Flying high - a pilot’s life

PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:20 16 January 2019

Stuart Morton with the Global Express XRS Plane that I fly after landing in Stansted. Picture: Stuart Morton

Stuart Morton with the Global Express XRS Plane that I fly after landing in Stansted. Picture: Stuart Morton


Former East Devon photographer Stuart Morton changed career direction and headed for a life above the clouds.

The Bridge over the Bosporus in Istanbul where East meets West. Picture: Stuart MortonThe Bridge over the Bosporus in Istanbul where East meets West. Picture: Stuart Morton

Stuart Morton started out from school to learn how to be a photographer with the Sidmouth and Midweek Heralds, but after nearly 20 years, he changed direction.

As he is currently based abroad, Resident asked him a series of questions to highlight his experiences of flying around the world.

What inspired you to become a pilot?

Snow capped mountains over Serbia. Picture: Stuart MortonSnow capped mountains over Serbia. Picture: Stuart Morton

I had been a photographer for nearly 20 years and I started straight out of school as an apprentice working under the extremely talented Paul Taylor. He mentored me, helped me and shaped most of my career as a photographer.

I got to the point where I was working for national newspapers and had been in Kabul, Afghanistan, and I realised that I had never really tested my brain with regards to education, so I decided to do something outside work to test myself intellectually and ended up taking my private pilots’ licence.

How long have you been a pilot?

The French Alps from the air. Picture: Stuart MortonThe French Alps from the air. Picture: Stuart Morton

I had a reminder recently that I took my commercial flight test seven years in Fort Pierce, Florida, which is a day I will never forget.

It was the culmination of more than two years’ work.

Basically I had to do a 9-5 job and then at night I would rent a plane and do 2-3 hours flying around Florida between 10pm-2am then put the plane to bed. Get a few hours sleep then repeat again.

I had sold my house to help fund my training and I only had enough money to take the test once and literally couldn’t afford to fail it.

In a cloud sandwich climbing up to the cruise altitude. Picture: Stuart MortonIn a cloud sandwich climbing up to the cruise altitude. Picture: Stuart Morton

Fortunately I passed and the rest is history.

What is involved in becoming a commercial pilot?

Palm Island in Dubai from the air. Picture: Stuart MortonPalm Island in Dubai from the air. Picture: Stuart Morton

Firstly, you have to get your private pilots’ licence, then build 200 hours of experience and also take 14 Airline Transport Pilot Licence exams (ATPLs), which are equal to a Master’s Degree in the standard and difficulty.

The final flight test costs more than £1,000 and lasts nearly three hours. It is under similar conditions to a driving test when it comes to nerves and stress.

Who do you fly for?

I am not really allowed to say who I fly as it’s a very discreet world but I am allowed to say I have flown royalty, presidents, prime ministers, leading business people, Hollywood actors, and VVIPs.

The airplane I fly is a Global Express XRS and it can circumnavigate the globe with just one fuel stop. It flies higher and faster than all commercial aircraft and costs about $65 million.

Tell us about three of your favourite memories of being a commercial pilot.

1) Being able to fly my wife on a US $65 million business jet on a tour around London on a test flight.

2) Being able to give my father a flying lesson when I was a flying instructor.

3) Taking off in a jet for the first time was the most exhilarating feeling, all of that power in your hands from nought to 100 knots as quick as a formula one car, is addictive, and then to be above the clouds… well, it’s a great place to work. The first time I did it the guy next to me had to remind me to breathe.

How much do you fly each year?

It varies greatly but I usually fly around 300 hours per year.

How does your job work? You must see some amazing sights while flying - can you describe what it’s like?

The owner of my plane works in the movie industry so we often fly him globally to movie sets, movie awards events, business meetings etc. I really enjoy that there is no schedule - every day and every flight is different. At the time of writing, I have flown five flights in five days but for the previous four weeks I haven’t flown once. We get about three days’ notice and have to plan everything that’s needed for a VIP flight.

When flying you get to see things from a different perspective. A lightning storm from above at night is just incredible, one of the most amazing things I have seen is a sand storm across the Sahara Desert from 45,000ft and that is just surreal, as they move so fast.

Being in different places all the time is one of the things I love. I have literally had breakfast in Africa, lunch in Asia and dinner in Europe in one day.

Mind you the downsides of jet lag can be brutal. The fatigue that comes with it means you have to look after yourself, with diet, hydration, fitness etc. Also I am lucky I have a very patient and supportive wife which helps a lot!

What height do you fly at?

We fly higher than any commercial airliner and we can literally see the curvature of the earth… we can reach 51,000ft but usually fly at around 47,000ft at 0.85 mach which is about 1,000kph. Flying so high means that we can fly in straight lines and we don’t get caught up with much other air traffic.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Flying is one of the most amazing feelings there is, to be above the clouds, the weather and the hum drum of life down below is hard to describe yet thoroughly addictive. I imagine the only thing better would be to get up into space…

To read more features from East Devon Resident, click here.

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