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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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.

Cross Country Time Building – Lousy Weather

So I hadn’t been flying so much for a while, first because of the stupidly cold weather grounding C-FLUG, then after, because I was working on Redwing because someone who matters may have offered to look at revisions.

But I’ve got back in the air, three times in the last week. Jill says C-FLUG missed me. I did some circuits, and the second day, once I was less out of practice, Jill went with me and commented she wished she could make all her landings like the three of mine she saw. I bet she tells all the girls that though.

Anyway, I’ve been on a couple of cross country flights with Jill in her Land Africa and her Pietenpol, to Lake Manitoba, and Beausejour, respectively. She let me fly and navigate both times, so it helped keep me in practice, but both times were impromptu, so I didn’t get any navlog planning done, and just flew by pilotage. It helped that it was familiar territory, with easy landmarks.

So when I planned to fly to the Carman Fly-In, June 8th, it was in a direction I’ve only been once during the day, not the area I spent most of my time training. I did my best to prepare, and got a weather briefing. They said there was a slow moving trough approaching, patches of showers, etc. I could see as much when I got to the airport, but the visibility didn’t look any worse than the ten mile vis I’d dealt with once before.

That day I went out in ten mile visibility, it was haze. Today it was different. It was virga and rain, and wind. When I took off, there was no wind on the ground. But when I hit about five or six hundred feet, I hit the turbulence, and it was rough. At one point, early on, one gust startled me enough to make me gasp. I honestly started thinking, holy shit, should I be turning back and not going?

Part of my decision to keep going was that Jill was flying ahead of me, and knowing that she was making it through that mess in an open cockpit plane that was lighter than C-FLUG. I looked around and the patches of rain were still only patches – there were spaces between them. The air was rough, but after the first few buffets, I kind of assessed how I was handling it before deciding what I was going to do. What I can handle is often a fair bit more than what I think I can handle, and I’m not the pilot I was when that one gust knocked my wings 45 degrees on my second solo cross country. I’ve got maybe eighty hours of flying since then, and I realized that yeah, it does make a difference.

I decided I’d keep going, as long as I was fairly sure I could turn back if I got someplace I couldn’t get past. The air got rougher when I got close to the murky patches of rain, so I stayed away from them. I flew around them, thinking all the while, as long as I can see a certain distance, I’ll keep going. And that distance was probably a fair bit more than the distance that would have been in a more experienced’s pilot’s head, but it was less than it would have been when I first got my license.

I didn’t get lost. I ended up significantly south of my intended course, trying to avoid the patches of dark  rain, but I never hit a point where I was expecting a landmark ahead and didn’t eventually spot it, unless I could see it was hidden in one of the dark patches. That certainly made navigation more difficult, but I managed.

It was definitely a learning experience, and it’s built up my confidence. When I thought back, it really was the worst weather conditions that I’ve flown through thus far as a pilot. I’ve flown through visibility as bad, but through calm air, and through rough air, but with good visibility, but this was both. It would have been nice to have had a 172 today, that wouldn’t have been buffeted around quite as much, but still, I learned a lot about where my limits are and what I can handle, and it really is so much more than what I could when I first got my license. I’m really pleased with myself.

When you learn to fly, they talk about personal limits a lot. Or at least my instructor did. So I always have that in mind, and on the one hand, you don’t want to get yourself into anything you can’t handle, but on the other, you don’t learn if you never push your limits. And that’s what time-building is all about. Practice, and learning, and experiences like this are a necessary part of the learning process.

The Aviation Community

When I was first looking to get involved in aviation, someone described the aviation community as being like the horse community – everyone knows someone, and they’re tight knit.

I’ve been in clubs before – my mother put me in Job’s Daughters when I was a teen, and that was really good for me – it was a safe place, where people accepted me the way I was. But the sense of community I’ve suddenly felt getting involved in the Springfield Flying Club, and local RAA, flying C-FLUG makes me see that the sense of community I got from Job’s Daughters was manufactured.

