Week Three Update: Throttling Back

So, basically I’d be soloing pretty much now, if it weren’t for waiting on my medical, which is waiting on a doctor’s appointment, so that I can get a referral to a psychiatrist, so I can get a psych report to send them. *le sigh* That could take weeks, and already has, but I have a doctor’s appointment on Monday at least.

I’ve only flown two days this week, but I still have to study for the PSTAR (student pilot exam), so a bit of extra time helps with that, plus I worked Sunday and Tuesday. Then today we got grounded by fog, so we did ground work, learning about precautionary and forced landings, and navigation.

Flying was more circuits this week, but Sandra says I’m pretty much good on landings and ready to move on to something else. That last flight on Wednesday, I got a couple of really good ones in a row, convincing her I’d caught on to the flare thing. We also did runway changes on Wednesday early morning. When the circuit’s busy, runway changes requested by an instructor for their student to practice can be a hassle for ATC. At 8:30 am, at a small airport, with no one in the circuit, it’s a license for ATC to have some fun with you. He had us doing 180 degree turns to land on the same runway we just took off from, for a touch and go in the opposite direction.

Oh, and the trend of my instructor pushing me to the edge of my abilities continues. On Monday, my instructor said, “By the way, I should warn you; now that you’re getting the hang of things, every once in a while, I’m gonna randomly try and kill you.” (It went something like that, anyway – and I totally need to work that line into my novel; I know exactly the character to utter it.) Then in a climb after a touch and go, she pulled the throttle to idle and said “Okay, where ya gonna land?” (We didn’t actually do a forced landing at that point – she just had me check around and pick an acceptable place that we could have landed. We will be doing actual forced landings away from our home airfield soon, and we did do a couple forced/power off landings from mid circuit where we could still make the runway.)

I should talk about the people in aviation too. Sandra, my instructor, is, as I’ve said before, awesome, I don’t feel self conscious around her at all. But it’s not just her. I’ve been told by people familiar with both, that the aviation industry is like the horse lover’s community – tight knit and everyone knows one another. That worried me, because I don’t do well in cliquish sorts of environments, but it hasn’t been like that at all. I suppose it could still just be the school I’m going to, and the sort of people who hang out at the restaurant at the school, but so far everyone I’ve talked to has been welcoming and helpful, whether they were employed by the school or not. While I sit in the restaurant studying, random people with no actual affiliation with  Harv’s Air, have stopped by, asked me where I’m at in my training, and told me if I ever need advice or help with anything, to just ask.

I was talking to one older gentleman and the topic of sexism came up, and he expressed frustration at the favouritism shown to women by the government, professing that the sexism it’s meant to counter doesn’t exist in aviation. I don’t have the experience to say for certain how close to the mark he is, and of course I have to take into consideration that he’s a man and will have never been subject to the sexism that I have. But he told me a story about a time when a young woman he was training accused him of failing her because she was female, and he went to his records to point out that he’d failed a higher percentage of males than he ever had females. I’d like to believe that I’m going into an industry where I’ll be judged based on my abilities un-coloured by my gender. I hope it’s true. I suspect the reason that only 6% of people in aviation are female maybe not be because of discrimination coming from people within the industry, but rather because of attitudes and discouragement from people outside of the aviation community. It’s certainly been true for me. The influences that had stopped me from pursuing a career in aviation were entirely outside the aviation community – once involved in aviation, there has been no one who hasn’t welcomed me and encouraged me (regardless of whether or not I was paying them).

Anyway, next week I only have two days of flying scheduled, and a couple days of work, but I’m working on getting that medical straightened out, so wish me luck on getting a psych appointment quickly. That and I’ll be working on getting ready for the PSTAR exam, so that I’ll be ready to solo when the medical comes through.

Week 2 Update – Throwing Yourself At The Ground And Missing

“There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] suggests, and try it.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Well, after spending the first week learning something new every day, week two was all the same thing every day. And that was take-offs and landings. We call it circuit work, or touch-and-go’s. The circuit is the rectangular pattern we fly around the runway when lining up to land – in the US they just call it the pattern. So we fly around and land, then take-off again without stopping on the runway. And then we do it again.

I’m getting better.

