Upcoming: Avians by Timothy Gwyn

I’ve been waiting until I had a little more to link to, but I’m super excited to announce that one of my critique group is getting his novel published!

Timothy Gwyn is the pen name of Tim Armstrong, a pilot who flies out of Kenora – about – well, okay, I’ve never driven to Kenora, but it’s about 45 minutes in a Cessna 172 – east of Winnipeg.

I met Tim at Keycon – he had found my blog fairly close to the beginning of my epic journey into the world of aviation, and he introduced himself to me at my home sci-fi/fantasy convention. I think he was the first pilot I met and got to know that I didn’t meet outside of my flight school. And he was there because he had a novel he was working on.

He offered to take me on a tour of one of the King Airs he flew, and I took him up on it – that was the day I made a kick ass landing in 9G17 straight across the runway in Kenora and naturally no one ever sees when you make a good landing.

Anyway, we had a fun chat about writing and flying, and I was intrigued by his worldbuilding, so we traded novels to give one another feedback. I really enjoyed it – I mean, I’ve said this before about my fellow local writers, but you read a local writers work ready to sift through and find nice things to say, but the local writers I’ve read, I’ve been pleased to find I don’t have to look hard.

The planet his story is set on had an atmosphere so dense that  it’s uninhabitable at sea level, and the human life exists only high on the mountain peaks. Which are mostly volcanoes. Can’t think of anything that could go wrong with that? Neither can I. (/sarcasm)

Society wise, he’s got what would normally be considered an iron age, except that for reasons you’ll have to read the book to find out, there is next to no metal available to the inhabitants of this planet. Their coins, instead of copper and tin, are made of glass.

Between the sparsely situated volcano peaks on the planet, is a trade network of mysterious airships. Communication with the airships is strictly limited to accounting and commodity availability, and the closest the planet’s occupants ever get to these ships is the glider pilots that deliver goods to the ships. Glider pilots like the main characters.

I think I read the original draft in two days – it sucked me in in a way few books do, to be honest. It’s young adult fiction, and that’s definitely something I enjoy, and it was the sort of thing I’d be happy to give to my young cousins or if I had kids myself, to read. I can only imagine it’s gotten better since he’s revised it himself. When my critique group lost a member, we invited him on my recommendation to join our group, and he brought a few scenes in to us. He mentioned in a blog post when my best friend and I went over his opening thirty pages to help him get them ready to present to the editor in time. But we were really just excited to be a part of a novel that we could see was worthy of publication, and we were over the moon to hear a contract was the result.

It’s set for publication in August of 2017, from the sounds of it, and you can be damn sure I’ll remind you all.  So if aviation, and in particular alternate aviation and it’s convergence with science fiction intrigues you as much as it did me, keep your eye on his blog, where he’s posted a blurb to taunt you. He’s got a informatively created planet, with aviation focused exclusively on women pilots, and a story that more than passes the bechdel test. This novel is gonna kick ass, and I will be plugging it in the future closer to the publication date, be prepared!

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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.

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.

Wet Egress Training

For those who don’t know, wet egress training is hands on training on how to get out of an aeroplane…underwater. Wanting to be a commercial pilot and all, I figured when the guy who does wet egress training in Canada came in to the ‘Peg, I should get in on it. For various reasons, I ended up joining last minute, but the instructor squeezed me in anyway.

Let me start by saying I am not a water person.

I’ve never had a bad experience with water. I can tread water and swim – not super fast, but I can swim. I can even hold my breath for a decent amount of time. My issue is I’m one of those unlucky people who can’t hold their breath *underwater*. Water goes up my nose and in five seconds I’m panicking. I’ve tried the humming thing, and exhaling. Nope. Apparently I’m not the only one – it’s a thing, some people’s nasal passages don’t close off when they’re holding their breath underwater. It sounds like there may be a trick for those people, and I’m thinking I might go swimming again sometime soon and try that, but as it stands, the instructor saw pretty quickly that I was having problems.

It was like my first few weeks of learning to land the plane, I suck at this, why am I having so much trouble, everyone else seems to be doing fine, etc. I could get out of the dunker, but I’d have to let go of my nose and then I’d be panicking with water down my nose and not get the PFD in the holder, even though it was right in front of me.

They suggested trying the mask, and I was like, nope. You want to put something over my face? I don’t think so. I have a thing with anything covering my face, stopping me from breathing, or for that matter, even stifling my breath. I don’t even like it if my breath is blowing on something close to my face.

Bryan was great though, he took me aside. I’m not used to getting one on one attention from an instructor. I’m not used to struggling with things. I normally just don’t bother do things I’m not good at. He talked me through getting my head in the right place. By halfway through I was okay with the mask, but I didn’t use it in the dunker, I wanted to make sure I could do that without it. By the end, I was getting out of the dunker with the PFD in hand without too much problem, just fighting through the water up my nose.

