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.

IFR Part Two – Good Days And Bad Days

I’m kind of posting this for the benefit of other student pilots who might read it because it’s an observation of the learning process and what’s normal, and that you can have bad days, and just push past them to succeed.

I’ve had good days and bad days since my Grandma died. One of those bad days was my first lesson back in the Redbird. Part of it was being out of practice, having cancelled one lesson, then the next lesson back was in the other sim, doing a multi-engine intro, since the Redbird was booked. Part of it was stress and being exhausted from work, and part of it might have even been me starting to come down with something. But I did really terrible, no improvement, and regression in some areas.

Sometimes I feel like I’m just a complete failure. But today I was thinking, you know, if I knew someone who was dealing with all the shit I’m dealing with right now, I would wonder how she managed to get as far as she had with flight training, knowing how much dedication flight training requires to get where I am. I need to give myself a break sometimes.

Last week I had a conversation with my manager that was overdue, the result of which was my hours being reduced to part time, to give me time to cope, time for myself, and most importantly, time to fly.

The next lesson in the Redbird I was back on the horse, and the one after definitely steady improvement again.

And then there was last Thursday. I ended the lesson and began the de-breifing frustrated and disgusted with myself, feeling like I’d done awful like that other day.

But then I realized something as I recounted all the things I’d got wrong or missed. It was the first time that list was short enough to start to zero in on what I needed to work on. The first point – in my IFR training at least – where I wasn’t just happy I was doing more things right.

I remember now, hitting this point in learning circuits, where things suddenly didn’t seem quite so overwhelming, and that was that tipping point where things  it wasn’t long after that I was ready to solo. My IFR instructor agreed, and even said, if all goes well, maybe after next week, we’ll be hopping in the real plane to work on the next step.

I’m really grateful that all my instructors have been really positive and encouraging, while still demanding everything I can give them.

Time Management For Student Pilots

A few years ago, I went to a panel at my local con called “Time management for writers.” I expected a lecture on writing every day – maybe even pontificating on how you’re not serious about writing if you don’t write every day. The first panelist said she did indeed write every day, and if she didn’t, she lost rhythm and didn’t get anything done. She didn’t necessarily write a lot each day, but she wrote every single day. In contrast, the second one said he got all his outlining ready, and made a big three month push to write a novel, then edited at a more leisurely pace  the rest of the time. The third got a hotel room for three days and exited a wreck, but with a completed first draft of a novel.

In the flying community, you’ll hear people pontificating about making sure you fly at least once a week, to keep your skills fresh, especially once you’ve finished your private license. Because a lot of people finish their license and then barely ever fly again, citing that it’s so hard to get into the swing of things again. When training, they say to fly at least once or twice a week, or you’ll end up spending more hours on training, catching up on what you’ve lost.

They’re probably right. But the reality is, not everyone has the money on hand to do that.

When I started flying, I was able to give away most of my shifts for several months and flew 4-5 days a week, finishing my private license in about three and a half months. Not everyone is able to do that, and most people complete their private license in 1-2 years, flying once or twice a week.

Many young people are in school or university, but are living at home and have more money to put toward flying, making it possible to train faster. I have a full time job, we’re a single income household and I can’t afford to take too much time off outside of vacation. In fact, after I did my private, possibly as a result, the union wrote a clause into the new contract preventing people from giving away more than one shift a week. I like to say I have my own clause in the union contract.

I do much better when I can focus on just one big thing at a time, so time-building was hard for me. I couldn’t give shifts away anymore, so it was a flight here and there, and sometimes when it was very cold, I didn’t fly for months at a time. Because I was mostly flying the RAA club plan and not the school’s planes, my instructor couldn’t tell how frequently I was flying, I’m sure she worried that I might lose my momentum and give up. So many do. She would send me emails every once in a while, about every six months, asking how I was doing, and I’d send her an update with my hours and where I’d been, that I’d passed the written when I passed it. And finally I was finished time-building and one of those replies was “Okay, I’ve got vacation booked in May/June, and this is my plan.”

