Sully – Movie Review

I went to see Sully Saturday, and it was very good.

The most obvious comparison is the movie from a couple years ago, “Flight.” Both movies depict the NTSB setting their sights on crucifying pilots, even when they made the right decisions and saved people. Apparently, especially in Sully, the NTSB agents were made more into villains, for the sake of drama, and the real life investigators were considerably more objective and professional.

The big difference though is the captain in “Flight” was drunk and on cocaine in the cockpit, while Captain Sullenberger was much more like the pilots I know – diligent in being sure his faculties were not compromised while he had lives depending on him.

Other things I liked – the flight attendants were played by women who looked like actual flight attendants, not models. They looked like they might be in their forties, and not Charlize Theron fourties. Actual real people.

I liked how, when he’s being lauded as a hero, Sully acknowledges the importance of the role the rest of the crew played, including the flight attendants, who he listed by name in that scene.

When you’re doing a movie that’s trying to stay true to the original events, I imagine it can be hard to squeak in more female characters, and so very often. Obviously it wouldn’t seem right to gender swap the pilots or flight attendants, who all fit the stereotypes of pilot = male, flight attendant = female. I’m willing to bet there was likely no women at the front of the room in the NTSB hearing through, but they stuck one in anyway. Those NTSB agents are apparently made up – that’s where the movie takes the most dramatic license to up the suspense, and rather than vilify real people, the understandably made up a villain.

And then there’s the background characters that that people don’t notice are usually exclusively male. But I noticed effort put in there too. It’s probably not accurate to have had a female pilot among the simulator test crews, and considering the number of female pilots working at that level, it’s probably not even likely that they would have been able to find a female pilot available to participate, but they squeaked in female pilots in not just one of those simulator test crews, but one on each of the two – one is the first officer in the pair, and the other is the captain. That’s making an effort.

On the other hand, the cast was pretty white – I don’t know if there was so much as a black or other POC passenger on the plane.

Good movie, not horrifically long, and I enjoyed it.

Upcoming: Avians by Timothy Gwyn

I’ve been waiting until I had a little more to link to, but I’m super excited to announce that one of my critique group is getting his novel published!

Timothy Gwyn is the pen name of Tim Armstrong, a pilot who flies out of Kenora – about – well, okay, I’ve never driven to Kenora, but it’s about 45 minutes in a Cessna 172 – east of Winnipeg.

I met Tim at Keycon – he had found my blog fairly close to the beginning of my epic journey into the world of aviation, and he introduced himself to me at my home sci-fi/fantasy convention. I think he was the first pilot I met and got to know that I didn’t meet outside of my flight school. And he was there because he had a novel he was working on.

He offered to take me on a tour of one of the King Airs he flew, and I took him up on it – that was the day I made a kick ass landing in 9G17 straight across the runway in Kenora and naturally no one ever sees when you make a good landing.

Anyway, we had a fun chat about writing and flying, and I was intrigued by his worldbuilding, so we traded novels to give one another feedback. I really enjoyed it – I mean, I’ve said this before about my fellow local writers, but you read a local writers work ready to sift through and find nice things to say, but the local writers I’ve read, I’ve been pleased to find I don’t have to look hard.

The planet his story is set on had an atmosphere so dense that  it’s uninhabitable at sea level, and the human life exists only high on the mountain peaks. Which are mostly volcanoes. Can’t think of anything that could go wrong with that? Neither can I. (/sarcasm)

Society wise, he’s got what would normally be considered an iron age, except that for reasons you’ll have to read the book to find out, there is next to no metal available to the inhabitants of this planet. Their coins, instead of copper and tin, are made of glass.

Between the sparsely situated volcano peaks on the planet, is a trade network of mysterious airships. Communication with the airships is strictly limited to accounting and commodity availability, and the closest the planet’s occupants ever get to these ships is the glider pilots that deliver goods to the ships. Glider pilots like the main characters.

I think I read the original draft in two days – it sucked me in in a way few books do, to be honest. It’s young adult fiction, and that’s definitely something I enjoy, and it was the sort of thing I’d be happy to give to my young cousins or if I had kids myself, to read. I can only imagine it’s gotten better since he’s revised it himself. When my critique group lost a member, we invited him on my recommendation to join our group, and he brought a few scenes in to us. He mentioned in a blog post when my best friend and I went over his opening thirty pages to help him get them ready to present to the editor in time. But we were really just excited to be a part of a novel that we could see was worthy of publication, and we were over the moon to hear a contract was the result.