Anyway, video or it didn’t happen huh?

It was really worthwhile over all. You can have all the lectures and info in the world, and it won’t prepare you for the disorientation of being upside down underwater. I definitely feel like I have a much better shot if I ever found myself in that situation.

Women in Aviation Week – Women Fly at St Andrews Airport

Two years ago I participated in the Women Fly event out at St. Andrews that kicked off my flight training. It’s an event where women who’ve had limited experience in small planes are invited to go for a free plane ride. I’ll be participating in it again this year, and I’m really excited.

Because last time I was a passenger, and this time I’ll be a pilot.

Being a member of the 99s, and flying C-FLUG, the 99’s plane reserved for women pilots only, I’ve been in the loop about it from early on. With C-FLUG being the women only plane, it just wouldn’t feel right not to have her there for an event like this. There’s not a lot of other pilots flying C-FLUG right now, so I get to fly her.

She’s been down for maintenance for a while, getting a brand new windshield installed. I helped with that. They guy doing the windshield installation that I was helping thought I was useful enough that he asked for me again when we were finishing up. Now the compass is installed again, and I got the sun visors put back on. No one’s shoveled the ramp in a while, so a bunch of snow had drifted in front of the door – I got rid of most of that yesterday, and we ferried her over to St. Andrews airport. She’s plugged in and tucked away in a heated hangar offered by Cam, because it’s supposed to snow tonight, and we don’t want to have to deal with removing ice from the wings. Taking off with ice or snow on the wings: highly illegal in Canada.

The plane is ready to go.

I’m excited. It had been more than two months – longer than I realized, since I’d been flying last. I did a circuit checkout in a 172 on wed, just in case things went badly with the taxiways at lyncrest, and we couldn’t get C-FLUG in to St. Andrews, and I wasn’t as rusty as I feared I might be. It had been at least a year and a half since I’d been in a 172 at all. So, flying twice in three days, and planning to fly again tomorrow. I’m a happy Lindsay. And excited to take as many women out flying with me as I can manage!

Achievement Unlocked

Last November I wrote the commercial written exam, and failed one section by one percent. If I’d got one more question right, I would have passed and it would be over with.

It’s the math that gets me, and it’s something that instructors don’t seem to understand how much trouble I really have with it. Actually, I shouldn’t say instructors – teachers all through school never got why I had so much trouble with math. Because I’me good at algebra, I understand it, and I can manipulate a formula without a problem. My problem is when the numbers start getting substituted for letters, I get lost. If I’m doing practice questions, it takes me longer than other people, because I lose track of numbers and because I know it happens, I’m constantly double checking my work and doubting my answers, but part of the problem is when I’m being taught these things, they go over a problem too fast for me to follow. I’m good at estimating though, if I don’t have to be precise, once I understand the concept behind something, but sometimes I get blindsided not realizing how much I missed out on learning when I miss the math stuff.

I’m a perfectionist, and at school I never had to try very hard at anything (except math) so a big part of my identity is bound up in being smart, but I’m also a victim of the phenomenon of easy success leading me to believe I’m not good at something if I’m not successful right away, the first time around. Failure hits me hard.

It didn’t help that home life got stressful right around them (that stress might have contributed to me not doing as well as I might have on the first writing of the exam.) Plus the whole day job thing I have to do due to my severe addiction to having food to eat and a roof over my head. Life happened. It’s been a year, and I spent my work vacation for the last week studying and agonizing over whether I was ready or not. I wrote one of the practice tests at Harv’s Air last night, and did reasonably well – passed with some decent wiggle room, and caught some of the mistakes I was making so I could make sure I didn’t do that on the exam. That did a lot to boost my confidence, getting seventy five percent, when a passing grade is sixty.

So I wrote the supplementary exam today for the section that I failed; General Knowledge. Eleven minutes into my hour and a half time limit, I looked and realized I was over a third finished. I hadn’t got to the math questions, but I’d answered most of them fairly confidently. The math ones, especially the weight and balance one I was so much more confident going into those than I was the first time around. And when I got the results (they give you the results right away, within a minute or so of you walking out the door of the exam room) I got all of the math ones right. I passed with eighty three percent, even higher than the practice exam.

I’m so glad to have that over with.

What’s next:

Next thing I need to get done is my three hundred nautical mile trip. I haven’t decided yet if I want to go East or West. My instructor says plan for both, and then do whichever one has better weather. I do what Sandra says because Sandra knows things.

It’s quite possible I might be doing this trip on skis. They’re putting skis on the plane sometime in January last I heard, and ski flying experience will be a good thing to have. I’ll have more vacation time to book next year, so I’ll see when the weather is likely to be nicest and then book some vacation time then.

Onward!