And for the flight test, I just did exactly the same thing as I did for my private, flying 4-5 times a week for several weeks. It’s what works for me, and I’ve succeeded doing it this way. I was able to give my instructor lots of notice so that she was able to make sure she was available when I needed her. Not all schools or instructors might be as awesome as that, so that was one struggle I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with.

On the other hand, doing my float rating, or likewise, my night rating, I was working full time at the same time. I tried to fly once a week, but often things didn’t work out that way. The other difference is there’s no test at the end of these ratings, so once I had the hours and the instructor was satisfied with my performance, that was all I had to do.

I think it’s far more important to have goals and a plan, than to fly a particular number of days a week. That plan naturally has to take into consideration the fact that if you haven’t flown for a while, your skills will go stale, but that may mean that you just need to get practiced up sometimes. If your goals are to stay current and develop your experience as a pilot, then maybe a goal of flying once a week or however often you can afford it might be your best plan. When I’m prepping for a test, that short period of intense flying multiple flights a day is what I need, so I’m not as concerned about staying current in between times when I’m forced to drag my ass back to work. I’ve put my writing on the back-burner a long time now, which is also okay, because I have clear goals and a plan, and I know it won’t be forever.

The pontificators are right about one thing though. You don’t find time. You make time. You ditch your video game and study. You skip social outings. There was a writing event the whole weekend I had planned my 300nm cross country trip, and I stopped in after I landed to to catch the last half hour. You do what you can do, and what you have to do, and there’s no right or wrong way to pace yourself, as long as you have a plan.

Migratory Bird Season (float rating part two)

Ok, so this post is a little late, as I’ve been busy. General update stuff: My hard drive failed in the middle of NaNoWriMo, 10k in, and while I got a decent start, I failed miserably in the end. I’m happy with what I got written though.

I have, now that I have a window with some decent light, found a new hobby. That hobby is indoor gardening, and African violets, especially. I will not be filling this blog with plant related shit. My plants have their own blog. If I happen to have any houseplant lovers following my blog, feel free to check out my plant blog on tumblr: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/vulpesviolets

My car is dead, and I need a new one. I’m sad. This car has been in the family since it was new. My Grandpa bought it. My Grandma drove it. My Dad drove it. I literally learned to drive in this Buick Le Sabre. But the engine is shot and it shuts off every time it comes to an idle, and it’s twenty three years old and I can’t justify replacing the engine. My Grandma’s health hasn’t been so great lately and as a writer, I can’t help but see the obvious metaphors. I cried after cleaning it out last night. Shut up.

In happier news, I finished my float rating. I have a couple of things to say about that. One is that I survived a murder-suicide attempt by a greater scaup who tried to fly into my prop on an overshoot. Aggressive maneuvering was required to avoid it. Yay for being good at overshoots and having the airspeed to maneuver without stalling.

It made me remember two things I’ve been told. First is that geese are generally fairly smart and will stay out of your way….but ducks are dumb. That has definitely been my experience – every close call I’ve had has been with a duck, not a goose, even though I see far more geese during migration season than I do ducks.

Second is from the 99’s annual general meeting in September. One of the 99’s that I was driving to and from their hotel was commenting on flying in and seeing so many migratory birds. She said she’d asked one of the locals how they managed around the birds. She said the answer she was given was to try not to think about it too much. It was a little eerie to hear her say that – a bird strike can easily cause an engine failure, and it feels like it’s just one of those things that can happen at random. You really do need to keep your eyes open during those seasons. Though I’ve encountered seagulls that wouldn’t move off the runway, the water birds seem to be the main migratory birds, and the concentrations of them at those times of year do get to be a big concern, and it’s one of those things that makes canadian bush flying what it is.

