COPA For Kids

COPA, for my American readers is Canada’s version of AOPA – the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association. They, and other groups, have events where they invite kids to come take a plane ride. They organize a day where they get as many pilots and planes together as they can muster, and all morning and afternoon, planes are up and down taking kids for twenty minute plane rides. It’s about exposing young people to aviation, to let them get the chance to see if they enjoy it and encourage them to get involved.

I was at the EAA event earlier this summer, mashalling, and heard there was going to be another one for COPA, so I signed up to fly this time wth C-FLUG, the RAA 150.

I’ve flown at a busy airport, but mostly St. Andrews, where there’s the tower to tell you what to do, and worry about spacing. This event was as busy as the busiest day at St. Andrews that I’ve been flying, but the difference is Lyncrest doesn’t have a tower or air traffic control, so you’re responsible for spacing yourself. You have to pay attention to other pilots making radio calls, and make sure you’re making radio calls yourself to let other pilots know where you are. That and keep your eyes on the sky for other planes.

I think I did all right – I got some feedback about wide circuits, but I was just trying to stay behind the guy ahead of me who was doing a rather wide circuit. I did a couple circuits  alone before taking passengers, on the advice of the C-FLUG chief pilot, since it’s been a few months since I’ve been flying solo, even if I’ve still been flying.

It was neat to be involved in an event coordinating so many planes. At the briefing they went over what route we’d take. With that many planes in the air, having them all following the same route makes things much safer. We were all on the same frequency, and there were set points to make radio calls, and instructions for abbreviated routes if we had a kid starting to get sick and needing to get back quicker.

The air was the smoothest I’ve flown in months. Once the fog finally cleared, there was minimal wind, and once aloft, the plane sailed like we were barely moving.

I got two passengers. The first one was a boy, and he was excited to go flying. He was completely comfortable in the air, and I showed him what happens when you give the plane full rudder back and forth, and he wanted to do “the zero G thing.” Which is just a sudden pull up an then down, to give you a couple seconds of free-fall. It’s one of those things that can be frightening if your passenger’s not expecting it, and a little uncomfortable, but fun, and not at all dangerous.

My second passenger was a girl, and she was really nervous. I told her how my husband was nervous for his first time flying too, and I hope that helped. I wondered if I should have told her she didn’t have to go if she didn’t want to, but she didn’t seem unwilling, and while she told me she was scared several times, she never said she didn’t want to go. It was kind of interesting, reassuring a young passenger. I was never afraid of these sorts of things at that age – I had a bit of blind trust of adults then, and always assumed that no one was going to put me in physical danger. But I think it was good that she was telling me; expressing her feelings. That’s something I had trouble with at that age.

It didn’t help that she was hearing on the radio that bad weather was on it’s way either though. I wish I’d realized that it was the strobe light on the tail that she was mistaking for lightning, or I could have reassured her about that better. I didn’t do anything interesting on that flight with her – didn’t want to scare her any more than she was.

After two passengers, though, the rain swept in from the north-west and we were grounded again. It was a great day though; I love sharing my love of flying with others.

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An Amusing Anecdote For You All

So, I have a smartphone – I’m an android girl, of course – I work in tech support, and 99% of tech support people do go with android. A few months ago, my phone started popping up with notifications about “Time to home.” I never paid that much attention to it, because I was pretty sure I’d never entered a home address into my google account, and it shouldn’t know where I lived.

Well a little while ago, I tapped on the notification, to see what it said. Lo and behold, the neatest thing, I realized the machine had been tracking where I carried it with me, and figured out where I live.

I live at Lyncrest Airport….

The Aviation Community

When I was first looking to get involved in aviation, someone described the aviation community as being like the horse community – everyone knows someone, and they’re tight knit.

I’ve been in clubs before – my mother put me in Job’s Daughters when I was a teen, and that was really good for me – it was a safe place, where people accepted me the way I was. But the sense of community I’ve suddenly felt getting involved in the Springfield Flying Club, and local RAA, flying C-FLUG makes me see that the sense of community I got from Job’s Daughters was manufactured.

