Thursday, 28 February 2013

Well that was an easy decision

Unlike yesterday when Bob and I went back and forward trying to make a decision about whether to fly or not, today was easy. RTH and I had booked a plane earlier in the week when it looked like Sunday was going to be the best day weather wise. Unfortunately as the day got closer, the forecast got worse.

Still we went to bed with a mild degree of optimism on Saturday night, deciding to make the call in the morning. I woke up briefly at about 6:30am; saw the snow passing by the window and rolled back over to go to sleep. The plane was booked from 12:00 and the weather can change in a blink at the moment.
Yesterday Bob spent a reasonable amount of time giving me a valuable lesson in weather interpretation. We looked at METARs and TAFs, not just the ones for the local area, but east and west too. He showed me how to look for trends, how to judge what is heading your way and how to tell if the TAF matches the METAR and so if you should trust it or not. We looked at GFAs and talked about how to interpret them as well. We also discussed the time honoured method of walking out onto the apron and taking a look around, the CN tower provides a pretty good indication of the cloud base, I still think it should be marked in 100ft intervals though to make the job easier! I admitted to Bob that my preflight weather analysis usually involves stepping out onto my balcony and seeing if there are any other planes in the circuit! I’m spoiled though because I can actually see the windsock at the airport from my bed!

At about 10:00 RTH and I made the no go call. When flight services agree that it’s a “sucky day to be up there” then you know to call it a day, despite dispatch trying to persuade us otherwise*. We got on with our day and the weather continued to drop the white stuff. At around 12:00, when we should have been taking off RTH asked me from his den “ what’s it looking like out there?”I popped my head around to the window and said “I dunno, I can’t see an out there.” It was a solid wall of falling snow. Visibility less than a couple of hundred metres.

Yeah we made the right call


* this would be the same person who jokingly tried to persuade me to fly the day before, “ah you’ve only got gusty winds, turbulence, snow and potential icing to worry about , I don’t know why you are cancelling!”

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

I want one.

Don’t ask me how I found this, but I want it. RTH says no, he’s a big meanie!* I think it would look awesome on our balcony

The Gimli Glider is a fairly infamous moment in aviation history. From an airlines perspective it is never good publicity when their planes fall out of the sky. People can forgive and forget mechanical problems or manufacturing issues caused by a factory many miles away, but they tend to get a bit upset when the pilot doesn’t put enough fuel in the plane. At least the AirTransat people put enough in to start with, even if they were careless enough to misplace it on the way.
I’d love to give you the link to the official report but wading through any webpage designed by a Canadian government agency is worse than swimming through molasses so you’ll have to make do with the Wikipedia page. Needless to say there were many factors that played a part in this crash, no pilot sets out in the morning and says “I think I’ll do this potentially dangerous thing today, ‘cause I fancy a bit of a crash!” Accidents are very rarely caused by one thing. Usually a chain of events escalates to the inevitable conclusion. Fear of flying notwithstanding, this is why I find crash investigations so interesting. Break one link and you stop the potential accident in its tracks.

One of the key players in the whole Gimli incident was a confusion between metric and imperial measurements. Boy do I feel their pain. I’ve blogged before about the god-awful mix of units that I have to deal with in Canadian aviation. It really does make my head hurt. I’m not use to being “bad with numbers” but every time I have to look back and check how may feet in a mile and if I’m meant to be using statute or nautical miles.
I spent a lifetime in the classroom drilling into the students “be consistent with units”- stick to kilograms, metres, and seconds. Stay with those and you can’t go wrong. Now I find myself contemplating an equation which somehow manages to combine inches of mercury, feet and degrees Celsius! Nice! Quite frankly I’m amazed this kind of stuff doesn’t happen more often.

Still want me a nice plane for my balcony though ;)

 *Only joking, honest!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


I was looking for the online version of the POH for a C172 in an attempt to prove someone wrong on the internet

That’s never a good move by the way; you should always refrain from engaging in a battle of wits with an unarmed person, anyways long story short I didn’t find the info I was looking for but I did find these from the preflight inspection section*

Look below and read carefully



Yep, I checked and it wasn’t written on April 1st or anything. I’m just trying to imagine the faces on the dispatch guys when I proceed to “suck the stall horn”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That’s an awesome insult by the way “Suck my stall horn!”


