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.

My Fascination With Flight: Part 2 – Feathers

I think I was around ten or eleven when my best friend, without asking if it was okay with my parents, bought be a zebra finch and cage for my birthday. I got him a wife, and they had some chicks – managed to raise two to adults.

Eventually they died, and I got a budgie, had him for a few years, and got a cockatiel. I lost the cockatiel (she was a sweetie too), and got a lovebird. Kept birds until I was nineteen, and moved to Australia, and couldn’t take the lovebird with me. She was easy to get rid of, tame as hell, because I hand raised her from a few weeks old, and the first person to come see her fell in love with her when I went to give her away.

I’ve always loved birds, and been fascinated with anything that can fly. I would watch the finches for hours as they flitted back and forth across their cage.

But the reason I stopped keeping birds, ultimately, was because once I got to the parrots – the ones that make the best companion pets, (important because I was such a lonely child) you have to clip their wings if they’re going to be out of their cages for any significant amount of time. A thing with wings should fly.

I dreamed of doing something like falconry, where one works with birds unclipped, letting them fly. I remember a group bringing in a bunch of rescued raptors in a show, and getting to see a great grey owl in person, that they had fly over our heads in the multipurpose room at school. I remember being captivated by David Bowie’s Goblin King, because the Goblin King could shape-shift into an owl. My favourite Cosgrove books were Shimmeree and the Flutterby ones, because they were horses with wings. I read the Pern novels just for the parts where characters get to ride on the backs of dragons.

My Fascination With Flight: Part 1 – First Time Off The Ground

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of flight. From birds to dragons, to airplanes -things that can fly, to flying myself. And now it’s creeping into my fiction – in the novel I’m shopping around right now, there are multiple characters who are pilots and flying plays a huge part in the plot. It seems inevitable, looking back, that I would eventually start writing about flying – the only thing that stopped me before was not knowing anything about planes besides the basic theory of aerodynamics. I figured writing about them is the closest I’ll get to flying them myself.

So I’m going to do a series of posts about planes, and my experiences with flight.

My first experience was at Crow Duck Lake, on the Whiteshell. My Dad’s got a family friend who runs a fishing resort out there, and we used to go out there every year. Bill, my Dad’s friend, had a little yellow Twin Otter docked by the beach, and one day he took us up in it. After that, the first time I was on a commercial aircraft, it was nowhere near as exciting.

It’s not for everyone – people who are afraid of flying would handle that even worse than a commercial plane. I loved it, and I can’t even describe what it is that I love about it. I’ve been up in a small plane once since then – a Cub, flown my my mother’s second husband’s father (my step-grandfather at the time, and yeah, my mom’s on her third husband, so I can’t even just say my step-grandfather.)

Being in a small plane like that, it’s a completely different experience. You can see better, out the windows, and where you’re going, more like you can see out of a car. You can see the ground, and the lakes all around. You can feel being in the sky.

Movie Review: Flight

Denzel Washington plays a commercial airline pilot with a drinking problem, who, faced with a broken plane tries a crazy desperate move to stabilize it, saving the lives of most of his passengers. But then they find out he was intoxicated at the time, and the powers that be are going to try and pin the blame for the crash on him, rather than the failure of the plane due to lax maintenance that actually caused the crash.

It was a great movie, and Denzel Washington plays a very convincing drunk, speaking from the perspective of someone who’s lived with one.

What I found interesting though, was mostly because I’ve been working my way through Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling in Modern Fiction, by Donald Maass. I just finished a chapter on emotional arcs, and of course I was watching the structure of the story told in the movie in terms of what I’d learned form the book. It followed those techniques very well, and escalated the moral conflict in the main character right to where he hit rock bottom. It was one of those plots where the main character  could have chosen any moment to end the story, and turn his life around, and the story would have ended there, but he didn’t – he continued making bad choices until he reached that low point where there was no return.

And the writers could have written a story where he wasn’t presented with those choices where he made the wrong decision, but the writers knew what they were doing, and paced out crises, and the main character was forced over and over to choose to lie to protect himself, presenting characters who are facilitating the lies, encouraging him. And to cope, he falls deeper and deeper into the alcoholism that got him into the mess in the first place.

Anyway, good movie – well structured, well acted.