I’ve read a lot about tribal societies, and how it’s not natural for people to live in cities where they see people they don’t know every day. It’s overwhelming and unhealthy for us, and there’s theories that living this way could be contributing to many psychological disorders. That the lack of that tribal group community feeling is something we need in order to be healthy. It puts a lot of stress on nuclear families – mother and father are expected to be everything one another needs, plus everything their children need. Clubs like Scouts or Guides or Job’s Daughters are substitutes for that, and they’re generally for certain age groups.

Now that I’ve been involved in C-FLUG, I’m really amazed at the amount of effort that the local community has put into getting that plane in the air, and they’re doing it specifically for women who otherwise would be paying $150 an hour to fly something. Here, we’re paying $20, plus fuel – which is probably another $20-$30 an hour, something like that. That’s a huge thing they’re doing for us. But also, seeing how many people have been involved, without whom, we either just couldn’t do it, or us C-FLUG pilots would be paying more, because they’ve volunteered their time, and donated parts and equipment.

It’s wasn’t a call to the general public that got this happening. It’s that tight knit community of Lyncrest airport, and people who fly into and out of it. They’re a community in a truer sense of the word than I’ve ever seen before in real life. There’s the older generation, with their wealth of experience, and they’re more than happy to share their knowledge and their stories. And then there’s the new generation, the younger ones, still learning, or with licences but building experience.

And the welcome…I mean, my Dad can say that well of course the people at Harv’s are going to be positive and welcoming to me – I’m paying them.  But that doesn’t apply here. There’s a lot of older men in this community, and you’d think women wouldn’t feel welcomed, but seriously, I have met no one, male or female, who was a pilot, who didn’t think it was awesome that I wanted to fly. Not one who sounded skeptical of my abilities. It’s like this huge chorus of “come, come be one of us, it’s awesome!” And “Oh, you’re interested in (X)? You should talk to so-and-so, he knows stuff about that/has one of those he might let you fly.”

Community built around a thing. And there’s official groups – there’s a Women in Aviation Chapter, a chapter of the Ninety-Nines, local chapter of the RAA, the Springfield Flying Club, sure. But I don’t get a sense that there are any real lines drawn between any of those groups. I’m currently now a member of all of them, for that matter.

It’s kind of cool to be in a room full of people and not be the one crazy person who thinks flying is the most awesome thing in the world. And to be around people with whom I can talk about things like carb heat and carb ice, an the never ending crosswind argument over crabbing versus side-slipping, and how taildraggers are just cooler than tricycle gear aircraft in every way. (It seems every pilot who has ever learned how to fly a taildragger will tell you that.) But there always seems to be pilots hanging around in the clubhouse, and they’re never too busy to chat about aeroplanes, and so many of them have far more experience than me. It’s a huge resource – people I can go to if I’m uncertain about the weather, or have questions, or if something doesn’t sound right in the plane. Or who I could potentially ask to act as flight watch for me – someone on the ground who knows I’m out flying and knows what time to expect me back, who’ll take action if I don’t show up. The experienced community members look after the fledgling pilots, and they’d much rather have those pilots part of a supportive, safety conscious community than stuck on their own.

It’s amazing. And I don’t say that lightly. I think “amazing” is a bit of a melodramatic word, so I don’t like to use it unless there’s no other way to put it. Definitely something I’ve never experienced before, and it inspires me to want to get to a point where I can help others along who come after me, the way that so many people have helped me.

General Update – The Weather Sucks

So, those of you who don’t live under rocks will be aware of this snazzy “polar vortex” thing, which is just a fancy way of saying we’re freezing our butts of in weather colder than it’s been in decades. This plane, C-FLUG that I’m trying to do all my time-building on, is not allowed to come out and play if it’s colder than -20 degrees. There hasn’t been a lot of that all through January. In fact, every time it got warmer than -20 all January, we had either a snow storm or fog. I got out a couple of times in December, but not at all through January. I was crawling the walls.

Working on the plane with Jim helped at least. Got me out to the airport and learning. Installing new magnetos turned out to be far more interesting than removing the old ones.

In the meantime, I finished up commercial ground school, and studied for the test. Took the test, and got a partial pass. Which pissed me off royally. You have to get 60% overall, as well as 60% on each of the four sections. If you get at least 60% overall, but less than 60% on any of the four sections, you get a partial pass, and you only have to rewrite the section you failed. I failed one section by 1%. So, working on studying for that again. I did really well on air law though. It’s the math that gets me.

