Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Did I do something stupid?

This is a prime example of how I manage to do something completely right and yet somehow manage to persuade myself that I screwed up.

First of all I kind of failed to correctly identify Claremont. Except I didn’t. I was right there all along. But for some reason Brock road didn’t look like Brock road, so I lost my major landmark.  It took me a few minutes to cross check some other landmarks to convince myself that I was actually where I was meant to be.
No harm, no foul but it rattled me a little at the time. Once I landed I was actually quite happy. Getting lost happens but I didn’t panic. I did exactly what Bob told me to. Look for the big stuff.

Lake to the south, check
Transformer station to the west, check

Road running north, south through a village, check
Built up area to the west, check

Two lane highway to the south, check
I’m west of Pickering but east of Markham. I’m not in controlled airspace. I’m good.

North of the 407.
Spot on.

A quick conversation with RTH let me realise exactly what was going on. I’m normally at 2500ft when I ID Brock Road. This time I’d already climbed to 3500. The road just looks like a dirt track from that height. That is what confused me. “Just find the wind turbine and fly due north. Brock road is a sucky land mark,” was his advice.
All was well in my mind, but for some reason I woke up this morning, totally and utterly convinced that I’d started my climb at Bluffers, rather than waiting until the two towers. I was actually waiting for the text from Bob saying “Did you bust Pearson’s airspace by any chance?”

None was forth coming; I tentatively sent a text about our plans for next lesson. Usual back and forth conversation. Not a word.
Finally I persuade myself to view my video, the altimeter isn’t that visible for a lot of the time but I definitely wasn’t super high at Bluffers, if (and it is a big if) I did climb a little prematurely, we are talking maybe 100ft max. No one is going to come chasing after me for that I think.

But honestly, how do I talk myself into these situations?
Again though, valuable learning. You can guarantee that I will never, ever make that climb too early.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

What are you doing up here?

While orbiting the downtown I had a bit of time on my hands. This is where situational awareness is a bitch. I had enough of it to know that every single call I heard on that frequency was a little bit longer that I was going to be stuck doing endless circles. I was sufficiently competent with my height management now that occasionally I felt the “whump” of my own wake turbulence. I was listening to the planes in the circuit. Something sounded familiar. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t until I landed and Bob wasn’t there immediately to greet me, that I realised something was up.

Bob was, in fact, with dispatch organising the obligatory bucket of water for a first solo. Another student.
Hang on, yep that means he was up there while I was orbiting. With another student. I heard him on the radio. That was the familiar sound.

To be honest, this makes me feel all kind of weird and I’m not sure why. I mean I don’t expect him to sit there chewing his nails, waiting with baited breath for me to land. In fact that he isn’t doing that is probably the ultimate compliment. He knows I’m just gonna take it out and do what I need to do, then bring her back. No sweat.

I still feel a little, I don’t know; not exactly cheated on, but when you have an ego like mine it takes some getting used to that you’re not the centre of attention. RTH says it's weird when you are solo and your instructor is in another plane behind you, and you are negotiating with them for space in the practice area.
Still I am happy for his student. First solos are awesome!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Normal service may be resumed…

… at some point.

As I mentioned before, blogging is about to get a little erratic. I’m on the final run up to my big summer conference, which has gotten really BIG this year. Good news for my employer, more work for me.
Although I’m about to be insanely busy I will admit that this is the part of my job that I totally love. It’s crazy, hectic, and nonstop. Dealing with anything and everything that comes up. Apart from some very welcome assistance with mass copying etc., I’m pretty much a one person show as far as this event goes. It is totally insane and I adore every moment of it.

At the moment I’m into the real fine details of getting my event leaders what they need and organising their resources.  The implications of this are a) I can now assemble a banker’s box in under 7 seconds.  I’m a real pro at it! And b) I’m regretting my decision after my last conference to shove all my excess supplies into random boxes to be sorted out “later”.
It would seem that “later” never actually happened.



Sunday, 28 July 2013

Please let me land

I finished what I needed to do in Claremont and set about on my way back. Navigating back is a lot easier than navigating out here, much to my relief. One of my fears, of course, being that I can get out there but not back. As I got to Bluffer’s Park I made my initial call: Call sign and ATIS identifier. When asked I replied with my intentions: “currently at Bluffers park, 2000ft inbound for landing on 08. Request right downwind.” Didn’t see the point in negotiating over the left downwind, I can’t accept it. I may as well save her the radio call.

