The Aviation Community

When I was first looking to get involved in aviation, someone described the aviation community as being like the horse community – everyone knows someone, and they’re tight knit.

I’ve been in clubs before – my mother put me in Job’s Daughters when I was a teen, and that was really good for me – it was a safe place, where people accepted me the way I was. But the sense of community I’ve suddenly felt getting involved in the Springfield Flying Club, and local RAA, flying C-FLUG makes me see that the sense of community I got from Job’s Daughters was manufactured.

I’ve read a lot about tribal societies, and how it’s not natural for people to live in cities where they see people they don’t know every day. It’s overwhelming and unhealthy for us, and there’s theories that living this way could be contributing to many psychological disorders. That the lack of that tribal group community feeling is something we need in order to be healthy. It puts a lot of stress on nuclear families – mother and father are expected to be everything one another needs, plus everything their children need. Clubs like Scouts or Guides or Job’s Daughters are substitutes for that, and they’re generally for certain age groups.

Now that I’ve been involved in C-FLUG, I’m really amazed at the amount of effort that the local community has put into getting that plane in the air, and they’re doing it specifically for women who otherwise would be paying $150 an hour to fly something. Here, we’re paying $20, plus fuel – which is probably another $20-$30 an hour, something like that. That’s a huge thing they’re doing for us. But also, seeing how many people have been involved, without whom, we either just couldn’t do it, or us C-FLUG pilots would be paying more, because they’ve volunteered their time, and donated parts and equipment.

It’s wasn’t a call to the general public that got this happening. It’s that tight knit community of Lyncrest airport, and people who fly into and out of it. They’re a community in a truer sense of the word than I’ve ever seen before in real life. There’s the older generation, with their wealth of experience, and they’re more than happy to share their knowledge and their stories. And then there’s the new generation, the younger ones, still learning, or with licences but building experience.

And the welcome…I mean, my Dad can say that well of course the people at Harv’s are going to be positive and welcoming to me – I’m paying them.  But that doesn’t apply here. There’s a lot of older men in this community, and you’d think women wouldn’t feel welcomed, but seriously, I have met no one, male or female, who was a pilot, who didn’t think it was awesome that I wanted to fly. Not one who sounded skeptical of my abilities. It’s like this huge chorus of “come, come be one of us, it’s awesome!” And “Oh, you’re interested in (X)? You should talk to so-and-so, he knows stuff about that/has one of those he might let you fly.”

Community built around a thing. And there’s official groups – there’s a Women in Aviation Chapter, a chapter of the Ninety-Nines, local chapter of the RAA, the Springfield Flying Club, sure. But I don’t get a sense that there are any real lines drawn between any of those groups. I’m currently now a member of all of them, for that matter.

It’s kind of cool to be in a room full of people and not be the one crazy person who thinks flying is the most awesome thing in the world. And to be around people with whom I can talk about things like carb heat and carb ice, an the never ending crosswind argument over crabbing versus side-slipping, and how taildraggers are just cooler than tricycle gear aircraft in every way. (It seems every pilot who has ever learned how to fly a taildragger will tell you that.) But there always seems to be pilots hanging around in the clubhouse, and they’re never too busy to chat about aeroplanes, and so many of them have far more experience than me. It’s a huge resource – people I can go to if I’m uncertain about the weather, or have questions, or if something doesn’t sound right in the plane. Or who I could potentially ask to act as flight watch for me – someone on the ground who knows I’m out flying and knows what time to expect me back, who’ll take action if I don’t show up. The experienced community members look after the fledgling pilots, and they’d much rather have those pilots part of a supportive, safety conscious community than stuck on their own.

It’s amazing. And I don’t say that lightly. I think “amazing” is a bit of a melodramatic word, so I don’t like to use it unless there’s no other way to put it. Definitely something I’ve never experienced before, and it inspires me to want to get to a point where I can help others along who come after me, the way that so many people have helped me.

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The City

There’s an interesting cultural observation I’ve made since moving to Winnipeg. I never thought of myself as a “country girl”, but since moving to “The City” I’ve realized I really am.

My last boyfriend, before my husband, was in the military. He told me a story once about when he was on the road with some friends and they ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. They had a jerry can of gas in the trunk, but the jerry can didn’t have a funnel, so they couldn’t get the gas into the gas tank.