Did a winter survival workshop at Lyncrest, and got pulled by dogs on a sled, learned to build an igloo, and signal search and rescue planes. Slept in the igloo overnight. There were about thirty people in the course, and only around fifteen had planned on staying the night. Of those, when I got up in the morning there were seven of us that hadn’t wussed out and gone home. I don’t think of myself as tough, really, but I suppose I have to remember that’s in the context of being a country girl.

Anyway, the new mags finally came in, and we installed them, Murray Bryson took it out for a flight test, and Thursday it was finaly nice enough go flying.

The wind was forecast to be 15G25. Fifteen knots gusting to twenty five. At Harv’s Air, they don’t let students go solo if the wind is stronger that twenty knots. I was getting checked out on the runway conditions though, since the snow is packed down nice and hard now. So I had an experienced pilot going out with me – not as an instructor, just as a safety pilot, so we could still go. I figured I wouldn’t get to go alone, but at least I’d get in the air.

We got up there, and the wind was straight down the runway. It was strong – there was obvious drift in the crosswind and base legs of my circuits, and the downwind legs were very quick. The landings – I wasn’t as rusty as I was afraid I might be. First landing was nice, right off the hop, close to the beginning of the runway, and smooth touchdown. After about a half an hour, my checkout pilot got out and let me fly alone.

I remember the first time I went out with my instructor in 15G25, and thinking “how do you get this thing back on the ground without being smashed into the runway?” Thursday I was handling the wind well. I was convinced that it must not have got as windy as it was forecast.

When I rechecked the METAR, to see what it actually was while I was flying, it said 18G25. It was kind of weird. Granted, there was no crosswind to speak of, but still. I remember wind like that being more…challenging. To the point that I was convinced that it just must not be as windy as forecast. It sank in how much quicker I was to attribute how I handled it to the conditions being more favourable than I thought, than to attribute it to improvements in my own piloting skills.

After I’d done a bunch of cross country flying, I wrote about how I’d noticed my navigation skills had improved. I guess it’s obvious that the same thing would happen with the stick and rudder skills, but it’s a little different to actually notice things getting internalized. I was watching the airspeed indicator, but I wasn’t having to correct as often. I was flying more by feel, and using the instruments to confirm, rather than constantly correcting according to the instruments. It’s weird. I remember watching my instructor do everything so effortlessly, and being promised it would come. Not gonna lie, there a lot of satisfaction in being able to see that happening.

C-FLUG

A little while ago, Bill Vandenburg donated a plane (Cessna 150) to the local RAA (Recreational Aircraft Association) chapter. There’s a licenced AME (Aircraft Mechanical Engineer), Jim Aitken who’s donating his time to fix it up. They’ve got it fixed up, and it’s being made available for female pilots who want to fly it. Women who want to fly it have to be members of the 99’s, local and national RAA, and the Springfield Flying Club, and are chipping in on the insurance, and get fuel for club prices. Kind of like joint ownership, almost, only the plane is officially owned by the RAA, and the women flying it are paying whatever expenses to keep it in the air.

It’s not for training, but to make things like commercial time-building more affordable for women pilots, and for women who would like to stay involved in aviation – stay current, but wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. When Jill first invited me to join in on the deal, I was a little stressed out at the time, what with Nathan getting pneumonia, and then Nathan getting pneumonia again, and I really couldn’t cope with figuring out how much it was going to cost to buy into it. Plus, a 172 is nicer to take passengers flying in, and I had hoped to have passengers chip in for fuel sometimes to help make it more affordable.

But lucky for me, Jill didn’t give up, and a bit later let me know there was a fuel scholarship available. Quite frankly, none of my friends are any more financially stable than I am (who is these days?) and while I want to take them flying, they’re not able to chip in for gas much. I realized how much cheaper it would be to fly this plane. I have about fifty hours of solo time to build up, including around thirty hours of cross country, and if I did it all in this plane, it would end up saving me around $6000.

Jill is awesome. She’s friendly and welcoming, and one of those people who just loves everyone. She took me flying in her little open cockpit biplane just before my flight test, and her compliments on my flying were a real confidence booster. Sometimes I get shy and even if I really do want to get involved in something, sometimes it takes someone like that to drag me into it. I’m glad there’s still people like her in the world.