I’ve read a lot about tribal societies, and how it’s not natural for people to live in cities where they see people they don’t know every day. It’s overwhelming and unhealthy for us, and there’s theories that living this way could be contributing to many psychological disorders. That the lack of that tribal group community feeling is something we need in order to be healthy. It puts a lot of stress on nuclear families – mother and father are expected to be everything one another needs, plus everything their children need. Clubs like Scouts or Guides or Job’s Daughters are substitutes for that, and they’re generally for certain age groups.

Now that I’ve been involved in C-FLUG, I’m really amazed at the amount of effort that the local community has put into getting that plane in the air, and they’re doing it specifically for women who otherwise would be paying $150 an hour to fly something. Here, we’re paying $20, plus fuel – which is probably another $20-$30 an hour, something like that. That’s a huge thing they’re doing for us. But also, seeing how many people have been involved, without whom, we either just couldn’t do it, or us C-FLUG pilots would be paying more, because they’ve volunteered their time, and donated parts and equipment.

It’s wasn’t a call to the general public that got this happening. It’s that tight knit community of Lyncrest airport, and people who fly into and out of it. They’re a community in a truer sense of the word than I’ve ever seen before in real life. There’s the older generation, with their wealth of experience, and they’re more than happy to share their knowledge and their stories. And then there’s the new generation, the younger ones, still learning, or with licences but building experience.

And the welcome…I mean, my Dad can say that well of course the people at Harv’s are going to be positive and welcoming to me – I’m paying them.  But that doesn’t apply here. There’s a lot of older men in this community, and you’d think women wouldn’t feel welcomed, but seriously, I have met no one, male or female, who was a pilot, who didn’t think it was awesome that I wanted to fly. Not one who sounded skeptical of my abilities. It’s like this huge chorus of “come, come be one of us, it’s awesome!” And “Oh, you’re interested in (X)? You should talk to so-and-so, he knows stuff about that/has one of those he might let you fly.”

Community built around a thing. And there’s official groups – there’s a Women in Aviation Chapter, a chapter of the Ninety-Nines, local chapter of the RAA, the Springfield Flying Club, sure. But I don’t get a sense that there are any real lines drawn between any of those groups. I’m currently now a member of all of them, for that matter.

It’s kind of cool to be in a room full of people and not be the one crazy person who thinks flying is the most awesome thing in the world. And to be around people with whom I can talk about things like carb heat and carb ice, an the never ending crosswind argument over crabbing versus side-slipping, and how taildraggers are just cooler than tricycle gear aircraft in every way. (It seems every pilot who has ever learned how to fly a taildragger will tell you that.) But there always seems to be pilots hanging around in the clubhouse, and they’re never too busy to chat about aeroplanes, and so many of them have far more experience than me. It’s a huge resource – people I can go to if I’m uncertain about the weather, or have questions, or if something doesn’t sound right in the plane. Or who I could potentially ask to act as flight watch for me – someone on the ground who knows I’m out flying and knows what time to expect me back, who’ll take action if I don’t show up. The experienced community members look after the fledgling pilots, and they’d much rather have those pilots part of a supportive, safety conscious community than stuck on their own.

It’s amazing. And I don’t say that lightly. I think “amazing” is a bit of a melodramatic word, so I don’t like to use it unless there’s no other way to put it. Definitely something I’ve never experienced before, and it inspires me to want to get to a point where I can help others along who come after me, the way that so many people have helped me.

In Which Our Heroine Gets To Be All Dieselpunky Wench-With-A-Wrench Mechanic Girl

This weekend I spent helping our volunteer AME (aircraft mechanical engineer), Jim Aitken work on the Cessna 150, C-FLUG that I wrote about previously. There’s a lot of work to be done on the plane, and They’ve already done tons of work so far. It’s not yet legal to take into Class C airspace – we need a mode C transponder (a transponder to make us display with a code on the radar for ATC, and an encoder to transmit our altitude for ATC on their screens).

But they’ve got a radio in there now. One that works properly, and where you can make out what people are saying.

