Monday, 30 June 2014

As good as it gets

The order of events for my dual lessons with Bob now is very much dictated by me. Our briefings start with “so what do you want to practice?”

I know what I need to do and what I need to practice. Despite the emotional side of my brain protesting against the idea, my rational side is insisting that we practice at least one power on stall per lesson. I know that I need to do them lest the fear and anticipating build up to such a point again that I find myself unable to do them.

I set up for one at 1500rpm (possibly a little higher, I may have seen Bob nudge the power up a smidgen). I start to pull back on the column, wincing and tensing as I hear the stall horn start to wail.
“Just think of it in terms of aerodynamics WMAP, you know what the plane’s going to do and how to recover it,” Bob encourages.

Luckily for him, my teeth are clenched so hard that I can’t tell him what he can do with his damn “aerodynamics” and where he can shove his “recovery.” I tell you what, how about I don’t stall the stupid thing in the first place?

I feel the stall break, the wing drops and I semi-shriek “no ailerons!” to remind myself not to do anything silly. I step on the rudder, resisting the urge to stamp on it. I shove the nose down (maybe a little too enthusiastically) and push in the power. Eventually I get us flying again.

Despite my  scream, I have kind of managed to recover the plane BUT

BIG NO-NO here:

 I took my hand off the throttle. While I was persuading myself not to yank the control column around, I steadied myself on the glare shield.

If I could persuade myself to stop doing that, I’d be fine. A pass on the flight test for sure.  

I managed it the second time around. I stalled the plane with minimal whining from me. The wing drop didn’t seem so pronounced this time. Or maybe I was just quicker on the rudder.

Either way, I got us flying again with minimal fuss. The fear slowly dissipating as I do more and more of these.

I’m never going to like doing these. I’ll settle for barely tolerating them. If I can just train myself to keep a firm hold on that throttle , I think this probably as good as it gets.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

I don’t have control…..

….and I hate it.

At my request we spent some time under the hood today, I was particularly keen on having another stab at the “unusual attitudes”. After last lessons “leans” incident, I felt I needed to conquer that particular demon.

I duly navigated us to the practice area under the hood, doing a pretty reasonable job if I do say so myself.

Bob took control.

I made a distinctly unhappy sound.

Not my usual whining and complaining vociferously. Just tense and unhappy.

Bob carried on doing whatever it was he was doing with the plane.

I flexed my fingers, itching to take back the control column. I settled for resting them on the glare shield and listened intensely for any audible clues as to what the hell Bob was doing.

“You might want to rest your hands in your lap, that way they’ll be closer when you recover,” he advised.

I claw my hands back and repeat the unhappy noise.

“Are you OK?” Bob enquired, perhaps puzzled by my silence.

“No, you are doing something really messed up with my plane and I totally hate it.” I retorted.

Please understand this isn’t a fear thing, like the power on stalls are. This is purely, 100%, a control issue. Willingly handing over control of the plane is one thing. Handing it over to someone who you know is going to do something crazy with it is another. Having to sit there with my primary sense blocked off and let Bob do something that I’m going to have to fix is almost intolerable.

Every fibre of my being rebels against it.

I’m so tensed up in anticipation, both mentally and physically that it hurts.

My feet are hovering over the rudder pedals, dreading a stall with a potential wing drop. My ears are straining to pick up any subtle changes in the engine rpm, hoping for a clue as to whether I’m nose up or down. I can feel Bob playing with the trim wheel.

Eventually he calls “recover” and I look at my instruments in confusion. Despite me tensing up in extreme anticipation, the instruments in front of me seem fairly benign. No airspeed rushing towards the red line, no screeching of the stall horn.

A quick squirt of power and a gentle nudge of the wings and we are straight and level.

Bob senses my confusion in the vitriolic look I flash him.

“I kept the rpm constant deliberately. I put you in a gentle descending turn. You don’t necessarily need to apply full power. As you did, you just get the airspeed back to something normal and the wings level. Back to cruise. All you need but sometimes in cloud you can find yourself in a slow descending turn like that.

I nod in agreement whilst complaining “Jeez! What the hell have you done to my trim?!”

