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.

Student Pilot Finances/How To Plunge Yourself Into Massive Debt/I Regret Nothing

*cue hysterical laughter*

Okay, so one of the first questions people ask when they want to know more about flight training is “Is it really as expensive as people say?”

And the answer is yes. Whatever you think you’re going to end up spending on it, it will probably cost twice that. Here’s a link to the rates at my school. And those are mostly the numbers based on the *minimum* number of hours required by Transport Canada. Most people will take longer than that to be ready for the test. Furthermore, between getting your private license and getting your commercial license, you have to get your Pilot in Command time up to a minimum 100 hours, and that’s not included in there either.

So, thinking about those statistics on how many people make it through flight training and how the majority don’t finish, I wondered how much of that is due to lack of funds. I bet it’s most of them. When I started, and word got around about what I was doing, suddenly there were people left and right telling me they’d done some flight training at one point. But then they ran out of money. Over and over I heard the same story. I’ve seen people on the internet in the throes of that running out of money stage, and it’s heartbreaking. I almost feel guilty for having been able to do it myself.

I suspect there’s some people who were surprised I made it this far, even though now they all say “I knew you could do it!” But the people who know me the best tell me they never had any doubt I could do it, and the only thing that really surprised them was that I managed to make it happen financially. I’m not someone who’s really good with money, but now that I’ve made it this far, I figure maybe I do have a few things to say on the subject with regards to flight training.

So here’s some straight talk about the realities of how much it costs to learn to fly.

The main thing I’d recommend, that I did do right, is making sure the money is there when you need it. You don’t want to be nearly ready for whatever level test, just need a few more hours of practice, and then run out of money. If that happens, then you’ll be out of practice by the time you get your hands on more money, and need more hours of practice before you’re ready again. Having a credit card with an amount of credit you never imagined you’d actually use is great for that. Lines of credit to pay off the credit card with cheaper interest rates are even better. I stress about money easily, and when the secretary at Harv’s would remind me I needed to top off my account, it made it so much easier to know I had my credit card in my wallet and could take care of it right there and worry about paying the bank later and focus on flying when I needed to.

Another consideration is whether or not to buy your own plane. I had a lot of people tell me that I should buy my own plane, that it would be cheaper in the long run. I think if you’re only planning on getting a private license that’s probably a valid argument. For myself, I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, but not for financial reasons. On the one hand, I’d have been responsible for maintenance and airworthiness reports, hangar space, repairs, and I don’t know what else, all while trying to focus on learning to fly.

On the other hand, I’d have only learned to fly one plane. All through my private license, I flew about ten different Cessna 152’s. Some had climbing props, some had different types of radios and instrument styles, and sometimes the stall horn would go off if you looked at it the wrong way while another wouldn’t go off until you were fully stalled. Then I got my license and got checked out on the Cessna 172, and the Citabria. When I’m ready to go on to my Multi-IFR, the school has two Seminoles available for me to fly, and if I’d bought my own plane, it would have been a single engine and would have been useless for getting a multi-engine rating, even if I were lucky enough to find myself a plane with both a VOR and an ADF to work with on my IFR rating. So, I’d say, if you’re planning on just doing a private licence, go ahead and buy a plane. If you’re planning on going commercial, don’t bother.

What else to say…

Where to get the money? There’s a good question. Student loans doesn’t cover flight training. They don’t consider that legit post secondary training and you can’t get government student loans for it. Everyone will tell you to apply for scholarships, but there are actually very few, and almost none worth more than 1500$. Most of them are like, 200$-300$. I have not won any monetary scholarships. The big one I did win was the first to solo scholarship, and that was mostly schwag, plus a really fracking nice headset. Still totally worthwhile, even just for the headset, but it doesn’t go very far when it comes to avgas. I kind of have a dream of someday having enough money to fund a couple thousand dollar scholarship.

I was lucky. We had some money –about 25k–and my husband agreed to sign it over to me to follow my mad little dream. I think I probably spent about 15k on my private licence. I’m now finished my commercial licence and that money’s all gone, plus I’m about 15k in the red. I would have run dry of credit long before completing my CPL if I hadn’t had that money to start. If your flight school is on a certain list, you can qualify for a student line of credit, which is what I’ve got, but if you don’t own a house or a car worth more than a few thousand bucks, you have no collateral, and they can’t repossess your pilot’s licence so they’re hesitant to lend you a whole lot. I got a limit of 20 in the student line of credit, and another 10k in a second line of credit. My Dad was willing to co-sign for me, but turns out because he’s self employed, his signature didn’t actually help me, even though he’s the most financially stable person I know and could have paid for all my training out of pocket. I have also received a little over 10k between my Dad and my paternal Grandmother and other family members.

