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christelle dorange findeling
Christelle Dorange Findeling

Line Pilot

Discovering one's passion by chance

I discovered aviation quite by chance thanks to EM Normandie. I was in my first year in 1989 and I was looking for a work placement for the summer. Among the offers proposed at the Junior Entreprise there was a three-month internship to become a student stewardess at Air France. Three students from my class were selected, two boys and myself.

For my first flight, I flew from Paris to Madrid and back in a Boeing 727. At that time, there were still three of them in the cockpit: a captain, an airline pilot and a mechanic. I did the take-off and landing in the cockpit.

When I entered the cockpit for the first time, I had a revelation.

For me it was a fabulous universe to fly, it was really a dream! When I met the pilots, there were some who had nothing to do with aviation at first. The hazards of life meant that they ended up in this field through parallel channels and got hired.

Pilots with multiple backgrounds

Some pilots went to ENAC (National School of Civil Aviation), but this is still a minority because this school never provides enough airline pilots. Some former military pilots convert to airline pilots. During my first training course, when I came in as a co-pilot, there was a former Stewart, a former physio and a young man who had just come out of the school. We came from different backgrounds.

When I told my parents that I wanted to go to flight school, they wanted me to finish business school first. I still had two years to go, during which I was able to continue to return to the world of aviation every two to three months.

I became the school's air hostess because I left during the school holidays to do this activity.

I did work experience every year. In my last year, I did a 6-month internship at Air France cargo. I gave a report in the field of marketing. So I finished my business school! I did not look for a job. I started my pilot training directly, self-taught, with the books I had at home. 

Persevering to reach one's dream

I had just completed a four-year season with Air France, which was the maximum. I was flying almost six months a year with all the holidays added on. At the end of the fourth year, I still tried to apply for the next year and then finally I got pregnant. 

I was one of the few women among the 150 candidates who took the entrance exam.

I passed the first written tests with French, maths, physics and English. I also passed the psycho-technical tests.

Finally, I had to pass the psychomotor tests in front of a screen, in video game mode with a headset, joysticks, pedals and a microphone into which I had to answer. This is quite a difficult exercise for girls who are not used to playing games. Unfortunately, I failed the psychomotor test.

I also had to pass tests on the weather, flight mechanics, the functioning of aircraft engines... these are areas that interest me less but which are part of the steps to be taken. It took me a total of seven years to obtain my licences, four years for the theory and three to complete the 250 hours of flight time. 

Reaching your goal a few years later

When you start flying in a flying club, there are two of us in a very small plane, the instructor and the student. This allows us to develop a lot of automatisms.

The first highlight is when the instructor gets out of the plane and lets us fly alone. This gives an exceptional feeling, firstly because the plane is lighter and secondly because the automatisms are put in place.

When I took the selection test again ten years after applying the first time, I had prepared myself for the psychomotor test in a specialised school in Paris. I finally got a 9 out of 9 on the test! This shows that it's an exam that you have to prepare for. 

What seemed like a utopia several years earlier was starting to become a reality. At the beginning, I really hoped that it would work and in the end I told myself that I absolutely had to do it! Now I wake up every morning and say to myself "I hope it lasts".

Being a woman pilot

When I came into this field, the atmosphere in the cockpits was still quite macho and even misogynistic. Sometimes girls were pushed to the limit with flight simulators. I also had to deal with paternalistic captains.

The days when we needed a big man to operate the controls are long gone. Nowadays, they are automated and do not require physical strength. In addition, everyone's tasks are well defined, so it doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman.

In my personal life, my husband was a captain. We were used to the rhythm of a sailor.

I had my children during my training and when I left for my first qualification, the children were already 4 and 6 years old. I had an au pair at home to look after them. 

For the long-haul flights I was doing three flights a month. I had to be away three nights. When the children are small, they ask how long we are going to be away. And then when they are older, they are in a hurry to see us go to work! The rest of the time I was available for the children at home.

Life is full of surprises and unpredictability. You don't know what's coming tomorrow. If something 'calls' to you, as it does to me with aviation, I advise you to never give up.

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