Bob chuckles and I’m back to normal!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Yeah, I wish

From this post.
Apparently I’m.........

in attitude maybe, flying skills not so much.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Take the quiz

Tell me yours and I might share mine!


It would appear that I left my chart rule at Transport Canada’s HQ when sitting my written exam. Probably in my haste to exit and find out just how I’d done.

In return I appear to have to have stolen the two markers they give you for your chart.


Thursday, 26 June 2014

A formality

After the initial euphoria of passing my written exam wore off. It was back to business as usual with Bob. I had a solo flight to prep for and we needed to have a conversation about a plan of action for the inevitable conclusion to this flying stuff: The Flight Test.

I mean I know where I’m heading and I’m kinda champing at the bit to get there, but there’s still a small part of me that can’t quite believe all of this. A slight disconnect from reality. There are two sides to my brain having very different conversations about this whole pilot malarkey.

The rational side of me knows what I need to do. It is familiar with all the tolerances, all the test standards and knows that, fundamentally, all the examiner is really looking for is for me to be safe. Don’t make any stupid decisions, don’t break the plane, understand what is going on around you and you’ll be fine. It’ll be easy

The emotional side is horrified that an examiner could even contemplate signing me off. I’m not like other pilots; I’m scared and needy. A nervous pilot of below average skills. Not prime PPL material, not a natural. Never at ease in the cockpit. An imposter in the world of Aviation.

Even as I write this I’m having trouble reconciling the two parts of my brain. I know that neither one of them is 100% right, but then again I suspect that neither of them is 100% wrong either. I tried to explain this to Bob;

“This has gotten really scary, really quickly.” I said.

“How so?” He asked “Look WMAP, you’re a pilot in all but name at this point. You can do it. Look on your examiner as your first passenger, your first chance to show someone just what you’ve achieved. Your flight test, well, “ He shrugged, “it’s just a formality now.”

I do not know how someone like him, someone so at ease in the cockpit, such a natural teacher can look at someone like me and say that.

The rational part of my brain has a number in mind as to how many lessons I’ll need before I’m ready. I suspect Bob has a number too.

I also suspect that his is about half of mine.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Reflecting on the small things.

Last flight was nothing out of the ordinary really. A standard solo flight out to the practice area, do some airwork and come back.

And yet on reflection it is the very mundaneness of this flight which shows how much I’ve achieved. The conditions were pretty sweet for flying; sunny day, light winds and not a cloud in the sky. The only hiccup being that what wind there was favoured 08.

After a quick briefing with Bob, I strapped myself in the plane and prepped to start her up. As I worked down the checklist something didn’t look right. Carb heat? My eyes flick to the top of the sheet. This is for the M model, not the fuel injected R model. I briefly contemplate the differences; can I just ignore any reference to carb heat settings? I mull it over for a second or two.

Nope, I know nothing about the carburetted models. I need to go back in and change it; I have no idea if I’ll miss something important. Pilot Decision #1 made.

Correct checklist in front of me I carry on, getting as far as the start procedure for the engine. We are back into summer weather, all starts are “hot starts” and fuel injected engines can be a bitch in the heat. Sure enough even after cranking her for 10 seconds, she doesn’t catch.

I try again.


Remaining calm, I wait for 30 seconds or so, another quick squirt of fuel and she turns over first time. Situation #2 dealt with.

Cheering inside as I hear on the ATIS that they’ve switched to runway 26 I trundle off for my run up. Once completed I line up as instructed and start my takeoff roll.

On the roll I glance down at my instruments to check all is in order; airspeed is increasing, temperatures and pressures are green, RPM is …….not where I’m expecting it to be.

It’s lower than I’m used to seeing it. Not dangerously low just….lower. I glance back over my instrument panel. All is well: mixture is full rich, oil pressure exactly where I’d expect, temp on the low side of normal. The engine doesn’t sound rough.

Light bulb moment.

I’m in the “R” model. It generates 200rpm less than the S. All is well. No action required. Everything is as it should be. Situation #3 is a non-issue (and is dealt with while still continuing the takeoff roll!)

