Last year was a rough year. MIFR has taken a lot longer than I planned on it taking, and on the one hand I tend to be the first one to blame myself, but in truth, there’s been a lot of shit thrown in my way this year.

I’d been waiting for call volumes to go down and scheduling to be more flexible forever. At the beginning of the year I finally decided that I couldn’t keep waiting and hoping things at work would get better – I had to pick up flight training again, or I would never get out of my current job.

So I called up Harv’s Air and started sim training about once or twice a week. It was coming along, though my work schedule was  unrelenting, but my spirits were up because I was finally back to making progress.

And then I pulled into the parking lot at Harv’s and looked at my phone before I went in, and got the message that my Grandma was dying. I rushed back home to be there when she died. Her death hit me hard – it wasn’t like most people losing a grandparent – this Grandma was a parent to me.

I got all of three days bereavement leave off work and went straight back into sim training, and right away after, started my multi rating. We had weather, and we had plane maintenance, and I was exhausted with my schedule at work, and I was ready to pull back and take a break. I was far enough into my multi rating though that my instructor said it was a bad time to take a break. I made it through my multi flight test.

So next was some brushing up on IFR, and then back in the plane for multi-engine instrument training. There was more weather. Planes went down for maintenance. But I had vacation coming up, and that was when I was planning on doing the last big push to finish up.

My vacation came – Somewhere in there I wrote the instrument rating written test and passed it. But I was running out of time. I asked my work for more time off. Unpaid now. I got it, two weeks, in fact.

Then the first of the two multi-engine aircraft the school trains with went down for maintenance, not just for a fifty hour inspection – something had to be done with the engines that involved them being sent away for maintenance. Two months of downtime. Which meant all the students booking on the second plane. The second one at one point was also down for a week for other maintenance issues.

And we needed to get the IFR cross country trip done. lol…

Anyway, between my work schedule, weather, and plane maintenance, losing my Grandmother, among the biggest things but among a multitude of other stressors, I’ve been feeling very much like something just doesn’t want me to succeed. Like the end of the movie “The Labyrinth”, where David Bowie starts frantically sending everything he can to stop Sarah from making it the last little way to the castle.

Losing my Grandma affected me is ways I didn’t expect. But I was just less emotionally resilient than I normally am, and it made it harder to fight the inner voices one gets from having been a past victim of abuse. The fact that my work schedule isolated me from being able to spend time with the people I draw emotional support from made it worse.

But it’s not my instructor’s responsibility to be my therapist, and I did my best to not make excuses. I worked my way past it the only way I know how – stubbornly ploughing through head first.

I remember before I ever hopped into a plane to learn to fly, thinking about whether or not I was ready to do this. Because I was used to the way my life was – used to just never getting anything I want unless I’m ready to give it everything I’ve got and just refuse to give up.

I don’t know if it’s God, or the fates, or whatever, who’ve decided they don’t think I’ve been through enough, tried hard enough, worked hard enough, but I have something to say to them: I’m not the wilting teenager I once was that had so little confidence she would never have considered embarking on this journey in the first place. I look back on my teen age years and think, hell, I made it though that, I’ll make it through this too. If you want to break me, you’ll have to do better than this.

Multi-Engine Instrument test is done and passed.

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.

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.

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 – Test Prep

Ok, so I’ve run out of terrible puns for post titles – I’ll use them if any new ones come to me.

The major part of test prep is the Pre-flight – which is basically, you go through the flight test, as if you were actually taking it with your instructor, to get a sense of where you are, and what you need to work on.

I should have put it off. It was right after Keycon, and I didn’t have the time to prepare. The ground part – I didn’t have everything together that I was supposed to, I didn’t have time to get the navlog prepared all the way. Good thing it wasn’t the actual test. Now I know just how much time I need to get everything ready.

The practical part – I got confused when she strung the emergency procedure (engine fire) together with the forced landing, and I shouldn’t have because she totally warned me that examiners like to do stuff like that. So it wasn’t so much that I couldn’t remember what to do, more that I was trying to figure out what she wanted, and then by the time I figured that out, I’d lost a lot of altitude and limited my choice of fields – didn’t make the field. First time I haven’t made my field in a forced landing approach in a while.

Also did my first landing on a grass field, at oak hammock airpark. That was interesting. Hard to tell how roughly you land, because the field itself is rougher than our nice paved road, or even the paved one at Steinbach.

I did decent on the steep turn – I practiced that one. But then I bombed the slow flight, which is one I’m usually really good at.

So we get to briefing, and I’m thinking I did just terrible – so many things that I normally perform so much better on, and my instructor tells me I did pretty average, when it comes to preflights. And I was like, average? Seriously? I thought it was terrible.

I was rather out of practice with circuits, so we’ve been doing that, and reviewing air work the last few days. I still don’t feel like I’m going to be ready for Friday – but apparently the examiners are swamped at the moment, so my test might not be until Monday. Depends on the weather.

But I seldom *feel* ready for anything. I’m not sure I know what it feels like to feel ready for something. If I get hung up on confidence issues, I’ll just get distracted and mess up. I mostly just try not to think about whether I’m ready or whether I can do something. I just do it.

And anyway, the whole exercise is for getting me ready for the real test anyway, and now I have a better sense of what to expect. I think I’ve finally recovered from a string of crazy busy weekends, though, given an extra day to rest with the cloud bases so low yesterday. My stress level has gone down in the last day or so, so I’ll manage, whatever happens.