* say it out loud , it has a certain poetic ring to it

Monday, 25 February 2013

Curse you!

It’s hard to say no to man who’s currently making you blueberry pancakes, as I discovered this morning.  Yep, you can add awesome cook to the long list of RTHs many talents! He’s cooking away while I’m doing some bloggy stuff, then he asks oh-so-innocently “can you do me a favour please?”

Of course I answer “yes,” right away. Normally in these situations it involves fetching the flour or something. No, this time he had a different request in mind, “can you phone flight services and get us a weather briefing?”
A bit of background, we were meant to be flying on a nice little sightseeing trip up to the base of Lake Simcoe. The weather looked dubious. Also I hate talking on the phone. RTH knows this. So that’s why he made me do it. Curse him!!

I did it though, got a fairly friendly person on the other end as well, if a little fast in the way he was rattling stuff off. I got the general idea though; we both came to the conclusion that it was “a sucky day to fly.”
Ah well, even if we didn’t fly, I learned something. Conversations with flight services go a lot smoother if you lay out at the start exactly what you want. I took a deep breath, rehearsed it in my mind and started off the conversation “ good morning , could I get a weather briefing for the Toronto city centre area towards the base of Lake Simcoe taking off at 12:00 today?”

After that it all went surprisingly well, if a little quick. Next time if I really need to concentrate on the details and it’s a little less clear than “it’s not going to stay VFR for long,” I think I’ll just say “I’m sorry, I’m a student pilot, I haven’t done many of these briefings, could you slow it down a little?” Hopefully it’ll work.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Turning it all around.

Despite not flying, today’s lesson was extremely valuable, both from a knowledge and attitude/motivation point of view. Bob very generously donated some time to just answering the random assortment of questions that I’ve accumulated in the past few weeks. We talked about the engine failure stuff we’d been practicing. I had some questions on the practice vs real actions.  There are certain actions that you don’t carry out when you are practicing an engine failure, like isolating the fuel supply and shutting everything down. I just wanted to be clear what the actual actions involved were. When we talk about “try an engine restart”, what does that actually involve? Physically what do you do with your hands? These are questions I want answered now, rather than stressing about them if the worst ever happens. I’m also trying to establish baselines for my own pilot decision making processes. I’m thinking about at what point do you do X, when is it time to do Y? I’m finding these conversations so valuable.

The next thing we talked about was general navigation; I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m terrified of getting lost. I’m so spatially challenged it’s not even funny. So we talked about what you do if you get lost. I know you can ask ATC for help but who do you speak to? Especially when I’m in the practice area and not in anyone’s control zone. It turns out that as long as I’m in range, I can ask pretty much anyone. One of the joys of flying in class C airspace is that I get a defined transponder code, so anyone with radar coverage should be able to ID me and give me help. We pulled out the chart and looked at the various control zones in the area, we looked at the various frequencies, we also talked about flight services and what they can do for me.
We had a fairly long discussion about using flight services, about getting en route weather, making position reports and updating flight plans. We also chatted about flight following, how to request it and what it actually means and some of the potential issues. Somehow Bob has managed to weave his usual magic and I’ve done a complete 180 (and it wasn’t because I was facing the wrong way!) Bob enthused about how much fun it was to use flight following, the fact that you’re talking to the same guys controlling the international traffic coming out of YYZ, the 777s and so on. He’s managed to turn my fear into excitement. He assures me we will get plenty of opportunity to practice these things and he seems to find them fun (still!), so now I’m kinda looking forward to having a go!

Way to turn it around!


Saturday, 23 February 2013

Brilliant Quote.

I found this on the internet so not my own work but it just sums it up so beautifully why we Pilots-to-be find talking on the radio so damn hard.

