My name is Michael Kinghorn, I am 34 years old, and in 2010 I qualified as a frozen ATPL (airline transport pilot), following close to 18 months of intense flight training and ground studies in Orlando, Florida, and in Bristol and White Waltham, England. I am at last a homeowner and have a very nice house in Shinfield, although most of my life was spent living in Arborfield and later Winnersh. Being part of a military family, my early years involved lots of ‘postings’ to other towns and cities in the UK and even one to Germany. As far as education is concerned, I have nine GCSEs, three A Levels and a Bachelor’s Degree.
My background does not relate to aviation. In fact, I have had a handful of jobs – some good, others not so good – in an assortment of industries. Prior to setting off to begin my flight training in Florida, I worked for Barclays Commercial as a Servicing Executive at the Apex Plaza in Reading, Berkshire. I spent almost two years in the role and thoroughly enjoyed it, working alongside a good team of people and dealing with the same customers on a daily basis, most of whom I got to know really well during my time there. The role involved working with customers (mostly solicitors) dealing with their day-to-day banking queries and opening and closing numerous accounts for them each day. I left the bank in January 2009, a week before leaving for Florida. If I had not been so passionate about flying, it would definitely have been a possible career choice.
I finished my GCSEs at the age of sixteen and picked up nine of the things with average grades. Like so many others, I was not sure what to do next. Should I go to college, stay at school for sixth form or get into the real world and find a job? It made sense to stay on at school – The Forest School in Winnersh – and I studied for A Levels in Media Studies, Photography and Information Technology, finishing two years later at the age of eighteen, and again with some average grades. In the months leading up to the end of the A Levels, just about every other student was making arrangements for university, but university really had no appeal to me. Time was running out and I was still not sure what to do next! Not too long after getting my results, I looked into degrees in the local area and came across the Moving Image course offered by Reading College – later taken over by Thames Valley University (TVU).
I started my two year course – a Higher National Diploma (HND) – in September 2003 and really enjoyed it, in particular, the practical work. We learnt the basics of film-making and then went on to make some half decent films as the course progressed. This experience opened my eyes to just how hard and long-winded the film-making is. It takes forever to write a film, just as long to shoot it and then even longer in the edit suite! Most of the projects I worked on were ten minutes or so in length, and they would take a four/five man team around three months to put together. When the course ended in June 2005, we were given the option to turn our foundation degrees into Bachelor degrees, which I decided was a sensible option, even if the the final year was about 70% theory! I graduated in June 2006 but decided not to pursue a career in the industry. Deep down, I knew that I was better suited to other jobs, and my childhood dream of becoming a pilot was still in my mind. Even at the age of 21, I still believed I could do it.
I was one of many students who had just come out of university without any clue as to what was next. I was still working at TK Maxx at the Broad Street Mall in Reading by this time and I had been there since April 2001. My part-time job in the chaotic store had lasted five years and two months and it was about to come to an end. I had to find myself a full time job, and fast! I started at TK Maxx at the age of fifteen, working as a ‘Sales Associate’ and doing everything that you might expect a shop assistant to do; working on the tills, working on the fitting rooms and working on the shop floor. A year later, I became a Front Line Manager, looking after the tills and the customer service counter and dealing with customers dissatisfied for all sorts of reasons. I did briefly return to TK Maxx over the Christmas 2007 period to supplement my income from the bank, though this was only for two months. I declined the offer to stay there permanently as I felt it would exhaust me. For anybody who has shopped at TK Maxx, you can probably appreciate that it’s pretty manic and demanding a lot of the time.
My first full time job after leaving the bank was at Synstar (or HP CDS) in Wokingham, Berkshire. Running out of money and with no other jobs on offer, I had to accept it and I started in August 2006. The work was not particularly exciting (nor interesting) and it was a call centre. Although this was a career for some, it was not a career for me. Surely, with 16 years of education behind me, I could do better.
Whilst working for Synstar, I was approached by a UK-based agency offering English-teaching positions to university graduates in Tokyo, Japan. One of my biggest passions has always been travel, especially to Asia, so this seemed like a very attractive offer and I was keen to find out more. The working week was in the region of thirty hours, accommodation was provided and so was a London to Tokyo flight. With a mere £500 being paid monthly, I had to rule the idea out. Japan is not cheap and £500 was never going to be enough to live on each month! After a little more research into TEFL/TESL (teaching English as a foreign language and teaching English as a second language), I stumbled across South Korea, again in Asia. I knew nothing of the country, it’s people or it’s culture, but the perks were the same as Japan and the salary was more than doubled. I went for it and was quickly assigned to a school in one of the poorer cities in Korea – Gwangju – about 150 miles south of the capital, Seoul. I left Synstar, took a quick holiday in Thailand, returned to the UK and then headed off to Korea just five days later. With my body clock totally messed up and having flown in excess of 17,000 miles in just a two week period, I arrived in Korea feeling absolutely exhausted.
