Citabria

Finally got some weather nice enough to take the Citabria out. Sandra wasn’t in, but I went out with another instructor. Definitely a challenge taxiing. The angle of the wings makes the plane weathercock much worse than a tricycle gear plane. On top of that, the wheel that turns to control turning is at the back of the plane, so it doesn’t help it turn as sharply. 

We went out to the practice area to do airwork. We did slow flight, then stalls. Stalls in this plane are a bit more challenging because it’s so much less stable than a Cessna. You get a wing drop really easily if you’re even a little bit uneven. The fact that the throttle is on the left, and the control stick is in the middle didn’t help with that – I’m used to controlling the throttle and control surfaces with opposite hands. After that we did a spin. I’d done spins only a week and a half ago, in the 172, and I’d seen a spin in the Citabria the time Tyler took me up to do aerobatics, so Matt didn’t bother demonstrating one, just had me go straight ahead into it. The Citabria spins beautifully, like Sandra promised, and stops spinning just as abruptly when you pull out. The controls are more sensitive – makes the Cessna seem a little dopey.

On the way back, just for the hell of it, Matt asked if I knew how to do a roll, and I kind of remembered, so he refreshed me and demonstrated one. Then I did one, and it was so much better than the couple I did with Tyler – I figured out why I was going into a corkscrewy barrel roll coming out of it before. Now that I’ve had more time in the plane, I know how much pressure it really takes to work the rudder – I wasn’t giving it full rudder input. I’ll get this aerobatics thing yet.

I can flip the plane upside down and back up again, but I can’t land the damn thing. *g* I only did two landings today, neither completely by myself, but getting there – just need more practice. It’s a pretty big transition, and this thing doesn’t have flaps. For the pilots reading this who understand what that means, I’ll say it again – this thing doesn’t have flaps. It’s kind of like being used to having three tools to help you do something, but they took away one. You can use one other tool, but it doesn’t work the same way. It just means you have to be a bit more precise in where you’re turning final, to give yourself the right amount of distance to slow down and drop altitude.

I’ll get there. Tailwheel checkout is apparently around ten hours, and most of that’s circuit practice. Then I can start aerobatics training. It’s possible I might end up having to go out to Steinbach to do that, but if I do, it’s not a long course. I’d love to learn the Pitts too – if you look up youtube videos of the Pitts, you’ll see what that sucker’s capable of.

But there’s one more thing about today worth mentioning, and that was out in the practice area. There are some sights that are once in a lifetime things. Today the cloud ceiling was broken around 9000 feet or so, depending on which METAR you were looking at, and it might have been different out at St. Andrews. But there was another layer of clouds at 30000 feet that was just patchy, not enough to constitute a ceiling, so we were allowed to fly between and above them. So there we were up there, rolling and spinning through gaps in the clouds the shone white with the sun. It’s one of those once in a lifetime moments, where I just thought, I can’t believe this is real.

Only it’s not going to be a once in a lifetime moment. I may not know what the weather will be like from one day to the next, but one day in the future, it’ll be like this again, and one of those days it’s like this I’ll be flying in it and loving every minute.

Quick Update – Heavy Winds

So I took my first passenger a week ago, and took Nathan again, along with his mom, for my Cessna 172 checkout, to do circuit practice with the plane fully loaded on Friday. That went well, and the 172 is not too big an adjustment. Nathan handled it a lot better than the first time on Monday, and his mom loved it. The winds were fairly calm, and the 172 doesn’t get blown around quite so bad as the tiny 152, so the afternoon convection turbulence wasn’t too bad.

We were supposed to start my tail-dragger checkout on Monday, but that didn’t happen. I got in, and having forgot to check the weather, saw that there were only about four planes signed out, and it was ten am already. The sky was clear blue, but the wind was crazy strong and gusting. More than the Citabria can handle – they just don’t take that plane out in these kind of winds.

I am intending to go after my commercial license though, and I am going to have to learn to deal with this kind of wind. So we took a 172 out for more circuit practice. First couple of landings were laughable. Holy cow, that wind, and a crosswind at that too. I’ve never made a habit of keeping track of how many landings I do, but I think we did seven or eight. By the end, I was doing much better. And consistently better. It’s weird to remember, this is the same weather she took me up in a few months ago, just for the experience, and what was going through my mind that day was how are we ever going to get this thing on the ground again without being smashed into the runway? And now I’m handling it myself. It’s kind of cool, especially knowing this is one of the most challenging things I’ll have to learn.

