The Private Pilot

I was at a birthday party the other day, with a number of people I didn’t know, and the birthday girl introduced me to everyone as they arrived, “The is Lindsay, she’s a pilot!” It felt pretty awesome.

Yeah, if you haven’t been watching me on twitter, I passed my written exam yesterday, and today, the dreaded English proficiency test (do I speak fluent English? Well, I suppose I managed the best I could…) and the paperwork has been sent in to Transport Canada to have them issue me my permanent license, while, in the meantime, I have temporary privileges of a Private Pilot’s License noted on my student permit.

This all has been an amazing experience. I can’t believe it was only three months ago that I had my first lesson. The first milestone of course was the first time Sandra handed the controls of the aeroplane over to me. The second was the day she got out and sent me up alone.  And now I’ve reached the third marker, when I’ll be the one bringing the non-pilots along on this experience with me.

This is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never done anything where success or failure was so completely on me. I’ve done big things before – I planned my own wedding, I’ve done panels and con, I’ve written novels. But the wedding, well, there were things I wish had gone better, or that I hadn’t forgotten, but in the end, I got to be the one who said good enough. Keycon panels, they’ve been pretty successful, but the success vs failure of them is very much subjective. Novels? I take years to work on them, send them off to beta readers, revise, revise again, until it’s right, and even then, the quality is subjective, and so few novels get published, compared to the number that are submitted, I don’t feel bad being rejected repeatedly.

Anyway, flight school isn’t something that I can take my time at and make sure I’m two hundred percent confident, because who knows how long that would take? And being capable and feeling confident can be two completely different things. And there’s another factor – this isn’t like a university course, with set prices for different courses. The longer I spend reassuring myself that I can do it, the more expensive it becomes. Know how much money it costs to learn to fly? All of it.

And I know, if I failed my flight test, I could do more training and try again, or if I partialed, I could redo the couple of test items I failed. But here’s the thing – you don’t get to take the test until your instructor is confident enough that you can pass to sign off on the flight test recommendation. If instructors send students into their tests before they’re ready, it makes them look bad. They’re saying, I believe this person is ready, and I’m pretty confident they’ll pass.

Now, I’ve come a long way with getting past the social anxiety that comes with Aspergers. I’m okay with getting attention if it’s positive attention – if I’ve said something funny, or made something beautiful, or did well at something. I love a head pat for doing well. But if I get attention for not doing well, I get exponentially upset. My way of coping with that has long been simply to never do anything that I’m not completely confident that I’ll excel at, or if I must do something I might fail at, minimize the number of people who might be aware of it. I failed calculus in university a number of years ago. I didn’t really have to talk about it though, and the teacher would never have known my name, so there was very little negative attention to deal with. Being late handing in a university essay, on the other hand, was far more stressful – I’d have to take it to the prof’s office and explain why it was late, plead for an extension, etc.

I never handed in essays late.

Which makes flight school a difficult thing for me in a couple of ways. One was my own decision – blogging about it, while the encouragement has been great, I hate the idea of ever having to post that I’m having trouble with something, or that I failed a test. And sometimes I hesitate about posting about feeling insecure or anxious or afraid, but then I think well, part of the point of talking about it is letting other people know it’s okay to feel that way, and it doesn’t mean you’re weak and shouldn’t be attempting whatever you’re engaged in, so I go ahead and post it. And it’s been rewarding, starting conversations, getting encouragement, making new friends.

But the other reason is the training is one on one, and you can’t help but develop a relationship with your instructor. Which is not the difficult part – I don’t mind that. The hard part is when the test comes, and I know she cares how I do and wants to see me succeed, and I was so afraid of letting her down.

I don’t think it affected my performance, but it was fear I had to get past. I think that was what was triggering that moment of panic the day before the test. It does make me work harder though.

So yeah, there’s pressure on all sides and if it was nearly anything else, I’d back out. Nothing else could drive me to push myself this hard, and that only makes it that much more satisfying when I make it.