The director of the school picked me up from the local airport late on a Saturday night and took me to my private apartment that I had read so much about. As we moved further away from the airport in his car, the area seemed to get grubbier, and I already started to have doubts about Korea! We pulled into a dark and narrow side-street and stopped outside a small block of flats. Honestly, this street was so grim, dark and dirty that I felt my safety could be compromised if I went outside after dark! I grabbed my suitcase and was led into the building, up three flights of stairs and then to my apartment. The door was the most unsightly metal thing – like something you would see in a prison – without a single window in it. We entered the dingy apartment and exchanged telephone numbers before the director left. Looking around, I was disappointed. This was a very small studio apartment; it was damp, dirty and cold, and the bed sheets looked disgusting. Despite being exhausted after many hours of travel, I could not get to bed because I had to wash the sheets. Sleeping on the hard floor was not an option because that too was disgusting and covered in human hair of varying shapes and sizes – lovely!
The school was about as exciting as the apartment – not very – and I soon grew to hate the place. The Korean teaching staff were great and very supportive of me, but the children were impossible to teach, especially without the assistance of a Korean member of staff, and they stole from me on several occasions. I one day walked into the staff room to find a child rifling through my desk drawers looking for stuff to steal and quickly reported him to the most senior person I could find. To my horror, the child was beaten by one of the teachers, and I felt a little guilty. I seriously had to consider my future at the school. With Christmas coming up, I booked a flight home for a week and got out of Korea. I didn’t know if I had a future in Korea, but I could use my week to enjoy Christmas with the family and to give my teaching job some serious thought! In need of a treat and a decent bed for the night, I flew up to Seoul on 23 December 2006 and checked into a decent hotel, before making the long journey back on Christmas Eve.
On New Year’s Eve, I was dropped off at Heathrow Airport for the long flight back to Seoul but did not want to go. I knew I hated the place, the school and the apartment, so it seemed pointless getting on the plane, but stupidly, I did. Ten days after arriving back in Korea, I was stolen from again, and that was the final straw. I was not enjoying being at the school, I wasn’t keen on a number of the children, my apartment seldom had hot water and heating (not ideal when the night-time temperature dipped to -15C) and the city of Gwangju was, to put it bluntly, disgusting. I made a quick call home and told my parents that I had had enough of Korea and that I was coming home. I booked a flight and discreetly left one Friday night without telling anybody of my plans. My last lesson finished at 6.00pm, so I emptied my drawers and my pencil pot, bagged up my slippers (shoes could not be worn in the school) and made the one-mile dash home. I shoved my last items of clothing into my suitcase and ran into the street to hail a taxi. By 8.00pm, I was on a flight to Seoul, and the following morning, after another much-needed night of luxury in a hotel, I was London-bound, albeit via Shanghai. It was the best feeling in the world! Upon returning home, the job search began and that is when I found Barclays, which was much more of a success than Korea!
Now, with my flight training completed, thanks to Orlando Flight Training of Kissimmee (later called Airline Career Associates, then Pan Am Academy and now no longer in operation), the now defunct Bristol Aviation of Bristol (obviously) and CRM Aviation of White Waltham, I am working in social housing. I am currently working on a contract basis for a major registered social landlord (housing association) and will always consider opportunities in this industry until a flying opportunity presents itself.
My biggest passion, alongside flying, is travel. Before going to Florida, I used to take a handful of holidays each year. It was in 2003 that I found my new favourite destination in the world and that was Thailand, and so, I have visited at least once a year since then (except for 2009, when I was in Florida), taking in the sights of Bangkok and some of the country’s beach resorts, including Phi-Phi and Phuket; two islands battered by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. I also thoroughly enjoy photography and own Canon EOS 400D and 700D cameras, and writing, hence the website. In my spare time in Florida, I liked to fly all over the state, building hours and discovering new places every time. Flying off for the popular $100 cheeseburger was something that happened several times a week, but the actual cost was about three times that! But with 100 hours to build, all these seemingly pointless flights were absolutely necessary.