Meet Susan Tuddenham - A Citation pilot with a love for vintage airplanes and aerobatics!

Commercial Pilot Susan Tuddenham has the good fortune of flying a Cessna Citation XL/XLS for a Biz Jet Company; she is based out of Luton and Farnborough, England.“In February 2014, I was about to embark upon a Flying Instructors course, but just before starting this training, came news of a dream job offer flying the Citation XLS.”So instead she completed a Citation XLS Type Rating.

Susan is very enthusiastic in her love of biz jet flying. “It provides such a fantastic opportunity to visit new places, experience different cultures and get some real hands on flying!” She has flown some interesting people, including top business entrepreneurs, famous singers and actors and even royalty. As clients can choose to travelalmost anywhere they like she has been luckily enough to fly to a huge variety of airports from tiny strips to big internationals and really put her flying skills to the test. “This type of flying means I do actually get to see some of the places we visit as we can be down-route for a few days waiting for the owners. I’ve had the chance to explore some really great cities and see the sights!”

One of Susan’s proudest roles is flying on the company’s KingAir as Pilot Assist. This plane is operated by a single pilot but they always take an extra person as a safety pilot. “Sometimes that person is me!” says Susan,“I’ve been called out on a fair few medical flights, transporting organs for transplant for example. The organs only have a limited time before they must get to their donor and the medical teams are there ready and waiting. I feel really happy to have been part of a team that’s hopefully changed someone’s life for the better.”

Susan grew up in Reading, Berkshire. As a child, her dad took Susan to airshows, but she didn’t even consider aviation as a possible career. She had no family in aviation, didn’t know any pilots and didn’t even get on an airliner until she was 15 years old!

After graduating with Honors and a BA in English Literature from the University of Nottingham, Susan did three months volunteer work in Romania, teaching English as a foreign language in a summer school and writing for an English language tourist magazine. While there, she got involved in helping to build an orphanage and decided to raise further funds through a charity skydive aftershe returned to the UK. Watching the pilot flying the group up for the jump inspired Susan to investigate further. Her manager at the time saw an ad in the local paper: to encourage women into flying, the British Women Pilots’ Association (BWPA) was giving away free trial lessons to celebrate their Golden 50th Anniversary. Susan had to write apiece about why she wanted the lesson, so shewrote about watching the pilot before the skydive. She won the lesson, took the trial flight and from that point on was absolutely hooked! She took her first lesson on her 24th birthday.

So did Susan find a smooth ride on the journey to become a pilot? “There were loads of challenges! Funding the training was a big one, though numerous scholarships helped out. I received scholarships from the Air League and The Honourable Company of Air Pilots, as well asthe Women in AviationI International Achievement Award and Dare to Dream scholarship. I was also one of the last recipients of the Amy Johnson Memorial Scholarship. Another challenge was the British weather, which generally doesn’t help learning to fly!  Many a day was sat drinking tea and waiting for the low cloud base and drizzle to clear!! The list goes on! But you just have to meet those challenges, stick with it and carry on!!”

Susan earned Professional Qualifications in HR and Training and worked as a Professional Corporate Trainer for local and Central Government – this helped her to fund the flying. Using a combination of savings, scholarships and loans, she completed her Commercial Pilots License, Multi Engine and Instrument Rating and added a Multi Crew Cooperation Course. She ended up with a frozen Airline Transport Pilots License in early 2013. "Whilst saving for further training, I worked as an apprentice in a workshop re-fabricing vintage airplanes and later instructing members of the public on a B737-800 simulator. The Booker Gliding Club has been absolutely fantastic. I was able to build my hours with them as a tug pilot pulling up their gliders as a volunteer and they even gave me my taildragger rating so I could fly their Super Cub.”

Maintaining a work and life balance is important and becomes clear when Susan lists her passions and hobbies. They include travelling, running, yoga, vintage aircraft (as a member of the Shuttleworth Collection, she visits often!), and gliding. Another pursuit is aerobatics: “When I can fit it in and afford a lesson or two!”

Susan's favorite aircraft flown is an eclectic list:“Miles Magister as it’s vintage and there are only a couple of flying examples, and of course the Chipmunk, Tiger Month, Super Cub and Pitts Special for fun factor!!” She adds “Flying the Miles Magister was an excellent example of being in the right place at the right time! I drove to Breighton Yorkshire, in the North of England for a British Aerobatic competition. I was there to enjoy the displays and help out in the role of ‘scribe’. As the judges have their heads permanently turned upward to the skies to mark the contestants, my role was to write down all their comments and scores to be collated after each round to add to the overall results. After a day of watching some fantastic aerobatics, the local pilots told us all of a ‘fly in’ the next day, so I stayed over excited at the prospect of the arrival of so many interesting airplanes. The following morning with engines buzzing overhead, I had my own headburied in the cockpit of the Miles Magister. There are only two working examples in existence that I’m aware of and I was busy admiring the instruments andits immaculate condition when the pilot walked over and caught me by surprise! Rather than a telling off for having my head in his vintage monoplane he offered me a flight and I was over the moon! It just goes to show that airfields are full of friendly folk! My top tip? Hang out at airfields as much as possible! You can’t be in the right place at the right time, if you’re not in the right place to begin with!”

When asked about advice to other women pilots, her answer is simple: “Go for it!”