It’s set for publication in August of 2017, from the sounds of it, and you can be damn sure I’ll remind you all.  So if aviation, and in particular alternate aviation and it’s convergence with science fiction intrigues you as much as it did me, keep your eye on his blog, where he’s posted a blurb to taunt you. He’s got a informatively created planet, with aviation focused exclusively on women pilots, and a story that more than passes the bechdel test. This novel is gonna kick ass, and I will be plugging it in the future closer to the publication date, be prepared!

Canada Day Tragedy At Lyncrest

It’s a surreal moment when you hear news like this.

There’s been a crash.

Holy, crap, is everyone okay?

No.

I was at the Osborne street festival in Winnipeg when I got a text from a friend asking if I knew someone who flew a PA-28. It was noisy and I didn’t hear my phone, but two minutes later, the friend texted my husband, who was with me, asking if I’d been flying that morning, because a plane has crashed next to Lyncrest airport.

I’ve flown out of that airport. I know a lot of people who do. It could be someone I know. Whoever it was is a member of the local aviation community that I’m a part of. I spent a couple years time building on the 99’s plane owned by the RAA, C-FLUG. The RAA has a second plane, C-GNUC, and it’s a PA-28…

So I immediately thought, could it have been C-GNUC?

It was.

And of course there’s something about plane crashes that captures media attention. Both the RAA planes had gone flying, and the pilot of the other plane, who had no idea what had happened, was accosted by the media when she landed. Someone said the reporters were there before the emergency crews. The sneaked into the clubhouse to take photos of the phone list so they could call people at home and pester them for information. The photo of GNUC that first appeared on the news articles was quickly replaced by actual photos of the crash site, which I don’t even really want to share here.

Fatal car crashes don’t even make the news, but pilots are held to a higher standard than drivers on the road. I think that’s why there’s many times as many fatal car crashes, but they don’t garner the we need to find out what happened so we can make sure this never happens again reaction that plane crashes do.

Which is not to say that reaction is wrong. I mean, the roads would be a hell of a lot safer if drivers were held to the same standards as pilots and I don’t know why they’re not other than society thinks driving a car is a right and flying a plane is a privilege.

But that attitude is one of the things that defines the aviation community. When there’s a fatal car crash, people look at it as a random act of fate. Something that could happen to anyone. Maybe someone did something stupid or reckless, but anyone could do that. Drunk boater drowns, they go ugh, those guys, they should know better. Snowmobiler hits a tree at 180 clicks, they roll their eyes and lament the irresponsible attitudes of snowmobilers.

Not pilots. As information from the crash site trickles in, we all want to know what happened. I think it’s probably because of the level of training required to get a pilot’s licence, and just the whole environment of open discourse about safety, but I don’t think there’s a lot of pilots who take off thinking to themselves It won’t happen to me. The take off telling themselves I have the competence to be able to handle it if something happens, and I’ve taken all possible measures to prevent something from happening. Recklessness is not accepted by the aviation community – if someone brags about doing something dangerous, the community as a whole responds with disapproval. There’s a reason the accident rate is so low.

That’s why when something does happen, the whole community is left reeling. We work so hard to be safety conscious and make sure safety concerns are communicated, and instructors work to instill a cautious attitude into their students. I know the people at that airport, and the people who manage that plane, and I know what sticklers they are for following rules of safety. Apparently Transport Canada is often impressed with their diligence, and the diligence they require from anyone flying those two RAA planes.

It’s quite possible we may never find out for certain what happened. There was a briefing tonight, and I went out to Lyncrest to attend, and we got what information there was. Speculation on what may have caused it is counterproductive at this point, and only spreads misinformation. The TSB is investigating.

I didn’t know the pilots who died, but I know a lot of people who did know them, and I’m still part of that community. I listened to my friends in the 99’s tell about how they heard, others describing when they heard the news but didn’t know who it was, how they breathed a sigh of relief every time one of the people they knew chimed in on facebook or responded to a text, confirming they were safe.

It’s been a sad weekend; I don’t really know what else to say.

Multi

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My instructor changed his mind about starting me on the multi-engine aeroplane next week. Instead, we hopped in last Wednesday, and I’ve had a couple flights now.

The plane they train on is a Piper Seminole, which is a nice plane, fairly easy to handle.

The first thing you notice taking off is the power. Bigger engines, more power on each one. The idea is not only to have more power with the two engines, but also to have engines powerful enough that if one fails, the one still running can still keep the plane in the air.

The second thing you notice is what everybody kept telling me I’d notice when I got to the Seminole. It’s about fifty percent faster than the Cessnas I trained on. It cruises at the speeds I’m used to avoiding exceeding, and at twenty five hundred feet, the speed increase is noticeable. In a Cessna, cruising at ninety knots, if feels like you’re crawling across the sky, but in the Seminole, it feels like you’re actually going somewhere.

