Video Games: A Metaphor For Dispatching

I’ve been at the new job a little bit now, done job shadowing and on my own now. It’s a new experience – it’s a position with a lot more responsibility than I’ve ever had before. I’m literally in a position to make decisions that can cost or save the company thousands of dollars. It’s a small company, five planes, and I’m in charge of receiving calls from the ambulance dispatchers that take basically 911 calls from outside of Winnipeg, and sending the planes to pick up patients.

It sounds simple, but there’s a fair bit of strategy to it. Because legally, the pilots can work a maximum of fourteen hours consecutively before they have to be given a minimum of eight hours consecutive rest, plus we give them a little on top of that for transit time. Add to that the complication of some of the crews being based at our crew houses up North because the closer they are to where we’ll need to pick up patients, the more likely we are to be assigned the trip, and the more money the company makes.

There’s a type of game – board game or video game – called “worker placement games.” It will be based around units being used to build things, or collect resources that are then used to build things, and generally there’s a map and proximity to the resources has to be taken into consideration when working out strategy. Limits will be worked into the game mechanics on how long it takes to complete a task, or make a trip to the resource cache and back. In many games, the workers will need rest, or your fighters will need to return to someplace to be healed up before they can be sent out to fight again.

Very early on, I realized this whole dispatch thing, when the guy training me described the strategy involved in moving our planes into position, arranging schedules and calling out crews, I can think of it as a game – the goal being preventing the company from missing out on getting trips by having our crew held up unnecessarily or having crews called in and their fourteen hour duty day start but them sit around twiddling their thumbs rather than flying, and helping them make money by having our crews in position to get to patients quickly and relaying estimated times of arrival so that crews rendezvous with ground transportation efficiently.

The only thing missing is tallying up scores at the end of the game and seeing who wins.

I’d love to get on as a pilot here – the idea of having a job where I’m helping people has always appealed to me, and that’s one of the reasons I want to fly a water bomber some day. But I need 500 hours to get on as a Medevac pilot, so I’m looking for something part time, now that I have more time and energy to handle a possible second job.

In the meantime, and I’m enjoying working here, and not just because I’m not in a call centre. I’m being told that I’m doing well, and everyone seems to like me here, and my training went super quick.

But the company itself it very different than what I’m used to. I’m used to big companies now, with management being impersonal. Here, co-workers have described it as being like a big family. Everyone knows everyone, and it seems like the owners care about their employees. It’s a small company, and there’s no union like at MTS, but they don’t use the absence of a union to take advantage of employees and be hard-asses. Instead, they use the absence of a union to take advantage of opportunities to reward hard work and give employees a bit of a break when they know an individual could use it.

On top of that, it’s not as exhausting as the call centre work, so I have more time and energy left over for writing and other hobbies. Money is tight, so I’m helping my dad out with the bees for some extra cash, and looking into selling my art for the first time – I’m making Ukranian Easter eggs, or Pysanky, which are not just for easter, but traditional gifts for many occasions. And despite money being tight, I’m much happier where I am. I think I’d rather be homeless at this point than go back to the call centre. We will manage.

Thoughts on International Womens Day

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I’m a little late for International Womens Day, and I wasn’t able to do much to commemorate it because it was my first day at a new job (not a flying position yet, but a foot in the door – more on that in another post). But it’s still Women In Aviation Worldwide Week, and I have some thoughts.

As I got closer and closer to finishing training – at least the training I wanted to get done before starting to look for a flying job, I got thinking about a lot of things. One of them is how I’ve realized other people look at this whole journey I’ve undertaken.

One female co-worker commented that I was such an inspiration. “You decided you wanted to be a pilot, and you just went out and did it,” she said.

But that same co-worker had a daughter who was around three or four, and one day she asked me if I could take her daughter flying sometime. Because she’d been talking to her daughter and realized that little girl, not even school aged, had already absorbed the message from the world that girls could not be pilots and she wanted to make sure her daughter didn’t grow up believing things like that .

I never met a female pilot until I met my instructor. I heard the “You can be anything you want to be” and the “We need more female pilots” said, but something always told me that was a message for other people. People who were cooler than me.

But when I did hit that point where someone suggested that could apply specifically to me, there were a few things that primed me to be ready to believe it. And one of them was my Mom.

I know how tough my own life has been, supporting my husband and myself on my own income, but my Mom, when she left my Dad, had two little kids to look after. Maybe only 50% of the time, because they shared custody, but still. And once she was on her own, she didn’t just coast on alimony. She went to university and followed her own dream of becoming a teacher.

