Get us in your inbox


Quit your job, become a... helicopter pilot

By Time Out London contributor

Andy Thompson, 36, pilot for London's Air Ambulance

Is your life exactly like 'Airwolf'?

'I'm one of five full-time captains at London's Air Ambulance. I've been with them just over three years. As a pilot, it's my job to fly doctors and paramedics to the scene of a serious incident as quickly and as safely as possible. We're largely charity-funded - as are most air ambulances - so we get most of our money from the people of London and charitable donors.

What training is needed?

'To be a commercial pilot it can take you between nine months and a year to get your pilot's licence. The air ambulance sector tends to take pilots with more experience. Most of us have been flying for ten years or so.'

What does a normal day involve?

'We start in Northolt and fly into the Royal London Hospital. When we're activated we're normally airborne within three to four minutes. We can get the team to the patient within about ten minutes. When someone has 15 minutes left to live, it makes all the difference having the helicopter. We usually get four or five calls a day.'

You must have to deal with some extreme situations in the field...

'On one job we went down to help an injured person off a bus. But as I got there, I saw 30 or 40 people bleeding by the side of the road because the bus had crashed into a tree. What was initially thought to be a single casualty was actually a massive incident.'

It must be really rewarding though?

'It's tremendously rewarding. Some patients come back and visit. Unless you've been in a traumatic incident yourself, it's difficult to imagine what they've been through and it's incredible when you hear their stories. Sometimes their relatives come up. When someone's mother holds your hand and says, "Thank you for saving my son" it's amazing.'

Hours: max of 12hrs per day, five days in a row

Starting salary: £40,000 p/a

Qualifications: Pilot’s licence

Help London's Air Ambulance to fund a second helicopter by texting HELICOPTER to 70800 to donate £5.

Interview by Sammy Robson

Or why not become a watchmaker?

Popular on Time Out

    Latest news

      Read next