On Aspie Pilots

When I first started flying, I was caught up in the excitement of making the decision and it being real, and then the question came up in the medical “Do you have a neurological disorder?” I hadn’t even thought about my Aspergers diagnosis being a problem, and no one who knew me would have suggested I wasn’t competent enough to learn to fly. I can’t pretend to say I know what my instructor thought when I told her there would be a delay and why, but she never let on that she thought any less of my abilities as a pilot because of it.

But at the time, I could find nothing at all on the internet to reassure me that it wouldn’t stand in my way of becoming a commercial pilot. So once that was all resolved, and I had a bit of a soapbox for winning the first to solo prize, I wrote an article for the Women of Aviation Week site, about my experiences with getting my medical, despite having a formal diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. I still get messages about it, from exactly the people I wrote it for. People with Aspergers who want to learn to fly but are afraid of discrimination because of their diagnosis.

Aspergers seems to be the unsubstantiated disorder du jour to slap onto every white male serial killer and mass shooter, but all that really is is society trying to “other” the person who did bad. It’s easy if the bad guy is black or Muslim, or some obvious not-like-us, but when it’s a white male for some reason they have to come up with something to place him away from other “good” white males, to explain why he did it. But I’m sorry, being a serial killer or mass murderer doesn’t make someone an Aspie, it just makes them an asshole.

But the result is a deep misunderstanding on the part of general society about what Aspergers Syndrome actually is, and what it means, and that can lead to prejudice and discrimination.

But I still remember my Mom once telling me that maybe I shouldn’t tell people I have Aspergers. I’ve had other pilots tell me I should have lied so that I wouldn’t have to worry about the medical. And I’ve heard from other pilots who have withheld the fact that they have Aspergers, or just avoided getting a formal diagnosis to keep it from being a problem, because they were afraid of being discriminated against. I have even heard about a student who’s being refused training by an instructor who is uncomfortable with her diagnosis, because he doesn’t understand what effect it might have on her competence. As far as I’m aware, he may not even be willing to let her try. I’ve heard from Aspies who can’t get a simple driver’s license in the USA because in their overly litigious world, doctors won’t put themselves on the line to be sued in case that person were to get in an accident and be found not to be medically fit to drive.

The difficulties I do have are mostly in making friends, navigating friendships, being able to tell if someone actually likes me, or if they’re just being nice, or sometimes being able to tell if someone is teasing me or being serious. Noisy crowds and parties burn me out very quickly. Those are the main things I notice that cause me the most problems in my life.

How does that affect my flying? It really doesn’t. The closest has got to be getting along well with my instructor and not being able to tell if she actually enjoys my company as much as I enjoyed hers, or if she was just being nice because I was paying her. After two years I got my answer the day I finished my commercial license and she sent me a facebook friend request with a note saying she had a policy of not friending students on facebook until after she was finished training them.

There are no noisy crowds in the cockpit. Communication in aviation, between pilots and between ATC is very structured and clear. I have a good memory for rules and the million other things you have to remember and notice when flying a plane. It’s a place where the difficulties I have aren’t really relevant, and furthermore, a place that lets many of the strengths that come with being an Aspie shine through.

Which is not to say that every person with Aspergers is capable of learning to fly an aerplane. Some of the common symptoms of Aspergers is being sensitive to loud noises (I have trouble with crowds but some Aspies have issues with any loud noises) and the roaring engine might be an insurmountable problem. Some Aspies might have social anxiety bad enough they wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively on the radio. Another common symptom is poor motor skills, which could affect their ability to develop the stick-and-rudder skills needed to do the actual flying. Some may just have too much anxiety to remain composed in an emergency situation.

The thing is, if you’re met one Aspie, you’ve met one Aspie. Every one of us is different, with different symptoms and severities of symptoms, and strengths and weaknesses.

Almost like we’re actual people huh? Individuals, even. Not every Aspie is cut out to be a pilot. Not every neurotypical (nomal) person is cut out to be a pilot either. That’s something that would be determined based on performance during training, not based on a diagnosis, assuming the student is cleared on their medical.

