Saturday, 30 November 2013

On fire

Tired, early start and cancelled cross country. Lots of blogging material but not in mood to write much at the moment.
Let me leave you with these shots:

 Skies on fire.

Friday, 29 November 2013

I’m not a three year old

I am not a Luddite when it comes to technology, I’ve mentioned before that I’m usually considered an “early adopter” of new tech. When we switched to Windows 7 at work, I begged to me on the first wave of adopters. I ran beta test of some of our systems on it.  I provided all kinds of useful feedback.

Heck even Bob’ll tell you that I’m the first to find a new website or gadget to assist with this learning to fly lark. The other day when he texted me I was in the middle of watching someone else’s flight to Peterborough via YouTube on the TV and using my chart to follow the journey.

I’ve stalked the airspace around my destination airports thoroughly on Google Earth and use an app on my phone to plot a 3D course of my flights superimposed over Google maps.
But I won’t just use technology  for the sake of it, I have to perceive a benefit, for instance I’m holding out upgrading my iPhone to OS 7 because I know it’s going to slow it down to a crawl.

At work I don’t have a lot of choice over technology decisions and our IT people have been slowly changing everyone over to the dreaded Windows 8. I have been trying very hard to avoid them. I managed for a loooong time. They tried to switch me over the week before my summer conference, when i was up to my neck in registrations,cancellations and transfers. I told them if they came near my computer I would hurt them.

They believed me.

They should.

I escaped their attention for a while but despite my best efforts, they finally caught up with me and now I’m struggling my way through Windows 8

I hate it

Here’s why (in no particular order)

·         The Metro screen is blocky and has too many colours. It was designed for Kindergarten students. It reminds me of kids building blocks, garish and plasticky

·         It thinks it is smarter than me and hides everything, the search function, directory structure, control panel

·         The new version of office has the ribbon labels in ALL CAPS. It’s like it’s constantly shouting at me

·         It just feels wrong, it’s all soft animations and blurry transitions. I like crisp clean and functional. Yes I can probably personalise the crap away but everything is hidden so it’s gonna take a while

·         It took me 5 minutes to figure out how to switch the damn machine off, seriously you have to
o   Click in the bottom left corner to get the metro screen
o   Then click in the top right corner to get the settings panel
o   Then select the settings button
o   Then select power
o   Then switch off

·         It is designed for touch screens , which they don’t let us mere minions have

·         Finally, none of my Google toolbars will work with the IE version installed

So in a fit of pique, I’m ditching Microsoft wherever possible. I’m not a three year old that needs primary colours and blocky screens. I’ve switched to Chrome* because I’ll take Google over Bing any day, which means that I’m probably going to take the leap that I’ve been pondering over for a while now and ditch the iPhone for an Android device.

I really hate Windows 8

*  I mention this because Chrome formats my blog text slightly differently and it may take a while to shake out the kinks.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Ha ha!

In reply to this post (see the comments below it), this is RTH’s suggestion and gift to me:

Very funny! NOT!

Yes he’s an asshole sometimes!

Yes I love him because of stuff like this!

Just waiting it out.

I need one predictable, if not perfect day at the weekend in order to get at least one bit of my cross country saga out of the way. So I’m stuck at the mercy of the weather. This weekend has all the hallmarks of last weekend’s weather patterns, so not looking hopeful there. I never anticipated feeling this way, but I really like flying and I miss it when I’m not doing it.

For a long time my motivation was simple, I got an amazing sense of achievement from each and every lesson and this kept me motivated to carry on and achieve more. That’s still true to some degree but the simple fact is now, I really enjoy flying. I like being in the plane. I want to be there. My tentative future plans involve a lot of flying (and probably not a lot of spare cash!)

Now I’m just kinda tired. I’m tired of explaining to non-flyers as to why I’m not getting up there much at the moment. Concepts such as not being able to fly through cloud baffle them. The fact that that beautiful sunny clear day was accompanied by a 35 knot crosswind eludes them. They don’t get it and I suspect they think I’m making some of this stuff up, making excuses. Honestly though, if I could get some flying in I would.

