Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Enjoying the view: A year in review

It is that time of year again; time to review the resolutions from last year. So how did I do?

1)       I’m going to stop procrastinating over the written exam. Did it finally, forced myself to take a days vacation from work and bit the bullet. I put this off for far too long and the simple reason why is that I was afraid of failing it. Therefore if I didn’t try, I couldn’t fail. To be fair it also took me a long time to find a study method that worked for me. There was too much material to make massively comprehensive notes and I don’t retain info just by reading it. Eventually the app for my phone proved to be the key. Handling 10 questions at a time made it seem manageable and my commute is pretty much dead time anyways. I also think that delaying it a bit helped as I had practical context for a lot of the questions, some of the answers I knew just through my experience in the air.

2)      I’m going to get my PPL. Well yeah, I managed this one alright! Biggest achievement of my life, I think. Never to be matched. It’s funny how I remember some parts of the flight test with utmost clarity and other parts I have no recollection of at all. According to the flight test report, I did an obstacle takeoff. I normally don’t like those because of the nose up attitude. I have no memory of doing one at all! On the other hand I recall distinctly my thought processes as I entered the control zone around city and realised that all the hard stuff was behind me and all that stood between me and success was a couple of simple circuits.

3)      I’m going to pay it back. I’m working on this; I have some plans for Women of Aviation Week at work. I’ve been helping a student at school who is writing a paper on “the Practical Applications of Vectors in Aviation”. Showing her how to use an E6b was a hoot and the look on her face when I gave her one of my old charts and a copy of the CFS to keep was priceless.  I’m also making a conscious effort to reach out to other student pilots on the internet. There are certain stages that we all go through; it helps to know that you’ll make it through the other side.

4)      I’m going to start on my book. I have actually made a start on this. I’ve written some fresh material, even an introductory section. I also have a very good friend who has agreed to act an an editor. Now I just need to write more.

5)      I’m going to learn some stuff about video production and editing. This is the one that I really let slide. I really struggle with creative ideas for my video footage, so at the moment I’m just leaving it as it is.  Maybe inspiration will strike me at some point, until then I think I’m just going to leave this one.

6)      I’m going to become a better passenger when RTH is flying. Tough one this, RTH hasn’t really been doing much in the way of recreational flying. He’s done a few flights towards his night rating. I’ve been staying out of those as he needs an environment that is conducive to learning. Hopefully in the New Year some of the “flying money” can go to him rather than my training. I’m counting this one as a success though, as I’ve been a passenger with D and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.

So overall I’m giving myself an A+ for the year, I mean what else could I give myself in the year I achieved the impossible? The flea climbed Mount Everest and firmly planted her flag there. Now it’s time to enjoy the view.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Photo gallery

From my latest flight with RTH. Enjoy
Military Helicopter on the Apron

waiting on the baggage handlers I guess!

waiting in line for the runway

lets go!

the old terminal building

Pickering Nuke plant

the terrain changes a lot once you get beyond Uxbridge

local quarry, good nav landmark

Those cliffs are not so visible from the air!

thread the needle, the dreaded left hand approach for 08!

Bloor street viaduct

the city is tall and I am low!

don't look down.

home stretch

back where we started

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Checking in, checking out

RTH and I are away for the next couple of days. Our Christmas present to ourselves, two nights in a nice hotel with spa visit and Christmas dinner thrown in.

It’s actually been a fair while since I stayed in a hotel for pleasure rather than business. I’ve got my reader loaded up with books and free Wi-Fi at the hotel.

Looking forward to a couple of relaxing days. Posting will resume after I return.

Happy holidays to all my readers out there in the blogosphere! 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Weird stuff, non-flying related

I have a bit of an internet presence that isn’t Local flight East related. Mostly on a forum for British expats that I make no attempt to remain anonymous on.

Mostly it’s just online stuff but a couple of times a year we try and arrange meet ups. That in itself gets interesting as you try to locate a group of people in a pub who a) you’ve never met before and b) have no idea what their real names are.

As with anything internet related, there are a few “characters”, a lot of in jokes and various ongoing sagas.

Anyways, it is Annual awards time. This year I have made the shortlist for three of them in the “Canada” section.