I haven’t faced discrimination myself so far. The doctor who did my medical stated out loud that he didn’t feel that Aspergers was something that should prevent me from flying. Transport Canada asked for a letter from my family doctor – I’m not even sure what it was he wrote for them, but I’ve seen the guy like three times in my life, I swear, so he couldn’t really tell them any more than no, she’s not on any medications or requiring any counseling or other support – and they signed off on my medical certificate based on that. I don’t disagree with the way Transport Canada handled my case. They were prudent and fair, and they didn’t deny me my medical for no reason. As far as training, none of my instructors treated me any different than other students as far as I know. I’ve been pretty lucky so far. This is Canada.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t run into problems in the future. There are plenty of people out there who will think that I would be better off deleting this post and any record on the internet that I can erase that might tell a future employer googling my name that I’m an Aspie. They’ll say, well Transport Canada knows, you’re legal, you have no restrictions on your medical, you’re not obligated to tell your employers, why would you make it easy for them to find out if they’re likely to pass you up for jobs because of it?

One friend pointed out, well, why would I want to work for someone who would do that to me if they found out?

But it’s more than that. The way people think about Aspies won’t change if we keep hiding and pretending. I’m not saying that every person who’s hiding their diagnosis needs to come out, but the idea that I and others are afraid of how people will react and how we could be discriminated against due to it, makes me angry. So yeah, maybe there will be jobs I’ll miss out on because a prospective employer gets cold feet out of ignorance and misunderstanding and fear, but I feel like I have a responsibility to bullhead my way through that and show them how wrong they are. To paint a new picture for the world of what it means to be an Aspie, in the hopes of making it easier for those who come after me. It’s always an act of bravery to be one’s truest self.

Student Pilot Finances/How To Plunge Yourself Into Massive Debt/I Regret Nothing

*cue hysterical laughter*

Okay, so one of the first questions people ask when they want to know more about flight training is “Is it really as expensive as people say?”

And the answer is yes. Whatever you think you’re going to end up spending on it, it will probably cost twice that. Here’s a link to the rates at my school. And those are mostly the numbers based on the *minimum* number of hours required by Transport Canada. Most people will take longer than that to be ready for the test. Furthermore, between getting your private license and getting your commercial license, you have to get your Pilot in Command time up to a minimum 100 hours, and that’s not included in there either.

So, thinking about those statistics on how many people make it through flight training and how the majority don’t finish, I wondered how much of that is due to lack of funds. I bet it’s most of them. When I started, and word got around about what I was doing, suddenly there were people left and right telling me they’d done some flight training at one point. But then they ran out of money. Over and over I heard the same story. I’ve seen people on the internet in the throes of that running out of money stage, and it’s heartbreaking. I almost feel guilty for having been able to do it myself.

I suspect there’s some people who were surprised I made it this far, even though now they all say “I knew you could do it!” But the people who know me the best tell me they never had any doubt I could do it, and the only thing that really surprised them was that I managed to make it happen financially. I’m not someone who’s really good with money, but now that I’ve made it this far, I figure maybe I do have a few things to say on the subject with regards to flight training.

So here’s some straight talk about the realities of how much it costs to learn to fly.

The main thing I’d recommend, that I did do right, is making sure the money is there when you need it. You don’t want to be nearly ready for whatever level test, just need a few more hours of practice, and then run out of money. If that happens, then you’ll be out of practice by the time you get your hands on more money, and need more hours of practice before you’re ready again. Having a credit card with an amount of credit you never imagined you’d actually use is great for that. Lines of credit to pay off the credit card with cheaper interest rates are even better. I stress about money easily, and when the secretary at Harv’s would remind me I needed to top off my account, it made it so much easier to know I had my credit card in my wallet and could take care of it right there and worry about paying the bank later and focus on flying when I needed to.

Another consideration is whether or not to buy your own plane. I had a lot of people tell me that I should buy my own plane, that it would be cheaper in the long run. I think if you’re only planning on getting a private license that’s probably a valid argument. For myself, I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, but not for financial reasons. On the one hand, I’d have been responsible for maintenance and airworthiness reports, hangar space, repairs, and I don’t know what else, all while trying to focus on learning to fly.

