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Co Down girl Joanne Barlow is cleared for bake-off after pilot dream grounded

Young pilot, whose dreams of qualifying for a commercial airline licence were dashed after Covid saw her course cancelled, now flying high as sugar craft artist and pastry chef

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BORN TO FLY: Joanne Barlow out on the tarmac

BORN TO FLY: Joanne Barlow out on the tarmac

BORN TO FLY: Joanne Barlow out on the tarmac

Plucky Co Down girl Joanne Barlow was just 11 years old when she first took control of an airplane.

The Dromara woman started flying lessons at 13, was taking to the skies on her own by 16 and at  20 achieved her private pilot’s licence and was also doing daring aerobatics.

But after many years of dedicating every spare minute she had to flying, her dreams of becoming a pilot were dashed overnight by Covid.

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COCOONED: Joanne in the cockpit of an Air Cadets single-prop

COCOONED: Joanne in the cockpit of an Air Cadets single-prop

COCOONED: Joanne in the cockpit of an Air Cadets single-prop

Joanne started a commercial airline training course with easyJet in March 2020 and just one month later it was cancelled because of Covid.

Devastated that 14 years of hard work had come to nothing, this inspirational 26-year-old soon bounced back and is now flying high as a talented sugar craft artist and pastry chef.

Joanne’s creativity led her to be selected to compete for Northern Ireland in the 2021 UK Worldskills contest in November where she was recently highly commended in the confectionary and patisserie section.

Worldskills is the gold standard for excellence for students across the UK.

Joanne, who can’t believe that she has discovered a new talent outside of the cockpit, is thrilled to be forging ahead with a whole new career, although flying remains her first love.

She says: “I am surprised that I had creativity in me that I didn’t know about and a bit shocked I got to the finals of Worldskills.

“It’s great to know that I am not just cut out for flying but that I can do other things as well.”

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Joanne Barlow

Joanne Barlow

Joanne Barlow

Always interested in aviation, Joanne fell in love with the idea of flying when her parents took her to an air show in Enniskillen when she was just seven.

When they bought her a flying lesson for her 11th birthday, she was instantly hooked.

She recalls: “At the air show it was the Spitfire that caught my attention; just hearing the engine and seeing it flying, it was so elegant it was like a bird.

“I kept going to air shows and when my parents bought me a flying lesson for my 11th birthday, I caught the bug and never looked back.

“I just knew I had to get up into the air so when I was old enough, at 13, I joined the air cadets and started flying gliders. I flew solo for the first time at 16.

“I did my A-levels and started working two jobs, sometimes 70 hours a week, to pay for lessons to get my licence.

“I had over 100 flying hours logged and an average lesson cost £120 back then but at 20, I got my Class A national private pilot’s licence.”

As she continued to work two jobs and save every penny, her dream was to secure a coveted place on a commercial airline training course.

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Joanne donning her apron as a pastry chef

Joanne donning her apron as a pastry chef

Joanne donning her apron as a pastry chef

Joanne says: “There aren’t a lot of female pilots and my ambition was to eventually do pleasure flights and become an instructor and show girls they can do it too.

“When easyJet advertised a new course in 2019 to train as a pilot for their Airbus 320, I applied knowing how difficult it can be to get on those courses.”

After a rigorous entrance procedure she was thrilled to be accepted.

She flew to Oxford in March 2020 to begin two years of training but just a couple of weeks later, Covid changed everything.

She explains: “When I got accepted on the course it was like all my hard work had paid off.

“We were in ground school for the first couple of weeks when one of the instructors came in and told us all schools had to close and that included us.

“We didn’t know for how long and I came home and left my things in Oxford thinking I would be going back soon.

“Then out of the blue in April I got an email to say the course had been cancelled.

“I didn’t really believe it at first and my legs actually gave way from under me as I was telling my mum about it. It was six months before I could go back to Oxford and pick up my belongings.”

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Joanne Barlow's sugar figurines

Joanne Barlow's sugar figurines

Joanne Barlow's sugar figurines

Having devoted all of her spare time from childhood to flying, Joanne had no idea what the future held.

She went online to look for college courses, enrolling to study professional bakery at South Eastern Regional College (SERC) in September 2020.

She soon realised she had a talent for sugar craft and perfected it to the point that she was able to launch her own business this summer.

She says: “The Level 2 course last year was a brilliant introduction into the bakery trade.

“It gives you the fundamental skills which you can then use to build upon and get creative.

“I am currently enrolled on the level 3 patisserie and confectionery course.

“One of my favourite elements of the course has been sugar-craft; I have started selling pieces on a Facebook page that I set up during the summer.

“I just thought that for people who couldn’t afford a fancy cake at £50 or £60, they could buy a cheaper one or bake their own and I would create the decorative figures to go on top.

“When my course finishes I would like to keep the sugar craft business growing and hopefully get a job in a bakery until the opportunity of becoming a pilot arises again.”

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One of Joanne Barlow's sugar figurine

One of Joanne Barlow's sugar figurine

One of Joanne Barlow's sugar figurine

She certainly hasn’t given up on her dream of one day becoming an airline pilot.

Joanne adds: “It was exciting going to Glasgow for the Worldskills contest and it was very competitive but everyone was lovely.

“I haven’t flown in a year and I would like to go back to it when the time is right. It is very competitive and expensive so in the meantime I am just glad I went back to college and have found something else I am good at and love doing.”

- Go to www.serc.ac.uk for information on courses.


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