“It’s like giving a speech about aviation to a room full of experts when you have no idea what you are talking about”

So true!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Sugar, Hippo and Fridge

RTH had a mildly valid point while watching the video from my latest flight. As I pointed out in this post, I am getting better at flying through the bumpy stuff, but do tend to shout out at random. Kind of a turbulence Tourette’s if you like! Mostly this is harmless, Bob has probably resigned himself to the fact that I have an extensive repertoire of profanity to draw from and plan on using it, he’s a big boy and has probably heard worse*. 

The potential issue pointed out by RTH is a fair one though, he watched the video, heard my random shouts and said “One of these days, you’re going to do that with your finger on the radio trigger.” Now I hate to admit he’s right but it could be a real possibility! One with potentially nasty consequences. One of the questions I had to answer for my radio exam was “what’s the penalty for using profane or obscene language on the radio?” I got that one right as well, so no excuses for not knowing that I could potentially be fined $5000 for an inadvertent slip of the tongue**
So what’s the answer? Well given that I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m always going to be a loud flyer and that I’m never going to like turbulence, I’m just going to have to watch what comes out of my mouth! Therefore I’m actively developing my use of the title words of this post.  I figure that people might be puzzled by a random “fridge” coming over the radio but not offended!

You may ask (if you have the slightest interest, which I doubt!) why that particular trio of words?  Well I think that sugar and fridge are fairly self-explanatory, for their phonetic similarities to their profane counterparts.  Hippo takes a bit of an explanation, let’s just suffice to say its 1) a bit of an “in joke” between RTH and I and 2) it’s my go to word when I can’t find the one I’m looking for.  I’m actually surprised I don’t use it more often when flying. I’m fully expecting one day that I’ll make a position call claiming that I’m “2 miles south west of….. ah….oh…. hippo!”


*Bob, incidentally, never ever loses his cool, let alone swears. I’ve tried to impale us on the edge of the runway before and he didn’t even raise his voice! Seriously, where do they teach skills like that? I could use some lessons!

 ** I nearly wrote “an inadvertent F@#!K” – but that could really be taken the wrong way!!


Thursday, 21 February 2013

Getting angry at the internet.

I’ve mentioned before that I stalk a lot of internet sites to gain some insight into the world of flying. I probably spend a reasonable amount of time on the web, some of it productive, some of it time wasting (I accomplish great deal at work but I’m easily distracted!)

As well as the numerous blogs I stalk, there used to be two different forums (fora?) that I relied on for info. Now I’ve always known that these boards had very different and distinct personalities, with one being a tad more confrontational than the other. I accepted this as “one of those things” and dealt with it. I have a reasonably good bullsh#t filter, so it didn’t bother me too much. I put it down to what happens when you get a lot of egos in one place.

Things, however, have reached a kind of breaking point for me and I think I’ve reached the end of my relationship with a particular board. Not that they’ll even notice. I was more of a lurker than a poster. So what happened that has busted through my inbuilt filters and led to this decision?

To explain this I’d like to contrast two threads that are running, one of on each of the boards. On board number one we have a “learn from my mistakes” thread, where people are basically confessing the dangerous and downright stupid things that they’ve ever done while in a plane. Right from the outset it was made clear that the sole aim of this thread was to stop other people doing the same. It’s a great thread, lots of very experienced people posting really doozys of screw ups and not a single person has degenerated into name calling, claiming that people shouldn’t be flying or being in anyway judgemental. I have a lot of respect for many of the posters on that thread. A few of them helped me out with my pre-solo jitters and got me over my “I-can’t-land-the-damn-plane hump”*

Board number two currently has a thread about “why most pilots suck at landing”. It may have been a tad tongue in cheek to start with, it may have started with some valid points but now it has basically degenerated into “90% of pilots actually have no aptitude for flying and therefore shouldn’t be.”

­­Obviously this is going to make me angry, I mean this board has always had this slightly “holier than you” attitude and I have no doubt into which category they would place me. I took a lot of hours to solo and am probably going to join the 100+ hour to PPL club**. No doubt the particular guardians of this board would be horrified that I’m allowed to fly. More on that later.