But hopefully things will calm down for Wednesday evening when I take another passenger out for a ride.

P.S.: I’m pretty sure I’ve got comments fixed on the last two posts too, if anyone had meant to comment. I had figured my guest post would get lots of comments, and was all confused, wondering why no one was commenting. My fault, I ticked something trying to do something else, and that auto-ticked a box on another page that didn’t auto-untick when I unticked the first thing.

Second Job?

I’ve been hanging onto my job while going to flight school, and it’s worked really well so far, since they’ve been cutting everyone’s hours badly, and when I put shifts up for trade, they get snapped up pretty fast. I’m only working about one or two days a week at the moment, and I don’t really need another job.

The old job is security – I can still go back to it at any time, so when the dispatcher job at Harv’s Air, my flight school, was advertised, I thought, well, it’s not permanent, and not guaranteed hours – I don’t think I can afford to give up the other job for this one and I don’t want to overdo myself with two jobs. That’s what I told my instructor when she encouraged me to apply.

They found a couple, but they were looking for one more. Generally, dispatchers at Harv’s Air are their own students, often one’s either working on their instructor rating and hoping to become instructors at Harv’s Air, or who already have instructor ratings, and are just waiting to be bumped up to instructor status when more students sign up, or another instructor moves on in the world of aviation.

The main examiner called me into the office though and told me, while they had a bunch of applications, they weren’t from students, or anyone who had a background in aviation, and that they preferred to hire students, whether they were planning on moving into instructing or not, since there’s so much about aviation they don’t have to train new employees on if they’ve got the background. We discussed it, and they can schedule me just for the days when my instructor is working, so I can schedule lessons around it, and not have to book time off the other job that I wouldn’t already be giving away the shifts for lessons. It seemed win/win – I get to spend more time around aeroplanes, and get paid for it.

They’ve got lots of students. I don’t know if they asked any others before me, but I’m still chuffed that they approached me when I hadn’t applied. I’ve only been there three months, but then, I’ve been there a lot in those three months – they’ve had plenty of time to get to know me and my work ethic and personality. I guess they thought I’d be a good fit.

Which is awesome, because the environment always seems so friendly, and the business in general seems very well run. It’s won awards for being an awesome flight school, and it’s apparently nearly unheard of for a flight school to be owned by the same person as long as Harv’s Air has (around 30 years, I think). That says a lot about a business. A lot of schools have a high turnover of instructors – apparently 100% in six months is not uncommon. It’s also common for flight schools to go under after students have pre-paid large sums, and students are out the money with no recourse. Harv’s Air is really stable as far as flight schools go, owning all their planes, and even the airport itself at the Steinbach location. All around, I’m sure it can only be a good place to work. And who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind about not wanting to be an instructor. I have a habit of falling into jobs and then ending up good at them.

The most ironic thing is the job is organizing who’s taking planes out, getting planes ready, refueling them, bringing them out, putting them away – basically Claire’s job at the opening of The Eyelet Dove. And I’m taking it for the same reasons – to spend more time with aeroplanes, even if I’m not flying them. It’ll be good experience, and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot of industry stuff that’ll be important to know in the future – things you don’t learn in ground school.

Guest Post: First Time Flying

I’ve never had a guest blog post before, but here’s the first one. My first passenger has written up a post for me on his experience on Monday. It was both my first time taking a passenger, and his first time flying. I hadn’t realized it before what an honour it is to be the first pilot to take someone up. Other pilots tell me that even if it’s a stranger, it creates a special bond between the pilot and the first time flyer. I’m very glad I got to do this with him. But without further ado, my awesomely supportive husband, Nathan:

I never really gave flying a whole lot of thought before Lindsay started this adventure. Sure, I knew intellectually that people flew, but I had never directly come into contact with it before. We never traveled much when I was younger so I just never ended up flying anywhere. Believe me it’s not a real difficult feat when you don’t vacation much. I’ve always had a bit of a fear about heights so I naturally assumed that flying be something was a little scary. So I had managed to get to 30 without every leaving terra firma, I knew that once Lindsay started flying it would only be a matter of time until I had to fly too, but I managed to not think about it too much. Which in retrospect was probably fairly difficult to do considering how much Linds talked about various facets of flying.

You gotta give him credit – a Cessna 152 is hardly the least frightening introduction to flying. It’s really, really small, and with the windows all around, it’s way more real than being in a commercial jet.