Crazy. It’s weird to think it was only three months ago that I was at the beginning of this journey. Now I’m well into it. The precocious first steps are done. There are people around me who are less experienced than me. Mind you, I’m leaping ahead of people who were at it months before I started, doing flight school four to five days a week. By flight hours though, I’m pretty average. Different places give different “national averages”, anywhere from fifty five hours to eighty five, so I’m sitting in the middle of those with around seventy.

So next up will be checkouts on a couple of other aeroplanes, and starting on my commercial training, night rating, instrument rating, and multi-engine rating. Whenever I get the chance, I’ll be trying to get some aerobatics training in, too, once I’ve got the citabria checkout done. I’ll be taking things a little easier the next couple weeks, and taking my friends out flying with me – maybe going on picnics and random dinky little towns around Manitoba. I do know that for at least one of my first passengers, it will be their first time flying, ever, so I’m kind of excited to be the one taking them up.

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Flight Test: The Good News And The Bad News

The Bad News is there’s still no cure for cancer.

Yes, I passed my Private Pilot flight test. First time, no partial, just straight up pass. So much less stressed now.

On the pre-test checkout, there was a moment that, for no reason at all, I started to feel that panic adrenaline rush. I fought it down, though, and by thursday, I was in that ready state of mind. Not that I felt sure of myself or anything, just that same state of mind I go into when I’m dealing with an emergency situation. Not panicked, not relaxed, but knowing I have to deal with something and I’m going to deal with it and deal with emotions later when it’s over.

Anyway, I made it though the ground part on Thursday, but since the examiner was booked tight with other flight tests, the flight part was put off until this morning.

I almost didn’t go today. Got up in the morning and looked at the TAF (local aviation weather forecast) and it looked like it wasn’t even worth getting out of bed. Cloud ceilings at 2500 feet and chance of thunderstorms, and the weather moving towards us, from the looks of it. But I thought, okay, I’m going to call St. Andrews and see if it’s any different out there. And it was – it was looking fine in the practice area, where we would be headed. But the weather was moving towards us… how fast? Hard to say with my experience. They said call Flight Information Services, so I did, and they gave me a pretty detailed rundown, around 60% or so which I understood, but it sounded like things were decently stable. I mean, things can change quickly…but they can always change quickly, especially in the summer. So we went, and the weather was perfectly fine, the whole time. There was a spatter of rain on the windshield taxiing out to the runway, and I was starting to notice it was getting a little bit rough as the ground warmed up towards the end of the flight, but that was all.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on the actual test. I thought I did worse on the precautionary than she said I did. Did a steep turn like a boss. Not so good on the slow flight – needed more power than I usually do. Lost marks for using ailerons in the power off stall, because I had a wing drop and that doesn’t usually happen on a power off stall and I wasn’t ready for it. Better on the power on stall, but that was where I forgot to put the flaps back up at first. *headdesk* My short field landing was flat, but the normal landing at the end, while it was almost short of the touchdown point, was smooth as silk, with just a bit of crosswind correction. Oh, and I get thrown off terribly by slipping, and she made me slip on that last landing, and I did it and it didn’t mess me up. Yay me.

But for all that, on the marking scale of 1-4, 1 being fail (if you get more than two 1’s you fail), and 4 being exceptional, I got no 1’s at all, and apparently several 4’s.

So does that mean I have my Private Pilot’s Licence now?

Actually, no. Normally people do the written test first, and then the flight test, but my ground school class was kinda behind, and so we put off the written test and I haven’t done it yet. But I did do one of the practice tests and got 80% on it, and the section with the lowest mark was 70% – a passing mark is 60%, and no less than 60% on any of the four sections. So I’m not terribly worried about that one. I’ll get it done in the next few days, and then I’ll have my full Private Pilot’s License.

But now I’m going to go celebrate or something and give my nerve wracked brain a rest!