The irony of the situation is that these are the self-same people that bemoan the demise of general aviation in this country, that airports are shutting, that people are being discouraged from flying for whatever reason. Well guys*** I hate to break it to you but YOU are a large part of the problem. Your elitist attitude actively discourages people from a) posting on your board for fear of being shot down in flames (I fall into this category) and maybe thus learning and improving their skills b) realising that flying is an activity they can take part in because you encourage this “only the best of the best need apply” attitude and finally c) actually helping each other. Within about 5 posts on the “flight training” board you can guarantee that it’ll degenerate into two or more posters belittling each other’s flying knowledge and skills. Even more worryingly many of these people claim to be flight instructors! Well guys the feelings swing both ways. You might think that I shouldn’t be flying. I KNOW that with attitudes like that there’s no way YOU should be teaching. You may have amazing flying skills but if you want to bemoan the demise of general aviation then I would suggest that you look no further than the mirror. You deliberately create a hostile environment in the very places that you should be welcoming low hours pilots. You are feeding your egos at the price of the very thing you claim to love. Not cool. It is kind of a shame really because I suspect that there is a vast amount of knowledge on that board. Stuff that could be really useful to people in my position, but it is impenetrable behind a wall of egos and attitude. I’ve gotten to the point where I simply can’t be bothered to sort beyond the general dick-waving to the decent advice beyond.

Fortunately my innate stubbornness plays to my advantage here. There is no way I’m going to quit after getting this far. I’ve lived most of my life convinced that this kind of stuff is waaaaay beyond my abilities. Turns out I was wrong; all I actually needed was the opportunity, confidence and the right teacher. Canada provided me with the first. A combo of life, RTH and Bob have worked on the last two.

I’m not going to give up because at the end of the day I’m a strong person. I’m angry though because not everyone is a stubborn as me. I know all too well how easy it is to become discouraged, everyone reaches points where they wonder if they are doing the right thing. I’d hate to see people give up because of some d#ckheads on an anonymous internet site.

*Obviously Bob played the biggest role here but third party advice also helped

** The thought of this doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Every hour I’m up there I learn something new and add a bit more experience to my file. By the time I have my license I’ll probably be safer than your average newly fledged PPL because I will literally have twice as much experience as them.

*** I’m sorry but all the idiot posters on this site are male. Women are a lot more subtle in their bitchiness!


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

I fought the plane….

…and the plane won!

Bumpy flight today, gusty winds from the North stir up all kinds of turbulence. I still don’t like flying through the stuff, although Bob was quick to point out that although I’m still not 100% happy in it, I’m worlds away from how I used to react. Now I may be loud but I suck it up and fly through it. I will admit to getting minorly freaked out by low level manoeuvres today. We were practicing the 360° approach to forced landings. The winds got gustier the closer to the ground you got. I was not a happy bunny to put it mildly. I tolerated Bobs demo but got nervous when it came to my turn to have a go. I politely bowed out. I was really conscious of the fact that we could have easily got caught by a gust of wind and clipped a wing on a hedgerow or something on the way down.
I’m aware that if you are actually doing a forced approach then you can’t pick and choose the weather, but today I did have that luxury, so I exercised it. I just didn’t want to be in a situation where I was going to be genuinely worried about crashing. In our debrief Bob reckoned I made the right call.
The flight conditions make a huge difference to how I manage, today I was back to being at my limits workload-wise. It was very noticeable. As usual the first skill I lose is my ability to form coherent sentences, hence my radio work suffers. Although this is a tad frustrating, I’m not unduly worried. I’ve been here before and gotten through it. It’s just going to take time and I’m fine with that.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Now with added sound effects.

I videoed todays flight as usual, for some reason the sound pick up wasn’t as good as it normally is. Could have been for a number of reasons, but no big deal. Actually it’s quite funny to hear the soundtrack. It was a bumpy flight, a lot of mechanical turbulence stirred up by the strong North wind. It is no secret that I don’t like the bumpy stuff too much, consequently all you can hear is seemingly random shouts, whoa’s, profanity and manic laughs all emanating from me.

Listening to it without the context of the plane’s motion and my struggles to get it to do what I wanted, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’d lost my mind…. Oh wait… maybe I did!


Monday, 18 February 2013

Does this seem like a good idea to you?

