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)

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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.

Week Three Update: Throttling Back

So, basically I’d be soloing pretty much now, if it weren’t for waiting on my medical, which is waiting on a doctor’s appointment, so that I can get a referral to a psychiatrist, so I can get a psych report to send them. *le sigh* That could take weeks, and already has, but I have a doctor’s appointment on Monday at least.

I’ve only flown two days this week, but I still have to study for the PSTAR (student pilot exam), so a bit of extra time helps with that, plus I worked Sunday and Tuesday. Then today we got grounded by fog, so we did ground work, learning about precautionary and forced landings, and navigation.

Flying was more circuits this week, but Sandra says I’m pretty much good on landings and ready to move on to something else. That last flight on Wednesday, I got a couple of really good ones in a row, convincing her I’d caught on to the flare thing. We also did runway changes on Wednesday early morning. When the circuit’s busy, runway changes requested by an instructor for their student to practice can be a hassle for ATC. At 8:30 am, at a small airport, with no one in the circuit, it’s a license for ATC to have some fun with you. He had us doing 180 degree turns to land on the same runway we just took off from, for a touch and go in the opposite direction.

Oh, and the trend of my instructor pushing me to the edge of my abilities continues. On Monday, my instructor said, “By the way, I should warn you; now that you’re getting the hang of things, every once in a while, I’m gonna randomly try and kill you.” (It went something like that, anyway – and I totally need to work that line into my novel; I know exactly the character to utter it.) Then in a climb after a touch and go, she pulled the throttle to idle and said “Okay, where ya gonna land?” (We didn’t actually do a forced landing at that point – she just had me check around and pick an acceptable place that we could have landed. We will be doing actual forced landings away from our home airfield soon, and we did do a couple forced/power off landings from mid circuit where we could still make the runway.)

I should talk about the people in aviation too. Sandra, my instructor, is, as I’ve said before, awesome, I don’t feel self conscious around her at all. But it’s not just her. I’ve been told by people familiar with both, that the aviation industry is like the horse lover’s community – tight knit and everyone knows one another. That worried me, because I don’t do well in cliquish sorts of environments, but it hasn’t been like that at all. I suppose it could still just be the school I’m going to, and the sort of people who hang out at the restaurant at the school, but so far everyone I’ve talked to has been welcoming and helpful, whether they were employed by the school or not. While I sit in the restaurant studying, random people with no actual affiliation with  Harv’s Air, have stopped by, asked me where I’m at in my training, and told me if I ever need advice or help with anything, to just ask.

I was talking to one older gentleman and the topic of sexism came up, and he expressed frustration at the favouritism shown to women by the government, professing that the sexism it’s meant to counter doesn’t exist in aviation. I don’t have the experience to say for certain how close to the mark he is, and of course I have to take into consideration that he’s a man and will have never been subject to the sexism that I have. But he told me a story about a time when a young woman he was training accused him of failing her because she was female, and he went to his records to point out that he’d failed a higher percentage of males than he ever had females. I’d like to believe that I’m going into an industry where I’ll be judged based on my abilities un-coloured by my gender. I hope it’s true. I suspect the reason that only 6% of people in aviation are female maybe not be because of discrimination coming from people within the industry, but rather because of attitudes and discouragement from people outside of the aviation community. It’s certainly been true for me. The influences that had stopped me from pursuing a career in aviation were entirely outside the aviation community – once involved in aviation, there has been no one who hasn’t welcomed me and encouraged me (regardless of whether or not I was paying them).

Anyway, next week I only have two days of flying scheduled, and a couple days of work, but I’m working on getting that medical straightened out, so wish me luck on getting a psych appointment quickly. That and I’ll be working on getting ready for the PSTAR exam, so that I’ll be ready to solo when the medical comes through.

Week 2 Update – Throwing Yourself At The Ground And Missing

“There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] suggests, and try it.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Well, after spending the first week learning something new every day, week two was all the same thing every day. And that was take-offs and landings. We call it circuit work, or touch-and-go’s. The circuit is the rectangular pattern we fly around the runway when lining up to land – in the US they just call it the pattern. So we fly around and land, then take-off again without stopping on the runway. And then we do it again.