“Request or Require?”
Oh c’mon. I’m trying to be polite here but if you are going to insist then yeah I “REQUIRE” the right downwind!

And this, ladies and gentleman, is where it all started to go a bit horrible.
“Follow the Danforth, I’ll give you instructions for crossing the approach path shortly”

I have no idea which road below me is the Danforth, but I know it runs east west. I pick a likely looking candidate and trundle along. Okay no one is yelling out me, I can’t be too far off course. So far, so good.
Okay the downtown core, you know the one I can’t fly over, thus requiring me to request that damn right downwind in the first place, is coming up bloody quick. Should I say something?

Just as I’m contemplating the game of chicken with ATC that I’m currently engaged in, a voice in my ear:
“JES start a right orbit please, I’ll get back to you.”

So orbit I do, for a solid 15 minutes.
Occasionally ATC speak to me, initially chiding me for sloppy altitude control; the story of this flight quite frankly. I feel a little put out, what’s a hundred feet or so? Then I realise that she has two of us orbiting up here. Me at 2000ft, another somewhere above me at 2500. And then a third who she won’t even let into the zone yet. Yep I’ve hit rush hour again.

After a while, she makes a call “JES, It’s going to be a while are you OK up there?”
Many thoughts flash through my mind while I stumble out with an “errm continuing right hand orbit JES.”

Thought number one: I guess this is as close to an apology from ATC as I’m ever going to get.
Thought number two: Am I OK up here? Do I have a choice? I can’t exactly say what I want to, can I? I mean what responses are acceptable in this situation? In reality the only answer I can give is “yes” unless I’m seriously low on fuel. In which case I’m in a whole other world of trouble because I should have 30 minutes of reserves available.

I figured unacceptable responses included:
“No, I need the washroom”

“I’ll give you $100 bucks to run me to the front of the line”
“I’m bored”

“Can I do a left hand orbit to break up the monotony a bit?”
I landed eventually, willing myself to get it down on the first attempt because there was NO WAY I wanted to go around again.

1.3 hours, my longest solo yet. Not in the circuit but the majority of it still spent within sight of the airport!



Saturday, 27 July 2013

Please let me take off.

I have no luck whatsoever with the traffic around here. No I’m not talking about cars and stuff; I mean I always seem to hit the runway during rush hour. Last lesson I dropped Bob off at the hanger and taxied my way back to the runway for another solo to Claremont. It had been pretty quiet up until this point. I saw a Porter on final and could hear that there was another plane in the circuit. The Porter passed by me on its way to landing. I knew that if I judged this right I could get my call in and ATC could squeeze me in between them. I waited until they had passed me, made the call and was fully expecting to be told to “line up and wait”.

“Hold short 08”
What? Ah damn I missed that; Mr Porter didn’t land, Mr Porter overshot.  

I have to wait a minimum of 3 minutes after his departure. Then the entire aviation world decides to enter the circuit. A medevac or two, a couple in the circuit. More commercial stuff. And me ,just sat in my normal spot at the hold short line.

And waiting
And then waiting some more.

Little did I know that not being able to takeoff was going to be the least of my worries!

Friday, 26 July 2013

From the archives: Weather sucks but friends are good!

Low ceilings and the words no one wants to see on a GFA*, “freezing drizzle.”

I’m taking some time off work over the holiday season, so hoping the conditions will stabilise enough for me to get a couple of lessons in. At the very least I need to solo again before I lose my nerve.
On a positive note though, I met up with A, an old friend from ground school and star of this post. First time we’ve met up since we both soloed. We had a fun time drinking sparkly wine and referring to each other as “pilot” at every opportunity

*I've had a crash course in reading GFAs from RTH. At the very least I can find Toronto on the map now. RTH was kind enough to concede that viewing them on the iPhone was part of the problem. On a PC you can mouse over the airport and it tells you where you are.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Fear and self-loathing in Toronto.

I need a swift kick up the backside, really. I bottled out of a solo to the practice area because the winds were a bit gusty up there and were freaking me out a little bit. I told Bob that “I knew I needed to expand my comfort zone but this was a little beyond what I wanted to do today.” He said he had no problem with sending me out there solo but wanted me to be comfortable. Even as I said it, it sounded so lame to my ears, truly pathetic.

