Friday, 31 October 2014

Failing to get the point

The engine shudders to a stop. The flight test is finally over.

I push my headset off my ears and remove my sunglasses from where I shoved them up my forehead, with a flourish.

I look over to LE. Calmly awaiting him to tell me what I already know. That was a good solid flight.

I express no surprise at the fact I’ve passed “I knew I’d done a good enough job,” I inform him coolly, gathering up my belongings as I speak.

Calm, poised, self-assured, I open the door and exit the plane.

Yeah I wish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What actually happened was this…

The engine shudders to a stop; I shove everything off my face, no longer able to tolerate it even touching me. Once I’ve finished bending down to retrieve my sunglasses, I risk a glance over in LE’s direction.

“This is where I shake your hand.” He informs me.

I blink at him.


Totally and utterly not comprehending the words coming out of his mouth

“You’ve passed” he clarifies


“Congratulations!” he offers me his hand.

I burst into tears and throw my arms around him. “You have NO idea what this means to me” I start to tell him. Now a hideous mess of snot and tears*.

Realising that he can still change his mind and he’s looking slightly nonplussed at the tearful female in front of him, I hastily pull myself together. Luckily he’s still smiling.

He tells me he’ll meet me inside and that it’ll take him about 15 minutes to do the paperwork. Then we’ll debrief. He tells me to take my time.

J from dispatch wanders over to help me put the plane away. I give him a quick thumbs up before he can mistake my tears for anything else other than sheer Joy.

Ever the sweetie, he tells me that he’ll grab my bag and stuff, no need to worry.

I walk back across the apron with my head held high; shaking the hand of everyone I meet on the way.

I am a pilot

I am unstoppable.

* I had tissues. I knew I'd need them one way or another

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Calm and confident

Two words that Bob keeps repeating to me.

“Be calm and confident, WMAP. Give the examiner the excuse he needs to pass you.”

Good advice but words I’m not capable of parsing at the moment.

The night before I’m my usual pessimistic self. Overwhelmed by the numbers in my planning, the sheer enormity of all the stuff I need to remember. I'm firing off a text a minute to Bob.

“Calm and confident” Bob texts me back.

“I’ll take ‘two words that have never been used in living history to describe me’ for $1000” I quip back.

Bob doesn’t dignify it with a response.

The thing is though, somehow; miraculously that is what I become during my flight test.

It starts with LE breaking the ice and putting me at my ease for the ground portion. I know that the first question he’s going to ask is about the documents for both me and the plane. This I can talk about in my sleep.

I forget I’m being questioned and just start chatting about the documents. I run through some of them briefly, telling him to stop me if he has questions about what I am saying.

I take my time with the journey log, I run down all the items to show that the plane can be flown legally. I also tell him that I like to glance through to see what the latest maintenance work done was, just so I know what to pay extra attention to on my preflight. I also show him that, interestingly, the current limit on the legality of this plane relates to the first aid kit needing replacing soon rather than the number of hours on the engine.

For the flight planning portion, I show him my planned routes and talk him through my decisions as to why this is a no go. I talk about the possibility of refueling in Muskoka but that I discounted it as being too close to the initial takeoff point to be truly useful. By the time I’ve taken off, flown a little bit in cruise and landed again, I don’t think I’ll have gained much.

I also show that I could add an extra gallon of fuel to the ramp weight but if I do only burn up the 1.1 gallons on taxi and runup that the POH says I run the risk of being overweight on takeoff.

Either way this flight is a no go.

I sum it up by saying that I could leave the baggage behind but to be perfectly honest I’d be happier leaving a passenger.

So I blag my way through the ground portion, no surprise there I guess.

But amazingly I do manage to be confident in the air too. He tells me to pick a landmark for my steep turn. I tell him that I’m going to swing around to the south as I prefer to use a cardinal heading rather than a landmark.

During my diversion, I decide to go via a very prominent local landmark that is due south of me and then follow the shoreline rather than directly back. As I tell him, it gives me space not to have to worry about inadvertently busting the control zone. I keep him appraised of our ETA to both the intermediate point and our final destination. I even make the remark that I know I said I’d follow the shoreline if this was a real diversion but the actual VFR route out here requires me to be north of the shoreline.