Actually, landing is the hardest part. That spin video in my previous post? That’s easy. A little scary at first, sure, but ultimately and easy to learn maneuver. The instructor had me do it about three times, at which point she said, ok, you’ve got the idea, lets move on to the next thing. Take-offs, even, are not that hard – keep it straight on the runway with the rudder, full power, pull up just a bit when you hit about 55 knots to get your wheels off the ground, and let it climb on it’s own once the wheel-drag is gone and your airspeed picks up.

Landings, I can see where a lot of the stuff I was taught in the first week starts to come together – the speeding up, slowing down, learning how attitude and power affect airspeed and altitude in tandem, not independently, and then the other tools available, like the flaps to lower your stall speed and create drag to slow it down, but that can’t be used above a certain airspeed, and the carb heat that needs to be on anytime you’re throttling back below a certain RPM. Keeping at a level altitude while in the circuit, turns of close to thirty degrees of bank but no more, ascending turns into the crosswind, descending turns into base and final, the cockpit checks, the radio. All of these were easy to learn one at a time, but now I have to do them all at once.

My first few landings were pretty sucky, and I had to overshoot more than one (pull up and go around to try again). Every day I got better, and made different mistakes, and more often than not, the next mistake I made was trying to hard to do the opposite of what I did wrong last time and going too far in the other direction. But I’m starting to get a feel for it, and leveling the plane out more consistently at the right height and all that. It’s coming along. Yesterday I got it on the ground a couple times all my myself, without the instructor touching the controls. Today got even more consistent, with more than half of the touch-and-go’s being with nothing but verbal help, and some with none at all. It does take practice – you have to get a feel for how far out you are, and how high, and how fast you’re descending, and as I get a sense for that, then I can correct it earlier and have to do less correcting at the end when I’m trying to hit the ground as gently as possible.

I’m getting there. Sandra figures I may be ready to solo next week.

Week One Update – Spreading My Wings

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

-Leonardo Da Vinci

So. It’s been a week, and we were only grounded one day. It was hard to gauge my progress – Sandra seemed satisfied with it, but I couldn’t tell if I was progressing faster than average, or slower, or what. She only has be do a maneuver once or twice before moving on to another one, which is fine, honestly – it keeps me from getting frustrated if I don’t get it perfect. In fact, her teaching style suits me really well. Some people like to practice one thing until they get it perfect, but I prefer the moving on to the next thing and then reviewing what I’ve learned next flight, because generally even the next time I’ve improved just from practicing in general. But I’m, well, it’s not that I’m competitive, but I tend to not be happy with myself unless I’m doing better than average, like if I’m not earning praise by standing out then I’m not good enough. *sigh* I know I’m too hard on myself, and it’s a good thing I’m good at so many things and catch onto most things quickly.

Anyway, Friday I got my first sense of how fast I was moving. Weather had caused bookings to overlap, and Sandra sent me up with another Instructor, Jeremy, to do my first circuit work. On the way out to the plane, he asked me how long I’d been flying, and I told him Monday. He raised his eyebrows and said “Monday? And you’re on circuit work already?”

Well, at least part of that – possibly all of it is because I’m going every day, so I don’t have too much time to forget what I’ve learned, but we did still get grounded on Thursday. But I’ve given away all my shifts at work to do this, so I’m going balls to the wall with the flight training already.

I have learned so much in the last week. I feel like Sandra’s pushing me hard, but she seems to have a good sense of what I can handle. Friday we got to spin and spiral recovery, and she says I’m getting the hang of that pretty quick. This isn’t me, but here’s a video of someone doing a spim and spin recovery in the same plane, first from outside the plane, then from the cockpit. (Just watched it again – still can’t believe I did that.) The annoying wailing noise is the stall horn – it goes off when you’re getting close to a stall, which you do when you’re entering a spin on purpose. But the ground spinning in front of you, that’s no exaggeration, it’s actually like that. And it is totally less scary when you’re doing it yourself.

And the feeling of having done that – to have gained the skill to be able to put the aeroplane into that state, and be able to bring it out again, without help – it’s really awesome. I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing right now than flying, and I can’t think of anything that would be more fun. I can’t help but think it’s strange when I talk to people who are afraid of flying, because in my mind, who could possibly not think it’s the coolest thing in the world?

Anyway, going into my second week – I need to get studying the stuff for the PSTAR exam, and the radio exam, so I can qualify for my student license. Here’s hoping for more good weather.