Yes the winds were challenging but I was nailing those landings albeit with a lot of swearing. Understand that my biggest fear is getting out there and the conditions changing so that coming back is a problem. I could handle it though. They were the best crosswind landings I had ever done and I was riding out the random gusts enough to spot what they were doing to my airspeed before it all got too pear shaped.
I should have gone, that simple. And yes it may have been bumpy out there and yes I may have gotten shaken in my seat a bit, but I’m going to have to suck it up and work through it.

As soon as I landed, shut down and headed in to dispatch, I was regretting my decision. It wasn’t a wasted flight, because the crosswind stuff was really valuable but it wasn’t optimal by a long stretch. Next time I’m simple not going to give myself the option. I will ask Bob if he is happy for me to go out there solo. If the answer is yes then that’s my only option.
I hate myself right now.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

From the archives: Another reason I love Canada

Everything here is so open… and I don’t just mean the countryside. Canada has very comprehensive “freedom of information” acts. This means with just a clickty-click of my mouse I can not only find the exact guide issued for PPL wannabes concerning their exam. I can also read the handbook that the examiner follows. Hell I can even read the guide that dictates the standards the examiner is judged by.

Yes I have too much time on my hands. This is what happens when the weather grounds me and I'm not at work.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

From the archives: Bring it on

The last few flights have been awesome. Bob seems to have been going out of his way to throw everything he possibly can at me. I feel like I’m flying in this constant maelstrom of information, sensations and new experiences.  Some of it I’ve coped with, some of it I’ve needed assistance with. Whatever the case may be I’ve certainly been on the edge of my comfort zone that’s for sure.

Bob never actually lets me reach my comfort zone. The second he thinks I’m managing he has another thing up his sleeve to chuck at me. It’s brilliant! A couple of months ago I would happily have pushed him in front of a moving propeller for the kind of stuff he’s been shoving at me. Now I have a certain grudging admiration for his deviousness. Seriously I’m having an absolute blast.
There’s so much I have to look forward to, Bob talks about diversions to unknown airports, cross country routes, various emergency scenarios that he plans on throwing my way. All kinds of weird and wonderful stuff designed to help strengthen those all important decision making skills. Again, something which I seem to be slowly developing.

I can’t describe the feeling of confidence and satisfaction I get from a preflight briefing where I can actually answer Bob’s questions. One where I can either rattle off or reason my way through the answers he seeks. I’m slowly cracking the map reading stuff, the local navigation and path finding.
Last lesson Bob shoved me into an unfamiliar control zone leaving me fumbling with my charts to find the ATIS frequency and then quickly think my way through my radio calls. I managed it. I may have been a little behind the plane, I may have benefited from a little prompting from Bob but you know, if I’d have been there on my own, I’d have muddled my way through it without causing too much mayhem.

I have so much to learn but seriously bring it on. I’m so up for it right now.

Monday, 22 July 2013

From the archives.

I write a lot of stuff for this blog and usually have anywhere from 30-40 posts kicking around in draft form. A lot of them get shuffled to the back as new and more exciting stuff happens to me. Milestones like the first solo flight to Claremont inevitably spawn a handful of posts and the older posts seem to lose their impact when left in the background for so long. They are out of context.

I’m busy at work at the moment and unsure how that’s going to affect my flying. Bob is also off on vacation soon. I’m planning on dredging up some of these older posts and marking them “from the archives…” Hopefully you’ll realise that they are out of synch chronology wise.
I still have a whole series of posts about the now infamous “wake turbulence incident”; still not sure if I’ll ever post them.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

In physics we trust

Bit of a rollercoaster lesson last time out. Winds doing some seriously funky stuff. It really was like riding a roller coaster. One minute I could be trimmed out for a nice clean 65knots, then next a whoosh of wind and I’m perilously close to stall speed. With a mental note in my head to review wind shear and remember the differences between “positive performance” and “negative performance” effects on final, I wrestled the plane down onto the runway for some pretty passable crosswind landings.

Pretty passable because, despite my loud and frequent cursing, not a peep out of Bob*. I didn’t need his input to figure out what to do. Although not entirely comfortable with it, I was on top of the situation. Even with the funky wind effects.
The whole thing got me thinking though ,my crosswind landings are a million times better than they ever have been, but it so hard to describe what has changed. I just feel the plane better now. I can set up the slip with just the right amount of aileron and rudder combo to get that upwind/downwind wheel touch correct. I don’t know how the hell you teach someone to “feel” something but somehow Bob’s managed.

It was the same on final where the winds we jostling me around, suddenly a gust would see me low and slow. This is the ultimate bad combination in flying; high and fast is ok, low and slow can be fatal. I’d find myself low and slow and instinctively correct. You may not think that is a big deal until you realise that the corrective action is to point the nose down and add some power, basically every fibre in your body says “Bad idea, we are going to smack head first into the water” whereas your pilot skills know that this is the right thing to do.
Physics wins over instinct every time but those instincts are almost hard wired into our brains. Again, how do you teach someone to disobey every survival sense in their body?

You teach them the physics, you let them see the results and you hope they believe you.
In physics we trust and on the centreline we land!**



*Not strictly true, for a lack of anything better to do, Bob has started critiquing the utter rubbish that comes out of my mouth. New phrases are met with a “Hmmm, that’s a new one” and other nonsensical phrases such as my throw away remark that JES “handles like a pig on the ground” were met with an inquiry as to where my knowledge base on the handling characteristics of said porcines might be derived from.  


** not quite but getting closer!


Saturday, 20 July 2013

The opinion of strangers

Obviously I have no problem sharing my flying thoughts with complete strangers, via the medium of this blog and my YouTube channel. I have quite a collection of people whom I now correspond with because we’ve stumbled across each other on the internet. Despite this I’ve made a conscious choice, for example, to turn off public comments on my videos. I’ve seen too many “OMG incomptent (sic) pilot almost crashes plane” comments on a fairly routine go-around video. I don’t want to deal with that crap. If people have something sensible to share then they’ll email me, which a few have and generally if people go out of their way to email me, it is because they have something sensible to say and I’ve had some pretty sweet conversations with people from all kinds of places.

This post was actually inspired by a conversation with Flyinkiwi, my Antipodean* blog pal, with whom I swap regular emails about all things flying related. Flyinkiwi is usually the first to comment on any videos I upload and had a lot to say about my solo to Claremont, all of it nice!
The general gist of the conversation was along the lines “you demonstrate good flying skills, even from your earliest videos you were doing stuff right, maybe without even realising it.”

Now I have a lot of respect for Flyinkiwi, he’s always been there with steady and helpful advice and freely admits that it wasn’t all plain sailing for him either. His comments spawned the following reply from me, edited a bit for various reasons:

Your comments mean a lot of me. I know I have blogged about it but it is really hard for me to express just how completely and utterly terrified I was at the start of this whole adventure. The whole thing was just too overwhelming to consider that I might actually manage it on my own someday.
I know that most people are intimidated by flying when they first start because let’s face it no one knows how difficult it is until they begin, but those people usually have a desire to learn, you always hear them say “I’ve always wanted to fly.” Up until recently I never held any ambition to be a pilot, now I can’t think of being anything else.

For me it was very different. I just wanted RTH to be able to share his passion for flying with me. I literally trust him with my life, so I wanted to be in the plane with him but knew I couldn’t unless something changed. There was no way he’d be able to put up with me having a panic session and fly the plane.
The trouble is that flying is totally bewitching and mesmerising, as I’m sure you know. I still don’t understand what possessed me to keep getting back in that plane lesson after lesson after lesson, when I was bone shakingly terrified about the thought of flying it.

I’ve been thinking that this is probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, mostly because, yes I’ve had to work at it so much.
I’m fairly smart and quite frankly a lot of things in life come fairly easy to me. If they don’t then I move on and try something else. Flying has been a massive challenge, completely out of my comfort zone and yes I have had to WORK at it.

But the biggest eureka moment is realising that to people like yourself, who have no vested interest in whether I feel good about myself or not, I’m indistinguishable from any other student pilot out there.
Sometimes the opinion of strangers matters!


* I guess new Zealand isn’t the antipode of Canada, bah, well it was in the UK!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Make way for my ego

I will admit that there is a part of me that is enjoying this for the pure show-off factor. I mean, what 90% ? of people will never even attempt to do what I’m trying. I have a big enough ego as it is. And this is just pure fuel for the flame. It’s fun waiting for the ferry with all the tourists and their piles of luggage while you are sporting a teeny flight bag, Especially when you travel back and forward enough that the ferry crew get to know you and say Hi.
One fun thing is that when you get off the ferry you don’t follow the common rabble into the terminal but have to kind of duck behind the security guy to get down the stairs to the hanger. People do stare at you. I like it!

