Quick Update – Heavy Winds

So I took my first passenger a week ago, and took Nathan again, along with his mom, for my Cessna 172 checkout, to do circuit practice with the plane fully loaded on Friday. That went well, and the 172 is not too big an adjustment. Nathan handled it a lot better than the first time on Monday, and his mom loved it. The winds were fairly calm, and the 172 doesn’t get blown around quite so bad as the tiny 152, so the afternoon convection turbulence wasn’t too bad.

We were supposed to start my tail-dragger checkout on Monday, but that didn’t happen. I got in, and having forgot to check the weather, saw that there were only about four planes signed out, and it was ten am already. The sky was clear blue, but the wind was crazy strong and gusting. More than the Citabria can handle – they just don’t take that plane out in these kind of winds.

I am intending to go after my commercial license though, and I am going to have to learn to deal with this kind of wind. So we took a 172 out for more circuit practice. First couple of landings were laughable. Holy cow, that wind, and a crosswind at that too. I’ve never made a habit of keeping track of how many landings I do, but I think we did seven or eight. By the end, I was doing much better. And consistently better. It’s weird to remember, this is the same weather she took me up in a few months ago, just for the experience, and what was going through my mind that day was how are we ever going to get this thing on the ground again without being smashed into the runway? And now I’m handling it myself. It’s kind of cool, especially knowing this is one of the most challenging things I’ll have to learn.

But hopefully things will calm down for Wednesday evening when I take another passenger out for a ride.

P.S.: I’m pretty sure I’ve got comments fixed on the last two posts too, if anyone had meant to comment. I had figured my guest post would get lots of comments, and was all confused, wondering why no one was commenting. My fault, I ticked something trying to do something else, and that auto-ticked a box on another page that didn’t auto-untick when I unticked the first thing.

The Private Pilot

I was at a birthday party the other day, with a number of people I didn’t know, and the birthday girl introduced me to everyone as they arrived, “The is Lindsay, she’s a pilot!” It felt pretty awesome.

Yeah, if you haven’t been watching me on twitter, I passed my written exam yesterday, and today, the dreaded English proficiency test (do I speak fluent English? Well, I suppose I managed the best I could…) and the paperwork has been sent in to Transport Canada to have them issue me my permanent license, while, in the meantime, I have temporary privileges of a Private Pilot’s License noted on my student permit.

This all has been an amazing experience. I can’t believe it was only three months ago that I had my first lesson. The first milestone of course was the first time Sandra handed the controls of the aeroplane over to me. The second was the day she got out and sent me up alone.  And now I’ve reached the third marker, when I’ll be the one bringing the non-pilots along on this experience with me.

This is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never done anything where success or failure was so completely on me. I’ve done big things before – I planned my own wedding, I’ve done panels and con, I’ve written novels. But the wedding, well, there were things I wish had gone better, or that I hadn’t forgotten, but in the end, I got to be the one who said good enough. Keycon panels, they’ve been pretty successful, but the success vs failure of them is very much subjective. Novels? I take years to work on them, send them off to beta readers, revise, revise again, until it’s right, and even then, the quality is subjective, and so few novels get published, compared to the number that are submitted, I don’t feel bad being rejected repeatedly.

Anyway, flight school isn’t something that I can take my time at and make sure I’m two hundred percent confident, because who knows how long that would take? And being capable and feeling confident can be two completely different things. And there’s another factor – this isn’t like a university course, with set prices for different courses. The longer I spend reassuring myself that I can do it, the more expensive it becomes. Know how much money it costs to learn to fly? All of it.

And I know, if I failed my flight test, I could do more training and try again, or if I partialed, I could redo the couple of test items I failed. But here’s the thing – you don’t get to take the test until your instructor is confident enough that you can pass to sign off on the flight test recommendation. If instructors send students into their tests before they’re ready, it makes them look bad. They’re saying, I believe this person is ready, and I’m pretty confident they’ll pass.

Now, I’ve come a long way with getting past the social anxiety that comes with Aspergers. I’m okay with getting attention if it’s positive attention – if I’ve said something funny, or made something beautiful, or did well at something. I love a head pat for doing well. But if I get attention for not doing well, I get exponentially upset. My way of coping with that has long been simply to never do anything that I’m not completely confident that I’ll excel at, or if I must do something I might fail at, minimize the number of people who might be aware of it. I failed calculus in university a number of years ago. I didn’t really have to talk about it though, and the teacher would never have known my name, so there was very little negative attention to deal with. Being late handing in a university essay, on the other hand, was far more stressful – I’d have to take it to the prof’s office and explain why it was late, plead for an extension, etc.