I said “Well did you have a newspaper or a magazine or something, that you could use as a funnel?”

He looked at me for a few seconds and then said “shush, you.”

My husband was in Boy Scouts and liked to remind me, “A Boy Scout is always prepared.”

We’ve been together long enough now that he’s stopped, because he knows my response is “Yes, but a country girl knows how to improvise.”

The phrase “The City” means different things to a lot of different people. What I’m talking about is Manitoba, though. If you talk to anyone who lives in Manitoba, outside of Winnipeg, if we say “The City”, we mean Winnipeg.

Part of this is a result of the bare fact that Winnipeg is the largest urban center for… a long ways. The nearest place bigger than Winnipeg, without crossing the border is Edmonton in one direction, and Toronto in the other, and each of those is nearly half a continent away. Gonna throw this link out there if anyone wants to verify this fact: http://atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/maps/population.html

It’s something I never thought about growing up in Portage La Prairie, an hour’s drive away from Winnipeg. And I don’t think a lot of people think about that. But being a writer, it makes me think harder about how people think about things. Ant then it makes be think about how my own characters perception of things will differ from my own perception, or from other characters.

I think the reason I had a lot of trouble sympathizing with George R. R. Martin’s characters was that they were all lords and ladies and kings and queens. There were no characters that who’s roles I could see myself taking. I find in my own writing, I tend to write more characters who are small people – the “everyman” sort of character if you will. I think it’s because I don’t buy into the whole reality-show-about-how-difficult-rich-people’s-lives-are thing. I don’t have cable tv, and don’t miss it.

Actually I do, but I didn’t have it for about four years and didn’t miss it, and now that I do, I don’t watch it. (Netflix for evar!)

This post doesn’t really have a point or conclusion, it’s just something I’ve realized, and thought about. It’s a little bit about how people think about their own identity, an a little bit about my own identity. I mean, to people outside of Winnipeg, Winnipeg is practically a hick town. To me though, Regina is a hick town. (No, kidding, the last time I was there, all I remember is the teens wandering around with hickies on their necks. Not even joking.)

But the way I think about things is part of my own identity, and you have to remember, as a writer, that’s part of your characters’ identity. I’m a girl who grew up in, not a small town, but a small city. My dad was a bee farmer, and I spent tons of time out of doors, out in the country, wandering around in the bush, exploring abandoned buildings, building fires, building epic snow forts (that’s gonna take it’s own post) and playing with power tools at ages that people consider irresponsible of my parents.

The experiences a lot of people got from things like scouting, I got a lot of that just from tagging along with my dad. Things that a lot of “city people” hire someone to do, like cleaning the gutters, or shoveling off the roof, I wouldn’t think of hiring someone, I would do myself. I get my oil changed at the garage, not because I couldn’t do it myself, but because my dad gets it done there because they can do it more efficiently, and it’s less trouble. I’ve never done it, but I’m sure I could do it if I needed to. And it’s not a prissy rich white girl “pft, I could do it if I wanted to” – it’s a real, I know I could do it. I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty.

I’ve helped install magnetos, a voltmeter, a fuel gauge float, vacuum tubes, etc, on a plane I plane to fly myself. I’m basically staking my life on work I’ve done myself. No everyone trusts themselves that much. But that trust in myself, I will lay that with my dad. He might not have always been the most empathetic or emotionally supportive person, but he taught me things. Things to keep me safe. Things to make me feel confident walking into the world. Not specific things, but the phrase “come help me with this,” does something to a child.

For example, when my dad would shovel off the roof, he’d tie a rope around his waist and have us hold the opposite end. Us being my brother and I. We, at a very young age – I’m pretty sure under ten years old, were entrusted with making sure my dad didn’t fall off the roof, and if we couldn’t hold the rope, we were to get help. Around the same age, he brought me down to the spare room in the basement and told me, if he was ever working on the electricals, or dropped the hairdryer in the sink or something, and got electrocuted, here, flip this breaker, and it’ll shut down all the electricity in the house.