Speaking of animals, we saw mostly grebes on Norris Lake, but also, off the northern tip, someone’s raising bison, and one day we saw seven swans – two parents and five of their grey plumaged offspring.

And a beaver. We didn’t actually see the beaver, but it’s built a new house between two of the float plane bays. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that he’s built a dam half way across one of the float plane bays, blocking the planes from getting out to the lake….*

I feel so fucking Canadian.

Last thing I would comment on is the attitude that float pilots are a bunch of fuckin’ cowboys who do just whatever. Okay – I’m a person to likes rules. I like a set of ways of doing things. So when I asked about whether or not there was standard circuits (patterns, for the yanks) and my instructor told me in a float plane you just kind of do whatever works best for you, I was honestly a bit frustrated. I always want to know the right way to do things.

Part of it is the fact that on water, there’s no centre line. There’s nothing to guide you and tell you what heading to land on. You just land into the wind. And don’t hit any power lines, and land where you have enough space, etc. You do whatever is practical and safe, and you just be extra careful to communicate your intentions to other traffic in the area, on the appropriate frequency.**

It was a bit of a different experience. It was very, do-whatever-you-need-to-do. Which took me a bit out o my comfort zone, of liking a set way of doing things, and set me to drawing on some older skills I learned from my father as a child when it comes to thinking through how to do something safely. Even docking, setting the plane up so that it drifted in to settle at the dock, shutting the engine off at the appropriate time to let it blow in, or drift in, then standing on the float with the tie-down line in hand, ready to hop off when the plane drifted close enough to the dock to hop off and secure the aircraft.

It’s hard to describe how natural and down-to-earth it felt. It felt like something my Dad might teach me how to do – or rather, not teach me, but just assume I could do and talk me through the first time, because he was the one person who always assumed I could do something.

It was fun, and I’m so glad I did it. I hope I get to use it.

 

*I make no promises that this beaver does not end his life as someone’s hat. None whatsoever.
* *I’ve heard complaints of float pilots broadcasting their communications on either 126.7 or 123.2, when they’re in a zone with a mandatory frequency, and yeah, that’s just not cool.

On Aspie Pilots

When I first started flying, I was caught up in the excitement of making the decision and it being real, and then the question came up in the medical “Do you have a neurological disorder?” I hadn’t even thought about my Aspergers diagnosis being a problem, and no one who knew me would have suggested I wasn’t competent enough to learn to fly. I can’t pretend to say I know what my instructor thought when I told her there would be a delay and why, but she never let on that she thought any less of my abilities as a pilot because of it.

But at the time, I could find nothing at all on the internet to reassure me that it wouldn’t stand in my way of becoming a commercial pilot. So once that was all resolved, and I had a bit of a soapbox for winning the first to solo prize, I wrote an article for the Women of Aviation Week site, about my experiences with getting my medical, despite having a formal diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. I still get messages about it, from exactly the people I wrote it for. People with Aspergers who want to learn to fly but are afraid of discrimination because of their diagnosis.

Aspergers seems to be the unsubstantiated disorder du jour to slap onto every white male serial killer and mass shooter, but all that really is is society trying to “other” the person who did bad. It’s easy if the bad guy is black or Muslim, or some obvious not-like-us, but when it’s a white male for some reason they have to come up with something to place him away from other “good” white males, to explain why he did it. But I’m sorry, being a serial killer or mass murderer doesn’t make someone an Aspie, it just makes them an asshole.

But the result is a deep misunderstanding on the part of general society about what Aspergers Syndrome actually is, and what it means, and that can lead to prejudice and discrimination.

But I still remember my Mom once telling me that maybe I shouldn’t tell people I have Aspergers. I’ve had other pilots tell me I should have lied so that I wouldn’t have to worry about the medical. And I’ve heard from other pilots who have withheld the fact that they have Aspergers, or just avoided getting a formal diagnosis to keep it from being a problem, because they were afraid of being discriminated against. I have even heard about a student who’s being refused training by an instructor who is uncomfortable with her diagnosis, because he doesn’t understand what effect it might have on her competence. As far as I’m aware, he may not even be willing to let her try. I’ve heard from Aspies who can’t get a simple driver’s license in the USA because in their overly litigious world, doctors won’t put themselves on the line to be sued in case that person were to get in an accident and be found not to be medically fit to drive.