Onwards and upwards to Claremont.  I start making my position calls to stake out my little corner of the sky. A quick glance down at the local hang-glider strip reassures me that there isn’t any activity there today, despite the decent thermals. I hear another aircraft make a position call. Hmm he’s at the same height and heading towards Claremont. I repeat my call, reiterating my intention to work in the southwest. They take the hint and assure me they’ll take the northeast section. I see them passing a little way in front of me, heading to their spot. Another plane comes on frequency. I leave the two of them to fight it out over the north but the south is all mine. Traffic dealt with, situation #4.

I do what I need to do and head on back, as I pick up the ATIS I groan as I realise that they’ve switched to 08. Now to play the “right downwind*” game.

I make my call to City, requesting the right downwind. I can almost hear the sigh in their voice as they comprehend that I’m a pesky student pilot. I obediently “point it north of the stacks and wait for further instructions.” And briefly contemplate what those further instructions might be. I could do without 15 minutes of chasing my own tail over Bloor Street.

As it turns out I get a fairly benign “make a right hand 360 and then establish on the right downwind.” That I can do. I don’t even bother to power back and drop flaps. One orbit is simple enough, however I’m a little unsure as to where they want me to cross the departure path. I can hear that they are lining up a Porter to depart. Rather than worry about it, I ask if they still want me north of the stacks. They reply that it doesn’t matter. Situation #5 done and dusted.

ATC send me out on an extended downwind and sneak another departure out in front of me. I’m over the bay so I keep some altitude. A decision I may regret later.

Yep sure enough, despite being on a beautiful stable approach at the golden 65 knots, I’m high. I power back and drop everything I have in terms of flaps. I judge the approach. Yes I will be landing long but I’m relatively confident it’ll be ok. I resist the urge to dive into the tarmac and just maintain the speed I need. Sure enough she comes down slightly before Foxtrot. A reasonable landing and I’m off at Charlie, not ideal but not a disaster. I just kept my head and landed the plane. No bailing on the landing, no panic and situation number #6 is put to rest.

A year ago each of those situations would have had be blogging about them individually as something that happened to freak me out. Now I can put 6 of them together in one flight and still call it routine!

* for those of you new to this Blog, because of the large number of very tall buildings in the downtown core. School policy is that student pilots can't accept a left downwind for 08. We have to request the right downwind and ATC hate us for it because we cross the departure path of the Q400s and mess up their traffic flow.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

One of my lesser celebrated talents

I destroy phone cords.

It starts off with the odd twist in the coil and gets steadily worse until eventually I go to pick up the receiver and the entire phone lifts off the desk.

Every couple of months I slink off to our IT department begging for a new cord.

Don’t believe me? This is a picture of what I did to the last one.

No, I honestly don’t know how I do it.

Enjoying it while I can

A solo flight today, my last I suspect, for a while. Not that I’ve done anything to make Bob revoke my solo privileges (although he did threaten to when I was procrastinating over my written exam, I’m still not entirely sure how much he was joking). No it’s just that I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t as much value in the solo time now that I’m so close to my flight test. What I need now is the feedback, the brutally honest critique of my flying technique, someone to judge me as an examiner is going to judge me.

Solo flying no longer holds any fear for me; I don’t need to prove to myself that I can do it. What I need now is to pass my flight test. And I’m well motivated to. To be honest I’m starting to resent the airwork I have to do each lesson. I don’t enjoy throwing that plane around like that. I like flying. I want to fly to places. If I never have to do another power on stall, well that’s fine by me!

I took a moment in today’s flight to just enjoy the physical sensation of being in the air, of flying a plane. Taking the time to enjoy the scenery and the view, to contemplate just how far I’ve come.
Things are about to get very hectic flying wise, intense even, and I don’t know when I’ll get the chance again.

It sure is beautiful up there. It helps to remember the end goal in all of this.

Monday, 23 June 2014


I went straight from my exam to meet RTH for lunch. A place that does awesome Sushi and cold beer.

That evening, as promised, RTH and I sat down to season 4 of Game of Thrones, as a reward for finally getting the damn written exam out of the way. RTH has been the right mix of supportive and pushy though out this process, believing in me but giving me the proverbial kick in the pants when needed.
One of the congratulatory emails I received was from our friend D. Short and to the point “Congratulations, may I take you flying tomorrow evening?”