And that’s another thing. I have family I can turn to if things ever got really bad. I wouldn’t be on the street if the debt became overwhelming. If my Dad wasn’t as financially stable as he is, going into this much debt would be terrifying. Many people wouldn’t have had a job where their income would have allowed them to borrow as much as I have, and wouldn’t have the startup money to offset the debt. I’d love to be able to say, like many people do, if you want it, you just have to find a way to make it happen, look at me, I did. But I know there are tons of people out there who love flying who may never be able to follow their dream because they could never scrape together  the resources necessary, and it’s not fair. I’ve been lucky.

So how much does it cost to learn to fly? The answer is all of it. All your monies. All gone. And some of the monies that belong to the bank too, as much as you can sucker them into lending you. All the monies you can sucker your family into giving you. If you discover you love flying, you will hemorrhage cash at rates you do not now think possible. There are always more ratings, more training, more time-building, more licenses to get, and if you love flying, you’ll just keep going until you have no more money. The numbers on checks and bank statements will start to seem surreal and loose real meaning. But if you’re going commercial like I was, unless you’re filthy rich, it’s really an all or nothing thing.

And yet, there has not been one single moment in all of this where I’ve thought to myself “I wish I hadn’t done this,” or “I don’t know if this was really worth it,” or “This didn’t turn out to be everything I hoped it would be.” It is everything I hoped it would be, and like the title says, I regret nothing.

Imma Duck-bird Now

I went for my first lesson on floats today.

The first time I ever left the ground was in a float plane. My dad had a family friend who ran a fishing resort, and had a float plane – I don’t actually know what kind, but he took my brother and I flying when I was maybe six or seven. I barely remember it other than that it happened, and that the plane was yellow. I was at that age where seeing that plane, I assumed that all float planes are yellow and any that aren’t are exceptions to the rule.

The nearest place to Winnipeg that does float ratings is Interlake Aviation, based in Gimli, and their float plane, a Cessna 172 (they have a Stinson too, but it’s wings are being re-covered) is based on Norris Lake, North of the city. I’d flown over it before – I remember noting it as a landmark as I flew over on my three hundred nautical mile trip for my commercial license.

You know, after the struggle to learn to land a Cessna 152, and then the struggle the figure out the taildragger thing, I was expecting the float thing to be the same. I figured it would be this new foreign thing I’ve never touched on and that I would be a fish out of water, being a bird in water after all. Instead, it felt like the most natural transition in the world.

I showed up, and we did a check over the plane, you know, as best you can when you can’t walk all the way around it.  One of the most interesting things was discovering that the floats were actually attached to what is essentially a roll cage encasing the cockpit. This is because there are no shocks for floats. I imagine whatever shocks they might add with might mess with how the plane touches down on the water. Anyway, we did the usual, checked the oil and took fuel samples. I love how in flight training, they get you to do things yourself as much as you’re comfortable with, right from the beginning. He let me get the plane turned around facing out by myself and then we hopped in.

We started with taxiing. A little bit of put-putting around, and then he demonstrated a “step taxi” – which is like in a motorboat, when you get going fast, and the craft starts skimming over the surface of the water rather than pushing through it. He had me go up and down the lake three times, and I didn’t feel like I was having any trouble. There’s a sweet spot to hold the plane at a certain angle as you’re taxiing on the step, and if you’re too low it’ll slow down, but if you’re too nose high, it will start bouncing up and down. But finding that sweet spot was easy, you can feel it.

Actually, he asked me one or twice if I’d spent a lot of time on the water. I said no, not really. I just grew up 200 feet from a lake I guess. The high school I went to had canoes and we went canoeing for gym class once or twice. Oh, wait, our family had a boat for a while…. You know, I have never considered myself a “water person” partly because I’m one of those people who can’t stop water going up their noses, but I suppose it’s possible I may have had more exposure than other people. It’s possible I take it for granted and assume other people have had as much exposure as myself.