I never handed in essays late.

Which makes flight school a difficult thing for me in a couple of ways. One was my own decision – blogging about it, while the encouragement has been great, I hate the idea of ever having to post that I’m having trouble with something, or that I failed a test. And sometimes I hesitate about posting about feeling insecure or anxious or afraid, but then I think well, part of the point of talking about it is letting other people know it’s okay to feel that way, and it doesn’t mean you’re weak and shouldn’t be attempting whatever you’re engaged in, so I go ahead and post it. And it’s been rewarding, starting conversations, getting encouragement, making new friends.

But the other reason is the training is one on one, and you can’t help but develop a relationship with your instructor. Which is not the difficult part – I don’t mind that. The hard part is when the test comes, and I know she cares how I do and wants to see me succeed, and I was so afraid of letting her down.

I don’t think it affected my performance, but it was fear I had to get past. I think that was what was triggering that moment of panic the day before the test. It does make me work harder though.

So yeah, there’s pressure on all sides and if it was nearly anything else, I’d back out. Nothing else could drive me to push myself this hard, and that only makes it that much more satisfying when I make it.

Crazy. It’s weird to think it was only three months ago that I was at the beginning of this journey. Now I’m well into it. The precocious first steps are done. There are people around me who are less experienced than me. Mind you, I’m leaping ahead of people who were at it months before I started, doing flight school four to five days a week. By flight hours though, I’m pretty average. Different places give different “national averages”, anywhere from fifty five hours to eighty five, so I’m sitting in the middle of those with around seventy.

So next up will be checkouts on a couple of other aeroplanes, and starting on my commercial training, night rating, instrument rating, and multi-engine rating. Whenever I get the chance, I’ll be trying to get some aerobatics training in, too, once I’ve got the citabria checkout done. I’ll be taking things a little easier the next couple weeks, and taking my friends out flying with me – maybe going on picnics and random dinky little towns around Manitoba. I do know that for at least one of my first passengers, it will be their first time flying, ever, so I’m kind of excited to be the one taking them up.

Flight Test: The Good News And The Bad News

The Bad News is there’s still no cure for cancer.

Yes, I passed my Private Pilot flight test. First time, no partial, just straight up pass. So much less stressed now.

On the pre-test checkout, there was a moment that, for no reason at all, I started to feel that panic adrenaline rush. I fought it down, though, and by thursday, I was in that ready state of mind. Not that I felt sure of myself or anything, just that same state of mind I go into when I’m dealing with an emergency situation. Not panicked, not relaxed, but knowing I have to deal with something and I’m going to deal with it and deal with emotions later when it’s over.

Anyway, I made it though the ground part on Thursday, but since the examiner was booked tight with other flight tests, the flight part was put off until this morning.

I almost didn’t go today. Got up in the morning and looked at the TAF (local aviation weather forecast) and it looked like it wasn’t even worth getting out of bed. Cloud ceilings at 2500 feet and chance of thunderstorms, and the weather moving towards us, from the looks of it. But I thought, okay, I’m going to call St. Andrews and see if it’s any different out there. And it was – it was looking fine in the practice area, where we would be headed. But the weather was moving towards us… how fast? Hard to say with my experience. They said call Flight Information Services, so I did, and they gave me a pretty detailed rundown, around 60% or so which I understood, but it sounded like things were decently stable. I mean, things can change quickly…but they can always change quickly, especially in the summer. So we went, and the weather was perfectly fine, the whole time. There was a spatter of rain on the windshield taxiing out to the runway, and I was starting to notice it was getting a little bit rough as the ground warmed up towards the end of the flight, but that was all.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on the actual test. I thought I did worse on the precautionary than she said I did. Did a steep turn like a boss. Not so good on the slow flight – needed more power than I usually do. Lost marks for using ailerons in the power off stall, because I had a wing drop and that doesn’t usually happen on a power off stall and I wasn’t ready for it. Better on the power on stall, but that was where I forgot to put the flaps back up at first. *headdesk* My short field landing was flat, but the normal landing at the end, while it was almost short of the touchdown point, was smooth as silk, with just a bit of crosswind correction. Oh, and I get thrown off terribly by slipping, and she made me slip on that last landing, and I did it and it didn’t mess me up. Yay me.

But for all that, on the marking scale of 1-4, 1 being fail (if you get more than two 1’s you fail), and 4 being exceptional, I got no 1’s at all, and apparently several 4’s.