Take one student who you’ve just about trained to stop fixating on the instrument panel and look-out-the-damn-window-already, what would you think is the next logical thing to do? Obviously it would be to get her to wear something that limits her vision to the aforementioned panel and prevents her from seeing outside at all.

Welcome to the joys of instrument flying. Fun (or not) in so many ways. Firstly, yep I’ve just about got myself out of the habit of instrument fixation and moved on to judging stuff visually, to the point where I could probably fly a reasonable circuit with no ASI at all. Secondly you have to wear a highly fashionable view limiting device, more on that later and thirdly it just sounds like a really bad idea, period.
OK so fashion accessory time, you have a choice, the delightfully named “foggles” or the hood a.k.a “the cone of shame”*. I chose the former because they fit around my head cam better than the hood.
Foggles and  Hood

 If you think that they look like someone has taken a pair of lab glasses and attacked them with whiteout** then you’re not far off the mark. Wearing them is OK I guess, not too uncomfy although I am wondering just what else I’m going to be expected to fit on my head! It currently sports sunglasses, headset, headcam and now the goggles of doom. I really don’t think there’s room for anything else.
I actually managed the instrument work pretty well. Good enough that Bob said he was impressed for a first attempt. I don’t remember the last thing I did that I managed well from the start so it is kind of nice to be able to manage this without too much trouble. Just need practice now. The downside of it was that although I’m not really that prone to airsickness, you can start to feel nauseated fairly quickly behind those things. Its also a tiny bit disconcerting to suddenly remove the things and have no clue where you actually are.

Anyways I succeeded in both flying the plane under instrument conditions and keeping my breakfast where it belonged. A good flight by all counts!
* An homage to the movie "UP", the singularly most depressing film I have ever watched!
** Tippex to the Brits

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Things I contemplate in the bath.

Winter is most definitely here. When the temperature dips below the minus twenties it’s time to defrost frozen limbs. A luxury I have access to in my Canadian home is a bathroom big enough to hold a bath tub. Back in the UK we made the decision to rip out the miniature bath* in favour of a proper shower cubicle. I miss our nice power shower that we had but the one here is adequate for the task in hand.

I’m not a big bath person, unlike RTH who is capable of near steaming himself like a lobster, but they do have their uses. One of them being time for relaxation** and contemplation. Whilst soaking away an aching knee the other night (curse those icy sidewalks, twisted the damn thing getting off the bus!), my mind turned (as it usually does) to things aviation based.
Given the unstable weather at the moment I mapped through in my mind, exactly what I would do if I found myself out at the practice area with deteriorating weather conditions. I started thinking through what would constitute deteriorating weather, what my escape routes were, how I’d get us there and what I’d do once we arrived. Once I started thinking about this kind of stuff, I started getting a good handle on what info I need to have available and close at hand.  I realised that I may carry the info I need but is it there in a way I can access? I’ve already complained that I don’t think it is possible to map read and fly at the same time.

Mentally I went through the steps of figuring out which way the weather was moving, and finding an escape to keep the weather behind me. I mentally imaged getting my chart out and finding the nearest airfield in that direction. Then I went through in my head the steps needed to get a rough bearing to that airfield and figuring out how long it would take to get there. I went through the kind of radio calls I would need to make, what I’d need to say, who I’d need to ask for help potentially. I quickly realised that there were things I would need to know that I currently don’t.
Still better to be aware of your short comings than not. I’ve started working on some of the things I need to do. I got out a fresh VTA chart and did the following (with a little assistance from RTH)

·         Highlighted the major towns I use as navigation markers

·         Drew on*** land mark features that I use to determine the end of the control zone and other waypoints

·         Highlighted all the airfields with usable runways

·         Looked up the tower frequencies for all the above strips and wrote them next to them

·         Folded it in such a way that its reasonably useful and accessible

·         Organised my kneeboard****

There are things that I still want to do that I feel will be useful including

·         Copying the section from the CFS which lists all the frequencies you can contact Flight Services on

·         Pulling the airport diagrams of the most likely diversion airports off the internet and printing them so I have them handy (I may really indulge myself and laminate them!)