Once I’m back in the circuit, I even manage to take the time to point of the vagaries of our local airspace. I indicate the noise sensitive area over the island that I’m not allowed to fly over. I’m having spacing fun with the Porters. Almost chatting now, I say “it gets a little weird, there’s a whole bit of the circuit you just can’t fly over. Either you have to tuck in real tight or extend all the way out to the gap.

No sooner than those words have left my mouth ATC tell me “JES extend to the eastern gap”

“aaaaaaand there we go,” I laugh to LE.

For my softfield landing I inform him that although I know better than to use brakes, operationally though Tower is going to want me off the runway ASAP. Actually I realise that I haven’t even broached the subject of stop and go versus full stop, exit and taxi back round. The latter is the safer, if more time consuming option. That’s what I’ve decided to do.

Somehow my confidence seems to translate into better flying. I actually feel the slightly excess rate of sink as I come into land. I react by adding a touch of power to arrest the descent rate. This has the added bonus of cushioning my touchdown , exactly as you’d want to for a proper softfield landing.
I keep the nose way up high and allow it to gently lower. Once it is down he tells me that it is fine to brake as needed. I’m mildly stunned that I felt the subtlety of what I needed to do.

Looking back, I actually did exactly what Bob told me to do. I stayed calm, I projected confidence and somehow a pilot emerged.

Where the heck was she 6 months ago? 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A word about Lovely Examiner

For a start I’m not just calling him that because he passed me, although it did help. I have a suspicion that even if I’d failed, I’d have done it with a smile on my face. He just had that manner about him.

I went in to this test not knowing what to expect. Everyone kept telling me how nice he was, how he’d put me at my ease, how I’d be fine with him. So much so, in fact, that I’d started to get a little suspicious. Why was everyone quite so adamant about this?

Of course it didn’t help that I’d gotten down to the flight school really early and had pretty much all day to stew over this.

He’s doing a CPL test before me and running late. I’m pacing nervously up and down the two floors, alternating between last minute revision and joking with the various instructors who are flitting in and out.

Everyone has a friendly word of encouragement once they realise what I’m down here for, even more so when I tell them who my examiner is.

He’s running late but eventually we meet up. The CFI introducing us to each other. I hand over the plastic folder containing all the stuff he needs for me to be admitted to the flight test. We shake hands.

He tells me how things are going to go, that he needs to fill in some paperwork and then we’ll do the ground portion. He talks me through the stages of the flight test, the order we will do things in. As he talks I’m mildly amused to realise that he’s working off a checklist too, making sure he covers all the points about who is PIC etc. I’m not exactly relaxed but I am a little more at ease. He’s assured me that I can use him as a cockpit resource, if I need him to hold anything etc. He’s friendly and doing his best to break the ice. I’m kind of reminded of Bob. It is familiar, reassuring.

The ground portion is more of a discussion that a question and answer session. Due to the details of the planning scenario he has set me, it isn’t actually a flight I would attempt and I tell him so. He seems perfectly at ease with my reasoning and I wonder if he’s deliberately set it up as so. Maybe, just maybe I’ve passed the first hurdle by not getting lulled in to the “it is just about possible” trap. 

He’s shrewd though, he can sense weaknesses. He doesn’t allow me to BS my way through my cross country leg of the actual flight. I know I’m off track. I tell him so. I tell him that I’m going to wait until I’m abeam my first checkpoint before correcting.  He doesn’t let me off that easily though, insisting that I do correct my heading appropriately before he’ll let me continue.

Throughout the flight though, he is reassuring. Each successful manoeuvre is met with a “good job!”
Even as we are coming back into the zone, he takes time to comment “well I’m liking what I see so far!”

This takes me by surprise a little, I’m worried that my altitude control has been sloppy beyond belief. Maybe I’m doing okay after all.