The difficulties I do have are mostly in making friends, navigating friendships, being able to tell if someone actually likes me, or if they’re just being nice, or sometimes being able to tell if someone is teasing me or being serious. Noisy crowds and parties burn me out very quickly. Those are the main things I notice that cause me the most problems in my life.

How does that affect my flying? It really doesn’t. The closest has got to be getting along well with my instructor and not being able to tell if she actually enjoys my company as much as I enjoyed hers, or if she was just being nice because I was paying her. After two years I got my answer the day I finished my commercial license and she sent me a facebook friend request with a note saying she had a policy of not friending students on facebook until after she was finished training them.

There are no noisy crowds in the cockpit. Communication in aviation, between pilots and between ATC is very structured and clear. I have a good memory for rules and the million other things you have to remember and notice when flying a plane. It’s a place where the difficulties I have aren’t really relevant, and furthermore, a place that lets many of the strengths that come with being an Aspie shine through.

Which is not to say that every person with Aspergers is capable of learning to fly an aerplane. Some of the common symptoms of Aspergers is being sensitive to loud noises (I have trouble with crowds but some Aspies have issues with any loud noises) and the roaring engine might be an insurmountable problem. Some Aspies might have social anxiety bad enough they wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively on the radio. Another common symptom is poor motor skills, which could affect their ability to develop the stick-and-rudder skills needed to do the actual flying. Some may just have too much anxiety to remain composed in an emergency situation.

The thing is, if you’re met one Aspie, you’ve met one Aspie. Every one of us is different, with different symptoms and severities of symptoms, and strengths and weaknesses.

Almost like we’re actual people huh? Individuals, even. Not every Aspie is cut out to be a pilot. Not every neurotypical (nomal) person is cut out to be a pilot either. That’s something that would be determined based on performance during training, not based on a diagnosis, assuming the student is cleared on their medical.

I haven’t faced discrimination myself so far. The doctor who did my medical stated out loud that he didn’t feel that Aspergers was something that should prevent me from flying. Transport Canada asked for a letter from my family doctor – I’m not even sure what it was he wrote for them, but I’ve seen the guy like three times in my life, I swear, so he couldn’t really tell them any more than no, she’s not on any medications or requiring any counseling or other support – and they signed off on my medical certificate based on that. I don’t disagree with the way Transport Canada handled my case. They were prudent and fair, and they didn’t deny me my medical for no reason. As far as training, none of my instructors treated me any different than other students as far as I know. I’ve been pretty lucky so far. This is Canada.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t run into problems in the future. There are plenty of people out there who will think that I would be better off deleting this post and any record on the internet that I can erase that might tell a future employer googling my name that I’m an Aspie. They’ll say, well Transport Canada knows, you’re legal, you have no restrictions on your medical, you’re not obligated to tell your employers, why would you make it easy for them to find out if they’re likely to pass you up for jobs because of it?

One friend pointed out, well, why would I want to work for someone who would do that to me if they found out?

But it’s more than that. The way people think about Aspies won’t change if we keep hiding and pretending. I’m not saying that every person who’s hiding their diagnosis needs to come out, but the idea that I and others are afraid of how people will react and how we could be discriminated against due to it, makes me angry. So yeah, maybe there will be jobs I’ll miss out on because a prospective employer gets cold feet out of ignorance and misunderstanding and fear, but I feel like I have a responsibility to bullhead my way through that and show them how wrong they are. To paint a new picture for the world of what it means to be an Aspie, in the hopes of making it easier for those who come after me. It’s always an act of bravery to be one’s truest self.