She wasn’t afraid of things being hard. Or maybe she was, but she didn’t let that stop her. But I think back to when I was deciding whether or not I believed in myself enough to embark on the journey I’ve been on the last four years, and wonder if I’d have decided I could do it if I’d had the sort of mother who would have gone back to a relationship that was unhealthy because she was too afraid to go it alone. If I hadn’t had a mother show me how to be brave.

But I did. I’d seen a woman make it on her own. And it makes me realize how important it is for young women to see positive examples, and examples of what they can be. And to talk to other women who have been through what they’re looking at going through. Who can tell them that it’s worth everything they’re going to sacrifice for it, and that it’s worse not to try.

So I’ve come to realize when people say I’m an inspiration, it’s not just a trite comment. Every mother will be an inspiration to her daughter, whether she’s a positive inspiration or a negative one. It’s a huge responsibility that all of us as women have to show the next generation of girls what they can do.

Writing About Aeroplanes: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I started writing stories about pilots before becoming an actual pilot myself, which is kind of an interesting contrast to Timothy Gwyn, who started writing after establishing a career in aviation. I imagine he didn’t make a lot of the silly mistakes I did.

Part of the problem is when you start researching planes and flying, there’s lots of talk about design, and neat things like, I learned early on how the radial engines gave way in design to the sleeker in-line positioning of the pistons to reduce drag, and I’d learned how many crew were needed in a Lancaster Bomber and what their positions were from when the Lanc visited Winnipeg last. But when it came to the basics, I had learned about the Bernoulli principle, and I understood the control surfaces and how they worked, that the rudder was controlled by pedals, while the elevator and ailerons were connected to the stick or control column.

That was…it.

So I go off on my merry way writing my novel, and then I bring it to a critique group where one member had got his private pilot’s licence many years before, and he pointed out some of my incorrect assumptions about how planes work.*

Oh. Well that is very helpful. It was one of those things, I just would never have thought to ask.

I tried to do more research, but I kept finding that the basics were hard to find resources on. The information online about aviation tends to be geared towards people who already know how to fly a plane and the info presented only builds on that. I could have looked up the answers to specific questions, but I didn’t know enough to know what questions to ask.

Fast forward to where I had decided I was seriously going to make a go of becoming a commercial pilot and I’m out at St. Andrews for my first ever flight, and we’re doing the walk-around, and my instructor is pointing out all the plane parts. I’m like, I can tell you all the things I know about airplanes – ok, propeller, fuselage, rudder, elevator, ailerons. That’s it. Oh, wheels! Yep, those are wheels.

Good job, she says, except those aren’t the ailerons, actually, those are the flaps.

The what? In all my reading about aeroplanes, this term had not come up. Or if it had, it wasn’t explained, and I just assumed it was some kind of auxiliary fancy thing that the big planes had. I’d been on jets, you know when you look out the windows at the wings and there’s these little squares that lift up on different parts of the wing?**

I had always intended to hunt down a pilot to help me edit my story, and it turned out I didn’t actually do that badly – fixing my mistakes didn’t break my novel’s plot, it was just touch-ups here and there.

But as a pilot now, the amount of knowledge I have to pour into a novel about pilots affects the type of stories I’m telling now. It’s not just a mode of transportation, or a mount to ride into combat anymore – they’re complex and I have a way more detailed understanding of how I can use these things to almost, but not quite kill my characters.

That and an understanding of the diversity of aircraft and features available, and enough knowledge to not put a feature on an aircraft that’s unrealistic. I mean, a Cessna 150 is not going to have autopilot installed. It is possible to have a plane without flaps, but I know enough not to make it a large one, and know what that means for the plane. I know the differences in ground handling between tricycle and conventional landing gear now and can throw that into a story, or simply portray it accurately. I know enough to describe accurately the characteristics of a good versus a bad landing.

I know what’s dangerous, and what seems dangerous but isn’t actually a big deal. Like, you see videos of WWII planes being started by hand-swinging the prop so often you’d think that wasn’t big deal, but that’s one of those things that kills people or takes limbs if you aren’t careful. Whereas, doing spins was something so easy to do and recover from, I was doing it in my first week of flying, and doing it solo in my first hundred hours with my instructor’s blessing, but it’s something that people think must be horribly dangerous.

There’s just so much to know about aviation, and I’m still a rookie low-hours pilot looking for my first job.

So how do you get that base level of knowledge if you want to write about pilots without becoming a pilot yourself. Well, there will be snobs who will say, just go get your private license, but not everyone has that kind of money kicking around.

One great way would be to take a ground school course. Most schools offer it in a classroom setting, but there are online versions as well – my school’s online ground school is Transport Canada approved. There are textbooks available too – the one my school uses is called “From The Ground Up”. It starts assuming no knowledge of aviation. There are others, and this one is specific for Canada, though that’s mainly only relevant for the air law side of things.

The other thing you can do that’s not horrifically expensive is most schools offer a “Discovery Flight”, which is just an introductory flight that goes over the basics, they take you up in the aeroplane and let you fly it, show you some of the basic maneuvers. There’s some real danger in going this route though – huge risk you might realize you love it and need to get your licence. Take precautions.***

On that note, I can confirm my attendance at Keycon this year. Timothey Gwyn will be there too, and I hope to do at least one panel covering a lot of these sort of topics for writers who might be interested in writing about aviation. Hope to see you there!

 

*Apparently, planes taxiing are propelled by their propellers, same as in the air – there’s no power transfer to the wheels to move them on the ground. Who knew.
**Ladies and gentlemen – those are spoilers. The flaps, incidentally, are the things that extend and curl downward in preparation for landing.
***Just kidding, do it, it’s amazing!

Elitism in Aviation

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There’s lots of ways pilots can be elitist, from rattling off jargon in front of non-pilots, or turning their nose up at pilots who don’t do taildraggers/floats/grass runways/off-airport landings/aerobatics, to priding themselves on being able to identify plane models from a view of the inside of the cockpit or a small close-up of the rear landing gear.

I’m in a facebook group for taildragger pilots, and a little while ago, one of the older guys posted a little rant about how the younger generation doesn’t seem to appreciate the vintage aircraft the way the older generation does. He went on to complain that all the young guys getting into aviation, they were all going commercial, and didn’t appreciate just going out and flying for fun.

Okay, look. My wet dream as a pilot would be to find a Spitfire frame and restore it and fly that around. I would fly it around all over, and I’d fly it into controlled airspace just so that I could have air traffic control address me as Spitfire-whatever-my-civil-ident-was, and listen to them advise other aircraft that they had traffic wherever that was a Spitfire. Because come on, that would be frickin’ amazing, and I know that asshole in the Boeing 747 looking out for me would be in his fancy ass plane going seriously? Like, a Spitfire, Spitfire? OMG, that’s so cool!

I can’t picture myself ever having the money a) to buy the aircraft, b) to find somewhere to store it, c) to pay for the restoration, or d) to pay for the fuel and maintenance costs for an aircraft.

Warning – rant coming….

Look at that meme up above. Look at the assumptions it makes. It assumes that the reason I don’t have a porch to chat with my friends on is because I don’t know how nice it is to have one.

It assumes everyone reading it can afford a residence that has a front porch.

I live in an apartment. I grew up with both my mother and both my grandmothers keeping gardens. Do you know how much I’d love to have a yard? Frickin’ hell, yes, I’d love to have a yard, and a garden, and someplace to put the barbecue. I’d love to own a vintage aircraft.

This guy got a whole load of answers explaining the economic times for young people, but glancing at this meme the other day reminded me of something I notice a lot among General Aviation pilots.

They’re rich. They don’t think they’re rich though. They’re surrounded by other people who can afford to buy an aircraft that costs anywhere between twice as much as a car to twice as much as a house, and put-put it around for fun. And they don’t realize how broke other people are. They think they’re the norm.

This guy literally complained that all the young people getting into aviation were going commercial. When I looked at getting into aviation, I very quickly came to the conclusion that the only way to justify the expense flight training was going to be to make it a career. Because I would never have the money to fly as much as I would want to if I opened that pandora’s box.

A message to the baby boomer generation: the economics of my generation is a reality that I and others faced with it have been forced to accept. The cushy jobs that would carry us through college while working through the summer – those just straight up don’t exist anymore, and have been replaced with jobs that people sneer at us and belittle us just for being willing to take.

*sigh*

Look. If you people who can afford to maintain a vintage aircraft turn your nose up at me and mine for going commercial – arguably for taking aviation as seriously as it can be taken, then be prepared for us to roll our eyes at you. If you want to share your love of vintage aircraft with us, then take us with you on a flight. Teach one of us how to land your wwii aircraft. I would freaking’ love that.

We’re looking at a pilot shortage. A period where the military pilots that went commercial haven’t made a habit of letting the next generation fly to build up the hours of experience they need. Do you want to be one of those snooty pilots not passing on your skills and knowledge to the next generation? Do you want your legacy to die with you?