So does that mean I have my Private Pilot’s Licence now?

Actually, no. Normally people do the written test first, and then the flight test, but my ground school class was kinda behind, and so we put off the written test and I haven’t done it yet. But I did do one of the practice tests and got 80% on it, and the section with the lowest mark was 70% – a passing mark is 60%, and no less than 60% on any of the four sections. So I’m not terribly worried about that one. I’ll get it done in the next few days, and then I’ll have my full Private Pilot’s License.

But now I’m going to go celebrate or something and give my nerve wracked brain a rest!

Flight School Update: Cross Country

Well, with my medical and first solo out of the way, and some solo time built up, it’s full speed ahead with training, and the short version of the update is that I’m done the cross country section, which is pretty much the last thing before we start flight test review and prep.

But about the cross country thing first. There’s a lot more to soaring away from home base than you would think there would be. First, all that sky up there – that’s not just sky. There’s different classes of airspace, and different frequencies you have to monitor on the radio in different areas, and in some cases, at different altitudes. The longer cross country trips took me into terminal airspace, which is controlled airspace, which means we have to be in contact with terminal before we get there, and do everything terminal tells us, and request clearances to do anything as small as changing altitude or heading. Which is a little intimidating, but once I was there, it wasn’t so bad. Mainly because when you ask for clearance, they generally say yes. And they’re aware of your flight plan and will generally be anticipating that request and making sure that there’s no conflicts nearby. They’re also cool because they warn you if there’s other traffic near by, and where to look for them. Outside of those controlled airspaces, you generally talk directly to the other pilots, and work out conflicts between yourselves.

All that’s intimidating at first, but your instructor eases you into it and makes sure you’re ready. The first test was being sent to the practice area solo. They sent me on a route to Garson then to Libau, and back. And because I’d never been away from the circuit before, of course I was anxious and uncertain and worried about how embarrassed I’d be if I got lost on a trip that everyone made sound like an easy thing – so much easier than what was coming. I just hadn’t tested by navigational abilities in the plane before – not alone anyway. And if I haven’t done something alone before – well, I guess I tend to have less faith in my own ability than I should. I’ll hold someone’s hand until they push me off the boat. But then I got out there, and you know, the lake is really big, and really easy to see, and the river runs into the lake, and the airport is *right* beside the river. I would really have had to be trying hard to get lost.

So we went on the dual cross country trips, though the second one I had to go with another instructor because mine was unavailable. One thing I realized early on was when it comes to navigation, my brain works a little differently than most people. Sandra suggested that most people find it easier if they turn the map to line it up with the ground. All well and good. I can find where I am on the map, that’s fine. About half way through the trip though, I finally realized I couldn’t do that, because every time it came time to make a position report, it’s, okay where are you, and I couldn’t tell her. It wasn’t that I didn’t know where I was or how to get where I was going from where I was. But you can’t point to a spot on the map over the radio. The problem was with the map turned sideways and upside down, I couldn’t keep north/east/south/west straight, and I constantly give her the wrong answer. So I said, you know what, I think I need to keep the map right side up. So I did, and I was fine describing our position then. When I went on the second one with the other instructor, he was baffled by my need to keep the map upright and commented several times that he didn’t know how I managed that. I seem to be an anomaly. I do all right with working out where I am with the map right side up. I do turn it every once in a while if I’m having trouble identifying landmarks by the angles they make with other things, but working out where to go and how to get there, if the map is upside down, the whole world is turned upside down and that doesn’t make sense, and my brain knows the world can’t move like that and doesn’t like it.

The other neat thing is the VOR – “Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radio Range” which I haven’t actually used to navigate, but have been taught how to use. It’s one of those things that reinforces my old feeling that navigation is an almost magical ability. The VOR is a radio beacon that sends out a signal that an instrument in the plane can use to tell what direction they are from the beacon’t location. Using two beacons, you can find where the radials intersect and work out your precise position. But it’s neat, using invisible things far away to determine where you are. And the thing is not easy to read – it’s actually quite complex, and reading it could qualify as one of those logic problems they give people on IQ tests. It doesn’t tell you where you are or what direction you’re travelling, or how far away from the station you are, all it tells you is what radial you’re on, and the to/from marker is misleading – it doesn’t actually tell you if you’re travelling towards it or away from it. It’s complicated. I read the section in the book, and it didn’t make sense – I needed Sandra to explain it.

