My instructor changed his mind about starting me on the multi-engine aeroplane next week. Instead, we hopped in last Wednesday, and I’ve had a couple flights now.

The plane they train on is a Piper Seminole, which is a nice plane, fairly easy to handle.

The first thing you notice taking off is the power. Bigger engines, more power on each one. The idea is not only to have more power with the two engines, but also to have engines powerful enough that if one fails, the one still running can still keep the plane in the air.

The second thing you notice is what everybody kept telling me I’d notice when I got to the Seminole. It’s about fifty percent faster than the Cessnas I trained on. It cruises at the speeds I’m used to avoiding exceeding, and at twenty five hundred feet, the speed increase is noticeable. In a Cessna, cruising at ninety knots, if feels like you’re crawling across the sky, but in the Seminole, it feels like you’re actually going somewhere.

It’s also a much heavier plane than the Cessnas, and glides like a rock. Maybe not quite as bad as the float plane, but close. Steep turns are a breeze – it doesn’t get bounced around as much in the wind because it’s heavier. The other thing though, is when you add power,  or nose down it takes a bit longer for the plane to respond, so when you’re doing anything at a slow speed, you have to be extra careful of getting close to a stall.

It’s my first time flying a low-wing – for the uninitiated, that’s a plane with the wings attached at the bottom of the fuselage instead of having the fuselage hanging below the wings. That means you can’t use gravity to feed fuel into the engine, so you have fuel pumps, which is yet another among a million things that you have to remember to turn on and off and test.

So many firsts; it’s also my first time flying with retractable landing gear. I’m told landing gear up is bad. You know how you can tell if you’ve landed gear up? It takes full power to taxi to the ramp.* But in all seriousness, it’s an easy thing to forget, and a really bad one if you do!

Overall, it’s helped a lot that we’ve been going over multi-engine stuff in the simulator, so not all of it is completely new, and it hasn’t been too overwhelming. And it has been super nice to get back in the air and behind the controls after having not flown since finishing my float rating in November.


*Can’t believe my instructor hadn’t heard that one.

Time Management For Student Pilots

A few years ago, I went to a panel at my local con called “Time management for writers.” I expected a lecture on writing every day – maybe even pontificating on how you’re not serious about writing if you don’t write every day. The first panelist said she did indeed write every day, and if she didn’t, she lost rhythm and didn’t get anything done. She didn’t necessarily write a lot each day, but she wrote every single day. In contrast, the second one said he got all his outlining ready, and made a big three month push to write a novel, then edited at a more leisurely pace  the rest of the time. The third got a hotel room for three days and exited a wreck, but with a completed first draft of a novel.

In the flying community, you’ll hear people pontificating about making sure you fly at least once a week, to keep your skills fresh, especially once you’ve finished your private license. Because a lot of people finish their license and then barely ever fly again, citing that it’s so hard to get into the swing of things again. When training, they say to fly at least once or twice a week, or you’ll end up spending more hours on training, catching up on what you’ve lost.

They’re probably right. But the reality is, not everyone has the money on hand to do that.

When I started flying, I was able to give away most of my shifts for several months and flew 4-5 days a week, finishing my private license in about three and a half months. Not everyone is able to do that, and most people complete their private license in 1-2 years, flying once or twice a week.

Many young people are in school or university, but are living at home and have more money to put toward flying, making it possible to train faster. I have a full time job, we’re a single income household and I can’t afford to take too much time off outside of vacation. In fact, after I did my private, possibly as a result, the union wrote a clause into the new contract preventing people from giving away more than one shift a week. I like to say I have my own clause in the union contract.

I do much better when I can focus on just one big thing at a time, so time-building was hard for me. I couldn’t give shifts away anymore, so it was a flight here and there, and sometimes when it was very cold, I didn’t fly for months at a time. Because I was mostly flying the RAA club plan and not the school’s planes, my instructor couldn’t tell how frequently I was flying, I’m sure she worried that I might lose my momentum and give up. So many do. She would send me emails every once in a while, about every six months, asking how I was doing, and I’d send her an update with my hours and where I’d been, that I’d passed the written when I passed it. And finally I was finished time-building and one of those replies was “Okay, I’ve got vacation booked in May/June, and this is my plan.”