RTH plays a slightly different game. He likes to see how many people he can get to accidentally follow him! But he’s evil!
I’ve had a couple of ego boosting conversations with people, mostly because it doesn’t even cross their minds that the short scruffy female in front of them might be a pilot (sort of, kinda!). To them pilots are the nicely dressed young men in the white shirts with the epaulets. One old lady took one look at my small bag and commented on how smart I was to travel with so little luggage. She looked confused when I said I wasn’t travelling, just going down for a flight. Another woman was expressing frustration at the late running ferry and asked me “I wonder if people ever miss their plane because of this?” I told her that unless I had really upset my instructor, my plane didn’t tend to go without me!

And on a final note, yes I do deliberately leave my checklist sticking out the back of my flight bag so people can see it!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

There’s always a critic.

During a set of dual circuits with Bob I was having a bit of a hard time judging my approach and descent for landing. The winds were fairly light and it was taking me a bit of while to figure out which combo of powering back and flaps was going to work. I don’t know if it is just me but during the hot muggy summers we tend to get there, that little Cessna doesn't want to come down out of the sky.  I felt it all the way back from the practice area, my nice gentle en-route descent had to get a little more un-gentle when I just wasn't losing the height.

The circuit was reasonably quiet so I heard and took in every single comment from ATC. A Porter was coming in behind me, ATC passed on the traffic to it as “ #2 to a Cessna on base for 26, a little high”
“A little high”?

At this moment I’m currently engaged in a fairly aggressive slipping turn where it feels like my legs are pointing 180 degrees round from the top half of my body and you, in the comfort of your nice air conditioned tower, wanna tell me I’m “a little high”!

No sh#t!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


My solo to Claremont was a major milestone for me. Not skills wise because quite frankly I wasn’t doing anything I haven’t done a hundred times before, it was a mental milestone.

Bob got the timing perfect on this stepping stone. I’ve probably had the skills for a while now to safely fly to Claremont and back, what I didn’t have was the belief in my abilities. By the time Bob saw fit to release me for this flight. I wanted it. I was champing at the bit ready to go. The desire to progress far outweighing any lingering doubts. The lack of panic allowing me that mental clarity to deal with anything that could be thrown my way. It was the right time in every way.
So what now? Well long term Bob hinted at the fact that I’m “very close to doing cross country flights now.” A statement which evoked a thrill of excitement rather than the gut-churning angst I’ve previously felt. I have no doubt that I’m going to need easing into that gently, building up my confidence with some easier destinations before going for the big , 2 landing 150 miler. And I have no doubt that Bob’ll weave his usual magic and do exactly that. Ease me in gently ‘til I reach the point where I know I can do it and equipping me with the tools to cope if it goes a little awry.

Short term, I’m going to be back at the practice area on my own. Our next planned flight is a repeat of the previous one. Ok well maybe not an exact repeat. I’m sure Bob would actually like me to attempt the steep turns this time! And I will, I promise.
My personal goal is to just tidy it up a bit, polish my performance. My altitude control wasn’t exactly erratic but I wasn’t transitioning smoothly from one height to the next. Climbing a little steeper than I needed to and ditto with the descent when re-entering the altitude controlled zone.  With that comes the need to expand my comfort level of what I’m happy doing out there on my own. At some point I’m going to have to do stalls and forced approaches and all the other crazy stuff solo. That’s going to take some nerve!

But it’ll be okay. I have big goals and small goals to work on and I’ll tackle them a couple at a time.
We’ll get there; Bob, JES and myself!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Coming home.

I’m honestly not sure how long I spent doing gentle, lazy turns around the southwest corner of Claremont. I really did lose track of time.  Eventually I decided it was time to bring her home.

I made my call that I was leaving the area and headed south. The shoreline and highway ridiculously simple to spot after the haze of previous lessons. The landmarks coming so easily to me now.  I struggled a little to lose the altitude I needed but managed to force her down. As I got lower the plane started to shake again. Not quite turbulence but not smooth either. “Seriously?” I asked out loud “you’re going to do this to me now?”
I got the ATIS nice and early and made my call to City a little sooner than usual. They sounded busy and I didn’t want to be in the situation where I couldn’t get a call in and would have to delay entering the zone.

Reassured by my conversation with Bob beforehand that the NOTAM restriction would virtually guarantee me the right downwind I needed, I confidently announced my intention “inbound for 08.”
“Cleared for the left downwind, make it wide due to restricted airspace.”