Anyway, after three treks up and down the tiny lake, he figured I had enough practice, and he let me take off. It was a bit of an awkward take-off, but I’ve been told I have good instincts for being in ground effect, and it’s easy to tell the moment you leave the water, so as soon as I was airborne I was fine. He demonstrated a landing, and then he let me try.

My first landing I was over correcting, and he helped me. The second one I managed to do it unassisted. The third one was too nose-down, and it started to dig in – he went to yank the stick back, but I was doing the same thing at the same time to recover, so it was hard to tell if he was doing anything that I wasn’t already doing. I remember so many times on bounces, not getting the power in fast enough, and my instructor putting the power on to recover and telling me “you gotta be faster.” When I finally got the knack for recovering from a bounce by adding power, I was so pleased with myself. But today I was fast already – it seemed like my first instinct was correct. Like I said, it seemed natural. I was even dealing with a fairly noticeable cross-wind and managing perfectly fine.

Lastly was getting back to the dock. The wind had picked up, and I was already having difficulty turning in certain directions. “Lets see if you can get us into the dock,” he says.

Nailed it first time.

I dunno, maybe it was beginner’s luck, and he did give me some advice to start the approach upwind of the dock, but he said it as if there was some question as to whether or not I’d be able to do it. I dunno. It’s been half my life since I’ve been in a boat, and I was never allowed to dock one. Maybe my exposure to boating helped, I can’t tell.

Anyway, I got it up withing two feet of the dock, and climbed out to jump to the dock. The instructor seemed impressed with it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but he commented on the fact that I’d anticipated how much the plane would move as I jumped, and I guess I seemed very sure-footed. I hadn’t thought I was unexpectedly so, but I got the distinct impression that he thought I was going to go in the drink, perhaps because others have before me.

That said, I will probably end up in the drink at some point, it’s not an if, it’s a when, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s water. I will not melt. I can swim. I’ve even established that I can tread water with clothes on.

Anyway, we were figuring out paperwork, and at some point I needed to make a stop at Gimli, so I figured since I was off, I might as well do it today. And then the funniest thing – the instructor would lead me there in his truck, but he asked me if I was okay taking my car on a gravel road.

Lulz! Okay, I grew up a beekeeper’s daughter (and grand-daughter), and this was my grandpa’s and dad’s car while they were beekeeping. They used it to check on the bees, and too me with them often. The only risk in me driving on a gravel road is me getting all nostalgic for my childhood!

Gods, I forget I’m a country girl sometimes….

End of story: I’m already in love with float flying.

It is a fact universally acknowledged, that a pilot in possession of a CPL must be in want of a job.

So, job search. Fact is, and I knew this going in, that there are not a lot of jobs out there that a pilot with a CPL and no other ratings aside from that is qualified for. Certainly very few that would pay enough for my husband and I to live off of. Even if I were to go up north, employers typically expect pilots to work the ramp (non-flying position, loading and fueling planes, etc) for a year or more for little more than minimum wage with no guarantee they will ever be moved to a flying position.

An acquaintance was kind enough to look around for me, and advised that all the people he knew that he hoped to get me an interview with required at least a float rating and some float time. That’s typically 50 hours, which is a good bit, when renting a float plane is 250$ an hour.

Apparently getting my multi-IFR would get me in the cockpit right away, and every commercial pilot I know says that’s the way to go, but that’s gonna be another 15 000$ or so. At which point, I’m reaching the edge of what I have available to me on lines of credit, and would be starting to run up my credit card. So all I need is 15K and I’m set. Incidentally it’s my birthday (I’m thirty two). Just sayin’.* **

Which makes me think of all the statistics about people starting flight training and not finishing. I believe one stat I read was that 75% of people who start flight training never finish. Far fewer ever make it to a commercial license, probably a similar proportion. And only 6% of those who get a commercial license are women. I’ve beat a lot of odds. And I’ll keep going at this until I get a job.

 

*Just kidding.

**Not really, I accept cash, check, or paypal.

Commercial Pilot

It was almost exactly two years ago that I took my private pilot flight test. I don’t think I could possibly have been more nervous. I remember going through the oral part and thinking I was so clueless, having trouble finding things in the reference books, getting confused on reading markings on the navigational charts, second guessing myself. But I guess it was good enough for the private level.