On the other hand, I’d have only learned to fly one plane. All through my private license, I flew about ten different Cessna 152’s. Some had climbing props, some had different types of radios and instrument styles, and sometimes the stall horn would go off if you looked at it the wrong way while another wouldn’t go off until you were fully stalled. Then I got my license and got checked out on the Cessna 172, and the Citabria. When I’m ready to go on to my Multi-IFR, the school has two Seminoles available for me to fly, and if I’d bought my own plane, it would have been a single engine and would have been useless for getting a multi-engine rating, even if I were lucky enough to find myself a plane with both a VOR and an ADF to work with on my IFR rating. So, I’d say, if you’re planning on just doing a private licence, go ahead and buy a plane. If you’re planning on going commercial, don’t bother.

What else to say…

Where to get the money? There’s a good question. Student loans doesn’t cover flight training. They don’t consider that legit post secondary training and you can’t get government student loans for it. Everyone will tell you to apply for scholarships, but there are actually very few, and almost none worth more than 1500$. Most of them are like, 200$-300$. I have not won any monetary scholarships. The big one I did win was the first to solo scholarship, and that was mostly schwag, plus a really fracking nice headset. Still totally worthwhile, even just for the headset, but it doesn’t go very far when it comes to avgas. I kind of have a dream of someday having enough money to fund a couple thousand dollar scholarship.

I was lucky. We had some money –about 25k–and my husband agreed to sign it over to me to follow my mad little dream. I think I probably spent about 15k on my private licence. I’m now finished my commercial licence and that money’s all gone, plus I’m about 15k in the red. I would have run dry of credit long before completing my CPL if I hadn’t had that money to start. If your flight school is on a certain list, you can qualify for a student line of credit, which is what I’ve got, but if you don’t own a house or a car worth more than a few thousand bucks, you have no collateral, and they can’t repossess your pilot’s licence so they’re hesitant to lend you a whole lot. I got a limit of 20 in the student line of credit, and another 10k in a second line of credit. My Dad was willing to co-sign for me, but turns out because he’s self employed, his signature didn’t actually help me, even though he’s the most financially stable person I know and could have paid for all my training out of pocket. I have also received a little over 10k between my Dad and my paternal Grandmother and other family members.

And that’s another thing. I have family I can turn to if things ever got really bad. I wouldn’t be on the street if the debt became overwhelming. If my Dad wasn’t as financially stable as he is, going into this much debt would be terrifying. Many people wouldn’t have had a job where their income would have allowed them to borrow as much as I have, and wouldn’t have the startup money to offset the debt. I’d love to be able to say, like many people do, if you want it, you just have to find a way to make it happen, look at me, I did. But I know there are tons of people out there who love flying who may never be able to follow their dream because they could never scrape together  the resources necessary, and it’s not fair. I’ve been lucky.

So how much does it cost to learn to fly? The answer is all of it. All your monies. All gone. And some of the monies that belong to the bank too, as much as you can sucker them into lending you. All the monies you can sucker your family into giving you. If you discover you love flying, you will hemorrhage cash at rates you do not now think possible. There are always more ratings, more training, more time-building, more licenses to get, and if you love flying, you’ll just keep going until you have no more money. The numbers on checks and bank statements will start to seem surreal and loose real meaning. But if you’re going commercial like I was, unless you’re filthy rich, it’s really an all or nothing thing.

And yet, there has not been one single moment in all of this where I’ve thought to myself “I wish I hadn’t done this,” or “I don’t know if this was really worth it,” or “This didn’t turn out to be everything I hoped it would be.” It is everything I hoped it would be, and like the title says, I regret nothing.

Wet Egress Training

For those who don’t know, wet egress training is hands on training on how to get out of an aeroplane…underwater. Wanting to be a commercial pilot and all, I figured when the guy who does wet egress training in Canada came in to the ‘Peg, I should get in on it. For various reasons, I ended up joining last minute, but the instructor squeezed me in anyway.

Let me start by saying I am not a water person.