Once she had her license I officially became the person she wanted to take up first. I’d like to say that I managed to do a pretty job keeping cool about it, though it became a little harder as the actual day in question got closer. She was just so proud of herself. I was proud of her too, and still am, so I did my best to swallow my misgivings and be supportive. Anyone who hasn’t flown in a small craft before might not realize all the boring stuff that goes into it. First you check in at the desk, then you fill out some forms, and finally you check out the aeroplane itself. Since it needed fuel it took about an hour before we went up in the air. That gave me a little while to get bored, and to actually get a little used to the idea of going up.

Now that I was finally in the Cessna I expected to be a little more nervous than I was. Maybe it was the earlier boredom but I was perhaps a little excited. It was probably another five or ten minutes before we took off, so Lindsay had a chance to go over few things, which I can’t really say that I remember at all.

Yeah, they say for every hour of flying, there’s an hour of paperwork. Sign out the plane, check the plane out, get fuel, do weight and balance, get in the plane, startup checks, taxi, run-up checks, pre-takeoff checks, ask ATC for takeoff clearance – so many things to do, by the time ATC said “Kilo Tango Juliet, cleared for takeoff,” and I opened the throttle to full power, Nathan asked me, “So what are we doing now?”

Then all too soon we were taxing onto the runway and preparing to takeoff. I think that I closed my eyes for the moment of takeoff and I remember clutching at the handhold on the window and under the seat. You know there really isn’t much to hang onto inside the cockpit. I felt a little queasy as we gained altitude, but I was able to watch a little, which was an improvement. When Linds started to talk to me, I think I started to calm down a little and there were moments that actually started to enjoy the flight. I had been worried about having problems with the changing altitude, but that didn’t seem to be an issue, which is probably a good sign for my overall health.

Needless to say the view was amazing – rural Manitoba in all it’s Summer colours. Everything was so small that it was difficult to tell what a lot things on the ground even were, and I got the very real sense of what people based those model train sets off of. I was getting to the point where I was okay as long as the plane didn’t do something unexpected, or at least something that I didn’t suspect. I think that she slipped on me a couple times, and second time I wasn’t ready for it and freaked just a little. Though I’m told that I really didn’t say anything, only sort of grabbed at the air with one hand. The flight actually reminded me a lot of being a motor boat going really fast so it’s sort of skipping across the waves. That’s how it felt to me as we were in the sky going God’s only know how fast. It seemed pretty fast when you looked at the ground and the tiny cars on it.

It was a bit of a learning experience for me too – knowing how anxious my passenger was made me so much more conscious of the movement of the plane, and I tried to make sure it didn’t make any more sudden movements than I could help, and learned to make sure I told him before I did something. I’m probably a lot less attentive to the smaller movements when I’m solo, or even with Sandra, because I know neither of us are going to get startled or uncomfortable with the normal movements, but with a passenger, there’s pressure to make the flight more comfortable and enjoyable.

Then Linds decided that we should do a steep turn, and wheedled me until I agreed to it. She totally could have messed with me here, and I’m overjoyed that she chose not to. I actually found the experience of being pushed back in your seat with ground nearly parallel at one side to be enjoyable one. It reminded me of being on a roller coaster.

I decided if I was going to be a commercial pilot, I should act like a professional when taking passengers up. Except my Dad. I’ll mess with my Dad, he’s earned it. (Insert evil laugh, and read anticipation for when i get my aerobtics rating….) But Nathan, no I won’t mess with him – I want him to come up with me again, after all.

Then it was time for us to go back, and I dreaded the actual landing the entire way back. Which it turned out was probably least scary part of the whole thing. All we did was just sort of glide down, and land. It was really an anticlimactic ending to whole adventure.

Ha – that’s how a good landing should be. I remember landings with Sandra in really rough winds, and thinking, how on earth are we going to get this thing on the ground again without being smashed into the runway! Sandra’s a pro, of course though. I’m glad I waited for a day with nice calm winds to take Nathan though, and I’m glad I could make the landing as smooth as I managed. I’ve certainly made far worse landings, but they’re getting much more consistent.

Once I was back on the ground again I felt really strange almost like my entire body was vibrating a little. I’m still not really sure how to describe the feeling other than to call it supremely odd. It wasn’t really uncomfortable or painful it was just strange. Overall I think that the entire experience was a mix of moments of terror, awe, and excitement. I hope that next time I can focus on the positives a little more. The experience left me profoundly proud over how far Linds has come in such a short time, and cemented all of it firmly in reality for me. Though looking back on the experience it’s hard to see it as something really happened to me, the memory is just surreal.