This time, I had quick answers for most things, and had to look up very few. But that’s expected at the commercial level.

When we got the the flying part though, smoke from the forest fires in Saskatchewan had reduced visibility in the area to 1 statute mile. I’m game for a fair bit of wind, and I can handle a crosswind, weather wise, but I have done very little flying in low visibility. The amusing part of that was when the examiner asked me if I wanted to carry on with the test, in a tone that sounded like she was excited to get out there and do this thing. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to trick me into saying yes, or if she was just being really sarcastic. We rescheduled the second half for another day.

The things I was most worried about were the test items where I had to do mental math. I’m terrible at math, especially simple math – it was one of the reasons I didn’t try to learn to fly earlier; everyone said you had to be good at math to be a pilot. Turns out, every single pilot I’ve talked to says they’re terrible at math. When I said I had just memorized how many seconds went with each number of degrees to do a timed turn, I was told I was definitely not the first of their students to resort to that. Practice on the timed turns and VOR intercepts seemed endless, until finally the numbers just starting to repeat enough times that I started to memorize them. I did fairly well on both.

The couple things I didn’t do so well were stupid things that I don’t normally do wrong, and I’m blaming it on the fact that I had to work the night before and I was running on about 4 hours of sleep. Even so, the examiner commented that I had good control over the plane. I dunno, I never thought of myself as having exceptional stick and rudder skills, but then, I’m usually better than I think I am at most things, and maybe it’s partly just remembering struggling at the beginning. The examiner called my spin “beautiful.”

Anyway, the paperwork is signed off and logbook sent off to Transport Canada for them to check over. I had a family barbecue last weekend and got to show off my documents to all of my relatives. I brought a bottle of cheap champagne and shared it with everyone. It was a little strange, getting up and making a big deal of myself, but it felt good. I guess I gotta get used to having a massive ego – I am a pilot, after all.

Kind of like with the number of hours thing, I’ve noticed people react differently when I tell them I’m a commercial pilot. Private pilot, they say, oh, that’s wonderful, good for you! It’s not that they’re not impressed – they are, and they’re excited for me, but when they realize I’m now legally allowed to be paid to fly aeroplanes, there’s an extra tone of respect. Family seems to take the whole thing a lot more seriously. It’s always been me chasing a dream, pursuing a goal, and now I’m there. I did it. I could hear the pride in both my parents’ voices when I told them I’d passed. Even my Dad, and he’s terrible about those things.

So what’s next? If I can find a job, do that and build hours, and in the meantime, work on whatever ratings will help me find a job. More on that later.

CPL Preflight

Preflight, just like for my private test, is where your instructor basically gives you a mock flight test, to see how well you do, and how close you are to being able to pass. I remember being so clueless going into my private preflight, and coming out thinking I did terrible and I was so far from being able to pass.

We finished my preflight for my commercial test today, and I was a lot more confident through the whole thing. And I did better too. The mark would have been a partial pass, and the things I messed up on shouldn’t be hard to fix. Made a kick ass soft field landing. Made the forced landing approach – that I was terrible at when I started and I came in rather high and had to slip it in to get  low enough to be certain of making the runway, but I remembered where that runway was and checked there first to see if it was close enough to make it when she started the exercise.

Another exercise that’s not on the private test is called the power-off 180. That’s where you cut the power, like you do with a forced approach, only instead of pulling up and overshooting once you know you’ve set up an approach that you could make a landing with, you do it at an airport so that you can actually follow through on the landing. The reason it’s called a power-off 180 is because you cut the power mid-downwind, so that you have to make a 180 degree turn to land.

Also, touchdown points – so much less leeway on them than the private test. But I’m getting it.

One more thing that’s not on the private test, even though they do train you on it, but on the commercial test you’re actually tested on it, is spins. Got full marks for my spin.

My instructor agrees that it went much better than my private preflight – just a few things to focus on over the next few days, and then the flight test. Wish me good weather!

Flight Plan Update

At some point I’ll throw together a post about Keycon, but omg, I’ve done nothing but fly since then.

I did my 300nm trip pre-requisite for my commercial test on Saturday, to Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. First stop was Brandon, which I’ve been at before. Got bored and started playing with the VOR, which was cool to actually use it in a practical situation.