I’m in the running for
1)      Nicest poster (have no idea how this happened)
2)      Poster I’d like to have afternoon tea at the Ritz with (a little upset that I didn’t make it into the “gin soaked binge” category)

And finally and most bizarrely

3)      “Most Zealous Marmite Aficionado”  

For the record I loathe the stuff, so I can only assume that the nomination was intended ironically.

Sadly I’m dead last on number 1 but winning number 3.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Highs and lows.

One of the main difference between D’s Mooney and the 172’s I cut my pilot teeth in, is that his is a low wing plane vs the high wing Cessna.

I’d never really given the difference much thought to be honest, other than “some planes are different to the one I learned in.”

Now though, I’m starting to contemplate the various advantages and disadvantages of each plane design. As a former student, the tendency is to judge the plane you learnt in as “normal” and judge everything else relative to it. The fact of the matter is though, the 172 is an excellent training aircraft but may not be the best choice for a plane to go places in.  The 172, for example, is touted as a four seater plane but if you put four adults and baggage in it, well you’re going by road because you haven’t got any room for fuel and you are probably well over your takeoff weight.

Other differences aside (D’s Mooney has retractable gear and a variable pitch prop), the age old debate of high vs low wing continues. Now I’ve never flown a low wing, but I’ve flown in one. Based on that these are my observations

·         It is a lot easier to check the fuel in a low wing plane. No milk crates needed

·         It is easier to get into a high wing plane, no climbing on the wing needed and there are two doors

·         You have to be a lot more careful taxing a low wing, cones and other assorted apron furniture passes easily under a high wing. I think it would be easy to take out taxiway lighting if you weren’t careful

·         Crosswind landings concern me a little; I think striking a wingtip would be easier in a low wing, especially if you slip it in like I tend to.

·         Despite other people’s opinions, I actually find the visibility in turns slightly better in a low wing.

Now my final observation and I honestly don’t know if this is purely psychological or due to the fact that the Mooney is a heavier plane but I feel a lot more stable in the low wing. The little bumps and jolts of everyday turbulence just don’t seem to concern me as much. I’m a lot more comfortable in the plane in general.

This is a phenomenon that warrants further investigation. I’d love to get some flying time in a low wing. A Piper or something. Now I just need to find one.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

I want me one of those!

One of the other things D wanted to play with in his plane was the autopilot. I’ll admit to being intrigued. None of the planes I’ve ever flown have autopilot, it is either not installed or deliberately disabled, lest us students learn to actually utilise it!*

Oh I’m so envious, I really want one! Even just the “altitude hold” function takes a massive workload off of you. Being able to track a VOR radial is amazing and the fact that you can set your own “virtual waypoints” is mind blowing to me. And all of this in a plane with a traditional “steam gauge” cockpit.

There are drawbacks of course, you really have to understand what the different modes do, so you realise just what it is the plane is actually going to do, whether it is track the heading, hold the altitude or seek out whatever waypoint you ask it to. Actually I think D’s autopilot can  fly IFR holds on its own.

But the most disconcerting thing of all, is watching a plane do a 15 degree bank to pick up a heading with no one’s hands anywhere near the controls. It is very very freaky to watch. I may have mentioned this once or twice. D just laughed.

You can actually use your hands to do stuff, like unfold your chart or pull out an approach plate, hard for me to get my head around, I’m barely beyond the “if-you-take-your-hands-off-the-control-column-the-plane-will-instantly-crash” stage of flight management.

 But I’m going to have to get used to it I guess, for various reasons RTH is planning on getting checked out in the flight schools 182. It has a glass cockpit with a G1000 FMS. Half of the “fun” is going to be learning the glass cockpit system alongside dealing with a variable pitch prop.

One of our “projects” this winter is to take some online training and familiarise ourselves with it. I need to know just as much as RTH who’ll be flying it as chances are I’ll be programming the thing.

Fun times ahead.

* I understand why they disable these things for students but it does add another thing to the list of "things-they-don't-teach-you-on-your-ppl-that-you-have-to-figure-out-for-yourself"

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A flight odyssey

As you may have gathered, I’m currently on vacation until January 5 and looking forward to it to be honest.

RTH starts his vacation a day later and so asked me “what are your plans for Friday then?”