Anyway, they’ve asked us girls to come out and help with the work that needs to be done. There’s tons of jobs that are simple to do, that require an AME to sign off on them, but that we can do the heavy lifting. And things like putting on weather stripping. And jobs that just take two people – one to hold things from one side and one to tighten the nuts.

So I helped with lots of things. Removing and re-installing the compass so it could be painted (bare metal parts reflect the sun in the pilot’s eyes.) Installed a block heater, and a new sensor for the fuel gauge.

The volt meter I did the better part of the hands on installation because it required getting behind the instrument panel, and I’m small and flexible. Jim gave me instructions and I attached things where he told me. There were here-touch-this-wire-to-this-copper-bit-*sparks-fly* moments, but I managed to succeed in not electrocuting myself. It made me think of work, where I walk people through connecting cables in the right ports, and as I looked at all the wires back there going every which way, though my head went the thousand times I’ve had a customer tell me “I don’t know anything about any of these wires.” Only with customers, all the wires mostly only fit in one port, and the ports are labeled, usually with specific colours.

These wires were not colour coded. The ends didn’t fit in ports. The ends didn’t even have terminations…Jim was crimping the terminations on them as we went along connecting them. I have a sense of how data signals work, but I don’t know electricity. I know only enough to not want to mess around with it. I don’t know enough to know what’s safe and what’s not, so I don’t touch it. I will plug in a power cord, and I stop there.

The weird thing was with all of that, I didn’t feel out of my element. It was nice that Jim doesn’t coddle us – he assumes we’re smart people and competent. I’ve always been handy around the house – I grew up with my Dad after all. My Dad built the house I grew up in. He likes inventing machinery to use with his beekeeping, or modifying things made for something else to work for him with the bees. I grew up with him building things, welding new pieces on things according to what he needed, fixing things. I guess I just grew up with him doing so many of the sort of things people hire someone to do, and not assuming one had to be something special to do that. Grew up thinking everybody’s dad could build a house. Just normal stuff for me.

I think that’s why I gravitate toward the dieselpunk subgenre. Not because of any nostalgia for the architecture or fascination with design. It’s just a setting I can imagine clearly. It’s familiar and comfortable for me.

Anyway, I’ve enjoyed it, and look forward to doing it again – I want to see the transponder installed, if I get the chance.

C-FLUG

A little while ago, Bill Vandenburg donated a plane (Cessna 150) to the local RAA (Recreational Aircraft Association) chapter. There’s a licenced AME (Aircraft Mechanical Engineer), Jim Aitken who’s donating his time to fix it up. They’ve got it fixed up, and it’s being made available for female pilots who want to fly it. Women who want to fly it have to be members of the 99’s, local and national RAA, and the Springfield Flying Club, and are chipping in on the insurance, and get fuel for club prices. Kind of like joint ownership, almost, only the plane is officially owned by the RAA, and the women flying it are paying whatever expenses to keep it in the air.

It’s not for training, but to make things like commercial time-building more affordable for women pilots, and for women who would like to stay involved in aviation – stay current, but wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. When Jill first invited me to join in on the deal, I was a little stressed out at the time, what with Nathan getting pneumonia, and then Nathan getting pneumonia again, and I really couldn’t cope with figuring out how much it was going to cost to buy into it. Plus, a 172 is nicer to take passengers flying in, and I had hoped to have passengers chip in for fuel sometimes to help make it more affordable.

But lucky for me, Jill didn’t give up, and a bit later let me know there was a fuel scholarship available. Quite frankly, none of my friends are any more financially stable than I am (who is these days?) and while I want to take them flying, they’re not able to chip in for gas much. I realized how much cheaper it would be to fly this plane. I have about fifty hours of solo time to build up, including around thirty hours of cross country, and if I did it all in this plane, it would end up saving me around $6000.

Jill is awesome. She’s friendly and welcoming, and one of those people who just loves everyone. She took me flying in her little open cockpit biplane just before my flight test, and her compliments on my flying were a real confidence booster. Sometimes I get shy and even if I really do want to get involved in something, sometimes it takes someone like that to drag me into it. I’m glad there’s still people like her in the world.

