IFR Part Two – Good Days And Bad Days

I’m kind of posting this for the benefit of other student pilots who might read it because it’s an observation of the learning process and what’s normal, and that you can have bad days, and just push past them to succeed.

I’ve had good days and bad days since my Grandma died. One of those bad days was my first lesson back in the Redbird. Part of it was being out of practice, having cancelled one lesson, then the next lesson back was in the other sim, doing a multi-engine intro, since the Redbird was booked. Part of it was stress and being exhausted from work, and part of it might have even been me starting to come down with something. But I did really terrible, no improvement, and regression in some areas.

Sometimes I feel like I’m just a complete failure. But today I was thinking, you know, if I knew someone who was dealing with all the shit I’m dealing with right now, I would wonder how she managed to get as far as she had with flight training, knowing how much dedication flight training requires to get where I am. I need to give myself a break sometimes.

Last week I had a conversation with my manager that was overdue, the result of which was my hours being reduced to part time, to give me time to cope, time for myself, and most importantly, time to fly.

The next lesson in the Redbird I was back on the horse, and the one after definitely steady improvement again.

And then there was last Thursday. I ended the lesson and began the de-breifing frustrated and disgusted with myself, feeling like I’d done awful like that other day.

But then I realized something as I recounted all the things I’d got wrong or missed. It was the first time that list was short enough to start to zero in on what I needed to work on. The first point – in my IFR training at least – where I wasn’t just happy I was doing more things right.

I remember now, hitting this point in learning circuits, where things suddenly didn’t seem quite so overwhelming, and that was that tipping point where things  it wasn’t long after that I was ready to solo. My IFR instructor agreed, and even said, if all goes well, maybe after next week, we’ll be hopping in the real plane to work on the next step.

I’m really grateful that all my instructors have been really positive and encouraging, while still demanding everything I can give them.

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.

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.

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.


Week One Update – Spreading My Wings

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

-Leonardo Da Vinci

So. It’s been a week, and we were only grounded one day. It was hard to gauge my progress – Sandra seemed satisfied with it, but I couldn’t tell if I was progressing faster than average, or slower, or what. She only has be do a maneuver once or twice before moving on to another one, which is fine, honestly – it keeps me from getting frustrated if I don’t get it perfect. In fact, her teaching style suits me really well. Some people like to practice one thing until they get it perfect, but I prefer the moving on to the next thing and then reviewing what I’ve learned next flight, because generally even the next time I’ve improved just from practicing in general. But I’m, well, it’s not that I’m competitive, but I tend to not be happy with myself unless I’m doing better than average, like if I’m not earning praise by standing out then I’m not good enough. *sigh* I know I’m too hard on myself, and it’s a good thing I’m good at so many things and catch onto most things quickly.

Anyway, Friday I got my first sense of how fast I was moving. Weather had caused bookings to overlap, and Sandra sent me up with another Instructor, Jeremy, to do my first circuit work. On the way out to the plane, he asked me how long I’d been flying, and I told him Monday. He raised his eyebrows and said “Monday? And you’re on circuit work already?”

Well, at least part of that – possibly all of it is because I’m going every day, so I don’t have too much time to forget what I’ve learned, but we did still get grounded on Thursday. But I’ve given away all my shifts at work to do this, so I’m going balls to the wall with the flight training already.

I have learned so much in the last week. I feel like Sandra’s pushing me hard, but she seems to have a good sense of what I can handle. Friday we got to spin and spiral recovery, and she says I’m getting the hang of that pretty quick. This isn’t me, but here’s a video of someone doing a spim and spin recovery in the same plane, first from outside the plane, then from the cockpit. (Just watched it again – still can’t believe I did that.) The annoying wailing noise is the stall horn – it goes off when you’re getting close to a stall, which you do when you’re entering a spin on purpose. But the ground spinning in front of you, that’s no exaggeration, it’s actually like that. And it is totally less scary when you’re doing it yourself.

And the feeling of having done that – to have gained the skill to be able to put the aeroplane into that state, and be able to bring it out again, without help – it’s really awesome. I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing right now than flying, and I can’t think of anything that would be more fun. I can’t help but think it’s strange when I talk to people who are afraid of flying, because in my mind, who could possibly not think it’s the coolest thing in the world?

Anyway, going into my second week – I need to get studying the stuff for the PSTAR exam, and the radio exam, so I can qualify for my student license. Here’s hoping for more good weather.