My careless “whatever the hell I feel like!” was replaced by a different plan upon receiving an email from D. Basically he was taking his plane up for a flight and wanted to know if I wished to tag along.
I thought about it for all of three nanoseconds before replying in the affirmative!

D is working towards his instrument rating at the moment; he’s passed the written and is chugging away at the flight test standards. Something which leaves me slightly in awe, I’m still fumbling my way around the sky VFR. D talks of circling approaches, IFR holds and procedure turns and I nod sagely and pretend I understand every word.

D had a few things he wanted to get done this flight, including some monitoring of his EGT’s. Some tasks that would involve a bit of “head in the cockpit” time. I was more than happy to act as a spare pair of eyeballs while he did what he needed.

We did the “engineering” stuff, concluded that the autopilot was behaving as it should and headed up to Muskoka to practice some instrument approaches, again something the subtleties of which escape me at the moment.

Either way I had a spare few moments to take stock of my surroundings. It’s a lot snowier up there and the lakes are slowly starting to freeze over, smaller ones totally frozen and larger ones starting to go at the edges.

It’s pretty.

Oh so very pretty up there.

Unbelievably beautiful in fact.

I can’t believe I get to do this for fun!

Even after all my flight hours, all my training, all the “flinging it around” airwork, I still need a reality check sometimes.

It is such a privilege to be able to do this.

Oh yeah you might be wondering about the “odyssey” part of the title. As D filled in the paperwork for the flight, he noted that we’d just ticked over to 2001 hours exactly on the plane.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Lesser known hazards of the office party

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t go to mine, the combo of alcohol and idiots not being conducive to me keeping my job. But I did go to RTH’s. A little less fancy than the year-of-the-sparkly-shoes but still pretty good.

Clotheswise it was still problematic though, Friday is a casual day here so I couldn’t wear anything too fancy to work without drawing the inevitable ‘got an interview?” snide remarks, so I dressed “normally” and carefully folded my newly dry cleaned suit in my bag and changed at the end of the day.

I jumped in a taxi, heels and snow generally being a bad combination, and immediately caught my tights on the Velcro fastening on my bag.

This is why I can’t have nice things.

But this wasn’t the main hazard. No it would seem that the combo of fake leather on my funky new suit and dry cleaning chemicals has left me the worst case of contact dermatitis in living history. All up my arms where they came into contact with the sleeves.

I’m ITCHY ITCHY ITCHY and having to stop myself ripping my own skin off.

Just one more reason why the office Christmas party is a bad idea.

On a positive note I managed to waste a good half hour in total texting a friend, googling various pictures of rashes and trading findings .

We were both relieved to discover that I didn't have Ebola , Lyme disease, ringworm or West Nile.

According to one flow chart though, it could have been Lupus.

Thursday, 18 December 2014


Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office until January 5th. I will reply on my return, thank you and have a great day


Confession from a dumb student pilot: let us never speak of this again

There aren’t many things that I did as a student pilot that I didn’t ‘fess up to on this blog. But this one was a little bit special, occurring as it did, straight after my first solo. I've made vague allusioins to it in passing as "the taxiing incident" but never really expanded on that. Here it is then:

So picture the scene, an incredibly nervous WMAP (as I was then), who has just completed her first solo flight, despite her best protests.

She’s feeling nothing but relief that a) she managed to get the plane back in one piece and b) she can now go to the washroom.

24 isn’t her favourite runway and isn’t used that much, she’s not that familiar with it despite having just completed some circuits with Bob on it. To be honest when they taxied in she was too busy arguing with the demons in her head than paying attention to where they were actually going.
She’s completed her post landing checks and is currently at the point marked with an X on the following picture.

Question is, how does she get to “Y”?

Those of you with any aviation knowledge or indeed any common sense will spot that she needs to take a path similar to the one marked in black here, along the taxi lines.

However, those of you who know me, well it’ll come as no great surprise to you that what I attempted to do was follow the yellow path marked here.

I would like to point out that at the time there were no planes parked there at the time.

Just two fuel trucks.

Parked about just-slightly-more-than-a-wingspan apart.

I got about as far as the yellow line before ATC realised what was going on and issued the “FJES, STOP Immediately” command.

Yeah, even as I was doing it, I knew I’d messed up but in a surprising burst of confidence, I was actually fairly sure I could get it through that gap.

ATC weren’t having any of this and instructed me to remain still while they sent out someone to deal with me.

Luckily for me, Bob had obviously spotted what was going on and raced over to guide me through himself. I couldn’t make eye contact the entire time.

I was mortified. I had visions of this being my first and last solo flight ever. It kind of tainted my joy to be honest.

Bob, bless him, never mentioned it ever again. I’ve made tentative jokes about my sense of direction on the ground and he’s never once taken the bait.

I’m not sure if he even remembers.

I do!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

What’s your title?

Or Random Questions I get asked by coworkers.

Most of my coworkers are at the very least interested in my pilot type antics. To the extent that I’ve got kind of a waiting list of people who actually want to fly with me. Some of them may have ulterior motives, like our IT guy who lives in Bramptom, right next to the airport and feels that he should be able to charter me to fly him home. He is strangely quiet on the topic of funding my CPL though!

I was walking from the subway with one of my newer coworkers. Once people know what I do for a hobby inevitably I get asked “so, been flying recently?” as a conversation opener.

She had a new one though, she asked, “so what’s your title now?”

I must have looked confused “Are you called Captain?” she clarified.

I didn’t really know how to answer that one. I just laughed.

Think I might have a word with HR though, I quite like the idea of changing my name on all work stuff to Captain LFE.

Whatchya think?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Guilt free Christmas

I’m in my last week at work before the holidays and it has suddenly occurred to me: this will be the first Christmas in two years where I won’t have that little guilty pang in the back of my mind that what I really should be doing is studying for my PPL stuff.

I’ve not got the written exam to worry about and I don’t have any lessons to schedule, thus meaning I don’t have to worry about my alcohol intake and the 8 hour rule.

I won’t be stalking the weather like a crazy lady hoping to squeeze one last flight in before the snow storm hits or have to monitor the METARS looking for a break in the clouds.

I’ve got nothing really planned and a fully wine rack.

Good combo!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Threading the needle

Coming back from the trip with RTH, I dutifully dialed in and listened to the ATIS. Nothing much had changed, winds were reasonable, runway was still 08.

 I made my call and confirmed to ATC that I had indeed departed from City earlier. I swallowed hard as I read back my joining instructions….  “cleared left downwind for 08”

Ah crud, I’m not a student anymore. I don’t really have an excuse. It’s a low approach over the city for me.  Over the downtown core at 2000ft and below.


I’m not massively comfortable with this, Toronto is a city still in the middle of an economic upturn. New towers are popping up seemingly overnight. Even since I started learning the core has changed beyond recognition in places. So now I find myself confronted with having to thread my plane between the CN tower and the new Aura condo tower at College Park, all 78 storeys of it.


RTH recognises the unhappy noises I’m emitting and reminds me “you can always request the right downwind if you want”

I consider it, it would make me feel more comfortable but no, I need to do this. I need to salvage something tangible from this flight. An achievement. And besides the city is kinda cool up from up here and one of the things I want to do is take friends up for the city tour, I need to get used to being this low over downtown.

I bite the bullet and thread the needle, fighting the inevitable turbulence thrown up by the highways and general urban terrain. I don’t have enough eyes for this. I need to monitor my airspeed and altitude for any deviations and fix them instantly, while at the same time keeping my head on the proverbial swivel for the other sightseeing traffic around.

Obviously I did an Okay job as RTH seemed more concerned with taking pictures than my proximity to the local landmarks!

Next post I’ll pull some of his pictures for you, they are incredible. I’m glad one of us was able to enjoy the view.

Mission aside I think my next flight is going to include a City tour, now that I’ve figured out how to thread the needle, I’m going to sew my name in the sky!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


Forecast tonight is calling for 5cm of snow. The wet, sticky kind. Along with winds gusting up to 35 mph.

Yeti suit aside, it’s going to be a crappy trudge into work tomorrow  

I’m a better pilot….

RTH noticed that I was less than enthusiastic about my performance from our inaugural flight. He, himself was quite reassuring about the whole thing, whilst acknowledging that, yes things hadn’t gone to plan, he was quick to point out that all three of us (LFE, RTH and SAR) were all in one piece. I know he was trying to be supportive, perhaps concerned that a temporary setback would destroy my confidence and that I’d be hesitant to try again (a situation not without precedent).