Site Updates And FAQ

I’ve done a bit of site maintenance, updating information and such, seeing as I can go around calling myself a pilot now. You’ll notice I’ve updated the logline at the top of the page, and I’ve also added my current aviation credentials to the About Lindsay page.

The other thing I’ve done is add an FAQ to my page, linked off the contact page. Read it and be entertained. This FAQ was developed out of necessity, as I’m receiving more emails than I used to through my contact page. Which is kinda cool, but I’m getting tired of coming up with diplomatic responses to certain questions. I’m just too nice to spew vitriol directly at people who just don’t know better, but an FAQ is so much less personal. Hopefully will keep people from making themselves look stupid in front of me so that I don’t have to pat them on the head and tell them it’s okay, you just didn’t know.

Oh, and one more thing – I may have a guest blog post shortly. I took my first passenger flying yesterday, and they may be writing up something for you!

The Private Pilot

I was at a birthday party the other day, with a number of people I didn’t know, and the birthday girl introduced me to everyone as they arrived, “The is Lindsay, she’s a pilot!” It felt pretty awesome.

Yeah, if you haven’t been watching me on twitter, I passed my written exam yesterday, and today, the dreaded English proficiency test (do I speak fluent English? Well, I suppose I managed the best I could…) and the paperwork has been sent in to Transport Canada to have them issue me my permanent license, while, in the meantime, I have temporary privileges of a Private Pilot’s License noted on my student permit.

This all has been an amazing experience. I can’t believe it was only three months ago that I had my first lesson. The first milestone of course was the first time Sandra handed the controls of the aeroplane over to me. The second was the day she got out and sent me up alone.  And now I’ve reached the third marker, when I’ll be the one bringing the non-pilots along on this experience with me.

This is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never done anything where success or failure was so completely on me. I’ve done big things before – I planned my own wedding, I’ve done panels and con, I’ve written novels. But the wedding, well, there were things I wish had gone better, or that I hadn’t forgotten, but in the end, I got to be the one who said good enough. Keycon panels, they’ve been pretty successful, but the success vs failure of them is very much subjective. Novels? I take years to work on them, send them off to beta readers, revise, revise again, until it’s right, and even then, the quality is subjective, and so few novels get published, compared to the number that are submitted, I don’t feel bad being rejected repeatedly.

Anyway, flight school isn’t something that I can take my time at and make sure I’m two hundred percent confident, because who knows how long that would take? And being capable and feeling confident can be two completely different things. And there’s another factor – this isn’t like a university course, with set prices for different courses. The longer I spend reassuring myself that I can do it, the more expensive it becomes. Know how much money it costs to learn to fly? All of it.

And I know, if I failed my flight test, I could do more training and try again, or if I partialed, I could redo the couple of test items I failed. But here’s the thing – you don’t get to take the test until your instructor is confident enough that you can pass to sign off on the flight test recommendation. If instructors send students into their tests before they’re ready, it makes them look bad. They’re saying, I believe this person is ready, and I’m pretty confident they’ll pass.

Now, I’ve come a long way with getting past the social anxiety that comes with Aspergers. I’m okay with getting attention if it’s positive attention – if I’ve said something funny, or made something beautiful, or did well at something. I love a head pat for doing well. But if I get attention for not doing well, I get exponentially upset. My way of coping with that has long been simply to never do anything that I’m not completely confident that I’ll excel at, or if I must do something I might fail at, minimize the number of people who might be aware of it. I failed calculus in university a number of years ago. I didn’t really have to talk about it though, and the teacher would never have known my name, so there was very little negative attention to deal with. Being late handing in a university essay, on the other hand, was far more stressful – I’d have to take it to the prof’s office and explain why it was late, plead for an extension, etc.

I never handed in essays late.

Which makes flight school a difficult thing for me in a couple of ways. One was my own decision – blogging about it, while the encouragement has been great, I hate the idea of ever having to post that I’m having trouble with something, or that I failed a test. And sometimes I hesitate about posting about feeling insecure or anxious or afraid, but then I think well, part of the point of talking about it is letting other people know it’s okay to feel that way, and it doesn’t mean you’re weak and shouldn’t be attempting whatever you’re engaged in, so I go ahead and post it. And it’s been rewarding, starting conversations, getting encouragement, making new friends.