He has yet more surprises in store for me though. Just when I think we are done and am about to shut down the plane. He asks me “ So what if your engine was on fire now”

I know this one, Isolate the fuel, isolate the electrics and get the hell out of Dodge City. I tell him as much.

“So do it then….”

Blinking I realise that he wants me to actually pull the ICO and the fuel shut off valve. I do so. He stops me short of exiting the plane as I point out that I’d be taking the extinguisher with me.

He’s perceptive though; throughout the debrief I get the impression that he really gets me. He notes that although my power on stall was executed well (a 4!) he could tell it was obviously something that was difficult for me. He noted the extreme wing drop and that it could be unnerving but praised me for holding the ailerons neutral and noticed that I was quick on the rudder to recover it back. He also noticed how I find the controls heavy sometimes, again acknowledging that I compensate well by frequent trimming. He had some tips about future plane purchasing if I did find the 172 a little heavy at times.

Finally, and the thing I love him for the most I think, was that he complimented me on my use of the milk crates for my walkround. Calling it “highly professional”, rather than mocking me. I think it was the principle of recognising that you need a particular tool to do the job effectively and not caring how it makes you look that impressed him.

All in all, he made my flight test as close to a pleasurable experience as it was ever going to get. He really set the tone when his opening sentence after introducing himself was to thank me for giving him the opportunity to fly with me.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Night night.

We were late taking off, previous tests before me had overrun. A spate of bad weather the week before had led to test after test being rescheduled. Obviously they were trying to cram in as many as possible.

I didn’t object too much. I can only imagine the turmoil you go through when you have to cancel.
But the late takeoff is causing issues. Mostly sunlight related. Facing west is almost impossible. The late afternoon sun searing your retinas. Not helped by the layer of haze and smog over the city.And of course the active is 26.

LE realises this is going to be an issue. He helps me set up my airwork to minimise the problem. He even starts off his debrief with a comment about it. His opening sentence in front of the CFI and Bob (on speakerphone) is “I just want to say what a fantastic job WMAP did given the late timing of the flight and the sun and weather conditions, combined with the failing light.”

Yep, we were really pushing the limits on the amount of daylight left, our final landing a few minutes after local sunset. As I was lining up and waiting for my final circuit, stuck on the taxiway behind a Porter who had inexplicable decided to push back and just sit there. LE asked me if I was comfortable with the amount of light remaining.

I didn’t hesitate in saying yes, there was no way on this Earth that I was going to have to come back another day to one sodding circuit.

“Perhaps you might be more comfortable with it, if you took your sunglasses off?” he comments. I hope that the low light levels mean that he can’t see that I’ve flushed red at being so stupid. But my sunglasses are an integral part of my flying kit, I feel naked without them.

I complete the required circuit, a shortfield obstacle takeoff followed by a standard landing. As I pull off the runway onto Foxtrot I notice that I can clearly see my strobes flashing in the fading light.
On the apron, someone is waiting to pull out, I show LE where I intend to park up as to be out of their way.

Finally as I enter the flight school the guys behind dispatch congratulate me on my pass (word travels fast!) and jokingly look at their watches before asking “so were you trying to get your night rating at the same time then?!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Not in any order

The blog posts about my flight test are going to be disjointed at best, but anyways here we go.

We were coming back from having completed the vast majority of the test. The wings were still attached and I hadn’t done anything majorly stupid. Still I was a little unsure of how this was going.  

I hadn’t effed anything up too much but I knew my altitude control had been sloppy for the entire upper airwork section of the test.

 I take us back on the diversion route requested, hoping I could still pull off at least partial pass. I start thinking about my approach back into the zone.

“Well, I’m liking what I see so far” Lovely Examiner (LE*) remarked. I don’t react but internally I’m mulling this over. I don’t get the impression he’d lie to me, so maybe I still had a chance. He takes a moment to tell me that I should request circuits when we enter the zone and then he’ll explain the scenario for the precautionary landing.

I acknowledge this and realise that potentially all that stands between me and my licence are one precautionary “low and over” and two circuits.

I can do this.