I’m getting better.

Actually, landing is the hardest part. That spin video in my previous post? That’s easy. A little scary at first, sure, but ultimately and easy to learn maneuver. The instructor had me do it about three times, at which point she said, ok, you’ve got the idea, lets move on to the next thing. Take-offs, even, are not that hard – keep it straight on the runway with the rudder, full power, pull up just a bit when you hit about 55 knots to get your wheels off the ground, and let it climb on it’s own once the wheel-drag is gone and your airspeed picks up.

Landings, I can see where a lot of the stuff I was taught in the first week starts to come together – the speeding up, slowing down, learning how attitude and power affect airspeed and altitude in tandem, not independently, and then the other tools available, like the flaps to lower your stall speed and create drag to slow it down, but that can’t be used above a certain airspeed, and the carb heat that needs to be on anytime you’re throttling back below a certain RPM. Keeping at a level altitude while in the circuit, turns of close to thirty degrees of bank but no more, ascending turns into the crosswind, descending turns into base and final, the cockpit checks, the radio. All of these were easy to learn one at a time, but now I have to do them all at once.

My first few landings were pretty sucky, and I had to overshoot more than one (pull up and go around to try again). Every day I got better, and made different mistakes, and more often than not, the next mistake I made was trying to hard to do the opposite of what I did wrong last time and going too far in the other direction. But I’m starting to get a feel for it, and leveling the plane out more consistently at the right height and all that. It’s coming along. Yesterday I got it on the ground a couple times all my myself, without the instructor touching the controls. Today got even more consistent, with more than half of the touch-and-go’s being with nothing but verbal help, and some with none at all. It does take practice – you have to get a feel for how far out you are, and how high, and how fast you’re descending, and as I get a sense for that, then I can correct it earlier and have to do less correcting at the end when I’m trying to hit the ground as gently as possible.

I’m getting there. Sandra figures I may be ready to solo next week.

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.

Waking Up From A Dream

This morning I woke up, and was a little bit disoriented for a few moments before I realized I was in bed. And then I was suddenly disappointed, because I had been having the most amazing dream. You know that feeling, when you’ve just had a dream where you were doing something awesome and being awesome and you were happy? And then you wake up and realize it was a dream? Yeah, I had been dreaming that I’d spend the last three days learning to fly aeroplanes. But that was too out there to be real. And I lay there, letting myself way up, checked the clock to try and remember whether I had to get up for work or not – did I have to work today? What am I doing today again? I had to be somewhere didn’t I?

Wait….holy shit, that was real?

Yeah, it’s been an awesome couple of days. We were grounded today though – cloud ceiling too low in the practice area. But weather permitting, tomorrow, spins and spirals are up next. Yesterday, Sandra demonstrated one for me after we finished practicing stall recoveries (which are not that hard). “Do you like roller coasters?” she says. And yeah, that’s about the most unnerved I’ve ever felt in an aeroplane, with the ground spinning in a circle in front of me. But I’m sure, like stalls, it’ll be less scary when I’m doing it myself, because I’ll be concentrating on what I’m doing rather than just sitting there experiencing it. And the stalls aren’t that bad at all, they’re not really that scary. The stall horn makes that annoying wailing noise , then the plane starts losing altitude, nose drops on it’s own, and you just go with the nose drop and apply full power. Spins are pretty visually exciting, plus there’s that moment of weightlessness.

My main instructor is Sandra, and she’s famous now. Or, they tease her now that she is. She was on the news for the Women in Aviation day. She’s awesome. I think it makes me a little bit less self-conscious to have a female instructor, but even aside from that, both my instructors, her and Ankhur seem really good at coaching gently, without making me feel like I’m as horribly inept as I probably am, being so new to it all.