·         Remind myself what my maximum fuel burn is so I can have a rough idea of what my endurance is (IE how long I’ve got before I need to get it on the ground)

·         Figure out just what Flight Services can and can’t do for me.

All of this stuff is helping me feel slightly more empowered to tackle the massive hurdle that is general navigation. I realise that there is more to this flying stuff than being able to pass the exam, written or practical. I have to enable myself to be able to make good decisions and if that means I spend some bath time going through worse case scenarios in my head then so be it.
Bob’s helping by introducing this stuff in baby steps. I’m getting an amazing sense of achievement after every lesson even from doing what seems like the most mundane things like finding an airport!

If I can find a way to get around my being “spatially challenged” (Bob’s delicate way of describing my habit of switching North and South!) and manage this navigation stuff, then I genuinely believe I can do anything!

In a totally perverse way, despite the fact that this is truly the thing I find most difficult and daunting, I'm having an absolute blast doing it.  I'm back to the early days of my flying where every little thing i managed was a huge achievement. Every tiny thing accomplished left me feeling like I could take on the world.

Now,not only can I take on the world, I've a hope in hell of being able to find it on a map!

* The bathroom was so small we discovered that the previous owners had actually sawed a hole in the wall in order to fit the bath in

** maybe this is why I don’t usually do baths, my mind never switches off. I find “relaxation” almost impossible

*** mentally this is a really hard thing for me to do. I’m a big book lover and you never ever write in books, bringing myself to sully my pristine charts by drawing on them was really hard!

**** Now I just have to get used to wearing the bloody thing

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Us brave bloggers

A thought occurred to me whilst whiling away some spare time surfing the internet (OK yes , I was meant to be studying , so sue me!)

Us bloggers are very brave people. I seriously mean this. We admit to every single screw up and post it for the entire world to see. * Every bouncy landing, every mis-navigation, every wrong button press. Not only admitted to ourselves but indelibly dedicated to the internet for us all to see. Instead of being able to pretend it didn’t happen the entire world will know that I once tried to lean the mixture a little too enthusiastically in cruise and heard the heart wrenching sound of the engine going “chug-c h u g– c h u g”.

This is Ok though because I know I’m not the only one. There are myriad of bloggers out there who’ve done exactly the same thing, or worse. There are professional pilots who’ve nearly killed themselves in ways far more spectacular than I could ever dream of. In a strange way this reassures me. I’d like to extend a genuine and heartfelt thank you to every single pilot or pilot to be who has taken the time to admit to those little snafus. It is reassuring beyond belief to know that I’m not the only one who has nearly strangled themselves on their headset wire or inexplicably decide to stomp hard on the wrong rudder pedal.

You see the one thing in life I’ve never managed to do, is to cover up my mistakes particularly well. Instead I prefer shout about them from the rooftops it would seem. It’s an attitude I hold at work as well. Make a mistake; I have no problem with that. Admit it to me and I’ll help you fix it, hell I’ll even sit down with you and figure out why it happened so we don’t repeat it. Lie to me though and I will watch you BURN

This blog keeps me honest as well. I know who reads it and I can't lie about how I'm doing, not that I've ever felt the need to.

I salute all us brave people out there. Keep on Bloggin'

* Ok In my case the entire world consists of family in the UK, one lone guy in New Zealand and a strange following in the former Soviet Union (apparently I’m big in Russian porn, don’t ask L)

Friday, 15 February 2013

Not a fan of the current weather.

Yesterday the “Senior Management”* at my workplace spent the entire day running around in circles to ensure we had a “snow plan” in place.  Last time, when the threat of snowpocalypse hit us we worked on the principle that now we had a plan in place; it’d be a shame not to use it, so a snow day was duly called.