Something inside me changes. I’m local here, LE isn’t.

Screw it, these are MY stomping grounds. I KNOW this airspace. I have spent so much time in the circuit, I’ve had every scenario conceivable thrown at me and survived. I am familiar with every molecule of the airspace around here. I can handle this.

LE almost becomes just a person who is throwing random instructions at me. ATC are the important ones now. I need to communicate my needs to them.

I need to be assertive. I need to act the like the Pilot I so desperately want to be. So I do. ATC give me options. I don't even confer with LE about them. I pick what I'm comfortable with.

When I receive my landing sequence I’m told that a touch and go isn’t going to be possible due to wake turbulence. That’s fine with me. I need a low and over to inspect the runway surface a la scenario I’ve been presented with (suspected poor runway surface). I request exactly that.

I recognise the voice in the tower, he’s a nice guy but horribly verbose. As I sequence in he tells me to standby, that the timer may allow me a touch and go after all, but I should be prepared to turn an early crosswind.

“Negative sir, I’m requesting a low and over” is my reply.

“Good job” is LE’s comment.  

I do my low and over, rather than the early crosswind ATC actually have me extend the climb out leg. I may have cracked a joke about taking him on another cross country. I’m actually quite relaxed at this point. Aware that I need to focus on my impending landings but comfortable in my own little corner of the sky!

*another post on him later , but there is no sarcasm intended, he really was lovely

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The score

Okay I’m having a hard time parsing the events of the last day. It was a long day. I arrived at the flight school at just after 9:00am and eventually took off at 5:00pm.

Mentally I’m still processing all that happened, as RTH will attest to! I was still lying awake at 3:00am going through every step in my mind.

It’s going to be a while before I have any coherent blog posts, so let’s talk numbers.

There are 30 PPL exercises / skills on which you are assessed. That includes the ground portion. Each exercise is marked from 1-4. I’m paraphrasing slightly but basically

1 is a fail

2 is good enough, you made some mistakes and/or were out of tolerances and were a bit slow to correct them

3 is better , you made a minor mistake or were out of tolerances but you were quick to correct

4 is AWESOME!!

Any 1 is an automatic fail, if you only get one or two 1’s then you can do a partial retest of just the items that you failed. Any more or do anything which is on the “danger list” (like busting airspace) then you start again with the whole thing.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that your maximum score is a perfect 120. I totalled a score of 104.

By my calculations that is a more than respectable 87%

I am more than happy with that.

I won’t bore you with a blow by blow description of my score sheet but I would like to draw your attention to the “4” I got on my power on stall!

Thursday, 23 October 2014


One thing I have always been good at is self-reflection. To be honest it is one of the reasons I started this blog. Originally I thought about just writing a diary to jot down my thoughts after each flight but in a fit of ego I decided to publish. At the time there were a few pilot blogs that I enjoyed reading and I figured I could maybe add to the pool.

It often takes me a day or so but eventually I organise the incoherent mess of neural connections that I make each flight into a useful set of thoughts.

I pride myself on my honesty, both in the cockpit and on this blog. I’ve no interest as coming across as a hot shot wannabe who sailed effortlessly through her training. This has always been a warts-and-all account. I don’t care if it’s taken me an age to master stuff that comes so easily to others. Most people didn’t start from the point of utter and abject fear that I did. It’s like an arachnophobe getting a job as curator of spiders at the local zoo. Yes, it’s a job but every day they turn up for work is a reflection of their achievement.

I also like to think that I’m extremely receptive to feedback. I take it in, internally process it and act on it to the best of my ability. I was incredibly interested in what TOI had to say, bearing in mind he’d never flown with me before and certainly had no idea of what I was like when I started this endeavour.

I don’t think I disagreed with anything he had to say. He was careful and took the time to explain to me the rationale behind every piece of feedback he had.

He has no vested interest in stoking my ego; he is being completely 100% honest about what the examiner is looking for.