We want and value that knowledge. It’s just – we want food on the table an a roof over our heads too. I often feel like people over 40 think we’r exaggerating about the roof thing though. The vintage aircraft thing is a luxury. It’s a luxury we would treasure, but a luxury all the same. If you have a vintage aircraft, will it to someone who would appreciate it, huh?

Multi-Instrument

Last year was a rough year. MIFR has taken a lot longer than I planned on it taking, and on the one hand I tend to be the first one to blame myself, but in truth, there’s been a lot of shit thrown in my way this year.

I’d been waiting for call volumes to go down and scheduling to be more flexible forever. At the beginning of the year I finally decided that I couldn’t keep waiting and hoping things at work would get better – I had to pick up flight training again, or I would never get out of my current job.

So I called up Harv’s Air and started sim training about once or twice a week. It was coming along, though my work schedule was  unrelenting, but my spirits were up because I was finally back to making progress.

And then I pulled into the parking lot at Harv’s and looked at my phone before I went in, and got the message that my Grandma was dying. I rushed back home to be there when she died. Her death hit me hard – it wasn’t like most people losing a grandparent – this Grandma was a parent to me.

I got all of three days bereavement leave off work and went straight back into sim training, and right away after, started my multi rating. We had weather, and we had plane maintenance, and I was exhausted with my schedule at work, and I was ready to pull back and take a break. I was far enough into my multi rating though that my instructor said it was a bad time to take a break. I made it through my multi flight test.

So next was some brushing up on IFR, and then back in the plane for multi-engine instrument training. There was more weather. Planes went down for maintenance. But I had vacation coming up, and that was when I was planning on doing the last big push to finish up.

My vacation came – Somewhere in there I wrote the instrument rating written test and passed it. But I was running out of time. I asked my work for more time off. Unpaid now. I got it, two weeks, in fact.

Then the first of the two multi-engine aircraft the school trains with went down for maintenance, not just for a fifty hour inspection – something had to be done with the engines that involved them being sent away for maintenance. Two months of downtime. Which meant all the students booking on the second plane. The second one at one point was also down for a week for other maintenance issues.

And we needed to get the IFR cross country trip done. lol…

Anyway, between my work schedule, weather, and plane maintenance, losing my Grandmother, among the biggest things but among a multitude of other stressors, I’ve been feeling very much like something just doesn’t want me to succeed. Like the end of the movie “The Labyrinth”, where David Bowie starts frantically sending everything he can to stop Sarah from making it the last little way to the castle.

Losing my Grandma affected me is ways I didn’t expect. But I was just less emotionally resilient than I normally am, and it made it harder to fight the inner voices one gets from having been a past victim of abuse. The fact that my work schedule isolated me from being able to spend time with the people I draw emotional support from made it worse.

But it’s not my instructor’s responsibility to be my therapist, and I did my best to not make excuses. I worked my way past it the only way I know how – stubbornly ploughing through head first.

I remember before I ever hopped into a plane to learn to fly, thinking about whether or not I was ready to do this. Because I was used to the way my life was – used to just never getting anything I want unless I’m ready to give it everything I’ve got and just refuse to give up.

I don’t know if it’s God, or the fates, or whatever, who’ve decided they don’t think I’ve been through enough, tried hard enough, worked hard enough, but I have something to say to them: I’m not the wilting teenager I once was that had so little confidence she would never have considered embarking on this journey in the first place. I look back on my teen age years and think, hell, I made it though that, I’ll make it through this too. If you want to break me, you’ll have to do better than this.

Multi-Engine Instrument test is done and passed.

Canada Day Tragedy At Lyncrest

It’s a surreal moment when you hear news like this.

There’s been a crash.

Holy, crap, is everyone okay?

No.

I was at the Osborne street festival in Winnipeg when I got a text from a friend asking if I knew someone who flew a PA-28. It was noisy and I didn’t hear my phone, but two minutes later, the friend texted my husband, who was with me, asking if I’d been flying that morning, because a plane has crashed next to Lyncrest airport.

I’ve flown out of that airport. I know a lot of people who do. It could be someone I know. Whoever it was is a member of the local aviation community that I’m a part of. I spent a couple years time building on the 99’s plane owned by the RAA, C-FLUG. The RAA has a second plane, C-GNUC, and it’s a PA-28…

So I immediately thought, could it have been C-GNUC?

It was.

And of course there’s something about plane crashes that captures media attention. Both the RAA planes had gone flying, and the pilot of the other plane, who had no idea what had happened, was accosted by the media when she landed. Someone said the reporters were there before the emergency crews. The sneaked into the clubhouse to take photos of the phone list so they could call people at home and pester them for information. The photo of GNUC that first appeared on the news articles was quickly replaced by actual photos of the crash site, which I don’t even really want to share here.