I really want to be up there but I’m stuck waiting it out. This sucks.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Airborne Origami

Despite the predicted weather, I’m planning as if my flight is going ahead tomorrow. So far here’s what I’ve done to prep

·         Used a fresh new shiny chart and redrawn my route on it, complete with checkpoints and 10 degree drift lines
·         Filled in all the flight planning log that I can, headings, distances etc. can be done the night before. Pretty much all else depends on weather, winds and so on
·         Wrote out script cards for all my radio calls, one set of cards for each leg. I know that radio calls don’t always go as planned but at least I’ll have a rough idea of who I should be talking to and when
·         Drawn out the approaches for each runway, esp. at Peterborough where I’m nervous about the overhead join procedures for 09 in particular.
·         Cut my chart into something more manageable. Don’t hate me for this but aerial origami was never my strong point so I chopped off a large portion on my chart that was totally superfluous. I’ve got an unchopped chart available if needed
·         Arranged everything in the correct place on my kneeboard
·         Packed my flight bag so that I don’t forget anything in the morning
·         Set my watch to UTC (Zulu) time
Now I’m just in the process of charging my spare batteries for my camera. All that remains now is to get up in the morning and see what’s going on.

Added later : About an hour later we cancel :(

Monday, 25 November 2013

The key’s the key

Another attempt at a forced approach, another miss. Overshot this time. Waaaay too high for the chosen field. My problem is readily apparent. I’ve gotten good at choosing a field, where I have plenty to pick from I go for one that is visually obvious to stop me losing track of it. What I don’t do is pick out my key point to assist with planning my approach. The idea is that you plan your approach to a field just as you would fly a circuit at an airport. You pick a “key point” at the place where you’d normally turn base. The idea is that you should be at 1000ft above the field at this point. If you are too high, you widen out a bit, too low and you tighten it up.

Without that key, it’s totally hit and miss as to whether you make the field. I didn’t this time. Did on the second attempt but that totally doesn’t count.
Bob was generous enough to point out all the things I do well now; picking the field, nailing the approach speed, cause checks, engine warming and mayday call. None of these secondary things matter though if you don’t meet the primary goal. LAND THE DAMN PLANE.

Apparently the forced approach is the most commonly failed flight test time. Hey, if I'm gonna fail I at least want to do it in a new fun and exciting way!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Relief and optimism

Despite my active stalking of the weather throughout the day, it became more and more obvious that it just wasn’t going to cooperate.
I kept looking and interpreting and then looking some more but the fact remained that there was snow in the air and high winds around. Even without that the cloud base was predicted to be 3000ft at all the points on my route.

Despite this I did my planning, packed my flight bag and made as if it was going to be miraculously alright and I would indeed be flying. I even called down to the flight school to see what plane I was booked in to get the figures for my weight and balance calculations.
Later that evening I got the inevitable phone call from Bob. We were officially a no go. I was a little disappointed but mostly I felt relief.

Relief that Bob had come to the same conclusion I had half an hour ago

Relief that it was factors outside my control causing the delay. This isn’t about me not being good enough or brave enough.

Relief that we made the decision at 8:30pm rather than 6:30am

Relief that I wouldn’t be doing what promises to be the most exciting flight of my life in less than optimal conditions.

Along with that I am feeling a certain amount of optimism. We get some awesome winter weather once it’s all stabilised. Days that are cold for sure but crisp, bright and achingly beautiful. So different from what winter is like in the UK. Days to make me appreciate my new home all the more. What better day could there be for me to do the most amazing flight of all?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The blink of an eye

The original plan this weekend was dual cross country on Saturday, solo on Sunday.
By Tuesday it became readily apparent that this was not going to happen, weatherwise we were probably going to get one good day at the most. We amended our plans to attempt the dual section only on Sunday, which was looking to be the better of the two days. Even this looked iffy to be honest.

While ideally I would do my solo flight the day after, Bob wasn’t too concerned. He thinks that the fact I tape my flights and can review the route over and over again (how well he knows me and my obsessive tendencies!)

Initially I woke upon Saturday morning to blue skies and calm winds. I seriously thought that I’d made a bad call. Had we been too pessimistic? By the time I was drinking my morning cup of tea , the winds had picked up and the skies were getting darker. By the time RTH had headed out to the supermarket, well I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Taken at roughly 10:00am local time at 5 minute intervals, from the window of our condo.
The snow starts, the runway is the strip of land visible between and beyond the buildings
white out
snow on the ground
snow? what snow?

Stuff changes in a blink of an eye here and that’s why flying in marginal forecast conditions is so dangerous. I have a suspicion that I won’t be going anywhere tomorrow.


Despite what my desk would have you believe, I don’t actually like clutter. Especially visual clutter. At work I’m very good at taking documentation and figuring out why it doesn’t do the job. I can tell where a person's gaze is drawn, how they skip steps or miss words. Any documentation I produce might look bare but it is incredibly functional and very powerful.

