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High-flying teenager Olivia gets set to make helicopter history


A high-flying Derbyshire teenager is getting ready about to make her own piece of aviation history – by becoming a qualified helicopter pilot on the day of her 17th birthday.

Olivia Thompson, 16, will become the UK’s youngest-ever female flyer to gain her Private Pilot’s Licence (Helicopter) when she sits her test on July 4, the day she becomes old enough to do so.

It will have taken Olivia, from Smalley, just under four months to go from a novice to getting her PPL(H), which will entitle her to become pilot in command of a helicopter flown for non-commercial purposes.

High-flying teenager Olivia Thompson, 16, is getting ready about to make her own piece of aviation history – by becoming a qualified helicopter pilot on the day of her 17th birthday.
High-flying teenager Olivia Thompson, 16, is getting ready about to make her own piece of aviation history – by becoming a qualified helicopter pilot on the day of her 17th birthday.

It means she will be qualified to carry passengers alongside her in her helicopter and so can fly her family or friends for a day out or even on their daily commute.

However, first Olivia will have to undertake her test, which will involve a two-hour navigation exercise from airfield to airfield, including showing she can undertake all necessary pre-flight checks, plan her route and complete a number of manoeuvres.

She will also have to deal with a series of simulated emergencies, such as being able to land the helicopter from altitude without using any power from the engine, in the rare case of the engine failing.

Olivia has done all of her learning at Arcus Helicopters, which is based at Nottingham Airport, near Tollerton, flying a four-seater Robinson R44 helicopter under the watchful eye of a series of instructors.

She has been travelling to Tollerton almost daily since March in order to build up her flying time, balancing time in the air with revising hard for no fewer than the nine exams and a radio practical as part of her PPL.

Her most recent test was to fly solo on a 100 nautical mile round trip, starting at Tollerton, landing at two other airfields on her way and returning safely to the airport.

But now she has one more test before getting her wings – and making her own piece of history along the way.

Olivia, a former student at John Flamsteed Community School in Denby, said: “I’m looking forward to my test, but know I’m going to be nervous on the day. My family and friends will be waiting for me on the ground on the day, so there is some pressure on me.

“I remember the first time I lifted off while flying solo in a helicopter it felt unreal, but I told myself to keep my eyes on what’s going on. Then, when I got up to altitude and I thought about what I was doing, I giggled, because it was so amazing.

“Everyone is saying they’re feeling confident for me and I’ve studied really hard to get to this point. Flying helicopters is my passion now and it’s definitely what I want to do for a living.

“If I pass my test I’ll be able to take my friends up for a helicopter trip and I’ve decided I want to take them to Alton Towers. The licence also allows me to fly overseas, so I’d like to fly my family to Paris.”

High-flying teenager Olivia Thompson with her instructor, Jamie Ferrand, from Arcus Helicopters, which is based at Nottingham Airport in Tollerton.

Olivia got into flying  through her father, Andrew, who also has his PPL (H). He owns and flies his own helicopter and, after Olivia expressed an interest in learning to fly, has encouraged her all the way.

He will be watching at Tollerton, alongside Olivia’s mum, Karen, when she takes her test.

Andrew said: “We’re really proud of Olivia and we know how hard she’s worked for this. We’ve seen her falling asleep with her books on her chest, so we know she’s totally going to pull this off.

“She only started flying in March and as soon as we suggested she could try to get her licence on her 17th birthday she’s done everything she can to get herself ready for it.

“I got my PPL(H) in 2016 and being able to fly a helicopter is amazing, but the exams are extremely hard. Olivia passed hers first time and she’s done everything far quicker than I did.”

Quite apart from how young she is, Olivia is one of a very small percentage of female pilots, especially when it comes to helicopters, and she is happy to be a trailblazer for her gender.

She said: “There are a few female-orientated campaigns to increase the number of women in aviation and it’s great to be a part of that push.

“I couldn’t see myself as not being someone who flies helicopters and I’d like to be a role model for anyone who wants to do the same thing.”

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