Fatal car crashes don’t even make the news, but pilots are held to a higher standard than drivers on the road. I think that’s why there’s many times as many fatal car crashes, but they don’t garner the we need to find out what happened so we can make sure this never happens again reaction that plane crashes do.

Which is not to say that reaction is wrong. I mean, the roads would be a hell of a lot safer if drivers were held to the same standards as pilots and I don’t know why they’re not other than society thinks driving a car is a right and flying a plane is a privilege.

But that attitude is one of the things that defines the aviation community. When there’s a fatal car crash, people look at it as a random act of fate. Something that could happen to anyone. Maybe someone did something stupid or reckless, but anyone could do that. Drunk boater drowns, they go ugh, those guys, they should know better. Snowmobiler hits a tree at 180 clicks, they roll their eyes and lament the irresponsible attitudes of snowmobilers.

Not pilots. As information from the crash site trickles in, we all want to know what happened. I think it’s probably because of the level of training required to get a pilot’s licence, and just the whole environment of open discourse about safety, but I don’t think there’s a lot of pilots who take off thinking to themselves It won’t happen to me. The take off telling themselves I have the competence to be able to handle it if something happens, and I’ve taken all possible measures to prevent something from happening. Recklessness is not accepted by the aviation community – if someone brags about doing something dangerous, the community as a whole responds with disapproval. There’s a reason the accident rate is so low.

That’s why when something does happen, the whole community is left reeling. We work so hard to be safety conscious and make sure safety concerns are communicated, and instructors work to instill a cautious attitude into their students. I know the people at that airport, and the people who manage that plane, and I know what sticklers they are for following rules of safety. Apparently Transport Canada is often impressed with their diligence, and the diligence they require from anyone flying those two RAA planes.

It’s quite possible we may never find out for certain what happened. There was a briefing tonight, and I went out to Lyncrest to attend, and we got what information there was. Speculation on what may have caused it is counterproductive at this point, and only spreads misinformation. The TSB is investigating.

I didn’t know the pilots who died, but I know a lot of people who did know them, and I’m still part of that community. I listened to my friends in the 99’s tell about how they heard, others describing when they heard the news but didn’t know who it was, how they breathed a sigh of relief every time one of the people they knew chimed in on facebook or responded to a text, confirming they were safe.

It’s been a sad weekend; I don’t really know what else to say.

Multi

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My instructor changed his mind about starting me on the multi-engine aeroplane next week. Instead, we hopped in last Wednesday, and I’ve had a couple flights now.

The plane they train on is a Piper Seminole, which is a nice plane, fairly easy to handle.

The first thing you notice taking off is the power. Bigger engines, more power on each one. The idea is not only to have more power with the two engines, but also to have engines powerful enough that if one fails, the one still running can still keep the plane in the air.

The second thing you notice is what everybody kept telling me I’d notice when I got to the Seminole. It’s about fifty percent faster than the Cessnas I trained on. It cruises at the speeds I’m used to avoiding exceeding, and at twenty five hundred feet, the speed increase is noticeable. In a Cessna, cruising at ninety knots, if feels like you’re crawling across the sky, but in the Seminole, it feels like you’re actually going somewhere.

It’s also a much heavier plane than the Cessnas, and glides like a rock. Maybe not quite as bad as the float plane, but close. Steep turns are a breeze – it doesn’t get bounced around as much in the wind because it’s heavier. The other thing though, is when you add power,  or nose down it takes a bit longer for the plane to respond, so when you’re doing anything at a slow speed, you have to be extra careful of getting close to a stall.

It’s my first time flying a low-wing – for the uninitiated, that’s a plane with the wings attached at the bottom of the fuselage instead of having the fuselage hanging below the wings. That means you can’t use gravity to feed fuel into the engine, so you have fuel pumps, which is yet another among a million things that you have to remember to turn on and off and test.

So many firsts; it’s also my first time flying with retractable landing gear. I’m told landing gear up is bad. You know how you can tell if you’ve landed gear up? It takes full power to taxi to the ramp.* But in all seriousness, it’s an easy thing to forget, and a really bad one if you do!

Overall, it’s helped a lot that we’ve been going over multi-engine stuff in the simulator, so not all of it is completely new, and it hasn’t been too overwhelming. And it has been super nice to get back in the air and behind the controls after having not flown since finishing my float rating in November.

 

*Can’t believe my instructor hadn’t heard that one.