My Journey to Becoming a Pilot: Graham Robinson’s Journey

I was four years old when I first told my parents I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. We lived on the south coast a short distance from the sea, and would regularly see the search and rescue helicopter flying around, which I’m sure is where I got the idea.

Being a fairly difficult (expensive) industry to get into, I had to wait until I was in my early twenties before I could afford to start training at Goodwood for a Private Pilot’s License (Helicopters) (PPL(H)).

Pilot Graham Robinson

Pilot Graham Robinson

I passed the PPL(H) flying test in late 2003, having thoroughly enjoyed the six months of training leading up to it. But even then I was a long way from achieving my dream of flying helicopters professionally. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be another seven years before I would qualify for a Commercial Pilot’s License (Helicopters) (CPL(H)).

Flying with Atlas Helicopters

I started working with Atlas Helicopters in late 2004, initially in the office and then for the next seven years as a mixture of ground handler, fueler, aircraft cleaner and general handyman. I would also go along on charter flights from time to time to help out with loading passengers and baggage etc, and I used these opportunities to learn as much as I could about flying and everything associated with it.

In 2008, Atlas realised they weren’t going to get rid of me any time soon, so they offered me the chance of a lifetime – a CPL(H). My ticket to the world of professional helicopter flying!

I was still a little short on the required number of flying hours to start the flying course, so over the next year I built my flying experience on the B206L LongRanger that Atlas operated, and passed the nine theory exams that are required before flying training can begin. I started a six week CPL(H) flying course at Shoreham in 2010 and passed the skills test shortly afterwards.


Despite the expense of the flying training, the hardest part of starting a career as a commercial pilot is finding that first job. Luckily this wasn’t a problem for me, and I was soon cutting my teeth with pleasure flying events, charter work and special events such as Silverstone and Ascot for Atlas all over the UK.

After three seasons of this, Atlas upgraded me to the twin engine AS355 Squirrel. This brought with it new possibilities, and I soon found myself shuttling across the English Channel to Paris amongst other places. The extended capabilities of a twin engine machine brought with it more demanding work, and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to experience this before moving on to my current role.

Joining the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service

In late 2013, I was offered the opportunity to be part of a HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) crew. I had never considered leaving my role at Atlas, but HEMS having been a long term ambition of mine, I couldn’t turn the chance down.

Graham Robinson with night vision goggles.

Graham Robinson with night vision goggles.

The First Officer position I took is new to HEMS. Having been previously a single pilot role, they were now starting night time operations, which necessitated having two pilots (and night vision goggles) for increased safety, due to the nature of the ad-hoc landing sites used.

I started my first shift in December 2013 and am thoroughly enjoying my exciting new role. Without my previous experience with Atlas, and the quality of my previous flying, I would not have got this position.

It’s been a very hard, very long journey to get to this position, and sometimes I do question if I would do it again if I knew just how hard it was going to be. But the enjoyment I still get from flying far outweighs the hard work of the past, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t want to be doing any other job.

HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service)

HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service)

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