Second stop was Estevan, and they were super friendly there, asked me where I was from, what I was doing there, and when I told them I was working on my commercial license, pointed me to Blue Sky where there’s a guy who hires low hours pilots for pipeline flying. I stopped to have some snacks I brought with me.

Last stop was Moosejaw, and I was started to get a feel for small town Saskatchewan from Estevan, but the fuel at Moosejaw was self serve. As in, you call the runway operator and they don’t bother coming out to fuel your plane, tey just tell you where the key to unlock the pump is and you leave your credit card number.  Also at Moosejaw: people jumping out of aeroplanes! The pilot dumping people out of his plane was very communicative, and gave several warnings before he dropped his sky divers, and timing worked out so there was no conflict – I was touching down as he was dropping them, and I was off the runway before they were touching down. All the parachutes opened.

So that was my 300 nautical mile trip. Of course, then I had to get back.

I had planned to come back the same day, but I had also prepared to stay the night in whatever town I ended up giving up at. I flew one more leg, to Yorkton, and with about 3 hours of flying left before home, imagined how tired I would be when I landed, and decided I didn’t want to be landing when I was that tired. That and I was running out of daylight, and while I do have my night rating, and since I didn’t have passengers it would have technically been completely legal for me to land the plane at night, I didn’t want my first night landing in a good while to be while I was tired. So I stayed in Yorkton.

I’m told by my mother I have stayed in that motel before. I have no memory of it – I was too young, but apparently there is (or was) also a chinese restaurant that had a pianist taking requests, and I requested he play “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly.” Anyway, the runway operator let me borrow the company’s car that they have for – well I don’t really know what they have it for, it was a middle aged van, but it got me into town. Small town Saskatchewan again: he didn’t even take my name down or check if I had a driver’s license, just said leave the keys under the mat if he wasn’t there when I brought it back. Well, I guess he did have my plane.

In the morning, I saw the most amusing thing. My plane was parked next to a cropduster, and there were swallows swooping around rather close. After a few minutes, I realized they were flying right into the exhaust pipe of the crop duster. I looked closer and the exhaust pipe was strewn with grass – they’d built a nest in there! I reported it to the runway operator. Reason number one hundred and sixty-seven to do a walk-around.

Anyway, I flew home on Sunday, non-stop, overhead Dauphin, and back to St Andrews, and my flight instructor says she didn’t see any CADORS on me (Civil Aviation Daily Occurance Reporting System – Public notices of incidences of note) so I can’t have screwed up anything too badly. There were no moments of “I’ll never do that again”, and all in, it was a nice trip. I saw some places and some things and gods I was wiped by the end of Sunday though!

And it was back in the air on Tuesday with only one day off, but my instructor seems happy with my progress, and is planning on preflighting next Tuesday. Preflight is part of test prep – basically your instructor (or a senior instructor if your instructor isn’t a high enough class instructor) gives you a flight test, just as if you were actually taking the test, to see how you do, then after that, it’s fixing up whatever didn’t go well on the preflight, and then flight test. It feels so surreal that it’s that close. Wish me luck.

200.7

There’s lots of landmarks for pilots – first flight, first solo, passing your private flight test, various ratings. Other landmarks are numbers of hours. 500, 1500 and 5000 are big ones, but the first big one is at 200 hours. I landed today with 200.7 hours logged in my logbook.

On the one hand, it seems like cause to celebrate. On the other hand, I also don’t want to get too full of myself or cocky, thinking myself “experienced” because I’ve also heard that 200 hours is one of the points where accident rates for pilots spike. There could be a lot of reasons for this. It’s a point where pilots feel more confident, and potentially overconfident, and might take on something they can’t handle. 200 hours is also the point where a lot of pilots are just getting their commercial license, which means they’re about to be hopping into aircraft they’re less familiar with, and possibly being pressured by employers to fly into weather they’re not comfortable with.

I *have* noticed when other pilots ask me how many hours I’ve logged, and I’ve been telling them them I’m almost at 200, there’s been a definite shift in how they talk to me. Less cheerleading, like at this point they know I’m serious enough about flying to not need it. I realize to most pilot’s I’m still little more than a fledgling baby bird, but they do acknowledge it as an accomplishment.

So I’ll keep my guard up and fly cautiously as always…but I will pick myself up a bottle of wine tonight.