Man, seriously?

Luckily I’ve rehearsed this conversation.
“City tower, JES request right downwind please”

If I don’t get it this time, next comes the “unable” line.
“Approved right downwind, south of the Stacks, not below 2000”

That I can live with.  I repeat it back and plan my approach. This is OK, Bob and I talked about maintaining 2000ft til the stacks anyways. All is going well. There’s traffic around, I don’t have a visual but I don’t feel that I’m in anyone’s way. However, I’m past the Stacks now and I’m still at 2000ft. I politely enquire with ATC as to whether I might possibly be allowed to descend.
No such luck. They keep me at 2000ft until I’m pretty much about to turn base. Still totally unfazed by this I turn base, trim my speed and dump everything I’ve got in terms of flaps, power back and see where it takes me. Not unduly concerned. I’ve had altitude restrictions before and, at the end of the day, I go round if I don’t manage to bring it down. No hassle.

I fly a scrappy approach, nowhere near lined up with the centreline, but I claw it back. Just turning a little too steeply on final to call it a polished performance. A little bit of crosswind, maybe not enough correction but we touch down early and gentle. A decent nose up landing, JES almost kissing the tarmac. I bring the control column back and brake positively and firmly.
Until I realise that I really have landed early, I quickly squirt a bit of power before ATC realise that I could exit onto 33 very easily and tell me to.  I hate that exit! Dutifully I parrot back “exit Foxtrot, no delay” and scuttle off to my usual haunt.

Off and onto ground frequency, the massive grin spontaneously appearing as I realise I’ve actually done this!
Taxi in, guided into a spot by Bob and shut her down. After the obligatory congratulations Bob remarks mildly “you were out there for a while, we wondered if you were coming back or if you’d decided to go off on a cross country somewhere.”

At that point I realise I’ve been gone for an entire hour! To think I was worried that I would bottle out and turn back before I got to Claremont.
I wanna do this again, and soon!


Monday, 15 July 2013

The one where WMAP gets all smushy!

The thing that stands out from today’s flight was just how easy it actually was. I was totally and utterly in control for the entire flight. I was ahead of the plane and on top of my game. The visibility was better than I’ve seen it in a long time. The hot summer sun burning off any morning haze. It was stupidly easy to spot my navigation landmarks. So much so that I found myself second guessing my position, surely Frenchman’s Bay couldn’t be that easy to spot?

I barely needed my chart; I lazily flew along the shoreline, marvelling at the colour of the lake. The air was still and stable, so perfect. I stayed at 2500ft, content just to follow the shoreline along. I kept up my instrument scan, parroting “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate,” just as Bob has taught me. All the time keeping on top of what I needed to do.
As I approached Pickering power station, I made another position call announcing my intention to start heading north. On the way I negotiated with a couple of other aircraft and staked out my little piece of sky.  As soon as I was over land, the plane started to react, a little summer warming of the land gently shaking me. I’m not particularly a fan of that and I had the whole sky above me, let’s climb and see if we can find some more stable air.

Sure enough above 3000ft JES and I settled down and took stock of our surroundings.
It was so beautiful it defies description.

You simply don’t see landscape like that in the UK. The UK is small and green. All tight curves, winding roads and small spaces, rolling hills and houses dotted along twisty country lanes.
Below me were vast fields, straight lines, flat open spaces,so many colours, suburbia popping up from vast empty nothing. The oh so blue lake to the south, boats and sails dotted along the shore, empty beaches, open parks and away to the west, the ultimate symbol of Toronto poking above the skyline, clearly visible in the bright summer sun.

Below me was the sum total of my new home personified, an entire country mine to view. It was so profound, it hurt. I’m not ashamed to say I got a little sentimental up there. I almost cried. To be in this position, to have achieved this much to enable me to fly out there solo and drink in this view. It’s just incredible.
And then I remembered I was meant to be doing steep turns!

Oops. Time to come back I think.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Just another day at the office!

Today was the big day; I woke up to near perfect weather conditions. Amazing visibility, winds straight down the runway at a reasonable 9 knots. The only slight hiccup being that the winds were from the east (I prefer runway 26 over 08) and a small NOTAM because of the Indy car race at the Exhibition grounds.