Anyway, I got the paperwork done, and headed out for Lyncrest airport. There’s actually two airports inside Winnipeg city limits. CYWG, and CJL5. Lyncrest is down at the south end of the city, and it has two little grass runways – nothing paved or anything fancy like that. The taxiways are marked with little flags that stick out of the snow. There was snow the day before, and here I assumed that grass runways were just closed for the winter right?

Ha. Not in Canada. They pack down any finger drifts, and you drive out and make sure things are okay before you go to make your take-off run, but a couple inches of snow, pft, that’s not gonna ground us. And we don’t even have tundra tires.

So I get out to see the plane, and here I thought the thirty year old cessna 152’s at Harv’s Air were old. This thing is apparently fifty nine years old. She’s a venerable old lady, C-FLUG is. But people don’t treat planes like they do cars. There isn’t the consumerist push of insurance companies to get rid of older cars, and write them off if there’s even a little bit of damage. Planes, if the thing will still fly, someone will happily fly it, and if it won’t someone will usually fix it. This one’s been fixed up nicely, but still, some of the instrumentation is entertainingly primitive. The radio was a jury rigged handheld plugged into an intercom. There were wires all over the cockpit. Someone’s donated a proper radio, and it’ll be installed shortly,

Anyway, taxiing through snow is interesting. It’s not like a car, where you need traction on the wheels for forward movement. You have the propeller on the front pulling forward, so it’s rather more like taking an untrained puppy for a walk and it’s constantly yanking on the leash in the general direction of forward. And then the wheels slide around, and you learn exactly why soft field techniques are what they are. It’s also much easier to remember to keep back pressure on the elevator when you realize how much difference it makes on how badly the nosewheel digs into the snow.

So we’re lining up on the runway, getting ready to take off, and the checkout pilot who was helping me get familiar with the plane says “Oh, another thing I should mention – this plane has a funny habit of the engine failing on take-off.”

Good to know, I said. He gave me a little more description, and right away I realized that was what they were talking about in the emails when they said the old girl loves lots of carb heat. When the engine’s running at low RPM’s the engine gets cooler because of the vaporization of the fuel going through the carburetor, and if you don’t apply carb heat, then apply full power, the engine can be too cold and fail. Normally you wouldn’t use carb heat on the ground because we all know that bypasses the filter and you can end up the with propeller throwing grit from the ground into the engine. But in this case, if you don’t, you can end up with an engine failure on take-off.

And I know what everyone’s going to say. “Whoa, dude, they’ve gotta fix that!”

It’s fine. You just have to know the machine, and treat it with loving kindness. Again, it’s not like a car. In a car, you can usually hop into any car and drive it, as long as it’s not standard. Planes, especially old ones, I think, they develop character, and it’s part of their charm.

Anyway, we take off, and the snow really drags at the wheels. Suddenly all that soft field techniques you learned in your private training – it’s not that it didn’t make sense before, but it’s one thing to practice soft field technique on a paved runway, and a whole other thing entirely to get to do it on a real soft field. It’s easy to remember to keep the back pressure on the elevator when the plane slows or stops if you let the weight come down on the nosewheel.

I’ve done a fair bit of landing and takeoff practice now in the 150, and I’m getting lots more comfortable with it, and the flaps and such.

The flaps. They’re not electric like the 152s. They’re operated with a big lever between the seats. They go up to forty degrees instead of just thirty like the 152s, so I guess if you’ve got a short runway on a windless day, you can jack them all the way. They’re kind of a bastard to get that last ten degrees, though, because you’re fighting the airflow. We did one approach with an overshoot with full flaps, just for the experience, and the experience getting them back up too, in the overshoot.

Another thing the checkout pilot taught me is the trick for if you’re having trouble getting the plane to lift off, if the field is soft, and slowing you down badly, with the manual flaps, you can take the lever and just jack it suddenly to give it a quick extra bit of lift to pop it off the ground, faster than the drag the extra flaps causes can slow you down.

So yeah. Grass covered in packed snow. Fun stuff. I feel so frelling Canadian right now.