And for the flight test, I just did exactly the same thing as I did for my private, flying 4-5 times a week for several weeks. It’s what works for me, and I’ve succeeded doing it this way. I was able to give my instructor lots of notice so that she was able to make sure she was available when I needed her. Not all schools or instructors might be as awesome as that, so that was one struggle I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with.

On the other hand, doing my float rating, or likewise, my night rating, I was working full time at the same time. I tried to fly once a week, but often things didn’t work out that way. The other difference is there’s no test at the end of these ratings, so once I had the hours and the instructor was satisfied with my performance, that was all I had to do.

I think it’s far more important to have goals and a plan, than to fly a particular number of days a week. That plan naturally has to take into consideration the fact that if you haven’t flown for a while, your skills will go stale, but that may mean that you just need to get practiced up sometimes. If your goals are to stay current and develop your experience as a pilot, then maybe a goal of flying once a week or however often you can afford it might be your best plan. When I’m prepping for a test, that short period of intense flying multiple flights a day is what I need, so I’m not as concerned about staying current in between times when I’m forced to drag my ass back to work. I’ve put my writing on the back-burner a long time now, which is also okay, because I have clear goals and a plan, and I know it won’t be forever.

The pontificators are right about one thing though. You don’t find time. You make time. You ditch your video game and study. You skip social outings. There was a writing event the whole weekend I had planned my 300nm cross country trip, and I stopped in after I landed to to catch the last half hour. You do what you can do, and what you have to do, and there’s no right or wrong way to pace yourself, as long as you have a plan.

Student Pilot Finances/How To Plunge Yourself Into Massive Debt/I Regret Nothing

*cue hysterical laughter*

Okay, so one of the first questions people ask when they want to know more about flight training is “Is it really as expensive as people say?”

And the answer is yes. Whatever you think you’re going to end up spending on it, it will probably cost twice that. Here’s a link to the rates at my school. And those are mostly the numbers based on the *minimum* number of hours required by Transport Canada. Most people will take longer than that to be ready for the test. Furthermore, between getting your private license and getting your commercial license, you have to get your Pilot in Command time up to a minimum 100 hours, and that’s not included in there either.

So, thinking about those statistics on how many people make it through flight training and how the majority don’t finish, I wondered how much of that is due to lack of funds. I bet it’s most of them. When I started, and word got around about what I was doing, suddenly there were people left and right telling me they’d done some flight training at one point. But then they ran out of money. Over and over I heard the same story. I’ve seen people on the internet in the throes of that running out of money stage, and it’s heartbreaking. I almost feel guilty for having been able to do it myself.

I suspect there’s some people who were surprised I made it this far, even though now they all say “I knew you could do it!” But the people who know me the best tell me they never had any doubt I could do it, and the only thing that really surprised them was that I managed to make it happen financially. I’m not someone who’s really good with money, but now that I’ve made it this far, I figure maybe I do have a few things to say on the subject with regards to flight training.

So here’s some straight talk about the realities of how much it costs to learn to fly.

The main thing I’d recommend, that I did do right, is making sure the money is there when you need it. You don’t want to be nearly ready for whatever level test, just need a few more hours of practice, and then run out of money. If that happens, then you’ll be out of practice by the time you get your hands on more money, and need more hours of practice before you’re ready again. Having a credit card with an amount of credit you never imagined you’d actually use is great for that. Lines of credit to pay off the credit card with cheaper interest rates are even better. I stress about money easily, and when the secretary at Harv’s would remind me I needed to top off my account, it made it so much easier to know I had my credit card in my wallet and could take care of it right there and worry about paying the bank later and focus on flying when I needed to.

Another consideration is whether or not to buy your own plane. I had a lot of people tell me that I should buy my own plane, that it would be cheaper in the long run. I think if you’re only planning on getting a private license that’s probably a valid argument. For myself, I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, but not for financial reasons. On the one hand, I’d have been responsible for maintenance and airworthiness reports, hangar space, repairs, and I don’t know what else, all while trying to focus on learning to fly.