This preference for clean written material is one of the reasons that I find map reading so hard. Charts are so cluttered, especially the VNC, the detail blurs in my head. I can’t pick out the key features I need to until someone points them out to me. If I look away, my eyes don’t automatically go back to the same spot, so it takes me time to locate where I was , let alone where I am.
The same thing happens mentally when I look at the flight planning form (here if you are curious). Everything in Canada is bilingual, all official forms in French and English. It doubles the amount of words on the page, half of them are superfluous. It crowds my vision and makes my head hurt.   

Friday, 22 November 2013

Once is not enough

I think one of the things that is bothering me about this whole cross country lark is the leap from dual to solo.

I’m actually looking forward to the dual flight with Bob. I’m looking forward to visiting new airports and seeing new scenery and generally just flying without having to worry about stalls and forced approaches and other nasties that Bob likes to randomly spring on me.  Bob’s good company as well so it has the potential to be a really fun flight.
But I can’t help remembering the number of times that I went dual to the practice area before I felt comfortable going out there on my own. I just can’t see how I’m going to repeat the cross country after a single practice journey.

Bob is confident that I will manage, he says that the fact I’m videoing it will help as well as I can review it over and over again. In fact he’s not even worried if I don’t get to do the solo part immediately after the dual.
I have no idea where he gets this confidence from.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Because I’m an idiot.

A 1.4 hour flight today, 0.7 of which was spent under the hood aka the cone of stupidity. Because that’s exactly what it does to me. The instrument time was broken up into various bits. The first section just after I’d left city’s control zone. It was not pretty, I kept turning the wrong way and just generally was all over the place.

During our lesson debrief, I freely admitted that the first lot of instrument work was truly appalling. Bob didn’t disagree; it was almost worth screwing up the instrument work to see Bob try and phrase his questions in a delicate way, when really all he wanted to ask was “what the hell was going through your mind, why were you doing that?”
The first thing that came out of my mind was “because I’m an idiot.”

I tried to explain “I have spatial awareness problems, I’d managed to persuade myself that you turn the opposite way to the heading director. I don’t know why.”
We both chalked it up to a mental blip, the other 0.5 or so of my instrument work was much better. I forced myself to scan my instruments, not fixating on them. I accepted the fact that anything else going on was not my concern, I blocked out the radio and any chatter going on around me. Mentally as well as physically I was wearing blinkers, ignoring Bob as he spoke words of encouragement. My entire world became the instruments in front of me, my only speech parroting back the numbers. It was just like I was back at the very start of my training again, unable to focus on anything else other than the very fundamentals.

Once I got my head into it I coped much better but it takes a reasonable amount of mental energy just to flight straight and level. The good news is though, after today’s flight I have exactly half the instrument time I need for my PPL.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Attitude’s improving

One of the things you have to do when under the hood is a recovery from an unusual attitude. I’ve blogged about this before a while back. It’s a messed up thing to do to someone like me. Basically while I’m under the hood, Bob gets me to close my eyes (amazingly I actually comply with this request… no peeking!) and then he does something weird to the plane. Something outside the normal operating envelope.

When it is nice and messed up he calls “recover” and I am tasked with getting us back flying sensibly again.
Bob takes control and does something with the plane. I can kind of feel us turning and the engine pitch changing occasionally. I concentrate on not feeling ill. The anticipation builds, Bob’s taking his time over this. I lightly rest my feet on the rudder pedals, dreading Bob putting me into a power on stall or something (I can hear that the engine is running at least at part if not full RPM), I want to be ready on that rudder if needed to pick up a wing.

I look at the airspeed indicator, its highish but not yet in the amber stage. It might be creeping up. Sort that out. Pull back some power; I don’t feel the need to bring it fully back to idle. Next the wings. Not level, not even close. That’s easily dealt with.

We are straight and level, that was …… easy. I look expectantly at Bob, looking for the catch. That was way too easy, obviously I missed something.
Apparently not, it really is that simple. We try another. Again Bob takes his sweet time. I focus on the engine sound as I know my inner ear is of no use to me turn wise. However, that my ear does recognise. That’s the stall horn.

“I can hear what you are doing,” I inform Bob.
“Recover,” he retorts.

Even without that audible clue I know that my airspeed shouldn’t be that low. I resist the urge to shove the nose down and instead just relax it down to horizon level. I am authoritative with the power, full in and get us flying as opposed to mushing again. At the same time I reach down just to check that Bob hasn’t done something sneaky with the flaps. No I’m good but hell, what has he done with the sodding trim?
I muster up whatever puny muscle power I can manage and wrestle the plane into something resembling straight and level flight. Trimmed and ready to go. Obviously Bob’s satisfied as he’s moved onto my next task.

