Flight School Update: Starting Commercial Ground School

Unlike my private ground school class, the commercial class is a sausage fest. My private class had half women and half men. I’m the only female in the commercial class.

Which is fine – I’m used to it. Being in tech support as long as I have been, I can hold my own in a group of guys and I’m not easily offended.

Most of it has been more details on air law, and review of air law and general knowledge so far. My understanding is the commercial tests are mostly the same as the private tests, and based on the same information, you just have to understand and know it better. The questions on the written exam will be more tricksy and try to confuse you, or ask for more specific information, and the margin of error for touchdown points, for example, is 1/4 of what you get on the private.

One thing that was kind of cool was when we went over landing gear, and the instructor called me out because he knew I’d been flying the Citabria. I was the only one in the class who’d ever flown a tail-dragger, so I got to be special. I was a little surprised – I figured there would be at least someone who’d flown one – there was one girl in my private ground school class who’s father had a tail-dragger that she’d learned on.

And last class we went over diesel engines, and I think the guys may have been impressed by how much I knew about them. I explained I had to know this for learning to drive a car. According to my Dad, this was crucial information before he would let me start the car. And yes, I will be teaching my kids this too.

Unlike the private written test, the commercial written test has to be done before you can take the practical, so I’m glad I’m getting going on the ground school bit. In the meantime, I’m supposed to be time building. Which isn’t something I’m going to be good at. I’m not a very self motivated person, and when there isn’t a specific reason to do something I have trouble getting myself around to doing it. I’m supposed to do more trips around southern Manitoba, but I can’t help feeling like I’m just kind of running around on a hamster wheel because there’s no actual reason to go to these places. It’s the same reason I can’t bring myself to go to a gym to work out – I don’t feel like it accomplishes anything.

I think I need to work out a more definite schedule of trips I’m going to do and work out how it’s going to fulfill my hours requirements and find a way of organizing it to that I can trigger my goal oriented strengths. And I so need to get my passport stuff together so I can go flying to the US – I want to take my Dad to the Fargo air museum. I’ll probably try and make that my 300 nautical mile trip, and just swing by one more airport past that to make sure it’s 300 nautical miles straight line.

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Flight School Update: Taildragger Flying

I got to do my first Citabria solo flight on my birthday, August second. The wind was a good strong headwind, gusting up to fifteen knots, but it was mostly straight down the runway, and it was pretty much my sweet spot for wind conditions. Sandra and I went up together first, for a quick checkout, and it seemed like everything was just coming together that day. I did a few landings for her, and they were the best, most consistent landings I’ve done in the Citabria so far. She was happy with four, and sent me back up alone.

Harv’s Air linked an article today on twitter that was quite good, titled Why You Must Fly A Taildragger. It’s a rundown explaining the challenges of flying (mainly landing) a conventional gear aircraft (plane with a wheel on the tail instead of on the nose.) The point it makes it that planes with nose wheels, particularly Cessna 150’s  (and I imagine the 152 I learned on, since it’s nearly the same airframe) and 172’s, and Cherokees, are rather forgiving, and don’t force student pilots to develop piloting skills to the degree that a plane with conventional landing gear does. The precise attitude you get a Cessna 152 in at it lands – doesn’t really matter, as long as the main wheels touch first. They’re not a sensitive to a crosswind pushing the plane across the runway – what pilots call “drift”.

The taildraggers, like the Citabria, they just demand you be a lot more precise in learning to control how fast you’re going, power settings, attitude, controlling yaw – and how each of those elements interacts with the others. And then there’s knowing what to do, and being able to do it in time, without having to think about it, which are two different things. That point where it starts to come without thinking, where you start to react unconsciously, that’s what you need to be able to do. Like when you’re learning to drive, you have to pay so much more attention to everything you’re doing. But once you’ve been doing it for a while, you find yourself pulling into the driveway after daydreaming the entire trip, with no memory of how you got there. And studies have shown that drivers who are driving unconsciously like that, have fewer accidents.

I think I have more trouble with getting my skills to shift from conscious to that unconscious point than some people. I have other strengths, like being able to remember a lot of things, and good recall for remembering things when I need them, and being sensitive to noticing small things. But that getting everything together in the moment and reacting without thinking, I think it takes me a bit more practice to get that down than for others. Luckily, though, once I get it down I have it as well as anyone else.

I wonder if that might be something typical of people with Aspergers, and maybe that’s why clumsiness is one of the diagnostic criteria for Aspergers. It was never one of the criteria that I was diagnosed on – I was never clumsy enough for it to be noticeable, but then I also tend to be very careful, and tend to steady myself against things when I’m doing something. I climbed trees a lot, and was never afraid to crawl on top of something, but at the same time, I had a healthy fear of falling and always kept a good hold on what I was climbing on, didn’t go on anything that I thought had any chance of not holding my weight, and never relied entirely on my sense of balance to keep me from falling, with nothing to hold onto.

Which makes me wonder again, why flying doesn’t terrify me. It must be because I still have the plane to hold on to. Even when we had the door off the Citabria, which everyone else was horrified at, I was fine as long as I knew I was strapped in. I dunno. It seems to be a thing common to pilots.