Brand consultancy doesn’t help with flying a Jumbo jet

25 Sep 23

Last Friday I did no brand consultancy but I did pilot a 747.

To be clear, I should define ‘piloted’ (given, amongst other things, there is no commercial airline flying this aircraft in the UK). I had a 60-minute slot in a 74 simulator and fulfilled a lifelong ambition – to take controls of a Jumbo. Linked In friends, I have been in a nearly-50-year love affair with this aircraft and this was my 50th present to self.

I did the full down-route pilot thing and got no sleep (in a hotel in Coventry) the night before arriving at the cockpit. It’s a heady combination when you have not the slightest f’ing clue how to fly the thing. And there, thankfully, was Captain Paul, who took his rightful place in the left seat before asking where I’d like to fly my aircraft to.

Clearly, I had thought about that and the answer was Sydney. For this is how the love affair started. My parents first took me to meet my grandparents in Sydney at the age of 9 months, in 1974. In those days, the 747 took about 32 hours and stopped in Bombay and Singapore. Proper ultra-long-haul stuff, complete with one TV screen per cabin, the smoking section hanging yellow with air at the back of the aircraft.  For me, this aircraft has always symbolised the wonderfully exotic world of travel, visiting family in far-flung sunny and exciting places that my school friends didn’t go to. That journey represented my ‘split family heritage’ and delivered all the excitement of sometimes leaving school a couple of days early so my parents could scrape the cheaper summer/Sydney winter fares. In no way acceptable parental behaviour these days.

Captain Paul was the sort of aviator that you want in the left seat should the aviation Gods throw you a bird strike, hydraulics failure and fire engine 1 simultaneously. He was excited to explain the basics of aviation, even more excited to let me take the controls under instruction and pretty much re-wrote his own excitement levels on showing me that this aircraft can roll 360 degrees (it can). When he needed to sort the aircraft out – he needed to do this a lot – he did so quickly and quietly so I could get back on to twiddling every possible button and lever in sight. Putting the gear down and raising/lowering the flaps was prize gold, class A fun for this pretend pilot. Keeping the nose in the right place, wings level and bank angle sensible probably needs a little more work. We took off and landed at LHR and then we had a go at SYD. My childhood right there.

I’m not going to try to link this experience to branding and sell you how I’m a better consultant for it. The old “getting a 747 off the ground is a bit like building brand value” guff – that would be Linked In nonsense, would it not? This was a personal ambition, an itch that always needed to be scratched. I can’t report that I “knocked it out of the park” or “smashed it” (to the simulator owner’s relief….) and I really couldn’t give a toss about that. Would life have been rather different if I had found a way to a flying career? Yep. That doesn’t matter now. What did matter was living those 60 minutes of absolute wonder and joy. Did it beat brand strategy for a morning? Hell yep.

(Available for brand consultancy or long-haul piloting contracts. One may land better than the other).