Anyway, I got the paperwork done, and headed out for Lyncrest airport. There’s actually two airports inside Winnipeg city limits. CYWG, and CJL5. Lyncrest is down at the south end of the city, and it has two little grass runways – nothing paved or anything fancy like that. The taxiways are marked with little flags that stick out of the snow. There was snow the day before, and here I assumed that grass runways were just closed for the winter right?

Ha. Not in Canada. They pack down any finger drifts, and you drive out and make sure things are okay before you go to make your take-off run, but a couple inches of snow, pft, that’s not gonna ground us. And we don’t even have tundra tires.

So I get out to see the plane, and here I thought the thirty year old cessna 152’s at Harv’s Air were old. This thing is apparently fifty nine years old. She’s a venerable old lady, C-FLUG is. But people don’t treat planes like they do cars. There isn’t the consumerist push of insurance companies to get rid of older cars, and write them off if there’s even a little bit of damage. Planes, if the thing will still fly, someone will happily fly it, and if it won’t someone will usually fix it. This one’s been fixed up nicely, but still, some of the instrumentation is entertainingly primitive. The radio was a jury rigged handheld plugged into an intercom. There were wires all over the cockpit. Someone’s donated a proper radio, and it’ll be installed shortly,

Anyway, taxiing through snow is interesting. It’s not like a car, where you need traction on the wheels for forward movement. You have the propeller on the front pulling forward, so it’s rather more like taking an untrained puppy for a walk and it’s constantly yanking on the leash in the general direction of forward. And then the wheels slide around, and you learn exactly why soft field techniques are what they are. It’s also much easier to remember to keep back pressure on the elevator when you realize how much difference it makes on how badly the nosewheel digs into the snow.

So we’re lining up on the runway, getting ready to take off, and the checkout pilot who was helping me get familiar with the plane says “Oh, another thing I should mention – this plane has a funny habit of the engine failing on take-off.”

Good to know, I said. He gave me a little more description, and right away I realized that was what they were talking about in the emails when they said the old girl loves lots of carb heat. When the engine’s running at low RPM’s the engine gets cooler because of the vaporization of the fuel going through the carburetor, and if you don’t apply carb heat, then apply full power, the engine can be too cold and fail. Normally you wouldn’t use carb heat on the ground because we all know that bypasses the filter and you can end up the with propeller throwing grit from the ground into the engine. But in this case, if you don’t, you can end up with an engine failure on take-off.

And I know what everyone’s going to say. “Whoa, dude, they’ve gotta fix that!”

It’s fine. You just have to know the machine, and treat it with loving kindness. Again, it’s not like a car. In a car, you can usually hop into any car and drive it, as long as it’s not standard. Planes, especially old ones, I think, they develop character, and it’s part of their charm.

Anyway, we take off, and the snow really drags at the wheels. Suddenly all that soft field techniques you learned in your private training – it’s not that it didn’t make sense before, but it’s one thing to practice soft field technique on a paved runway, and a whole other thing entirely to get to do it on a real soft field. It’s easy to remember to keep the back pressure on the elevator when the plane slows or stops if you let the weight come down on the nosewheel.

I’ve done a fair bit of landing and takeoff practice now in the 150, and I’m getting lots more comfortable with it, and the flaps and such.

The flaps. They’re not electric like the 152s. They’re operated with a big lever between the seats. They go up to forty degrees instead of just thirty like the 152s, so I guess if you’ve got a short runway on a windless day, you can jack them all the way. They’re kind of a bastard to get that last ten degrees, though, because you’re fighting the airflow. We did one approach with an overshoot with full flaps, just for the experience, and the experience getting them back up too, in the overshoot.

Another thing the checkout pilot taught me is the trick for if you’re having trouble getting the plane to lift off, if the field is soft, and slowing you down badly, with the manual flaps, you can take the lever and just jack it suddenly to give it a quick extra bit of lift to pop it off the ground, faster than the drag the extra flaps causes can slow you down.

So yeah. Grass covered in packed snow. Fun stuff. I feel so frelling Canadian right now.