Commercial Pilot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CPL Preflight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flight Plan Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

Flight School Update: Cross Country Time Building (Part 1)

This got long, so it’s going to be 2 parts.

Commercial pilots will be looking at that title and going, “uh huh, yep, that.”

So, I’m at the point where I’m supposed to be just kind of going around flying places and getting experience, mainly doing cross country flying to other airports.

I’m a goal oriented person, and I have trouble motivating myself to do something that’s pointless. And I have trouble convincing myself of a purpose to flying around southern Manitoba, once I’ve seen most of it, when there’s no score displayed to show me how well I did at the end of the level.

And getting ready for a cross country is a lot of fuss – the nav log still takes me forever, and getting friends together to go with me, for someone with Aspergers, it’s more stressful than it is for other people. After the first one, I did a couple trips alone, just to let myself get in a rhythm without having to worry about getting passengers organized.

The first time I took passengers was to Lac Du Bonnet, and on the way back I got a bit off course. There’s two sets of power lines running at an angle from Lac Du Bonnet, and I ended up following the wrong set, and when I came to the end of them, and didn’t see anything I should have seen, I realized I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. It was the first time I’d gotten even a little bit lost. And honestly, that was only a little bit lost. There was a bunch of contributing factors – I forgot to get a cushion, so I was having a hard time seeing to navigate, the clouds were low, so I was down at 2000 feet, with only about 10 statute miles visibility – way more than minimums, but, I realized, just a bit more than I was ready for, plus, forgot to reset my heading indicator.

But I did get my time over my set heading point, so knew how far I’d flown. So I knew there was a point where I’d hit Winnipeg airspace, and of course, that’s class C, and you can’t go in there without giving them 30 mins notice, so I had to turn away before then. But if I turned North, there’s the river, and the river’s big and you can’t miss it, and St. Andrews is right next to the river, so all I had to do was turn North and I’d find my way. And at that point where I knew I’d have to turn North, that was the moment one of my passengers pointed out a small town, and I recognized it right away as Oakbank.

I was pretty embarrassed at the time about getting that far off course, but it was also a learning experience. I was a fair ways from making a desperate radio call for help, and I wasn’t short of fuel (I had enough fuel to get a lot more lost than that!) but my mind was working out the next step, if I couldn’t get my bearings. The obvious one was turn North, but had I not had that option, I could have hopped on the radio, because I was still well within radar range and I figured I could ask Terminal to help me out. But I was starting to work out at what point I did have to admit that I was all out lost and make that radio call, so it was valuable experience.

Anyway, after that, I went to Kenora, and did another trip to Brandon – those were the couple I did by myself. Those both went well, though the Brandon one I was racing weather, and that never goes well for me. When I got to Brandon airport, Brandon Radio gave me the winds as something gusting thirty two, and I decided discretion was the better part of valour and did a low and over (flying over the runway without touching down). I think I could have done it – I’ve done landings in winds like that – not solo, but I’ve done it. I could not kill myself, if I had to. But I didn’t have to, and Harv’s Air school rules are that no student go up if the winds are gusting over twenty. I knew the winds would be fine when I got back to St. Andrews though, and they were. It was a piloting decision, and any instructors I’ve talked to agreed it was a good one.

And in Part 2 I’ll talk about my trip with Nathan to Gimli>Dauphin>Brandon and back.

Flight School Update: Starting Commercial Ground School

Unlike my private ground school class, the commercial class is a sausage fest. My private class had half women and half men. I’m the only female in the commercial class.

Which is fine – I’m used to it. Being in tech support as long as I have been, I can hold my own in a group of guys and I’m not easily offended.

Most of it has been more details on air law, and review of air law and general knowledge so far. My understanding is the commercial tests are mostly the same as the private tests, and based on the same information, you just have to understand and know it better. The questions on the written exam will be more tricksy and try to confuse you, or ask for more specific information, and the margin of error for touchdown points, for example, is 1/4 of what you get on the private.

One thing that was kind of cool was when we went over landing gear, and the instructor called me out because he knew I’d been flying the Citabria. I was the only one in the class who’d ever flown a tail-dragger, so I got to be special. I was a little surprised – I figured there would be at least someone who’d flown one – there was one girl in my private ground school class who’s father had a tail-dragger that she’d learned on.

And last class we went over diesel engines, and I think the guys may have been impressed by how much I knew about them. I explained I had to know this for learning to drive a car. According to my Dad, this was crucial information before he would let me start the car. And yes, I will be teaching my kids this too.

Unlike the private written test, the commercial written test has to be done before you can take the practical, so I’m glad I’m getting going on the ground school bit. In the meantime, I’m supposed to be time building. Which isn’t something I’m going to be good at. I’m not a very self motivated person, and when there isn’t a specific reason to do something I have trouble getting myself around to doing it. I’m supposed to do more trips around southern Manitoba, but I can’t help feeling like I’m just kind of running around on a hamster wheel because there’s no actual reason to go to these places. It’s the same reason I can’t bring myself to go to a gym to work out – I don’t feel like it accomplishes anything.

I think I need to work out a more definite schedule of trips I’m going to do and work out how it’s going to fulfill my hours requirements and find a way of organizing it to that I can trigger my goal oriented strengths. And I so need to get my passport stuff together so I can go flying to the US – I want to take my Dad to the Fargo air museum. I’ll probably try and make that my 300 nautical mile trip, and just swing by one more airport past that to make sure it’s 300 nautical miles straight line.

Article Up On Women In Aviation Worldwide Week Site

Mirelle, from Women in Aviation Worldwide suggested I write an article for them. I thought for a while about what I should write – I mean, that’s the organization that had the First-To-Solo contest, so I should write about that right? But I thought, what’s the most important thing I have to say to the world about my involvement in aviation?

And I realized it’s something that my blog followers have already seen the blow by blow of as it was happening. When I was trying to get my medical certificate, I googled to see how other people with Aspergers had fared in the same process, and all I could find was an FAA article with an account of a commercial pilot’s medical certificate being revoked based on a new diagnosis of Aspergers. I felt pretty alone at the time, and wondered, has no one ever dealt with this before me?

If there had been an article like the one I wrote yesterday – if I could have found that in those weeks, I would have felt so much better. So I hope that if someone else in the world is going through the same thing, that they’ll find this and be comforted and reassured, and if there’s someone out there who thinks that they shouldn’t bother trying because they have Aspergers, that they’ll think again.

Anyway, here’s the link to the article: