Video Games: A Metaphor For Dispatching

I’ve been at the new job a little bit now, done job shadowing and on my own now. It’s a new experience – it’s a position with a lot more responsibility than I’ve ever had before. I’m literally in a position to make decisions that can cost or save the company thousands of dollars. It’s a small company, five planes, and I’m in charge of receiving calls from the ambulance dispatchers that take basically 911 calls from outside of Winnipeg, and sending the planes to pick up patients.

It sounds simple, but there’s a fair bit of strategy to it. Because legally, the pilots can work a maximum of fourteen hours consecutively before they have to be given a minimum of eight hours consecutive rest, plus we give them a little on top of that for transit time. Add to that the complication of some of the crews being based at our crew houses up North because the closer they are to where we’ll need to pick up patients, the more likely we are to be assigned the trip, and the more money the company makes.

There’s a type of game – board game or video game – called “worker placement games.” It will be based around units being used to build things, or collect resources that are then used to build things, and generally there’s a map and proximity to the resources has to be taken into consideration when working out strategy. Limits will be worked into the game mechanics on how long it takes to complete a task, or make a trip to the resource cache and back. In many games, the workers will need rest, or your fighters will need to return to someplace to be healed up before they can be sent out to fight again.

Very early on, I realized this whole dispatch thing, when the guy training me described the strategy involved in moving our planes into position, arranging schedules and calling out crews, I can think of it as a game – the goal being preventing the company from missing out on getting trips by having our crew held up unnecessarily or having crews called in and their fourteen hour duty day start but them sit around twiddling their thumbs rather than flying, and helping them make money by having our crews in position to get to patients quickly and relaying estimated times of arrival so that crews rendezvous with ground transportation efficiently.

The only thing missing is tallying up scores at the end of the game and seeing who wins.

I’d love to get on as a pilot here – the idea of having a job where I’m helping people has always appealed to me, and that’s one of the reasons I want to fly a water bomber some day. But I need 500 hours to get on as a Medevac pilot, so I’m looking for something part time, now that I have more time and energy to handle a possible second job.

In the meantime, and I’m enjoying working here, and not just because I’m not in a call centre. I’m being told that I’m doing well, and everyone seems to like me here, and my training went super quick.

But the company itself it very different than what I’m used to. I’m used to big companies now, with management being impersonal. Here, co-workers have described it as being like a big family. Everyone knows everyone, and it seems like the owners care about their employees. It’s a small company, and there’s no union like at MTS, but they don’t use the absence of a union to take advantage of employees and be hard-asses. Instead, they use the absence of a union to take advantage of opportunities to reward hard work and give employees a bit of a break when they know an individual could use it.

On top of that, it’s not as exhausting as the call centre work, so I have more time and energy left over for writing and other hobbies. Money is tight, so I’m helping my dad out with the bees for some extra cash, and looking into selling my art for the first time – I’m making Ukranian Easter eggs, or Pysanky, which are not just for easter, but traditional gifts for many occasions. And despite money being tight, I’m much happier where I am. I think I’d rather be homeless at this point than go back to the call centre. We will manage.

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Thoughts on International Womens Day

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I’m a little late for International Womens Day, and I wasn’t able to do much to commemorate it because it was my first day at a new job (not a flying position yet, but a foot in the door – more on that in another post). But it’s still Women In Aviation Worldwide Week, and I have some thoughts.

As I got closer and closer to finishing training – at least the training I wanted to get done before starting to look for a flying job, I got thinking about a lot of things. One of them is how I’ve realized other people look at this whole journey I’ve undertaken.

One female co-worker commented that I was such an inspiration. “You decided you wanted to be a pilot, and you just went out and did it,” she said.

But that same co-worker had a daughter who was around three or four, and one day she asked me if I could take her daughter flying sometime. Because she’d been talking to her daughter and realized that little girl, not even school aged, had already absorbed the message from the world that girls could not be pilots and she wanted to make sure her daughter didn’t grow up believing things like that .

I never met a female pilot until I met my instructor. I heard the “You can be anything you want to be” and the “We need more female pilots” said, but something always told me that was a message for other people. People who were cooler than me.

But when I did hit that point where someone suggested that could apply specifically to me, there were a few things that primed me to be ready to believe it. And one of them was my Mom.

I know how tough my own life has been, supporting my husband and myself on my own income, but my Mom, when she left my Dad, had two little kids to look after. Maybe only 50% of the time, because they shared custody, but still. And once she was on her own, she didn’t just coast on alimony. She went to university and followed her own dream of becoming a teacher.

She wasn’t afraid of things being hard. Or maybe she was, but she didn’t let that stop her. But I think back to when I was deciding whether or not I believed in myself enough to embark on the journey I’ve been on the last four years, and wonder if I’d have decided I could do it if I’d had the sort of mother who would have gone back to a relationship that was unhealthy because she was too afraid to go it alone. If I hadn’t had a mother show me how to be brave.

But I did. I’d seen a woman make it on her own. And it makes me realize how important it is for young women to see positive examples, and examples of what they can be. And to talk to other women who have been through what they’re looking at going through. Who can tell them that it’s worth everything they’re going to sacrifice for it, and that it’s worse not to try.

So I’ve come to realize when people say I’m an inspiration, it’s not just a trite comment. Every mother will be an inspiration to her daughter, whether she’s a positive inspiration or a negative one. It’s a huge responsibility that all of us as women have to show the next generation of girls what they can do.

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.