It’s also a much heavier plane than the Cessnas, and glides like a rock. Maybe not quite as bad as the float plane, but close. Steep turns are a breeze – it doesn’t get bounced around as much in the wind because it’s heavier. The other thing though, is when you add power,  or nose down it takes a bit longer for the plane to respond, so when you’re doing anything at a slow speed, you have to be extra careful of getting close to a stall.

It’s my first time flying a low-wing – for the uninitiated, that’s a plane with the wings attached at the bottom of the fuselage instead of having the fuselage hanging below the wings. That means you can’t use gravity to feed fuel into the engine, so you have fuel pumps, which is yet another among a million things that you have to remember to turn on and off and test.

So many firsts; it’s also my first time flying with retractable landing gear. I’m told landing gear up is bad. You know how you can tell if you’ve landed gear up? It takes full power to taxi to the ramp.* But in all seriousness, it’s an easy thing to forget, and a really bad one if you do!

Overall, it’s helped a lot that we’ve been going over multi-engine stuff in the simulator, so not all of it is completely new, and it hasn’t been too overwhelming. And it has been super nice to get back in the air and behind the controls after having not flown since finishing my float rating in November.

 

*Can’t believe my instructor hadn’t heard that one.

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.

Time Management For Student Pilots

A few years ago, I went to a panel at my local con called “Time management for writers.” I expected a lecture on writing every day – maybe even pontificating on how you’re not serious about writing if you don’t write every day. The first panelist said she did indeed write every day, and if she didn’t, she lost rhythm and didn’t get anything done. She didn’t necessarily write a lot each day, but she wrote every single day. In contrast, the second one said he got all his outlining ready, and made a big three month push to write a novel, then edited at a more leisurely pace  the rest of the time. The third got a hotel room for three days and exited a wreck, but with a completed first draft of a novel.

In the flying community, you’ll hear people pontificating about making sure you fly at least once a week, to keep your skills fresh, especially once you’ve finished your private license. Because a lot of people finish their license and then barely ever fly again, citing that it’s so hard to get into the swing of things again. When training, they say to fly at least once or twice a week, or you’ll end up spending more hours on training, catching up on what you’ve lost.

They’re probably right. But the reality is, not everyone has the money on hand to do that.

When I started flying, I was able to give away most of my shifts for several months and flew 4-5 days a week, finishing my private license in about three and a half months. Not everyone is able to do that, and most people complete their private license in 1-2 years, flying once or twice a week.

Many young people are in school or university, but are living at home and have more money to put toward flying, making it possible to train faster. I have a full time job, we’re a single income household and I can’t afford to take too much time off outside of vacation. In fact, after I did my private, possibly as a result, the union wrote a clause into the new contract preventing people from giving away more than one shift a week. I like to say I have my own clause in the union contract.

I do much better when I can focus on just one big thing at a time, so time-building was hard for me. I couldn’t give shifts away anymore, so it was a flight here and there, and sometimes when it was very cold, I didn’t fly for months at a time. Because I was mostly flying the RAA club plan and not the school’s planes, my instructor couldn’t tell how frequently I was flying, I’m sure she worried that I might lose my momentum and give up. So many do. She would send me emails every once in a while, about every six months, asking how I was doing, and I’d send her an update with my hours and where I’d been, that I’d passed the written when I passed it. And finally I was finished time-building and one of those replies was “Okay, I’ve got vacation booked in May/June, and this is my plan.”

And for the flight test, I just did exactly the same thing as I did for my private, flying 4-5 times a week for several weeks. It’s what works for me, and I’ve succeeded doing it this way. I was able to give my instructor lots of notice so that she was able to make sure she was available when I needed her. Not all schools or instructors might be as awesome as that, so that was one struggle I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with.

On the other hand, doing my float rating, or likewise, my night rating, I was working full time at the same time. I tried to fly once a week, but often things didn’t work out that way. The other difference is there’s no test at the end of these ratings, so once I had the hours and the instructor was satisfied with my performance, that was all I had to do.

I think it’s far more important to have goals and a plan, than to fly a particular number of days a week. That plan naturally has to take into consideration the fact that if you haven’t flown for a while, your skills will go stale, but that may mean that you just need to get practiced up sometimes. If your goals are to stay current and develop your experience as a pilot, then maybe a goal of flying once a week or however often you can afford it might be your best plan. When I’m prepping for a test, that short period of intense flying multiple flights a day is what I need, so I’m not as concerned about staying current in between times when I’m forced to drag my ass back to work. I’ve put my writing on the back-burner a long time now, which is also okay, because I have clear goals and a plan, and I know it won’t be forever.