Anyway, between some nasty crosswinds while being quizzed short final about how long I’m going to be in the circuit at Lac Du Bonnet, an engine that wouldn’t start (had to be hand cranked, that was exciting), and having to circle south of Steinbach for ten minutes or so trying to spot that stupid runway that was farther north than I remembered it being, then being stranded at Steinbach waiting for bad weather to pass, I’ve made it though my solo cross country trips.

Wish me clear skies for my test prep.

Reasons To Hang Around A Flight School Looking Bored

So, I had a whole update post that I had ready for today, but I’m going to save that for another day, because I just had too much fun today. See, when have time between lessons, and you’re sitting around at your flight school studying, or watching planes land, or otherwise looking like you have no pressing engagements, every once in a while somebody says, hey, do you want to come sit in on a lesson with another student, we have an empty seat in this four seater plane. That happened last week, when I got to ride with them in the Seminole while another student got a multi-IFR lesson. That was fun, got a bunch of nice pics of Winnipeg from above. They did a couple of engine failure simulations. We saw a bright yellow an red water bomber, and the instructor picked the moment the student was most distracted by it to cut the left engine.

Today though, it was the Citabria. And it wasn’t another student’s lesson, it was one of the instructors doing his aerobatic instructors rating. And yes, this is going exactly where it sounds like it’s going. The Citabria is a plane with tandem seating – two seats, one behind the other. The instructor sits in the back, so he’s practicing flying from the back of the plane, but for weight and balance, that plane can’t be flown without someone in the front seat – the balance would be off. It’s fine to have just one person in it, but they have to be in the front seat.

Oh my gods, it was so much fun. I was a little nervous about it at first, until we did the first loop, and then it was just pure fun. Loops, rolls, barrel rolls, hammerhead turns, cuban eights, and a snap roll – also known as a “holy shit roll” because there’s no lead in to it, and you can do it when your passenger’s not expecting it. (No, I’m not planning on doing it to my mother when she comes to Canada and I get to take her flying – I swear….)

I assumed I was just going to be a body along for the ride, but since this guy was already an instructor, and he’s supposed to be learning how to teach someone else how to do this stuff – yep, I got to take the stick (Citabria has a stick instead of a yolk – it’s old school) and I learned how to do a loop and an aileron roll (not expertly, by any stretch, but we did not die and the plane was upright at the end without the instructor’s help).

I have officially made an aeroplane go upside down.

(On purpose.)

Flight School Update – Post-Solo Thoughts

Since I did my first solo last week, I’ve built up about 5 hours of solo flight now. Previous to that, my instructor mentioned several times when she took me up in more questionable weather, that I’ll need to start thinking about what my personal limits will be – what I’m confident I can handle with regards to winds and crosswinds, and what I might not be able to land the plane safely in.

Post-solo, having flown a bunch on my own, I’ve noticed it really does change the way I think about that. The safety net is gone, but not only that. For the last ten years, I’ve been working in a call centre environment, and that’s an environment where, despite what management will try to push you to believe, the completion of whatever task you perform is dependent on the performance of so many other individuals, that it’s very difficult to excel, and sometimes indeed, to even complete the task assigned at all. You’re either waiting on someone else to complete something, or transferring to another department, or waiting for a tech to arrive and finish the repair that couldn’t be done over the phone, or trying to pick up where another rep left off and they left incomplete notes because they were rushed because of limits on time provided to leave notes, or maybe they just didn’t care enough, or you’re dealing with a customer that someone else made angry, etc. It’s a grinder that you beat your head against the wall and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get ahead or on top of things because that would mean that everyone else in the entire company would have to be on top of things, and everything the company does reflects on you as far as the customer is concerned, and as far as management is concerned, your entire department’s performance is a reflection of your performance.

In the air though, it’s different. In that plane, it’s all on you.

At which point I think how on earth have I not managed to kill myself by now?

And one of the instructors replies “Ha. I think if you don’t feel that way at least once in a while, they make you hand back your license.”

That was Chuck – he’s a fun guy. I flew with him today because my main instructor had to go home. I also flew with Thiea today, and she’s the main flight test examiner, so it was nice to get to know her a bit. I won’t be so scared of her when I go to take my flight test, and Sandra keeps reminding me that’s going to be coming up fast.