But the other reason is the training is one on one, and you can’t help but develop a relationship with your instructor. Which is not the difficult part – I don’t mind that. The hard part is when the test comes, and I know she cares how I do and wants to see me succeed, and I was so afraid of letting her down.

I don’t think it affected my performance, but it was fear I had to get past. I think that was what was triggering that moment of panic the day before the test. It does make me work harder though.

So yeah, there’s pressure on all sides and if it was nearly anything else, I’d back out. Nothing else could drive me to push myself this hard, and that only makes it that much more satisfying when I make it.

Crazy. It’s weird to think it was only three months ago that I was at the beginning of this journey. Now I’m well into it. The precocious first steps are done. There are people around me who are less experienced than me. Mind you, I’m leaping ahead of people who were at it months before I started, doing flight school four to five days a week. By flight hours though, I’m pretty average. Different places give different “national averages”, anywhere from fifty five hours to eighty five, so I’m sitting in the middle of those with around seventy.

So next up will be checkouts on a couple of other aeroplanes, and starting on my commercial training, night rating, instrument rating, and multi-engine rating. Whenever I get the chance, I’ll be trying to get some aerobatics training in, too, once I’ve got the citabria checkout done. I’ll be taking things a little easier the next couple weeks, and taking my friends out flying with me – maybe going on picnics and random dinky little towns around Manitoba. I do know that for at least one of my first passengers, it will be their first time flying, ever, so I’m kind of excited to be the one taking them up.

Flight Test: The Good News And The Bad News

The Bad News is there’s still no cure for cancer.

Yes, I passed my Private Pilot flight test. First time, no partial, just straight up pass. So much less stressed now.

On the pre-test checkout, there was a moment that, for no reason at all, I started to feel that panic adrenaline rush. I fought it down, though, and by thursday, I was in that ready state of mind. Not that I felt sure of myself or anything, just that same state of mind I go into when I’m dealing with an emergency situation. Not panicked, not relaxed, but knowing I have to deal with something and I’m going to deal with it and deal with emotions later when it’s over.

Anyway, I made it though the ground part on Thursday, but since the examiner was booked tight with other flight tests, the flight part was put off until this morning.

I almost didn’t go today. Got up in the morning and looked at the TAF (local aviation weather forecast) and it looked like it wasn’t even worth getting out of bed. Cloud ceilings at 2500 feet and chance of thunderstorms, and the weather moving towards us, from the looks of it. But I thought, okay, I’m going to call St. Andrews and see if it’s any different out there. And it was – it was looking fine in the practice area, where we would be headed. But the weather was moving towards us… how fast? Hard to say with my experience. They said call Flight Information Services, so I did, and they gave me a pretty detailed rundown, around 60% or so which I understood, but it sounded like things were decently stable. I mean, things can change quickly…but they can always change quickly, especially in the summer. So we went, and the weather was perfectly fine, the whole time. There was a spatter of rain on the windshield taxiing out to the runway, and I was starting to notice it was getting a little bit rough as the ground warmed up towards the end of the flight, but that was all.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on the actual test. I thought I did worse on the precautionary than she said I did. Did a steep turn like a boss. Not so good on the slow flight – needed more power than I usually do. Lost marks for using ailerons in the power off stall, because I had a wing drop and that doesn’t usually happen on a power off stall and I wasn’t ready for it. Better on the power on stall, but that was where I forgot to put the flaps back up at first. *headdesk* My short field landing was flat, but the normal landing at the end, while it was almost short of the touchdown point, was smooth as silk, with just a bit of crosswind correction. Oh, and I get thrown off terribly by slipping, and she made me slip on that last landing, and I did it and it didn’t mess me up. Yay me.

But for all that, on the marking scale of 1-4, 1 being fail (if you get more than two 1’s you fail), and 4 being exceptional, I got no 1’s at all, and apparently several 4’s.

So does that mean I have my Private Pilot’s Licence now?

Actually, no. Normally people do the written test first, and then the flight test, but my ground school class was kinda behind, and so we put off the written test and I haven’t done it yet. But I did do one of the practice tests and got 80% on it, and the section with the lowest mark was 70% – a passing mark is 60%, and no less than 60% on any of the four sections. So I’m not terribly worried about that one. I’ll get it done in the next few days, and then I’ll have my full Private Pilot’s License.

But now I’m going to go celebrate or something and give my nerve wracked brain a rest!