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!

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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!

COPA For Kids

COPA, for my American readers is Canada’s version of AOPA – the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association. They, and other groups, have events where they invite kids to come take a plane ride. They organize a day where they get as many pilots and planes together as they can muster, and all morning and afternoon, planes are up and down taking kids for twenty minute plane rides. It’s about exposing young people to aviation, to let them get the chance to see if they enjoy it and encourage them to get involved.

I was at the EAA event earlier this summer, mashalling, and heard there was going to be another one for COPA, so I signed up to fly this time wth C-FLUG, the RAA 150.

I’ve flown at a busy airport, but mostly St. Andrews, where there’s the tower to tell you what to do, and worry about spacing. This event was as busy as the busiest day at St. Andrews that I’ve been flying, but the difference is Lyncrest doesn’t have a tower or air traffic control, so you’re responsible for spacing yourself. You have to pay attention to other pilots making radio calls, and make sure you’re making radio calls yourself to let other pilots know where you are. That and keep your eyes on the sky for other planes.

I think I did all right – I got some feedback about wide circuits, but I was just trying to stay behind the guy ahead of me who was doing a rather wide circuit. I did a couple circuits  alone before taking passengers, on the advice of the C-FLUG chief pilot, since it’s been a few months since I’ve been flying solo, even if I’ve still been flying.

It was neat to be involved in an event coordinating so many planes. At the briefing they went over what route we’d take. With that many planes in the air, having them all following the same route makes things much safer. We were all on the same frequency, and there were set points to make radio calls, and instructions for abbreviated routes if we had a kid starting to get sick and needing to get back quicker.

The air was the smoothest I’ve flown in months. Once the fog finally cleared, there was minimal wind, and once aloft, the plane sailed like we were barely moving.

I got two passengers. The first one was a boy, and he was excited to go flying. He was completely comfortable in the air, and I showed him what happens when you give the plane full rudder back and forth, and he wanted to do “the zero G thing.” Which is just a sudden pull up an then down, to give you a couple seconds of free-fall. It’s one of those things that can be frightening if your passenger’s not expecting it, and a little uncomfortable, but fun, and not at all dangerous.

My second passenger was a girl, and she was really nervous. I told her how my husband was nervous for his first time flying too, and I hope that helped. I wondered if I should have told her she didn’t have to go if she didn’t want to, but she didn’t seem unwilling, and while she told me she was scared several times, she never said she didn’t want to go. It was kind of interesting, reassuring a young passenger. I was never afraid of these sorts of things at that age – I had a bit of blind trust of adults then, and always assumed that no one was going to put me in physical danger. But I think it was good that she was telling me; expressing her feelings. That’s something I had trouble with at that age.

It didn’t help that she was hearing on the radio that bad weather was on it’s way either though. I wish I’d realized that it was the strobe light on the tail that she was mistaking for lightning, or I could have reassured her about that better. I didn’t do anything interesting on that flight with her – didn’t want to scare her any more than she was.

After two passengers, though, the rain swept in from the north-west and we were grounded again. It was a great day though; I love sharing my love of flying with others.

Limits: The Sky Is The Limit

Lots of limits in aviation, and different types. There’s weather limits, limitations of aircraft design, legal limits, even speed limits. (Yes, in certain places there are speed limits in the sky, though even those don’t apply if your aircraft stalls at a high enough airspeed.) And then there are personal limits.

Things like weather limits are easy to define, though not always so easy to implement. Stay five hundred feet from clouds vertically, and one thousand horizontally. Okay. *Gets in the plane.* Okay, there’s a cloud, how far away is it? Am I five hundred feet above it? (Is my instructor on board? No?) Sure, I’m callin’ that five hundred feet. Visibility can be easier to judge around Manitoba at least, since all the roads in southern Manitoba are mile roads, so you can just count how many roads away you can see to estimate visibility. But if it’s all trees, or water and lakes, you’re guessing.

Until you get into a control zone and they have terminal weather reports an tower control that can tell you the visibility is X. If you’re out busting VFR weather minimums, that’s generally when you’ll get caught, from what I understand.

Then there’s wind and crosswind – schools or anyone renting planes will have rules on how much wind you’re allowed to fly in. There will be a limit on wind in knots (usually twenty). And then a limit of gust factors – how much the wind is gusting up to – the low and high max. Gust factors of five of more take some special consideration when landing – you want to come in a little faster so that when the gusting disappears, you don’t suddenly find yourself near stall speed close to the ground.

Then there’s crosswind, and a school will usually give you a maximum crosswind factor you’re allowed to go out in. That’s, for the uninitiated, how much the wind is blowing across the runway. Obviously the easiest wind to land in, is a steady one, blowing straight at you, straight down the runway. The farther off the end of the runway the wind is originating, the trickier it is to deal with. Also, in a Pilot’s Operating Handbook, there will be a “demonstrated crosswind limit” which is basically what a test pilot has proven the plane can handle. It’s not a hard limit though. A good pilot may be able to land in a stronger crosswind than the POH has demonstrated if they know what they’re doing, and it’s not breaking any laws. Though it would likely be breaking school rules, if the pilot isn’t flying their own plane.

Of course, the wind can pick up and change  while you’re flying, which is why you want to get a weather briefing if you’re going anywhere far from the airport. Getting a weather briefing is important. It’s just a quick phone call, and you have someone on the phone that really knows their shit. A lot of new students, me included, are shy about calling flight information services, and feel like they’re a bother. But having talked to them some, I know now, we’re not a bother at all, any more than when I’m at work (telephone tech support) and customers call saying “sorry to bother you, but…” No, people answering phones in a call center are paid to answer phones and give you information. They’re always happy to talk to me, and I can see why my instructor encouraged me to call them as often as I like.