Anyway, this week was mostly solo time building, practicing soft field and short field landings (I’m getting good enough at landings now to do different kinds rather than just hoping I can make the runway without having to overshoot :P) and then a couple of flights doing unusual attitudes under the hood (you wear this hood thing so you can’t see out the windows, but you can still see the instrument panels, and you have to fly using just the instruments) and some forced and precautionary landing approaches, which I’m doing much better on than I was. Not that I’ve had much practice at them – I’ve done maybe three or four forced landings, a couple more approaches, and about three precautionary approaches, including the two from today. With precautionaries, you fly a low pass over the field  to check the field conditions before landing, and that can be tricky because you want to fly low and slow enough to be able to see the field, but not so low and slow that you have to pay too close attention to flying the plane, or you don’t get the look at the field you wanted to get. The trick there is to get it set up in level flight before you reach the field, then you just have to hold it there. Anyway, I think I got that down.

Next week will be a big week. We’ve got my first an second dual cross country trip booked. First one is too Lac Du Bonnet, then to Steinbach, and then back to St. Andrews. And I have to do up the flight plan and all that crazy stuff. It has math. And I got this awesome doohicky – a flight computer, also known as an E-6B or a whiz-wheel. I think it’s the coolest thing in the world, because these puppies have been around since World War II, with little or no design change. There are computers that do this now, of course, but hey, if your electrics go down, how are you going to calculate flight time and fuel burn now, sucker? Plus, they’re awesomely retro – dieselpunkish even.

In other news, mid week, I got hit with a shiny new idea, writing wise, and I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to be writing for NaNoWriMo this year. It will be YA this time, and guess what it’s going to be about! (Three guesses, first two don’t count :P)

First Solo

Without disruption of air traffic, this fearless, forthright, indomitable and courageous individual did venture into the wild blue yonder in a flying machine. Furthermore, this skillful individual did safely land said flying machine at the St. Andrews airport incurring no significant damage to self or machine. Thus completing a first solo flight!

Or so says the adorably tongue-in-cheek certificate they gave me when I got back to the ramp this afternoon.

My twitter followers have already heard, but yes, my category 1 medical certificate came in the mail early enough this afternoon to take it with me to my scheduled flight today. Paper-work was done, and I have a student pilot permit now that allows me to legally act as pilot in command of a single engine piston aeroplane.

First step after that was the pre-solo checkout. If your instructor is a junior instructor, you go up with one of the senior instructors for that – basically, do a few circuits, prove to them that you’re ready. My instructor, Sandra, is rated such that she’s allowed to make that call, so I did the pre-solo checkout with her. No pressure, she says. *g* I’m lucky – I tend to perform at my best under pressure.

We took C-GZLF, which I haven’t flown for a while, but when I looked at my logbook, I realized it was the plane we took, not for my discovery flight, but for my first lesson. Did a bunch of circuits. We also did a power off landing, and while it wasn’t by any means perfect, I did make the runway and we didn’t need to backtrack. The last landing, she asked ATC for “the option” which means we might do a touch and go, or we might do a full stop, and finish up. What she was doing was, if I messed up that landing, she’d have me do one more, so that we left off on a good landing, with my confidence up.

I didn’t mess up that landing though, and we got off on taxiway H to head back. Then she had me bring her to the ramp and drop her off.

A student’s first solo is just a single go around the circuit – one take-off, fly a rectangle to come back, and one landing.

I was pretty excited. The most eerie thing was I remembered I was supposed to buckle the seatbelt in the empty seat, because that counts as loose objects, and needs to be secured. It makes it hard to forget your safety net, that person who can fix anything you screw up, isn’t there. Just as well I didn’t have time to dwell on it. I had this feeling like I was supposed to be scared, but that voice in my head that tells me I can’t do something was stuttering over the question “and why not?” and coming up blank. The vicious logic of the aspie brain can be great sometimes, no? Mostly I just tried not to focus on the nervous thoughts and distract myself with what I was doing – flying the plane.

It went fine – was even one of my better landings. I’m definitely less distracted without my instructor there. I’m always one ear paying attention to anything she says, and half the time I forget things is when I’m listening to her and forget what I’m doing because it’s not automatic yet. That’ll come though. It’s starting to – I’m not feeling so overwhelmed by all the things I have to remember in the circuit like I was when we started.

Anyway, I did it, I didn’t die, didn’t crash the plane, and did good. Didn’t bounce or balloon, or drift across the runway, or anything. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. (No, really, they gave me a t-shirt!) Here’s the pic of me right after landing.

So what’s next for me? It’ll be more hood time, and cross country training mostly, plus building hours flying solo. Weather permitting, I’ll be doing 2 flights on Friday solo circuits. Then it’s flight test prep. I wish I could say this is the end of the road blocks, but I’m sure more will come, and whatever comes, I’ll take it head on.