Flight School Update: Starting Commercial Ground School

Unlike my private ground school class, the commercial class is a sausage fest. My private class had half women and half men. I’m the only female in the commercial class.

Which is fine – I’m used to it. Being in tech support as long as I have been, I can hold my own in a group of guys and I’m not easily offended.

Most of it has been more details on air law, and review of air law and general knowledge so far. My understanding is the commercial tests are mostly the same as the private tests, and based on the same information, you just have to understand and know it better. The questions on the written exam will be more tricksy and try to confuse you, or ask for more specific information, and the margin of error for touchdown points, for example, is 1/4 of what you get on the private.

One thing that was kind of cool was when we went over landing gear, and the instructor called me out because he knew I’d been flying the Citabria. I was the only one in the class who’d ever flown a tail-dragger, so I got to be special. I was a little surprised – I figured there would be at least someone who’d flown one – there was one girl in my private ground school class who’s father had a tail-dragger that she’d learned on.

And last class we went over diesel engines, and I think the guys may have been impressed by how much I knew about them. I explained I had to know this for learning to drive a car. According to my Dad, this was crucial information before he would let me start the car. And yes, I will be teaching my kids this too.

Unlike the private written test, the commercial written test has to be done before you can take the practical, so I’m glad I’m getting going on the ground school bit. In the meantime, I’m supposed to be time building. Which isn’t something I’m going to be good at. I’m not a very self motivated person, and when there isn’t a specific reason to do something I have trouble getting myself around to doing it. I’m supposed to do more trips around southern Manitoba, but I can’t help feeling like I’m just kind of running around on a hamster wheel because there’s no actual reason to go to these places. It’s the same reason I can’t bring myself to go to a gym to work out – I don’t feel like it accomplishes anything.

I think I need to work out a more definite schedule of trips I’m going to do and work out how it’s going to fulfill my hours requirements and find a way of organizing it to that I can trigger my goal oriented strengths. And I so need to get my passport stuff together so I can go flying to the US – I want to take my Dad to the Fargo air museum. I’ll probably try and make that my 300 nautical mile trip, and just swing by one more airport past that to make sure it’s 300 nautical miles straight line.

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Flight School Update: Why We Do Run-Up Checks

So last night was interesting. I was doing more night circuits. Got in the plane, started it – it didn’t want to start but I figured, well it’s been sitting a couple hours since it’s last flight, it’s a cold start and I only primed it once.

As I was doing the rest of my start-up checks, I knew there was something not right. The engine wasn’t running rough, it just sounded weak. I glanced back at the tachometer, because usually you set it to 1000 rpm and then it rises as the engine warms up and you have to pull the throttle back a bit. Only it wasn’t going up, it was going down. I thought hmm, that could be a problem. Double checked my start-up checklist to make sure I hadn’t missed something that could cause it. But maybe it just needs warming up – we’ll see what happens in the run-up bay.

Taxied up to the hold short line at the end of the apron, and it was still doing the same thing, so I thought before I get all the way out to the run-up bay, lets see what happens if I pull he throttle to idle. And the engine died.

I started it up again, brought it back to the hangar and got another plane. That’s one of the nice things about Harv’s Air – they have like, 12 C-152s. But I know someone going to ask, didn’t that scare the bejeebers out of you, that it could have been in the air that happened?

And they’d be partly right – it’s not like that plane wouldn’t have flown if I’d tried to take off in it. It didn’t fail when I added power, it failed when I took it away. So if I’d taken off, it would likely have had enough power to take off, but would have failed in the circuit as I turned final to land – and chances are, that’ll be too far to quite make the runway at best glide, and too late to try and restart the engine.

But the reason I say it didn’t scare me is we do those run-up checks every time we take off, even if the plane’s only been on the ground, shut down, for a few minutes. One of the checks is pulling the power to idle. Even if I hadn’t been paying attention and noticed right away that there was something wrong, it would have failed in the run-up bay, before I ever tried to take off. I mean, sure, it’s possible a careless pilot might skip something and just take off, but it’s drilled into us enough times to do these checks, very few pilots would do that. (And the ones that would, probably don’t fly that long.) Even if nothing’s ever happened to them, there are stories of things happening to others, and those stories get passed around.

Aviation is kind of a study in risk management. Every time you go flying, you’re hoping the weather doesn’t turn bad at the wrong time unexpectedly, and the wind doesn’t change to give you a heavy crosswind at your destination, and a handful of other things you can’t control. So you make sure all the factors that are in your control and make sure they’re in your favour.

And that’s why we do run-up checks.

Finished Edits – And Title Change!

This has taken longer than it would have if I were just working, rather than working and flying, but my planned revisions on the novel I had been calling The Eyelet Dove are done. I’m pretty happy with it overall, though revisions have a tendency to take the shine off of things.