You see D owns this…

Note the registration. D assures me it stands for “Faster Than Light, F#ckers!” and she is fast and sleek and beautiful and I was going to get a ride in her. I simply couldn’t wait!

We agreed that a nice scenic hop to Niagara Falls was called for. I’ve never flown the Falls route before, so I was more than happy with this. I assured D that I’d read up on the airspace procedures (there’s a specified route and restricted airspace to deal with as well as the US border) and off we went.

Actually it wasn’t quite as simple as hopping in a plane and getting airborne. As D has quickly come to realise, owning your own plane means that you don’t have the nice dispatch guys to schlep your plane around. You do everything yourself. Or you get your passenger to help.

Which I was more than happy to do. I used to sail, so I’m familiar with the concept of “all hands on deck”. D was patient enough to walk me through what needed to be done and in what order we needed to do it. I’m very conscious of the fact that he’s invested a lot in this plane. I don’t want to be the muppet passenger that breaks it.

The passenger briefing was a little more extensive than usual, D running through a quick guide to the controls I might be unfamiliar with. She’s got a variable pitch prop and retractable under carriage as well as a few other features I’m not used to. A lot of fancy avionics that I’ve never used before either.

Flying with D is fantastic. He’s smooth, calm and competent. He’s always treated me as a fellow pilot as well and yet he seems to understand that just being a passenger in a small aircraft is an achievement for me. The fact that I was squealing with delight when we did a steep turn over the Falls rather than screaming in horror, a major triumph.

The trip to the Falls was uneventful, Terminal providing us with flight following but there was precious little traffic around. I tried my best to navigate us into the correct oval pattern for the Falls, but although one curve of the oval is fairly obvious, its opposite partner not so much. We didn’t stress too much. We were the only plane on frequency and had allowed ourselves a good 1000ft buffer over the restricted zone. We weren’t in anyone’s way and I was keeping a watchful eye on our DME to ensure we stayed our side of the US border.

I’ll leave you with the shot that D felt summed up our journey. The iconic shot as it were…

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Writing the exam part 2

 I’m doing Ok until I hit the navigation questions. My plan was to leave them until the end. They are time consuming and I don’t want to end up scrabbling at the end.

Part of the problem is that I’ve kind of blundered into them without noticing. I’d assumed that the 4 sections would be an even split, but there were only 20 questions in the air law section. Once I realise that I’m not approaching these questions methodically and with one nervous eye on the time, I make the decision to skip them all and tackle meteorology instead.

All the other sections done I return to my chart. Conscious of the fact that the thing makes a really loud noise when you shuffle it around, I go for the make-one-really-epic-noise-kerfuffle and get it folded into a size that fits on the desk without overlapping the entire planet rather than having to keep playing around with it. I spare a momentary thought for the poor guy behind me and the view he must be getting every time I stand up to lean over the chart to measure or mark it. I shrug it off, the charts are loud and large and everyone is going to run into the same issues eventually.

I mark as much info on the chart as I can circling features that are mentioned in questions, scrawling on angles and distances in case I need to refer back to them.

Eventually I finish all 100 questions. I take a moment to reflect, I have 90 minutes left. Time for a second run through. I carefully read each question and the answer I’ve selected. I’m mostly happy but I spot a few traps that I’ve been lured into. I correct and move on. There are some questions that I genuinely don’t know, some I can deduce a reasonable answer, others I can eliminate down to a 50/50 chance.

45 minutes left. I go through one last time. Not so much looking for incorrect answers (don’t want to fall into the trap of second guessing myself and changing answers that are in fact correct) but trying to get a handle on how well I think I’ve done, keeping a tally of the ones I’m unsure of.

Some sections are marginal as to whether I’ve done enough, but I genuinely don’t know what else I can do. I’ve double checked my calculations, triple checked my logic.

With a sense of foreboding I brace myself and click on the “done” button. That same irritating bleep warns me that I still have 35 minutes left. Shrugging my shoulders, I confirm and gather up my things. Trying not to sound like elephant crashing through a china shop as I fold up the chart.