Lyncrest To Kenora

Flying in summer can be a bit exhausting – at least in a plane as small as a Cessna 150. The thermals really bounce you around. Tuesday I had calm winds forecast at least, so I headed out to Kenora to meet up with Timothy Gwyn, who writes science fiction about female pilots, and runs the Ice Patrol website, that connects with local pilots flying over some of the local lakes to report when the ice melts off the lakes in the spring and is clear for fishermen and boaters.

The weather is the weather, and when I got to Kenora, the tower gave me the wind at 9G17, almost straight across the runway. I’ve bailed on landings before when the wind was more than I thought I could handle, but that was a lot of hours of crosswind practice ago, and my limits have definitely shifted. I had just finished a day of practicing in 12G24, 40 degrees off the runway, so I was feeling pretty confident, and handled the landing like a pro. I hate that there’s never anyone in the plane with me or watching from the ground when I rock an awesome landing in challenging conditions. There’s always someone watching when I make a shitty one. Life’s not fair.

Anyway, I found the Walsten Air hangar and parked the old lady around the corner while Timothy Gwyn admired her snazzy new paint job, which, for pink, is pretty professional looking. When people hear it got painted pink, everyone always thinks “oh god, it’s going to be aweful….” but then they see it, and they say, hey, that actually looks pretty sharp.

Timothy Gwyn had promised me a tour of the King Air he flies, and despite being pressed for time, he did not disappoint. It was more than a tour, it was a whole ground school lesson, going into how a PT-6 turbo-prop engine is built kind of backwards from most turbine engines, and how the design affects the aerodynamics and performance of the plane. The last time I got to tour a big plane, I got to sit in the left seat and all, but I certainly didn’t get the detailed explanation of the whole instrument panel, from left to right. When you look at the instrument panel of one of those big planes, it looks so unbelievably complicated that how I ever keep all that straight. And yet, I know enough already that within the twenty minutes or so Timothy had to skim over it, the mystery was stripped away, and suddenly it wasn’t near so complicated. Just little machines spitting out information.

It really is a nice aeroplane, the King air. I can see why pilots talk about it the way they do. And it was good to get out on  a longer cross country again, and navigating in areas where there are fewer roads and man-made landmarks to navigate by. Need that to get ready for my 300 nautical mile trip, requirement for my commercial licence.

C-FLUG 50 Hour Inspection

The old lady had her fifty hour check-up the other day and is in perfect health.

There were a couple of us there to help out, which is cool because there’s some parts that are two person jobs. Like the cylinder pressure test – one person needs to hold the prop in place at top-dead-center (the point where both valves in the cylinder are closed) and one person turns on the air hose and reads how much pressure is being lost. That test cam out very well – Leon, the AME (aircraft mechanical engineer) said that he had done a pressure test on this very plane and engine shortly after the cylinders were replaced, and the results were not nearly as good. Apparently that’s one of those things that improves if the plane is being flown regularly.

The one thing that’s still a little bit sketchy is the mixture, and Leon figures the valve could be twisted a bit, or worn. The issue is the engine doesn’t shut down, but sputters when the fuel mixture is cut off, meaning there’s enough fuel getting to the engine to keep it just barely turning over. When it sputters and doesn’t die like that, they call it “dieseling.” The trick to getting it to shut down in that situation is to push the throttle in a little, and run the engine a bit harder to burn the fuel faster so that it starves and shuts down.

Worst case scenario, you can turn off the mags, and then there will be no spark in the cylinders to ignite the fuel, then the engine shuts down instantly. The problem with that, though, is it leaves unburned fuel in the cylinders, and firstly, that can cause fouled mags, as well as making it more likely the engine will start, and run longer in the case of a ground wire failure.

I haven’t had too much trouble getting the engine to shut down myself, but Leon figures some of the girls may have had more trouble due to pushing the throttle in too fast. If you push the throttle in fast, you engage the accelerator pump. It’s for when you need power fast, and gives the engine an extra shot of fuel if you ram the throttle to the firewall really fast. In case you’re abandoning a landing and need power to climb right away after having had the engine running on low power for a while. If if you do that when you’re trying to shut the engine down and starve it of fuel though, then suddenly you’re dumping a bunch of extra fuel into the engine.

Anyway, enough rambling about engines. Hopefully I can get out and do some circuits with the old lady today. She’s also got a new paint job.

St Andrews 50th Anniversary

Last Saturday was the 50th Anniversary of St. Andrews airport. I was there all day, starting with the pancake breakfast. The C-FLUG ladies were there in force, selling raffle tickets and such. Unfortunately the aeroplane rides scheduled for the kids got stormed out – we got rained on but-good. I was scheduled to be marshalling aeroplanes, so I ended up kind of wandering and seeing if anyone else needed help.

They were tidying up early, seeing as the rides were rained out, when the global reporter showed up. She seemed to be kind of looking for something to film, and Jill was busy, so I introduced myself and got on tv. Here’s the link: http://globalnews.ca/video/1394751/fifty-years-of-aviation

Later in the evening was a dinner, and I was lucky enough to get one of the donated tickets for the C-FLUG pilots. The dinner was great, but even better was the RCAF Air Command Band, who played swing and sixties music all night. The C-FLUG pilots all got up to dance right away, and kept the dance floor packed at an event that the band is likely used to there being maybe one or two couples dancing. They were great performers, and the music was awesome.