Excellent. I went home last night fully expecting the obligatory snow day to be called. I set my phone where I could hear the call coming through without having to get up**, mocked the fact that RTH would be going to work anyways (he’s only a 5 minute walk from the office) and tucked up for the night safe in the knowledge that I would be getting a free day tomorrow.  In fact we were so sure that we would be at home the next day that most of us cleared our desks, tidied up loose ends before the weekend and made sure on the way home that our 72-hour emergency supplies were adequate (3 bottles of wine should be enough, yes?) We even made a pact that if we were given the gift of this day, we would dedicate at least a portion of it to studying for the various qualifications we are working towards.
I was a little puzzled then when by 6:15 I hadn’t heard anything, no call, no text. At 6:30 I pull up the school website. Oh crap, we are open! Big message at the top of the page that says precisely that. Bugger, Bollocks, F#ck!

I trudged through about 10cm of snow on the way to work, discovering the hard way that my winter coat actually attracts snow and makes it stick. By the time I got to work I looked like a yeti. Of course I arrived to a scene of chaos. People phoning in late, stuck, staff and students alike. The main switchboard voicemailbox was full. The phones were going crazy.  I quickly changed out of my jeans and into my emergency skirt***, grabbed my hairbrush to go in search of a hand dryer to blow dry my soggy hair.
Of course I got side tracked in helping the various agency people find which rooms they were actually meant to be in. Half an hour later I was still wandering around with dripping hair and a brush in my hand! My boss was discrete enough not to ask questions!

It is still snowing, I work in a basement office, and the snow is halfway up our window. I think I have a flight booked for tomorrow. Bizarrely enough the weather forecast seems to think tomorrow is a glorious day to fly.  I’m not convinced. Now of course I have to bloody get home. It hasn't stopped.


*Senior management being a slight misnomer in that I’m not convinced that they can “manage” the proverbial p@ss-up in a brewery.

** Although we have an official autodialer thingy that sends out a snow day message , us support staff have our own unofficial system based on whoever gets the phone call first texts the others.

*** Yes I keep an emergency skirt in my office, less to do with the weather and more to do with my ability to end up wearing my lunch.



Thursday, 14 February 2013

Pick a field, any field.

The next fun thing to attempt is so called “forced approaches.” Basically I have to demonstrate that if I was out in my little aeroplane and the engine decided that it’d had a bad day and  quit on me that I’d be able to stick it down in a field somewhere (the plane , not  the engine, although hopefully the two are still attached to each other at this point!)

The lesson itself started the day before. In my attempt to wrestle back some semblance of “ownership” of my training. I told Bob that it looked like the winds were unfavourable for solo circuits so could-we-please-go-out-to-the-practice-area-before-I-die-from-boredom? He agreed that seemed like a sound plan of action. I pressed him a little for more details of what to expect. I was in a rare “I feel like studying mood,” so wanted to exploit this opportunity to prep before my lesson.  One option that was discussed was the aforementioned forced approaches.
I’ve heard RTH talk about these, they kind of get mixed reviews. He thinks they are “fun”* but challenging and freely admits that he “didn’t always make it”**. Anyways, I thought it sounded like a bit of a laugh so started reading up on what I needed to know. The book, as ever, was not entirely helpful. I don’t know who they get to draw the diagrams but they need to be shot. Not just fired, shot! In these situations I resort to my usual cry for help whereby I manage to stretch RTH’s real name into a full 6 syllables! He is then duty bound to stop whatever he may be doing and rush to my assistance. We put aside the text book and replaced it with a Nexus tablet showing a map of the practice area and a small model Cessna.  Hey so the scales were out a bit but it gave me something to play with!

The prep helped a lot. The pre-flight briefing made sense to me. I had a good sense of what we were actually trying to achieve. I could answer most of Bob’s questions and even threw a few of my own in there. I wanted a bit of a discussion as to what circumstances would lead to you dumping it in a field. As I’ve mentioned before I'm a little nervy that I’d over react and not be able to judge when you need to find a field vs. an airport.  We talked about engine failures, fires, control surface issues, bird strikes etc. I’ve come to the conclusion that forced approaches are for when the plane is going down anyway, whether you like it or not! A bit like life rafts on boats, ideally you never leave the comfort of your vessel unless you have to step UP to get into the life raft.
We trundled out to the practice area. I got us there without too many issues. I still maintain that it is nigh on impossible to map read AND fly a plane at the same time. Then it was time for Bob to demo the manoeuvre. He cut the power ***and down we went. He demoed the basic order of events 1) trim for best glide 2) pick a field 3) fly the approach. It really is that simple! Except of course it isn’t.