On the other hand, I’d have only learned to fly one plane. All through my private license, I flew about ten different Cessna 152’s. Some had climbing props, some had different types of radios and instrument styles, and sometimes the stall horn would go off if you looked at it the wrong way while another wouldn’t go off until you were fully stalled. Then I got my license and got checked out on the Cessna 172, and the Citabria. When I’m ready to go on to my Multi-IFR, the school has two Seminoles available for me to fly, and if I’d bought my own plane, it would have been a single engine and would have been useless for getting a multi-engine rating, even if I were lucky enough to find myself a plane with both a VOR and an ADF to work with on my IFR rating. So, I’d say, if you’re planning on just doing a private licence, go ahead and buy a plane. If you’re planning on going commercial, don’t bother.

What else to say…

Where to get the money? There’s a good question. Student loans doesn’t cover flight training. They don’t consider that legit post secondary training and you can’t get government student loans for it. Everyone will tell you to apply for scholarships, but there are actually very few, and almost none worth more than 1500$. Most of them are like, 200$-300$. I have not won any monetary scholarships. The big one I did win was the first to solo scholarship, and that was mostly schwag, plus a really fracking nice headset. Still totally worthwhile, even just for the headset, but it doesn’t go very far when it comes to avgas. I kind of have a dream of someday having enough money to fund a couple thousand dollar scholarship.

I was lucky. We had some money –about 25k–and my husband agreed to sign it over to me to follow my mad little dream. I think I probably spent about 15k on my private licence. I’m now finished my commercial licence and that money’s all gone, plus I’m about 15k in the red. I would have run dry of credit long before completing my CPL if I hadn’t had that money to start. If your flight school is on a certain list, you can qualify for a student line of credit, which is what I’ve got, but if you don’t own a house or a car worth more than a few thousand bucks, you have no collateral, and they can’t repossess your pilot’s licence so they’re hesitant to lend you a whole lot. I got a limit of 20 in the student line of credit, and another 10k in a second line of credit. My Dad was willing to co-sign for me, but turns out because he’s self employed, his signature didn’t actually help me, even though he’s the most financially stable person I know and could have paid for all my training out of pocket. I have also received a little over 10k between my Dad and my paternal Grandmother and other family members.

And that’s another thing. I have family I can turn to if things ever got really bad. I wouldn’t be on the street if the debt became overwhelming. If my Dad wasn’t as financially stable as he is, going into this much debt would be terrifying. Many people wouldn’t have had a job where their income would have allowed them to borrow as much as I have, and wouldn’t have the startup money to offset the debt. I’d love to be able to say, like many people do, if you want it, you just have to find a way to make it happen, look at me, I did. But I know there are tons of people out there who love flying who may never be able to follow their dream because they could never scrape together  the resources necessary, and it’s not fair. I’ve been lucky.

So how much does it cost to learn to fly? The answer is all of it. All your monies. All gone. And some of the monies that belong to the bank too, as much as you can sucker them into lending you. All the monies you can sucker your family into giving you. If you discover you love flying, you will hemorrhage cash at rates you do not now think possible. There are always more ratings, more training, more time-building, more licenses to get, and if you love flying, you’ll just keep going until you have no more money. The numbers on checks and bank statements will start to seem surreal and loose real meaning. But if you’re going commercial like I was, unless you’re filthy rich, it’s really an all or nothing thing.

And yet, there has not been one single moment in all of this where I’ve thought to myself “I wish I hadn’t done this,” or “I don’t know if this was really worth it,” or “This didn’t turn out to be everything I hoped it would be.” It is everything I hoped it would be, and like the title says, I regret nothing.

Imma Duck-bird Now

I went for my first lesson on floats today.

The first time I ever left the ground was in a float plane. My dad had a family friend who ran a fishing resort, and had a float plane – I don’t actually know what kind, but he took my brother and I flying when I was maybe six or seven. I barely remember it other than that it happened, and that the plane was yellow. I was at that age where seeing that plane, I assumed that all float planes are yellow and any that aren’t are exceptions to the rule.

The nearest place to Winnipeg that does float ratings is Interlake Aviation, based in Gimli, and their float plane, a Cessna 172 (they have a Stinson too, but it’s wings are being re-covered) is based on Norris Lake, North of the city. I’d flown over it before – I remember noting it as a landmark as I flew over on my three hundred nautical mile trip for my commercial license.