I’ve been considering changing the title for quite some time though, despite The Eyelet Dove being a phrase that nicely rolls off the tongue. The thing is, it makes it sound more like a novel aimed at female readers, and it’s really not. Not at all. I mean, there’s female characters, but they like to blow a lot of shit up, you know? Which is not to say women won’t enjoy it – I just want to make sure it doesn’t sound like something that only women would enjoy.

At the time I came up with the title, I hadn’t come up with a call sign for the character Michel. When I finally realized that I had subconsciously cannibalized my very first novel (practice novel – will never see the light of day – I can’t even look at it without cringing) for a lot of the themes in this one, I decided I might as well use the same theme for call signs as I had for code names in that old novel. Which was songbirds, and Michel’s call sign became “Redwing.”

Redwing makes a much better title, I think. The feel of it reflects the type of story it actually is, so I’m going with that.

Anyway, I’ve revised my query letter, and I’ve sent out a couple queries. And I’m done that in time for NaNoWriMo to start. Those who know me know I do that every year. I don’t know how well I’ll do this year – I’ve made it to 50k the last four years, but not the three years before that when I was going to school while working. Now I’m in school again, so that has to come first, but I’m hoping I’m prepared enough to be able to make it again. After all, I have a 20 chapter outline already. But I’ll post more about the next project closer to November.

In other news, I’ve posted a review of Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer on the Punkettes Blog – go check it out – the book was everything I was promised and more. I think I’d call it the best steampunk related work I’ve ever read. Book two just came out yesterday, so I’m off to go pick up an e-pub copy.

Safe landings, all!

Seven Ways Writing Is Not Like Flying

Okay, there hasn’t been a lot about writing lately on this blog, with all the flying. I did finish my revisions on The Eyelet Dove (Though I’m still really considering changing the title to “Redwing” because it sounds so much less like it’s going to be a romance novel instead of the adventure fantasy that it is).

I’ve been flying a little while now, but I’ve been writing much longer, and when I place the two side by side in my mind, my mind wants to draw comparisons between the two. Maybe it’s a writer thing – my mind likes metaphors and similes. My husband is sick with pneumonia, so he was giving me instructions on using the barbecue, and I spent the entire time referring to him as my co-pilot, flying a barbecue S-120.

Only, it’s been kind of hard to draw comparisons. All the things that come to mind are the ways in which the two are so very different.

Learning:

Writing: When you’re learning to write, you can do it privately. Write your million words of crap. Get a beta reader, and let them give you feedback, but that’s just between the two of you. Maybe you get to hook up with a published writer for mentoring, but even then, even if you’re sharing your work with others, the actual work – the butt-in-chair-pen-to-paper, is done alone, unobserved. You share it with others once you’re confident you’ve got it as good as you can get it on your own.

Flying: You have an instructor. She’s seen your pathetic first baby steps, and every shitty landing you’ve ever made. Even when you’re solo, I swear to all the sky gods there’s always someone watching when you screw up.

Measures of quality:

Writing: This is largely subjective. I mean, sure, there’s a point where it’s pretty obvious to just about anyone that you’ve got a ways to go, but once you get to that point where you’re possibly publishable, maybe not, but send it around until you find an editor who likes it – one editor might think it’s rubbish, and another might love it.

Flying: Each flight test element is marked from one to four. There’s not really any room for wishy washyness on the marking part. You don’t get to go to another examiner if the one you get doesn’t appreciate your style. Flying is not a matter of taste.

Execution:

Writing: You spend months or years developing plot, characters, setting, writing it all down, revising, getting feedback, revising some more, until you’re sure of yourself, then you present it to the world, and sit back and pray to the pen gods that someone likes it.

Flying: You get tested, and you get one shot at each maneuver. You spend time practicing and preparing, yeah, but you don’t get tested on your preparation, you get tested on how well you do that day, that time, and that’s it. You pass or fail based on how well you do that day. There’s no finished product to show people, and you’re only as good a pilot as you are any particular day.

Sharing it with others:

Writing: You spend months talking your friends and family into reading your book even thought they don’t read, or don’t read that genre. Then they read it and go, that’s lovely. (Or maybe they like it. Hey, it could happen!) You turn your nose up and know that you’re a good writer, they just have no taste.

Flying: All your friends (except the one or two who are terrified of flying) want you to take them flying. You take them, and they have a ball, and tell you that your landing was wonderfully smooth. You know it was actually kind of a shitty landing, and your instructor was probably watching (see #1) and you’ll probably hear about how your touchdown was nearly past halfway down the runway from somebody later. But you just smile and say “thanks” to your friends and let them keep thinking you’re awesome because they don’t know any better.