And there’s a thing I hadn’t really got to thinking about before I actually started – the trust thing. I mean, it’s one thing to have faith in myself, but another to really believe that whatever I do to this plane, however badly I screw up, she can save me from myself. Heh. Not that I’ve had any “interesting” moments so far, but it’s a new feeling. I remember gymnastics, I never got that good, because I never trusted the instructor to be able to catch me if I fell, and was too afraid to try the movements where they might have to. That lack of trust always held me back. And that was when I had all of about three feet to fall. Now I have three or four thousand, but just like gymnastics, if I don’t trust my instructor, it will hold me back.

I don’t know what’s different now – maybe it’s just that my confidence isn’t constantly being whittled away, or maybe it’s just that I want this so much more than I wanted anything else before, but I do trust my flight instructors. And you know what? It actually feels kind of good to trust.

Flight School: Quick Update – Second Day Of Training, and Aviation Medical

So I’ve had two 45 minute flights, today and yesterday, each after groundwork. It’s still fairly overwhelming, trying to keep track of all the different things I’m needing to pay attention to. We’ve done straight and level flight, medium and gentle turns, climbing and descending, an today I did a lot of work on controlling airspeed while maintaining altitude. The weather was a tad cloudy, so we didn’t get further, and I had to cancel the other flight because of my doctor’s appointment. But I think I’m getting better. Things are starting to sink in. There’s so much thrown at me all at once, it’s a bit hard not to feel inept, but I’ve had feelings like this before, and usually there comes a point sometime where suddenly it starts to click together and suddenly become easier.  I will have faith in myself.

The doctor’s appointment: I got my class 1 aviation medical done, and it’s sent in. The bad news is I’ll have to wait around three weeks for it to be processed before I’ll be allowed to solo, minimum, because I can’t get a class 4 medical declaration. Why? Because I said yes to one of the questions. For those new to my blog, I have Aspergers syndrome. It’s mild, and I have adapted very well – only people who spend a significant amount of time with me ever notice anything at all, and then it’s only things like  “oh, that’s why arranges her skittles on her desk in lines by colour.” When I tell people, they invariably say that they would never have guessed. But I do have an official diagnosis, and if I were to not declare it, I could get in some big trouble if the authorities were to find out. Not that I would try – I hate having secrets that are dangerous if they get out. I hate being afraid that someone will find out something about me and I’ll get into trouble. It’s just not something I do. But it needs to be reviewed by the powers that be, to make sure that it’s not going to affect my ability to fly an aeroplane.

Dr. Fogel doesn’t think it should stop me. He figures worst case scenario, I might have to go to a psychiatrist and get them to sign off that it’s not a disability that impacts my ability to fly. They might just wave it off, especially since I’m not on any medications. Dr. Fogel had never had a patient with Aspergers before, so he hadn’t seen any precedents, but he thought about it for a second and said he thought it might make me a better pilot, rather than a worse one. And he’s likely right – tendency to notice little things out of place, to prefer routines and process, better than average memory and IQ.

So, I’m not going to worry about it too much, though I can’t say I don’t resent it a little, and if someone else gets the first-to-solo scholarship before I get my medical processed, then there won’t be anything I can do about it. The frustrating thing is that know it’s not something that will render me unable to fly, but it’s someone else who gets to make the decision. It’s not like epilepsy, where, yeah, you don’t want a person with epilepsy flying a plane, and it’s obvious. Or some heart condition that I don’t understand, that someone else has to explain to me why it’s a bad idea for me to fly. No one can tell me how well I cope with that better than me.

On the good news side, I’m entirely healthy otherwise, and though I have a prescription for glasses, I don’t need them to fly. I can read the bottom line of the chart with both eyes, and all checked out besides that. And our bathroom scale is 5 lbs heavy, I’m only 123 lbs. I had to take my shirt off so he could hook me up to a machine (electrocardiogram – I don’t even know what that’s supposed to tell them, but it’s all good.)

Back to school tomorrow for 10:30 though, so I have to get to bed. Hope it doesn’t snow. Or at least that it stops before I’m slated to fly.