Outside the room I hand over the folder to the woman on reception, she presses a few buttons on her computer and it spits out some paper. I turn away, retrieving my bag from the closet. I’m both anticipating and dreading the result.

Smiling she hands me the paper “you’ve passed, well done!”

“YES!!!!!!” I fist pump the air and may have done a little happy dance there and then (my mind blots out the really embarrassing stuff!). I immediately apologise to her and the other people waiting.

“That’s ok, celebrating is allowed.”  She assures me.

I wish the people waiting “good luck” and head back down to the outside world to find a quiet place to call RTH and pass on the good news.

All the way home I know I have a massive grin on my face the entire journey. I’m so relieved to have it done and out of the way. Time to celebrate.

I feel there should be some kind of ritual burning of “From the Ground Up” or something.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Writing the exam part 1

There is surprisingly little information about the process for sitting your PPL written exam (or PPAER as it is called for some reason). The Transport Canada website is so full of dead links that I gave up trying to find anything useful. All I had was the address from Bob, a list of required items on my recommendation letter and a hazy recollection of events from RTH.

I don’t deal with that level of uncertainty too well. Still it had to be done, the date was set, the vacation day from work booked and I had officially run out of excuses.

I set off, having stopped at a local coffee shop for fuel in the form of tea and a bagel and rode the subway to my destination.

There are a lot of government departments in this building; luckily a quick glance at the directory revealed floor 4 was for “aviation examinations”. Once I’m out of the elevator I glance around for a clue. One way is marked “no admittance to the public”. I guess I’m heading the other way then.

At the reception desk I hand over my letter and medical certificate* and sign on the dotted line. I’m given directions to the third floor to pay. The woman behind the desk jokes “getting there and back is part of your navigation exercise!”

I find my way downstairs to the correct department and hand over the laminated sheet I’m clutching. Trying not to wince as I hear the price, I hand over my credit card. I take my “official receipt” and head on back to the 4th floor. In the elevator I glance at it and realise that despite my use of I’m-a-proper-pilot-really phonetics; of the 7 letters in my name, 3 are incorrect. 

Great !

I decide not to notice and plead ignorance if needed.

At reception I exchange a glance at my receipt for a folder containing instructions, an abbreviations sheet, some scrap paper and an “appendix”. On top of that I’m handed the world’s largest laminated chart and a couple of markers. Clutching the aforementioned items, I get a flashback to high school as I pick up my requisite clear ziploc bag containing my protractor, ruler and other flight planning stuff.

Fighting off a sense of impending doom I follow the woman into a room with a dozen or so computers in it. I carefully read through the instructions, take a deep breath and click on “proceed”. I jump several inches into the air as it emits a loud “beep”.

The first question sits before me, I notice that you can navigate thought the questions one at a time, bookmark questions for later or just jump to whatever number you fancy.

Once again I inhale and start clickety-clicking on those answers.

*I'm not entirely sure why you need a valid medical before sitting the exam, maybe so that you don't keel over and have a heart attack during the test?

Friday, 20 June 2014


After over a year of procrastination, I bit the bullet and trundled off to Transport Canada and braved the PPL written exam.

Four sections – each needing a mark of over 60%.

I’ll put you out of your misery, yes I passed !!!!!!!

I’d blog about it more but I drank beer on the way home and, well, you know!

More later for sure!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

It’s all in the name

This particular week at work is stupid busy, mainly because I’m dealing with a lot of stupid.
Despite my best efforts to streamline processes (and despite the fact I’m probably the only person outside our IT department who understands the concept of a business process), I’m inevitably thrown a curveball due either to our latest software “upgrades” or someone managing to be creatively stupid in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

This year it was a little of both. Normally I can troubleshoot these issues on my own but this time I’ve had to admit defeat when what should have been a simple mail merge kept cutting off the text midway through a sentence.

After half an hour of faffing around I had to admit defeat and call in the IT troops, who at least know me well enough to know it must be a major issue as I never call them for stuff I can’t fix myself.
In the course of troubleshooting, we worked with various different data formats to see if we could persuade the damn thing to work. Consequently I now have files on my desktop named





and finally my favourite: hippo

Hippo finally worked. I guess it’s all in the name.