Take off the hood and figure out where the hell you are.
Hmm, think I preferred it back under there actually.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

It’s my first time

The other new thing I’ve got to get a handle on is filing a flight plan. It you are vaguely interested you can download the form and guide here.

The form itself is not exactly important. You fill it in but then file it by phone. The same number that I call to get the low down on the weather also allows me to file and then close a flight plan, the latter being incredibly important; we’ll get back to that later.
Again there are many subtleties that may escape you if you are not careful. When you phone file the flight plan, you specify a takeoff time (In UTC or Zulu time of course!). You have to kinda guestimate this, you could be early/late (more likely) for a whole plethora of reasons. As soon as you phone through that plan, it gets automatically opened at the time you designate. So in reality when you are airborne you need to contact flight services and let them know when you actually took off and adjust your ETA accordingly.

The adjusted ETA ties in with the importance of closing the flight plan, if you don’t show up where you are meant to be at the end of your flight, you’ve technically got one hour before the search and rescue people turn up. Actually they usually start getting a bit twitchy around half an hour after you are overdue. It’s a big country and there’s a lot of space for them to cover. And as tempting as it may be to have your own hunky military guys at your beck and call, it really is rather frowned up to call them out unnecessarily. You file and update as needed and then remember to close it.
Of course, the whole process revolves around the fact that I have to call someone, on the phone. I am not a fan of that. Although the form will help set the frame of the conversation, I know the guys from London FSS tend to speak a little on the fast side. If I’m not careful I could end up on an IFR flight to Thunder Bay at a planned altitude of 500 feet. Still I think I have a plan, it’s a human on the other end of the phone after all and I can rely on them knowing the phonetic alphabet! So any difficulties in communications can at least be spelled out one painful letter at a time. And there’s always the “coming clean” option and admitting this is my first time and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

Hey, a plea for help and a cute foreign accent has gotten me most places so far!


Monday, 18 November 2013

Could there be a worse combination?

Another fairly intense briefing session today covering the final aspects of the impending cross country trip, radio procedures and filling in the flight plan. More about the latter in another post. Let’s focus on the radio stuff.

There’s a lot to focus on. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that this route has been carefully designed by sadistic instructors to cause maximum workload to their students. The radio situation alone has been picked to cover pretty much every scenario or communications type you can come across. It terms of airports you deal with one controlled, towered airport with full ATC, one in a mandatory frequency zone where you talk to a person but they are not a “controller” per se and are located many many miles away, probably dealing with multiple airports and the final one with a UNICOM set up, where you basically chat amongst yourselves and figure it all out.
Between the airports I’m dealing with controlled airspace, the practice area frequency, London radio on various frequencies and other delights.

Bob has little scripts available for me to look at and adapt as needed. I plan to write out a script card for each radio call and then just discard them as I go. I told Bob as much, he nodded approvingly.
“I really hate the radio stuff, “I confessed

Bob laughed like I was making the world’s biggest joke.
“No, honestly. It causes me a high level of anxiety.”

Bob cocked his head at me, the embodiment of disbelief “YOU, of all my students, do NOT have a problem with radio work!”
I think that counts as a compliment!

The truth is though that radio work comes into the same category as talking on the phone. I’m fine if I know exactly how the call is going to pan out. If I have my little script and they stick to theirs. Even now, I still have to draw a deep breath before making my initial call to Toronto ground, each and every flight because I hate being the one initiating. Same on the phone , you can call me but I really hate calling other people. At work my phone goes straight to voicemail. I'll call you back almost instantly but I want to know what you want first.
So with all these plethora of radio calls for me to get stressed over, how could we possibly make it worse? Yeah we could make one of them I have to deal with a DRCO – that’s a dial up remote communications outlet. Basically it’s a radio station that you click your mike 4 times and it phones them up. Yay radios and phones how could this possibly go wrong? Yuck!

This is  going to be messy, I can tell.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sometimes I wonder

If Bob is actually in the same plane that I am. Today’s flight wasn’t a disaster but it wasn’t exactly ideal. My instrument work took me some time to get into, my forced approach missed on the first attempt and my diversion got off to a rocky start although admittedly it got much better, with me being pretty much on course. My pitiful attempts to locate where I was after emerging from the hood was, well exactly that, pitiful. How anyone can fail to notice Lake Ontario is beyond me.