The pontificators are right about one thing though. You don’t find time. You make time. You ditch your video game and study. You skip social outings. There was a writing event the whole weekend I had planned my 300nm cross country trip, and I stopped in after I landed to to catch the last half hour. You do what you can do, and what you have to do, and there’s no right or wrong way to pace yourself, as long as you have a plan.

Migratory Bird Season (float rating part two)

Ok, so this post is a little late, as I’ve been busy. General update stuff: My hard drive failed in the middle of NaNoWriMo, 10k in, and while I got a decent start, I failed miserably in the end. I’m happy with what I got written though.

I have, now that I have a window with some decent light, found a new hobby. That hobby is indoor gardening, and African violets, especially. I will not be filling this blog with plant related shit. My plants have their own blog. If I happen to have any houseplant lovers following my blog, feel free to check out my plant blog on tumblr: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/vulpesviolets

My car is dead, and I need a new one. I’m sad. This car has been in the family since it was new. My Grandpa bought it. My Grandma drove it. My Dad drove it. I literally learned to drive in this Buick Le Sabre. But the engine is shot and it shuts off every time it comes to an idle, and it’s twenty three years old and I can’t justify replacing the engine. My Grandma’s health hasn’t been so great lately and as a writer, I can’t help but see the obvious metaphors. I cried after cleaning it out last night. Shut up.

In happier news, I finished my float rating. I have a couple of things to say about that. One is that I survived a murder-suicide attempt by a greater scaup who tried to fly into my prop on an overshoot. Aggressive maneuvering was required to avoid it. Yay for being good at overshoots and having the airspeed to maneuver without stalling.

It made me remember two things I’ve been told. First is that geese are generally fairly smart and will stay out of your way….but ducks are dumb. That has definitely been my experience – every close call I’ve had has been with a duck, not a goose, even though I see far more geese during migration season than I do ducks.

Second is from the 99’s annual general meeting in September. One of the 99’s that I was driving to and from their hotel was commenting on flying in and seeing so many migratory birds. She said she’d asked one of the locals how they managed around the birds. She said the answer she was given was to try not to think about it too much. It was a little eerie to hear her say that – a bird strike can easily cause an engine failure, and it feels like it’s just one of those things that can happen at random. You really do need to keep your eyes open during those seasons. Though I’ve encountered seagulls that wouldn’t move off the runway, the water birds seem to be the main migratory birds, and the concentrations of them at those times of year do get to be a big concern, and it’s one of those things that makes canadian bush flying what it is.

Speaking of animals, we saw mostly grebes on Norris Lake, but also, off the northern tip, someone’s raising bison, and one day we saw seven swans – two parents and five of their grey plumaged offspring.

And a beaver. We didn’t actually see the beaver, but it’s built a new house between two of the float plane bays. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that he’s built a dam half way across one of the float plane bays, blocking the planes from getting out to the lake….*

I feel so fucking Canadian.

Last thing I would comment on is the attitude that float pilots are a bunch of fuckin’ cowboys who do just whatever. Okay – I’m a person to likes rules. I like a set of ways of doing things. So when I asked about whether or not there was standard circuits (patterns, for the yanks) and my instructor told me in a float plane you just kind of do whatever works best for you, I was honestly a bit frustrated. I always want to know the right way to do things.

Part of it is the fact that on water, there’s no centre line. There’s nothing to guide you and tell you what heading to land on. You just land into the wind. And don’t hit any power lines, and land where you have enough space, etc. You do whatever is practical and safe, and you just be extra careful to communicate your intentions to other traffic in the area, on the appropriate frequency.**

It was a bit of a different experience. It was very, do-whatever-you-need-to-do. Which took me a bit out o my comfort zone, of liking a set way of doing things, and set me to drawing on some older skills I learned from my father as a child when it comes to thinking through how to do something safely. Even docking, setting the plane up so that it drifted in to settle at the dock, shutting the engine off at the appropriate time to let it blow in, or drift in, then standing on the float with the tie-down line in hand, ready to hop off when the plane drifted close enough to the dock to hop off and secure the aircraft.

It’s hard to describe how natural and down-to-earth it felt. It felt like something my Dad might teach me how to do – or rather, not teach me, but just assume I could do and talk me through the first time, because he was the one person who always assumed I could do something.

It was fun, and I’m so glad I did it. I hope I get to use it.

 

*I make no promises that this beaver does not end his life as someone’s hat. None whatsoever.
* *I’ve heard complaints of float pilots broadcasting their communications on either 126.7 or 123.2, when they’re in a zone with a mandatory frequency, and yeah, that’s just not cool.