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?

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein – Book Review

Usually my go to subgenre that I enjoy the most is secondary world fiction, because I like to be taken away to a different world. But often historical fiction set in far away countries can do the same thing, and this one takes you away to Ethiopia.

The main characters are a boy and a girl growing up together, who’s mothers, Rhoda and Delia, were the best of friends. Em’s father is largely absent, and Teo’s father died of an illness when he ws young, and so the two women have a sort of little combined family. The fact that one mother was white and the other was black never bothered them or their mothers, except when they reach America, where racism was what it was in the thirties.

The mothers are both pilots, and they’re a two-woman travelling flying circus, one flying, the other wing-walking. All this changes though after a bird strike kills Teo’s mother. That particular scene was heartbreaking to read – the  whole story is told in the form of journal entries, flight log entries and letters written by the two children, and that scene, as it’s written, it’s so brief, as if they’re too heartbroken to dwell on it or put in any more detail.

To honour Delia’s dream, Rhoda takes both children to Teo’s father’s home country, Ethiopia.

It’s one of those books that paint a beautiful picture of a beautiful place, and I got settled into loving their new home, Beehive Hill. The descriptions of Christianity as it exists in Ethiopia was facinating, because it like nothing we’re familiar with in the west. It’s a branch of Christianity that split off before Catholicism existed, so while everything we’re familiar with is a product Catholicism’s evolution, the Coptic church is just completely different.

At this point in history, slavery in Ethiopia still exists too, with complicated laws governing it. In order to prevent a sudden economic crisis, it’s being phased out slowly, via various ways of slaves being freed.

All the while, news on the radio foreshadows the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.

There’s something eerie about reading a story set in a place that exists though, and events that actually happened, even if the characters themselves are invented. I almost hate Italians now, have read about how they invaded Ethiopia, with the intention of pushing the Ethiopians out and take their land, to settle poor Italians there the way other countries settled their poor in the Americas. And how they used mustard gas to do it.

At about the half way point, I had to remind myself this is an author who kills main characters sometimes, so when the invasion started, I bit my lip to keep reading, not sure how many of these characters would make it out alive. I bet she feels magnanimous when she lets characters live.

Overall, wonderful book; if you like historical fiction and planes, definitely pick it up.

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.

New Year’s Post 2016

Well, this has been a year of success, and I have a feeling next year will only get better.

That’s what I wrote in last New Year’s post. Then, 2016 happened.

You know what I’m talkin’ about. It started with celebrities dying, then it seemed like every one of my friends was losing a loved one, and by February, I was like, dude, my Grandma’s in the hospital and her health’s not great, I don’t like how this year is going. And it went exactly where it looked like it was going.

Well, goal have been hit and miss this year, so might as well get on with it the round-up:

-Not die. I’m re-phrasing this from previous years – the original was “survive another year” followed by “Screw survival, I want to LIVE.” I’m living now, so I’ll be happy with keeping myself safe in the process! – Well, I’m good on this one. Can’t say the same for everyone this year.

-Get my Multi-engine rating. – Made it through this one.

Get my IFR rating. – Almost there, but not quite.

Writing wise, finish a revision of Skybound. I think that’s reasonable. – Still focussed on flying, but actually got some decent work done on this. Ultimately, not a full revision, but I’m pleased with how it’s going.

Short stories:write one. Any one. I do about one a year. It’s fine. – I wrote one. Actually, maybe two, can’t remember when I wrote the short one, but Saturday’s Child was a good long one and a solid story, I’m very pleased with it.

Reading: I think this year, if anything, the goal should be to read more books period. Gonna put The Name Of The Wind on that list again though, along with my new favourite author’s newest book, Illuminae, and Chad Ginther’s trilogy finale, Too Far Gone, and if I can make it to that one, Sherry’s sequel, Mabel, the Mafioso Dwarf. Also, at least one female author and at least one POC author. – I did none of these….no wait, I read a female author – finished Elizabeth Wein’s Black Dove, White Raven. Also read Gerald Brandt’s The Courier, and looking forward to the sequel.

So – the multi-IFR is the biggest thing at this point, and there have been so many obstacles thrown at me this year, it’s frustrating that it’s taking me this long, but my Grandma’s death hit me hard. I’ve never lost anyone close to me before, and it affected me in ways I didn’t expect. That and the long breaks between lessons due to weather and maintenance and my work schedule have made things even harder. And miscellaneous things I won’t even bother to list.

But I don’t know any other way to deal with things besides plowing through head first. So without further ado, my goals for 2017:

– Not die Same as always.

– Remain happily married. Realized I missed that one last year, and husband is miffed he didn’t make the list. Maybe to be more specific, I’ll throw in see a movie or go out for dinner once a month, since that tends to be our date night thing. Husband and I are great together – have to be grateful for that. Can’t imagine my life without him.

– Finish my Multi-IFR.