Safety:

Writing: Okay, so there’s certain things that you have to take into consideration, like whether or not you’re going to use your real name, or a pseudonym to protect your identity and prevent stalkers. I’ve decided that’s way too much fuss, and realistically, if someone’s going to stalk me, they’re going to be able to find me unless I go completely nuts paranoid. But aside from basic personal safety, and maybe attention to good posture, writing isn’t the most hazardous activity in the world.

Flying: Don’t even get me started. I think three quarters of what you learn when you’re learning to fly is just how to avoid doing something unsafe. It’s a constant concern, or at least, it should be. If you forget things, stop paying attention, get cocky, etc, maybe it’ll be okay, maybe you won’t get into trouble today, but eventually, you will. And when I say get into trouble, I don’t mean getting chewed out by an instructor – chewed out by instructor is best case scenario.

Personal Responsibility:

Writing: If your book bombs, it’s not necessarily your fault. Often, it hits the market at the wrong time, or the publisher fails to promote it, or maybe the market just has no taste. Or if you can’t get a pulisher or agent – it may be a wonderful book, but maybe the agents don’t think there’s a market for it, or it just doesn’t appeal to them. A book failing doesn’t mean you wrote a bad book, it sometimes just means you weren’t quite lucky enough.

Flying: It’s all on you. It’s your job to get that riveted hunk of metal into the air and back down again. If you touch down 3/4 of the way down the runway, it’s not because of the lack of headwind, it’s because you sucked at compensating for the lack of headwind. If something happens, 90% of the time, it’s something that if you did everything you were supposed to do, you probably could have prevented, and you just hope to all the gods that the day you miss something it’s not going to kill you.

What’s the worst that could happen?:

Writing: Worst thing – you publish, your book bombs, you can’t get anything else published because you’ve made yourself a reputation as a failure. So you change your name, go by a pseudonym, and try again.

Flying: You die.

So there’s not a lot of crossover between writing and flying. But there must be some way that flying is like writing, isn’t there?

Of course there is. I imagine there’s others, but I’ll throw this one out there: A writer, like a pilot, should always be striving to get better and better at what they do. There is always room for improvement, new techniques to learn, more challenges to overcome.

Keep your wings level, all.

Flight School Update: Night Flying

I’m starting my night rating. Everyone says night flying is very peaceful – and it is. It’s very different – quiet, not so many people in the circuit, and then there’s the dark. I’ve always liked the dark.

It’s tricky though, the things the dark does. The instructor (a different one since my main instructor isn’t available for night flying lately) said it would make things lit up on the ground look closer than they are, but once you get up there in the dark, it’s strange, looking at the altimeter and seeing that yeah, I’m at circuit height, but it looks like I’m at half that altitude.

I did find I’ve developed some good habits that made it easier though. Mainly, using my instruments to guide me in a climb, and more recently, since I’ve been doing more cross country flying and landing at unfamiliar aerodromes, in a descent. Good habits like checking the vertical speed indicator to confirm climb speed before retracting the flaps, because acceleration can trick the human brain into thinking the plane is climbing, when there’s fewer visual references. And when it gets really dark, and there’s no horizon, people can often get tricked into thinking the plane is level when it’s not. I never got in a habit of using the horizon as a reference though – half the time in the summer there’s too much haze to see the horizon around here anyway. The attitude indicator and turn co-ordinator are where I look first.

The first flight yesterday evening went well. I’m always trying to figure out if I’m doing well, or if the instructor is just saying I’m doing well to bolster my confidence, but he did say that possibly the second flight, if everything went well, he’d start doing fun things like turning my landing light off, doing runway changes, simulating an electrical failure, etc. He also said they often wait for a calmer day for a first time night flight, but with the wind eleven gusting sixteen wasn’t troubling me at all, and toward the end, he had me try a couple of landings with the landing light off, so I must have been doing decently well.

The part I found the hardest was gauging flare height. Once I’m over the runway it’s hard to see how far above the runway I am. The first one I flared a bit high, and then I was flaring low because I was trying to compensate. With the landing light off it’s worse, since then all you have is the runway lights to guess how high you are.

On the subject of distant things looking closer: At one point, we had another plane join us in the circuit. After their first touch and go, when I turned downwind behind them, I saw them way ahead of us and commented that they were doing rather wide circuits. The instructor agreed with a laugh. A minute later when I made my downwind call, I realized the laugh was for me, because the tower advised me of my traffic on final, and I realized the lights I saw ahead of me were a plane off, likely over Winnipeg, and not in the circuit with us at all.

And then there was the rabbit. We almost smoked a rabbit that ran across the runway in front of us. I pulled up a bit when I saw it, but it was too close for it to have made a difference. Granted, at least I didn’t do anything stupid like try and swerve. All in all though, it went well.