And sometimes I wonder if it’s that that made me the sort of person that, when something needs to be done, I go do it, or if it’s something inherent in myself. Something I was born with. I don’t know. I often assume everyone is as capable as me, and am surprised when I’m with others and

If someone had asked if I could learn how to install magnetos on a plane, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say yes. Not afraid of machines. My dad had a riding lawn mower, a mini front end loader, a garden tiller, etc. Dangerous machines that could have killed us. He built fires to burn rubbish and such, and let us play with them. We grew up old school, before they wrapped kids in cotton balls. Or at least, before the cotton reached the farmer’s kids in rural areas.

And realizing that makes me think. About what’s shaped me, and from there, what shapes characters. And why I tend to choose the characters I write about. They tend to be small characters, but capable. Not princes and princesses. Everyday, common people.

But it’s also why I write Dieselpunk. The machines. It’s familiar and comfortable.

Like I said, I have no point to make here, really. Just an observation and a couple of anecdotes.

General Update – The Weather Sucks

So, those of you who don’t live under rocks will be aware of this snazzy “polar vortex” thing, which is just a fancy way of saying we’re freezing our butts of in weather colder than it’s been in decades. This plane, C-FLUG that I’m trying to do all my time-building on, is not allowed to come out and play if it’s colder than -20 degrees. There hasn’t been a lot of that all through January. In fact, every time it got warmer than -20 all January, we had either a snow storm or fog. I got out a couple of times in December, but not at all through January. I was crawling the walls.

Working on the plane with Jim helped at least. Got me out to the airport and learning. Installing new magnetos turned out to be far more interesting than removing the old ones.

In the meantime, I finished up commercial ground school, and studied for the test. Took the test, and got a partial pass. Which pissed me off royally. You have to get 60% overall, as well as 60% on each of the four sections. If you get at least 60% overall, but less than 60% on any of the four sections, you get a partial pass, and you only have to rewrite the section you failed. I failed one section by 1%. So, working on studying for that again. I did really well on air law though. It’s the math that gets me.

Did a winter survival workshop at Lyncrest, and got pulled by dogs on a sled, learned to build an igloo, and signal search and rescue planes. Slept in the igloo overnight. There were about thirty people in the course, and only around fifteen had planned on staying the night. Of those, when I got up in the morning there were seven of us that hadn’t wussed out and gone home. I don’t think of myself as tough, really, but I suppose I have to remember that’s in the context of being a country girl.

Anyway, the new mags finally came in, and we installed them, Murray Bryson took it out for a flight test, and Thursday it was finaly nice enough go flying.

The wind was forecast to be 15G25. Fifteen knots gusting to twenty five. At Harv’s Air, they don’t let students go solo if the wind is stronger that twenty knots. I was getting checked out on the runway conditions though, since the snow is packed down nice and hard now. So I had an experienced pilot going out with me – not as an instructor, just as a safety pilot, so we could still go. I figured I wouldn’t get to go alone, but at least I’d get in the air.

We got up there, and the wind was straight down the runway. It was strong – there was obvious drift in the crosswind and base legs of my circuits, and the downwind legs were very quick. The landings – I wasn’t as rusty as I was afraid I might be. First landing was nice, right off the hop, close to the beginning of the runway, and smooth touchdown. After about a half an hour, my checkout pilot got out and let me fly alone.

I remember the first time I went out with my instructor in 15G25, and thinking “how do you get this thing back on the ground without being smashed into the runway?” Thursday I was handling the wind well. I was convinced that it must not have got as windy as it was forecast.

When I rechecked the METAR, to see what it actually was while I was flying, it said 18G25. It was kind of weird. Granted, there was no crosswind to speak of, but still. I remember wind like that being more…challenging. To the point that I was convinced that it just must not be as windy as forecast. It sank in how much quicker I was to attribute how I handled it to the conditions being more favourable than I thought, than to attribute it to improvements in my own piloting skills.

After I’d done a bunch of cross country flying, I wrote about how I’d noticed my navigation skills had improved. I guess it’s obvious that the same thing would happen with the stick and rudder skills, but it’s a little different to actually notice things getting internalized. I was watching the airspeed indicator, but I wasn’t having to correct as often. I was flying more by feel, and using the instruments to confirm, rather than constantly correcting according to the instruments. It’s weird. I remember watching my instructor do everything so effortlessly, and being promised it would come. Not gonna lie, there a lot of satisfaction in being able to see that happening.