– Quit my job. It’s like a ball and chain, it’s exhausting, and while I like my co-workers for the most part, and they’ve been the one redeeming element aside from getting paid, it’s a terrible environment for someone like me to work. It burns me out, and it’s stopping me from succeeding with flying. While I’d originally planned to wait until I’d finished my MIFR to quit, I might have to just take the plunge. I won’t find another job that pays as much, but my first flying job was pretty much guaranteed to not pay as much as my current job, so while it’s scary, it’s inevitable, and I think it’s time.

– Editing Skybound: make significant progress. I’m on a roll with this one, I’m enjoying the story and world, and really getting into the characters,  so this one has been good. Also, having my regular critique group meeting monthly gets me focused on having a scene ready to present each month, so I’m making steady, if small, progress without it being an overwhelming thing that I need to set aside to focus on flying.

– Short stories: write one more. Same as last year. Usually one just randomly comes to me and I’m like, omg, I have a story to write.

– Reading: I haven’t had as much time to read lately, so I’m just going to simplify this one to reading more. I may have only read like two or three books last year, so I’m going to make a reasonable goal of reading five novels. Five seems like a good number.

– I feel like there should be something else, something nebulous, and I stopped to think about it, and what I want to put down is I want to do something to honour my Grandmother’s memory. I want to be like her and practice the things she taught me, from growing plants and cooking, to being kind and loving my family. I’m going to have family over for dinner and board games sometimes. I had my brother and my dad over for Christmas eve for a quiet evening, just the four of us, and it was really nice. We’ll do that more.

2016 was a shit year, but I’m a stubborn bitch, so 2017 better be ready to bring it.

Multi-IFR Cross Country

Quick update.

They do their best to pair up students for the IFR cross country so that one student can fly the leg outbound and the other inbound, saving money for each student, since the trip needs to be a certain distance one direction.

But the weather was turning colder, and this aircraft doesn’t have de-icing or anti-icing equipment.

We booked the flight, and planned to be able to go either east or west, whichever direction the weather was better.

The date came, and there was icing conditions in both directions.

We booked it a second time, and same deal.

We booked it a third time. Third time’s the charm right? Nope. Plane grounded for maintenance.

We booked it a fourth time. I was up early, glanced at the TAF, looked good – vis on the Winnipeg METAR looked fine, plus six miles. I headed out to the airport.

I got halfway down Main, before I could see about three street lights ahead of me and the fourth was hidden in the fog.

I got to St. Andrews, and the visibility out there was 1/4 mile. To legally be allowed to take off, we needed 1/2 mile. I texted my laments to my fellow writer/pilot in Kenora, Tim, and he teased me about being absolved of any novice ideas of “all-weather flying”. We waited. We were watching the old tower, and every few minutes it looked like the fog was dissipating, but the next minute, the old tower on the next ramp would be nearly hidden by the fog. We waited it out three hours, until my cross country student partner had other commitments.

We had an unseasonably warm late October and early November, but one of the two Seminoles Harv’s flys was down two months for maintenance, and the one still flying was over booked. The time it was available – night.

Well, extra multi-engine-instrument-cross-country hours never hurt a pilot. We booked it a fifth time.

I figured we’d only be on the ground a few minutes, but I messaged Tim because I’d feel weird being in Kenora and not letting him know. And despite reassuring him that we’d probably not be on the ground long enough to do much more than wave, and as a pilot I knew he’d understand, he still cared enough to pretty much insist on meeting us at the airport.

My partner flew the inbound leg while I nibbled on graham crackers in the back. Most of my IFR flying has been through controlled airspace, so it was kind of different to go through the motions of passing in and out of controlled airspace. Class E airspace is also a bit of a quirky mashup of controlled and uncontrolled airspace.

For the Americans following me, it’s my understanding that there’s not a lot of airspace out there that’s not covered by radar. I’ve heard stories from Canadian pilots flying in the USA, tell me they were told by flight following “There’s gonna be no radar service for a few miles in front of you, are you okay with that?” And the Canadian pilot being confused as to what the big deal was.

My understanding is that in most countries, there’s almost no such thing as IFR flight in uncontrolled airspace. Canada is a really big country, and there’s a lot of uncontrolled airspace. IFR flight in uncontrolled airspace is a fact of life here.

Anyway, we got on the ground and Tim met us wearing a headlamp and a reflective vest, and I seriously almost kinda felt like I had a ground crew. It was cool. I could get used to this.

Anyway, we stayed on the ground long enough for a pit stop, and I learned Tim had drafts of the cover art for his upcoming novel, which is super exciting, and I can’t wait to be posting more about the launch!

Back to Winnipeg though. Pro-tip – there’s a tower like, right in the path of  the eastbound runway. Keep your climb going and stay on course.

The approach in Winnipeg and the second in St. Andrews was familiar, which is good because I was tired at that point.

Anyway, it’s done, and I’m almost finished. Stay with me.