For example we were talking about my forced approach (Yay, made the field this time!). He questioned that fact that he hadn’t seen me do a cause check in an attempt to resolve the issue. Now I’m fairly certain that I did and was about to say so. Maybe if I’d been speaking to Bob, I would have said exactly that. And Bob, knowing my history of honesty, would have accepted that.

But I didn’t.

Because that’s not the issue here. I did the cause check, but it obviously wasn’t apparent to TOI that I did. So it isn’t a question of whether I did it or not. I need to work on making it blinding clear to the examiner.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A very important word

The word is “practice”

Because when you omit this highly important word from your radio call in the practice area when doing forced approaches. It does tend to panic people somewhat.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Duck …. I mean seagull!

…aaaand they’re back.  It seems to be seagull season again. The day before my flight RTH and I had taken a very creepy walk along the lakefront, our every step being watched by the aforementioned avian creatures.

As I came for the “touch” part of a touch and go I heard the plane in front of me report a large flock of the “rats of the sky” by Foxtrot. Tower dutifully passed on this info to me.

I acknowledged, barely, more intent on concentrating on not effing up my soft field landing, my most hated of speciality landings.

All was fine for the landing part but on the takeoff roll I saw a flock of the little buggers flapping aimlessly around, threatening to become airborne at the same time as me.

Almost unconsciously I keep the nose down a little longer and rotate late, trying to get ahead of them on the ground. The tactic seems to work, at least for the flock on the ground.

The trouble comes from another bunch, who are deciding to do their airborne aerobatics just at the end of the runway. Again, seemingly without thinking, I transition to best angle of climb, knowing that birds tend to dive when approached by a large aircraft.

We get over them, but not before Bob has called them a few choice words!

It was a little closer than I’d like but the avian wildlife is just a fact of life around here and a hazard you learn to live with.

I was mildly amused to notice that I did actually duck as we flew through them though.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Favourites shared.

JES was in maintenance when I went down for my flight with TOI. I took advantage of the extra time to review some of my emergency procedures while we were waiting for them to finish up.
I positioned myself in the room I recall oh so well from my less than lovely ground school hours, that does have the advantage of giving you a good view over the hanger.

Once I could see that they had finished I wandered down and had a chat with them about the work that they had done. Turns out it was a simple replacement of the directional gyro. Nothing to be concerned about. As usual I thanked them for taking good care of JES, letting on that she was my favourite plane in the fleet.

Well it is nice to know that I’m not the only one who holds this opinion. Awesome Maintenance Guy (AMG) also has a bit of a soft spot for the R model 172. We both agree that it’s just so much more balanced as a plane, an opinion he demoed by balancing his wrench on the end of his finger, the fine balance of airframe and engine combining to make a plane that is nimble to manoeuvre.

Of course the down side of this, he commiserated is that it takes one heck of an effort to stall. Good in flight, a pain during training. I mock flexed my (non-existent) muscles at him and pointed out that I was only too aware of this fact!

Laughingly dismissing his idea that when I was done I could “just taxi really fast” and he was sure I’d be able to make the small gap in the hanger doors, I started my walkround in the comfort of the hanger as AMG went to do the inevitable paperwork. Then I wandered back into dispatch to grab my usual plethora of upholstery.

“What, have you broken it already?” he wanted to know.

I assured him I’d done nothing of the kind, I wouldn’t dare disturb his masterpiece of engineering!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Flight test notes

Coincidentally the name of my bedtime reading at the moment but also the topic of a conversation I need to have with you, dear blog reader.

Yes I will be attempting my flight test in the near future, yes a date has been set, yes this will be singularly the most terrifying day of my entire life but no I will not be giving you advanced warning of when that fateful day may be.

You see there are too many variables at play here. The weather, my schedule, the possibility of a partial pass, the possibility that conditions don’t allow for a full test on the day, tech issues and anything else you care to consider.

I can’t be explaining the reasons every time something occurs, that’s too much pressure. To give you some context RTH's flight test was rescheduled no less than 7 times.

So I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t broadcast the date. I’ll just let you know when it’s all over, although to be honest if I pass you’ll probably hear the celebration on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the mean time I will keep flying and keep blogging.