I’ve never had a bad experience with water. I can tread water and swim – not super fast, but I can swim. I can even hold my breath for a decent amount of time. My issue is I’m one of those unlucky people who can’t hold their breath *underwater*. Water goes up my nose and in five seconds I’m panicking. I’ve tried the humming thing, and exhaling. Nope. Apparently I’m not the only one – it’s a thing, some people’s nasal passages don’t close off when they’re holding their breath underwater. It sounds like there may be a trick for those people, and I’m thinking I might go swimming again sometime soon and try that, but as it stands, the instructor saw pretty quickly that I was having problems.

It was like my first few weeks of learning to land the plane, I suck at this, why am I having so much trouble, everyone else seems to be doing fine, etc. I could get out of the dunker, but I’d have to let go of my nose and then I’d be panicking with water down my nose and not get the PFD in the holder, even though it was right in front of me.

They suggested trying the mask, and I was like, nope. You want to put something over my face? I don’t think so. I have a thing with anything covering my face, stopping me from breathing, or for that matter, even stifling my breath. I don’t even like it if my breath is blowing on something close to my face.

Bryan was great though, he took me aside. I’m not used to getting one on one attention from an instructor. I’m not used to struggling with things. I normally just don’t bother do things I’m not good at. He talked me through getting my head in the right place. By halfway through I was okay with the mask, but I didn’t use it in the dunker, I wanted to make sure I could do that without it. By the end, I was getting out of the dunker with the PFD in hand without too much problem, just fighting through the water up my nose.

Anyway, video or it didn’t happen huh?

It was really worthwhile over all. You can have all the lectures and info in the world, and it won’t prepare you for the disorientation of being upside down underwater. I definitely feel like I have a much better shot if I ever found myself in that situation.

Three Things Make a Post

Quick update, because I’ve been busy and not had time to post!

Thing 1: Women In Aviation Women Fly day went great. I took nine women flying, and despite some of the planes being grounded, over four hundred women got in the air that day. The weather held right to the end of the event, at which point it turned shitty as could be, IFR right to the ground. I stayed around right up until seven pm, helping out organizing hangar space for planes that couldn’t make it back to their home airports due to the blowing snow. It was an awesome day.

Thing 2: Afterwards, there was a class for women who caught the aviation bug to prepare to write their PSTAR exam – the test you have to pass in Canada to get your student licence. I taught the class one of the four days it was on, which was fun. Aaron from Harv’s Air was kind enough to come out and mark the exams, and almost all of our students passed. We’re also going to have a class for the radio exam, starting this Sunday, and I’ll be helping out with teaching that one too.

Thing 3: Last Sunday I had C-FLUG booked to go do some circuits and drop off the new spinner cover (old spinner cover was cracked, we ordered a new one, and it needs painting before it’s put on) and the night before I figured I’d check where to drop it off, and Jill said she was heading down to International Peace Gardens, and I should come with her. I had the plane booked for the morning already, and no one else had booked it for the afternoon. It was last minute, but I looked at the weather, and the weather was really too nice to be wasted, so I went, and spent about four and a half hours in the air that day. Good practice for my upcoming three hundred nm trip. I’ll post more about that in it’s own post though, when I have more definite plans.

Keep your wings level.

Women in Aviation Week – Women Fly at St Andrews Airport

Two years ago I participated in the Women Fly event out at St. Andrews that kicked off my flight training. It’s an event where women who’ve had limited experience in small planes are invited to go for a free plane ride. I’ll be participating in it again this year, and I’m really excited.

Because last time I was a passenger, and this time I’ll be a pilot.

Being a member of the 99s, and flying C-FLUG, the 99’s plane reserved for women pilots only, I’ve been in the loop about it from early on. With C-FLUG being the women only plane, it just wouldn’t feel right not to have her there for an event like this. There’s not a lot of other pilots flying C-FLUG right now, so I get to fly her.

She’s been down for maintenance for a while, getting a brand new windshield installed. I helped with that. They guy doing the windshield installation that I was helping thought I was useful enough that he asked for me again when we were finishing up. Now the compass is installed again, and I got the sun visors put back on. No one’s shoveled the ramp in a while, so a bunch of snow had drifted in front of the door – I got rid of most of that yesterday, and we ferried her over to St. Andrews airport. She’s plugged in and tucked away in a heated hangar offered by Cam, because it’s supposed to snow tonight, and we don’t want to have to deal with removing ice from the wings. Taking off with ice or snow on the wings: highly illegal in Canada.

The plane is ready to go.

I’m excited. It had been more than two months – longer than I realized, since I’d been flying last. I did a circuit checkout in a 172 on wed, just in case things went badly with the taxiways at lyncrest, and we couldn’t get C-FLUG in to St. Andrews, and I wasn’t as rusty as I feared I might be. It had been at least a year and a half since I’d been in a 172 at all. So, flying twice in three days, and planning to fly again tomorrow. I’m a happy Lindsay. And excited to take as many women out flying with me as I can manage!

Ode To A Vegetable Steamer

We used to have a vegetable steamer. I think it was my Dad’s and he never used it so his girlfriend-at-the-time gave it to us. We used it all the time, it made the best vegetables and didn’t cook all the flavour out of them. We loved it. We loved it to death. One day, the timer stopped working, I still steamed the vegetables though, so we kept using it and just used the oven timer to time it. Then the element stopped working, and it didn’t steam anything anymore. It died. It was an ex-vegetable steamer. And I’m a flight student and starving writer, kinda too broke to get a new one.

Technically I’ve been paid for my writing before. It was nanofiction–tweet-length stories–and the transaction fees to claim the payment would have been more than the payment itself. Athena’s Daughters 2 was the first time I was going to be paid more than the price of a cup of coffee for my writing. I was pretty excited. It wasn’t quite pro rates, the original $100 per story the submission guidelines stated, but $100 was good.

But that was an advance against royalties. And the Kickstarter (thanks to all you people) was a smashing success. So when I got my payment from the publisher, the success of the sales pushed it past the $100 and started paying me royalties, bumping it over pro rates. And then some. And then I realized the amount was in U.S. Dollars, and with the current exchange rate, in Canadian dollars it was even more.

I think it was Jim C. Hines that I saw say in a blog post, that first time you make enough money from selling a story to pay a bill is a big deal. I think he might have said that’s the first time you feel like a real writer. There’s lots of landmarks to hit as a writer and this is definitely one of them.

But it’s not just that that floored me. I was expecting one amount, and ended up with three times that amount. It’s not just enough to pay a bill, it covers more than a third of our rent for the month. Or three hours of flight instruction. Or cat food, groceries and the phone and internet billls together.

I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying this so that you understand I’m not just being sentimental when I say thank you, and tell you all that you made a difference in my life and did something that matters to me. Because that extra cash was because of all the people who contributed to the kickstarter and bought the anthology, and all the people who shared the word on social media to get more people to back the kickstarter.

So thank you for the cat litter, and the cat food, and the internet bill and the phone bill. And for our new steamer.

You guys all rock.

Athena’s Daughters Volume 2, Kickstarter Closing in a Few Days

Last day to contribute to the Athena’s Daughters 2 kickstarter is January 14th. We did make the hardcover goal, so the hardcover reward levels are available, and the hardcover will only be available during the kickstarter, so when I’m a big shot famous author, it’ll be a priceless collectible. *nudge, nudge*

Also, the artwork for my story has been released, so I can show it to everyone! It’s pretty much exactly what I imagined the artwork for that story to look like, and I’m stoked about the story not just getting published, but illustrated as well. Here’s the link to the update where the artwork appears: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/103879051/athenas-daughters-volume-2/posts

I picked up the first anthology for myself, and I’ve read a bunch of the stories in it. I don’t read a lot of short stories because I find it hit and miss as far as quality, sometimes, but as far as anthologies goes, Athena’s Daughters 1 is top notch, so I can only imagine the second volume will be just as awesome. I’m honoured to be included in it.

The link to the main page again, in case anyone needs it: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/103879051/athenas-daughters-volume-2/comments

Thanks to everyone who’s supported the project so far, it’s been a smashing success, and I look forward to seeing the anthology in the wild!