You need to get the plane trimmed out relatively quickly and pick out your field ASAP. Every second you hesitate loses you precious altitude. If time is money then altitude is insurance. There are many factors you are meant to take into consideration to pick a suitable field but to be honest a small piece of advice I did pick up from the internet was “ better a good approach into a poor field than a poor approach into a good field.” Sometimes your choices are going to be limited but apparently every time I have a spare second up there **** I should be looking out for potential landing sites in case it all goes horribly wrong.
Bob of course made the field perfectly (I’d expect nothing less!) and then proceeded to give me a minor heart attack when I realised just how low you get in this particular manoeuvre. Apparently RTH wasn’t winding me up when he talked about “scaring cows”*****Anytime you wanna pull up Bob , fine with me!!!

Then came my turn. For simplicities sake I choose the same field as Bob did. Then I got my North and South all mixed up and almost tried to approach from the wrong side. It turns out that although steps 1 and 2 might be the most time critical, they are actually the easiest. The trickiest is flying the approach. It is very easy to find yourself too far out (easy to remedy) or about to come down too soon (a lot harder to deal with). Despite it looking like I wasn’t going to, I did actually make my field. Although at one point on the video you can hear me cry out “we’re not going to make it, no survivors!!” I was enjoying every moment of it.

It was the most fun I’ve had up there for a while now. I want to go again!


* His definition of fun and mine don’t always mesh J

** I think this refers to the fact that he would have either overshot or come up short , not that he’s ever killed anyone or crashed a plane!

*** Actually during winter we are not allowed to cut the power entirely lest the engine decide not to start again! We fly it at 1300rpm with 10 degrees of flaps

**** I’ve yet to discover this mysterious “spare” time. Maybe they give it to you when you get your license?

***** For some reason this made me look up the Wikipedia entry on “Cow Tipping,” which is apparently an urban myth.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Priorities, priorities, priorities.

Before last lesson I spent a small amount of time practicing my radio calls for when I head out to the practice area. I practiced what to say when I’m leaving the zone, what to say when I’m making position calls on the common frequency, how to talk to other traffic that may be in your area and what to say to ATC when you want to come back in. Consequently these calls went pretty well. Better than they have before certainly.  So why oh why did I manage to fluff the really easy calls?

The ones that I make to ground every fricken time I fly.  The ones that I should be able to do in my sleep. The ones that I practically got right from day one.  Argghh. It’s the old Homer Simpson principle again. You learn how to do one thing; it pushes another out of your brain. By the time I am able to plan and execute a full-fledged cross country flight, I fully expect to need assistance feeding and dressing myself*
Anyway back to the point. Some people on an internet forum I frequent were carrying out their usual rant about “non-standard radio work”. I tend to switch off from these debates for all manner of reasons, the nearest I can understand is that although there is an internationally accepted “right” way to say things, each country has its own little quirks that it claims are “correct”, sometimes more “correct” than the “international correct”. This confuses people, and rightly so. Occasionally a country will change its accepted phraseology. Sometimes this brings them in line with International standards, sometimes not. An example is the USA, they recently changed their “position and hold” instruction to “line up and wait” which I think** is what the rest of the world use.

Now many of the fine people on these fora have far too much time on their hands for one thing, and for another often have excessively large online personalities, shielded by the fact that the Internet brings a degree of anonymity with it.***. Then you get someone sensible who comes along who realises that there really are bigger things to worry about.The point being, as long as you make yourself understood without confusion you should be ok, it brings up back to the old “aviate, navigate, communicate” priorities. As one poster pointed out, “we do them in that order of priority, we fly, we figure out where the hell we are, and then we speak. Given this order of priorities we are doing well if we get it right on the radio a third of the time so quit Bitchin’!”

I like it!!


*RTH may claim I’m at that stage already!
**who knows, I get confused easily and could well have this backwards

*** Pilots with a large ego , surely not !!!