You know, after the struggle to learn to land a Cessna 152, and then the struggle the figure out the taildragger thing, I was expecting the float thing to be the same. I figured it would be this new foreign thing I’ve never touched on and that I would be a fish out of water, being a bird in water after all. Instead, it felt like the most natural transition in the world.

I showed up, and we did a check over the plane, you know, as best you can when you can’t walk all the way around it.  One of the most interesting things was discovering that the floats were actually attached to what is essentially a roll cage encasing the cockpit. This is because there are no shocks for floats. I imagine whatever shocks they might add with might mess with how the plane touches down on the water. Anyway, we did the usual, checked the oil and took fuel samples. I love how in flight training, they get you to do things yourself as much as you’re comfortable with, right from the beginning. He let me get the plane turned around facing out by myself and then we hopped in.

We started with taxiing. A little bit of put-putting around, and then he demonstrated a “step taxi” – which is like in a motorboat, when you get going fast, and the craft starts skimming over the surface of the water rather than pushing through it. He had me go up and down the lake three times, and I didn’t feel like I was having any trouble. There’s a sweet spot to hold the plane at a certain angle as you’re taxiing on the step, and if you’re too low it’ll slow down, but if you’re too nose high, it will start bouncing up and down. But finding that sweet spot was easy, you can feel it.

Actually, he asked me one or twice if I’d spent a lot of time on the water. I said no, not really. I just grew up 200 feet from a lake I guess. The high school I went to had canoes and we went canoeing for gym class once or twice. Oh, wait, our family had a boat for a while…. You know, I have never considered myself a “water person” partly because I’m one of those people who can’t stop water going up their noses, but I suppose it’s possible I may have had more exposure than other people. It’s possible I take it for granted and assume other people have had as much exposure as myself.

Anyway, after three treks up and down the tiny lake, he figured I had enough practice, and he let me take off. It was a bit of an awkward take-off, but I’ve been told I have good instincts for being in ground effect, and it’s easy to tell the moment you leave the water, so as soon as I was airborne I was fine. He demonstrated a landing, and then he let me try.

My first landing I was over correcting, and he helped me. The second one I managed to do it unassisted. The third one was too nose-down, and it started to dig in – he went to yank the stick back, but I was doing the same thing at the same time to recover, so it was hard to tell if he was doing anything that I wasn’t already doing. I remember so many times on bounces, not getting the power in fast enough, and my instructor putting the power on to recover and telling me “you gotta be faster.” When I finally got the knack for recovering from a bounce by adding power, I was so pleased with myself. But today I was fast already – it seemed like my first instinct was correct. Like I said, it seemed natural. I was even dealing with a fairly noticeable cross-wind and managing perfectly fine.

Lastly was getting back to the dock. The wind had picked up, and I was already having difficulty turning in certain directions. “Lets see if you can get us into the dock,” he says.

Nailed it first time.

I dunno, maybe it was beginner’s luck, and he did give me some advice to start the approach upwind of the dock, but he said it as if there was some question as to whether or not I’d be able to do it. I dunno. It’s been half my life since I’ve been in a boat, and I was never allowed to dock one. Maybe my exposure to boating helped, I can’t tell.

Anyway, I got it up withing two feet of the dock, and climbed out to jump to the dock. The instructor seemed impressed with it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but he commented on the fact that I’d anticipated how much the plane would move as I jumped, and I guess I seemed very sure-footed. I hadn’t thought I was unexpectedly so, but I got the distinct impression that he thought I was going to go in the drink, perhaps because others have before me.

That said, I will probably end up in the drink at some point, it’s not an if, it’s a when, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s water. I will not melt. I can swim. I’ve even established that I can tread water with clothes on.

Anyway, we were figuring out paperwork, and at some point I needed to make a stop at Gimli, so I figured since I was off, I might as well do it today. And then the funniest thing – the instructor would lead me there in his truck, but he asked me if I was okay taking my car on a gravel road.

Lulz! Okay, I grew up a beekeeper’s daughter (and grand-daughter), and this was my grandpa’s and dad’s car while they were beekeeping. They used it to check on the bees, and too me with them often. The only risk in me driving on a gravel road is me getting all nostalgic for my childhood!

Gods, I forget I’m a country girl sometimes….

End of story: I’m already in love with float flying.

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.

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.


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.