Waking Up From A Dream

This morning I woke up, and was a little bit disoriented for a few moments before I realized I was in bed. And then I was suddenly disappointed, because I had been having the most amazing dream. You know that feeling, when you’ve just had a dream where you were doing something awesome and being awesome and you were happy? And then you wake up and realize it was a dream? Yeah, I had been dreaming that I’d spend the last three days learning to fly aeroplanes. But that was too out there to be real. And I lay there, letting myself way up, checked the clock to try and remember whether I had to get up for work or not – did I have to work today? What am I doing today again? I had to be somewhere didn’t I?

Wait….holy shit, that was real?

Yeah, it’s been an awesome couple of days. We were grounded today though – cloud ceiling too low in the practice area. But weather permitting, tomorrow, spins and spirals are up next. Yesterday, Sandra demonstrated one for me after we finished practicing stall recoveries (which are not that hard). “Do you like roller coasters?” she says. And yeah, that’s about the most unnerved I’ve ever felt in an aeroplane, with the ground spinning in a circle in front of me. But I’m sure, like stalls, it’ll be less scary when I’m doing it myself, because I’ll be concentrating on what I’m doing rather than just sitting there experiencing it. And the stalls aren’t that bad at all, they’re not really that scary. The stall horn makes that annoying wailing noise , then the plane starts losing altitude, nose drops on it’s own, and you just go with the nose drop and apply full power. Spins are pretty visually exciting, plus there’s that moment of weightlessness.

My main instructor is Sandra, and she’s famous now. Or, they tease her now that she is. She was on the news for the Women in Aviation day. She’s awesome. I think it makes me a little bit less self-conscious to have a female instructor, but even aside from that, both my instructors, her and Ankhur seem really good at coaching gently, without making me feel like I’m as horribly inept as I probably am, being so new to it all.

And there’s a thing I hadn’t really got to thinking about before I actually started – the trust thing. I mean, it’s one thing to have faith in myself, but another to really believe that whatever I do to this plane, however badly I screw up, she can save me from myself. Heh. Not that I’ve had any “interesting” moments so far, but it’s a new feeling. I remember gymnastics, I never got that good, because I never trusted the instructor to be able to catch me if I fell, and was too afraid to try the movements where they might have to. That lack of trust always held me back. And that was when I had all of about three feet to fall. Now I have three or four thousand, but just like gymnastics, if I don’t trust my instructor, it will hold me back.

I don’t know what’s different now – maybe it’s just that my confidence isn’t constantly being whittled away, or maybe it’s just that I want this so much more than I wanted anything else before, but I do trust my flight instructors. And you know what? It actually feels kind of good to trust.

Flight School: Quick Update – Second Day Of Training, and Aviation Medical

So I’ve had two 45 minute flights, today and yesterday, each after groundwork. It’s still fairly overwhelming, trying to keep track of all the different things I’m needing to pay attention to. We’ve done straight and level flight, medium and gentle turns, climbing and descending, an today I did a lot of work on controlling airspeed while maintaining altitude. The weather was a tad cloudy, so we didn’t get further, and I had to cancel the other flight because of my doctor’s appointment. But I think I’m getting better. Things are starting to sink in. There’s so much thrown at me all at once, it’s a bit hard not to feel inept, but I’ve had feelings like this before, and usually there comes a point sometime where suddenly it starts to click together and suddenly become easier.  I will have faith in myself.

The doctor’s appointment: I got my class 1 aviation medical done, and it’s sent in. The bad news is I’ll have to wait around three weeks for it to be processed before I’ll be allowed to solo, minimum, because I can’t get a class 4 medical declaration. Why? Because I said yes to one of the questions. For those new to my blog, I have Aspergers syndrome. It’s mild, and I have adapted very well – only people who spend a significant amount of time with me ever notice anything at all, and then it’s only things like  “oh, that’s why arranges her skittles on her desk in lines by colour.” When I tell people, they invariably say that they would never have guessed. But I do have an official diagnosis, and if I were to not declare it, I could get in some big trouble if the authorities were to find out. Not that I would try – I hate having secrets that are dangerous if they get out. I hate being afraid that someone will find out something about me and I’ll get into trouble. It’s just not something I do. But it needs to be reviewed by the powers that be, to make sure that it’s not going to affect my ability to fly an aeroplane.