Ironically the NOTAM should have worked in my favour, Flight School regs don’t allow me to accept a left downwind for 08, with the restricted airspace the right downwind should be the standard offering from ATC.
I got down to the school early to give me maximum time to do my walkround and just generally prep myself.  A reasonably quick briefing with Bob. We’d do a couple of circuits, he’d get out and off I’d go. He ran a couple of questions by me, seemed happy with the answers and let me take us out.

My circuits weren’t perfect, but they were ok. A little scrappy on final because I turned too soon and ended up on a slanted approach but passable landings for sure. We called a full stop on the second one; I taxied us in and parked up.
Bob got out and I took a very deep breath, switched back to the ATIS to make sure that nothing had changed and made my call. The very first time I’ve made that solo call for a “Local Flight East,” the words caught in my throat a little. I was about to set off on my own, further than I’ve ever been solo. My first time away from the airport. It was a big deal! I check myself for signs of panic and find nothing.

None at all.
A strange mixture of nerves and excitement.

I want  this
I’m ready.

I taxied back out, found a little nook before runway 08 and did my full run up checks.
All good, up to the hold short line, switch to tower. Yep, there’s a Porter on final, can I get out before it? Before I have a chance to get a word in edgeways tower gives them a landing clearance. Ok I’ll wait.

As soon as they pass I let tower know I’m ready. I line up and wait. I hear my instructions with a clarity I’m not sure I’ve experienced before. I dutifully repeat back “not above 1800, north of the Stacks, clear take off 08”
Away we go. JES is on her best behaviour today. A little sluggish to climb but it is hot  with a high density altitude and this is not unexpected, I forgive her. Gracefully she takes me over the downtown, plenty of room over the Stacks, over the downtown, gently reminding me to put in some rudder to avoid drifting into the some of the taller buildings.

ATC releases me from my altitude restriction after a small turn to the left and clears me enroute. I switch to the practice area frequency and that’s it! I’m all on my own, heading to the practice area.
The sky is mine!

More about the flight in another post but the title comes from Bob’s comment as I taxied in, shut down and calmly opened the door. He took one look at my beaming smile and said
“Just a regular day at the office, huh?”



Saturday, 13 July 2013


It’s Friday, I have a flight booked for 9:30 Saturday morning and the weather conditions are looking good. All signs point to me heading off the Claremont on my own tomorrow. Despite my previous predictions, no sign of the inevitable panic-vomiting yet.

At the moment, I’d describe my mood/outlook as “nervous”. Personally I don’t think that’s an unreasonable position to be in. I think a sensible amount of nerves is a healthy thing. It keeps you alert and on your toes as opposed to relaxed and complacent.
So what mental turnaround has happened in order for to exchange panic and fear for mere nerves? I’d love to say I’ve had a mental epiphany, that I’ve found a way to battle through my usual reaction. Truth is though that work is stupid busy and has done an awful lot to p!ss me off this week.  I’ve spent most of my mental energy being totally furious at certain things and quite frankly haven’t had the time to start obsessing about my upcoming ordeal.

What I am trying to do is some focused visualisation. This might sound new-agey type hokum but really it just means imagining what you want to happen and seeing the mental picture of it happening. So I might close my eyes and remember what the mental picture of being on the downwind leg for 08 looks like. How far should I be from the shoreline? What should my altimeter say? What would that picture look like? What would I expect the needles on my instruments to do?
I think it works; I tried it a little on the way back from the practice area last time. I was cleared for a straight in approach for 26 and it’s been a long time since I did one of those and traditionally I’ve had problems judging my approach height and selecting a suitable speed.  As I got closer to the airport I realised that I was coming up on the eastern gap*. A little light bulb went off in my head, you’ve been here before. ATC have often sent you out on an extended final to the gap, what did that look like? Okay well I would have been at 65 knots on a final approach and a little under circuit altitude.  So that’s exactly what I set up for and you know what? It worked! Bob complimenting me on how well I blended from my initial approach to final for landing!

I’m looking at the opposite too. While I’m making sure my emergency procedures and stuff are straight in my head, I’m not obsessing over them. I don’t necessarily want to dwell on the “what ifs” because then that is where my focus is drawn and I start running into the paralysed-by-fear problem.
The final thing I’m visualising is taxiing back in with a huge smile on my face, knowing that I’ve done a good job and that the plane is back in one piece.

That’s definitely the image I’m concentrating on!


*I’m working on a series of blog posts about the geographical area I fly in, so bear with me if you don’t know the local landmarks!