I’ll admit, there was a lot going through my mind and I really wasn’t a happy bunny but I’ve had time to think and it may have taken me a couple of days to get my mind around it all. I think I’m there though.

Firstly I am still a little annoyed, as I said to RTH “I’m a better pilot than what I showed you today”
Secondly though I’ve come to terms with a few things. Probably obvious things to some people but, as usual, I’m late to the party.

Everyone touts your PPL as a “licence to learn” and I’ve tritely batted that phrase around myself and glibly claimed that I understood what it meant.

I didn’t, until now.

At the moment the only difference between pre PPL LFE and post PPL LFE is a shiny blue booklet and two hours of flight time. I didn’t know everything then and I don’t know everything now. I made mistakes then and I’m going to make mistakes now. It’s inevitable.

The problem comes if you don’t use those mistakes as a learning experience and believe me I’ve spent many a mental moment evaluating that flight and working out what I could have done instead.  A dangerous pilot isn’t necessarily one who doesn’t make mistakes, it is one who doesn’t evaluate and learn from them.

So we’ve got that part covered.

I’ll learn and move on.

The next phrase that struck home to me is from the internet* “Without the risk of failure, success is meaningless”

I set myself a near impossible goal to get my PPL. It was an epic struggle, at any point I could have stopped, the power on stalls could have gotten too scary, the wake turbulence incident shaken me up too much. I didn’t stop. I had failures on the way as well as successes. But I picked myself up, shook myself down and pressed on. I kept plugging away at it and eventually I succeeded. There was always a fear of failure but in the end the desire to succeed was just too strong.

My “Mission”, self-inflicted as it is, may turn out to be an equally epic struggle. Probably with as many bumps along the way as my PPL. So now that I’ve hit one of those bumps along the road, I have a choice. Just as I did with my PPL, either I learn from the experience and move on, or I quit.
Well I didn’t spend two and a half years and a stupid amount of money to stop that easily.

I’ll learn from the experience and carry on. It just sucks a little bit that this learning opportunity happened on my first bloody flight with RTH!

And while I didn’t show RTH the pilot that I wanted to that flight, next time it’ll be an even better pilot sat next to him.

* see useful stuff occasionally found here 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Getting my head round it all.

Those of you who follow this blog will know that Sunday was the day I was meant to start my epic planned “Mission”

You may have also noticed that the blog has been strangely quiet on the whole matter. I mean there haven’t been any triumphant “Mission accomplished” posts or any bitching about the weather either.
So what’s up?

Well the truth is it didn’t go exactly according to plan, which I don’t necessarily have a problem writing about but I started writing this post about 3 times now and tailed off. Not really knowing where to take it.

Which means I didn’t have my thoughts straight in my head yet.  I’m good at writing reflective stuff but only once I’ve got some finality in what it is I’ve learned.

Two days later and I think I’m coming to terms with it all.

Let me explain.

On paper the aim of the flight was to head out to the east, then north to Uxbridge and see if I could find Greenbank airport. A grass strip where I first learnt the dark art of the precautionary and indeed a softfield landing.

Of course the grass nature would mean that I couldn’t actually land, the flight school’s insurance won’t let me take it on anything other than a paved surface. But I’d planned a low and over and considered that close enough.

In my head the flight had a different purpose. I wanted to show off to RTH. I wanted him to see that in the last two years or so, I’ve become a different person in that cockpit. A safe, calm, competent and confident pilot.

Long story short, that didn’t happen.

To cut to the chase, the following things happened:

1)      I got flustered by some traffic on the way out of the zone and got fixated on overtaking them
2)      I got confused by the traffic at Greenbank using what I considered to be the wrong runway, this threw off my spatial awareness and I got hopelessly confused trying to join a right hand circuit. I ended up calling it off.
3)      The approach to 08 over the city stressed me out a little
4)      I finished as I started – with a less than stellar landing. Nothing dangerous, just “firm”

Please don’t misunderstand – I didn’t do anything dangerous, it just didn’t go according to either plan. And for a little while that left me a little disheartened and a little p!ssed off with myself.

But over the next couple of posts I’ll explain exactly what went wrong and why I’m kind of ok with it now.