Bob must have a slightly different view on proceedings though. After our debrief, I braced myself for the inevitable “we need to work on ….. before your cross country.”
Hmm apparently not , Bob said  “next flight we have options, you can either go up and do some more solo airwork or we can aim for the cross country. Your choice.”

Obviously the fact that Bob thought I’d done well enough to be let loose on the wider flying community must have temporarily knocked out my sense because it would seem that I simply replied “let’s go for it”
What have I done?!!!!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Creepy stalker time

I got up in time to see D in the run up area for 26. Handy being able to keep an eye on the airport from my front window!

I tuned into tower long enough to hear him get take of clearance and remained on frequency until he was cleared out of the zone.
He has a SPOT beacon on board, so that we can track his progress in realtime.

Worryingly at the moment he appears to be back at CYTZ with “mechanical delay”
Hope all is OK

I will keep you posted

Friday, 15 November 2013

I’m not exactly helping am I?

RTH is currently working on his night rating, seeing as we don’t get much in the way of night in the summer (tower shuts by 23:00) so far this has been limited to him getting the extra instrument time he needs.

Today though, he potentially has his first “night” flight, something I think he is approaching with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension that I know all too well. He started off by digging his red flash lights out of our telescope kit, one handheld and one head mounted (complete with obligatory Dalek impression). I started thinking about all the things that are going to be harder in the dark.
“taxiing’s going to be fun,” I commented “I hope you’re not on 08. I have enough trouble getting into that corner when it’s daylight!”

It was meant to be a flippant, throwaway comment but then I started thinking about ALL the things I do visually that are just that much harder in the dark.

·         How the hell do you fly a circuit? All my landmarks are visual.

·         How do you follow the shoreline to the practice area , it’s dark.

·         How icky must it be to practice stalls in the dark?

·         How do you spot cloud?
And so on. As I thought of the next “how the hell do you….” They just kept coming out of my mouth. Then I took a look at RTH and realised “ermm, I’m not helping much am I?”

He politely suggested that no I really wasn’t.
“I’ll just be quiet then shall I?”

We agreed that might be best!


Half an hour….

….and 80 bucks later and I’m in the possession of a valid Ontario driving license. Eeek!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

About to attempt something a little crazy

Yes even more crazy than a person who is afraid of flying being let lose in a plane on her own.

I am about to ……
….renew my driving license.

You may not really understand the enormity of this so a little history lesson for you.
“Once upon a time WMAP learned to drive. Back in England where roads are scary and transmissions are definitely not automatic. Eventually after many, many lessons she even reached the stage where a driving examiner was willing to say “you’ve passed.”

However, young WMAP was only 18 at the time and a penniless student. Purchasing a car was out of the question and her parents didn’t drive. WMAP was without wheels. A condition which lasted well into her graduate and post graduate studies.
Along the way WMAP married RTH, as it turned out RTH was a much better driver than WMAP, who secretly didn’t really like driving anyway. It involved things like quick decision making, spatial awareness, not hitting things, none of which WMAP would list as her strong points.

So WMAP and RTH came to an understanding, you see whilst being an excellent driver RTH was not particularly fond of alcohol. The deal was WMAP drank, RTH drove! This understanding lasted over 16 years of marriage.
When RTH and WMAP started their new life in Toronto, a car was not needed. In fact having a car was a liability in their chosen locale. Occasionally RTH would rent a car for a few hours or days as needed and WMAP would happily sit along for the ride. WMAP did however manage to acquire an Ontario Driving license because technically she’d held a British one for over 2 years. This was used purely for photo ID purposes.

In total since acquiring either driving license WMAP had driven a grand total of less than 10 miles. All of it in England, all of it on the left hand side and all of it in a manual transmission car.”

…history lesson over then you may ask yourself as to what has caused this sudden desire to get back behind the wheel.  Well nothing major or Earth shattering, there’s just a little part of me that thinks it is totally ludicrous that I fly a plane but won’t drive a car. I mean even parking a car should be a doddle now that I can happily taxi a plane around.  Cars don’t have massive wings bolted to the side for one thing.
It’ll give me more options if I want to go away and do stuff on my own, or if we are away and RTH just wants a break from the driving. I really have no plans to drive in Toronto (few sane people do) but I guess it’ll be a handy skill to have as a backup.

The short term aim is that next time we rent a car. I’ll go on as a named driver and we’ll find a quiet stretch of road for me to have a go on. I honestly can’t be as bad as some of the people I see out there.
First step though, dealing with Service Ontario and renewing my expired license.