Dr. Fogel doesn’t think it should stop me. He figures worst case scenario, I might have to go to a psychiatrist and get them to sign off that it’s not a disability that impacts my ability to fly. They might just wave it off, especially since I’m not on any medications. Dr. Fogel had never had a patient with Aspergers before, so he hadn’t seen any precedents, but he thought about it for a second and said he thought it might make me a better pilot, rather than a worse one. And he’s likely right – tendency to notice little things out of place, to prefer routines and process, better than average memory and IQ.

So, I’m not going to worry about it too much, though I can’t say I don’t resent it a little, and if someone else gets the first-to-solo scholarship before I get my medical processed, then there won’t be anything I can do about it. The frustrating thing is that know it’s not something that will render me unable to fly, but it’s someone else who gets to make the decision. It’s not like epilepsy, where, yeah, you don’t want a person with epilepsy flying a plane, and it’s obvious. Or some heart condition that I don’t understand, that someone else has to explain to me why it’s a bad idea for me to fly. No one can tell me how well I cope with that better than me.

On the good news side, I’m entirely healthy otherwise, and though I have a prescription for glasses, I don’t need them to fly. I can read the bottom line of the chart with both eyes, and all checked out besides that. And our bathroom scale is 5 lbs heavy, I’m only 123 lbs. I had to take my shirt off so he could hook me up to a machine (electrocardiogram – I don’t even know what that’s supposed to tell them, but it’s all good.)

Back to school tomorrow for 10:30 though, so I have to get to bed. Hope it doesn’t snow. Or at least that it stops before I’m slated to fly.

Book Review: Catching Fire

I finished this one a while ago, just haven’t got around to the review. There’s lots of reviews on this book out there, so I won’t go too in depth – this will just be a weigh in.

Most people have said that the second book wasn’t as good as the first one. And you know what? I do agree with them. The Games themselves, the arena, the spectacle, the first time around, it was all new. This second time around, it’s not new anymore.

The first half of the book I enjoyed more – the victory tour and the emotional turmoil involved in that. The political maneuvering, and the whispers of revolution promised me something. Only it promised me something that never got going in this book. I was waiting for it to build into a revolution, and instead, it’s back to the arena.

But the thing that bothered me the most about this installment is that in this one, very little that Katniss does has any effect on the story. It’s not as if her desperation and helplessness isn’t believable – it is. But it’s her helplessness that’s frustrating as a reader, because I like to read a story where the main character takes action, an in this book, Katniss is an oblivious pawn in a game played by those around her.

That said, it’s not a total wash by any means. It’s just not *as* good as the first book. I’m heading into book 3 now, and I’ve heard two schools of thought on the third – one is that the books get less good as the series goes on, and that the third one isn’t even as good as the second, and the other, that the second book is less good, and the third is better. From what I hear, the revolution I was promised is going to be coming into fruition, so I expect I might be leaning towards the second opinion.

I’m curious to see how things turn out on the Gale vs Peeta front, not because I’m really into the love triangle, but because I’m curious to see why some people were upset by the ending. I’m not really a “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta” sort of person. If anyone asked me, I’d probably say I was “Team Katniss” because that girl has more important things to worry about than which guy she’s going to have kids with, especially since she’s made it quite clear so far that she does not want kids.

If I were writing it, I dunno, I think I’d probably kill both of them. Actually, no. I’d kill Katniss. And she would die a heroic, fiery death as a martyr doing something that will seal the rebel victory, or at least make sure they have a shot. Or I’d kill all of them. Yeah, I think I’d kill all of them.

Keycon Short Story Contest – open to all!

The first year I ever went to Keycon, they had a short story contest, and I entered and won first place. On the one hand, there weren’t many entries – I don’t think there were many more than the four that were published in the chapbook, but still, it was my first publication. But there hasn’t been a Keycon short story contest since then. I keep saying I want to run one, and my friend says, but if you run it, then you can’t enter it. But no one else runs one either. And I really wanted to see it happen. I got involved in Keycon programming, and one of the other writers expressed the same desire. So that’s it – we’re running one.

It’s open to all, so if I have friends in far-off places who are reading this, here’s your chance to make me read your short fiction! The details are here. Send me your stuff!

(And by send me your stuff, I mean, send it to the email address on the page on the link, and they’ll strip the names of so we don’t go all nepotistic and pick our friends. At least, not on purpose.)