Well, with my medical and first solo out of the way, and some solo time built up, it’s full speed ahead with training, and the short version of the update is that I’m done the cross country section, which is pretty much the last thing before we start flight test review and prep.
But about the cross country thing first. There’s a lot more to soaring away from home base than you would think there would be. First, all that sky up there – that’s not just sky. There’s different classes of airspace, and different frequencies you have to monitor on the radio in different areas, and in some cases, at different altitudes. The longer cross country trips took me into terminal airspace, which is controlled airspace, which means we have to be in contact with terminal before we get there, and do everything terminal tells us, and request clearances to do anything as small as changing altitude or heading. Which is a little intimidating, but once I was there, it wasn’t so bad. Mainly because when you ask for clearance, they generally say yes. And they’re aware of your flight plan and will generally be anticipating that request and making sure that there’s no conflicts nearby. They’re also cool because they warn you if there’s other traffic near by, and where to look for them. Outside of those controlled airspaces, you generally talk directly to the other pilots, and work out conflicts between yourselves.
All that’s intimidating at first, but your instructor eases you into it and makes sure you’re ready. The first test was being sent to the practice area solo. They sent me on a route to Garson then to Libau, and back. And because I’d never been away from the circuit before, of course I was anxious and uncertain and worried about how embarrassed I’d be if I got lost on a trip that everyone made sound like an easy thing – so much easier than what was coming. I just hadn’t tested by navigational abilities in the plane before – not alone anyway. And if I haven’t done something alone before – well, I guess I tend to have less faith in my own ability than I should. I’ll hold someone’s hand until they push me off the boat. But then I got out there, and you know, the lake is really big, and really easy to see, and the river runs into the lake, and the airport is *right* beside the river. I would really have had to be trying hard to get lost.
So we went on the dual cross country trips, though the second one I had to go with another instructor because mine was unavailable. One thing I realized early on was when it comes to navigation, my brain works a little differently than most people. Sandra suggested that most people find it easier if they turn the map to line it up with the ground. All well and good. I can find where I am on the map, that’s fine. About half way through the trip though, I finally realized I couldn’t do that, because every time it came time to make a position report, it’s, okay where are you, and I couldn’t tell her. It wasn’t that I didn’t know where I was or how to get where I was going from where I was. But you can’t point to a spot on the map over the radio. The problem was with the map turned sideways and upside down, I couldn’t keep north/east/south/west straight, and I constantly give her the wrong answer. So I said, you know what, I think I need to keep the map right side up. So I did, and I was fine describing our position then. When I went on the second one with the other instructor, he was baffled by my need to keep the map upright and commented several times that he didn’t know how I managed that. I seem to be an anomaly. I do all right with working out where I am with the map right side up. I do turn it every once in a while if I’m having trouble identifying landmarks by the angles they make with other things, but working out where to go and how to get there, if the map is upside down, the whole world is turned upside down and that doesn’t make sense, and my brain knows the world can’t move like that and doesn’t like it.
The other neat thing is the VOR – “Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radio Range” which I haven’t actually used to navigate, but have been taught how to use. It’s one of those things that reinforces my old feeling that navigation is an almost magical ability. The VOR is a radio beacon that sends out a signal that an instrument in the plane can use to tell what direction they are from the beacon’t location. Using two beacons, you can find where the radials intersect and work out your precise position. But it’s neat, using invisible things far away to determine where you are. And the thing is not easy to read – it’s actually quite complex, and reading it could qualify as one of those logic problems they give people on IQ tests. It doesn’t tell you where you are or what direction you’re travelling, or how far away from the station you are, all it tells you is what radial you’re on, and the to/from marker is misleading – it doesn’t actually tell you if you’re travelling towards it or away from it. It’s complicated. I read the section in the book, and it didn’t make sense – I needed Sandra to explain it.
Anyway, between some nasty crosswinds while being quizzed short final about how long I’m going to be in the circuit at Lac Du Bonnet, an engine that wouldn’t start (had to be hand cranked, that was exciting), and having to circle south of Steinbach for ten minutes or so trying to spot that stupid runway that was farther north than I remembered it being, then being stranded at Steinbach waiting for bad weather to pass, I’ve made it though my solo cross country trips.
Wish me clear skies for my test prep.