the departing jets and one massive step closer to them.

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