Monday, 31 March 2014

My kind of chaos.

Coming back into City’s zone was chaos. Initially it was tough to get a word in edgeways; obviously the traffic had built up a bit. No worries. I wait patiently and get my initial call in. It takes her a while to get back to me. I’m not concerned. I can hear traffic in the circuit that she’s dealing with so I’m fairly confident that I’ve not been forgotten about. I get the return call but someone jumps in before I can reply.

Once again I’m patient, this is not unfamiliar territory, been here done that. I can hear the barely controlled chaos unfolding around me. There’s Commercial traffic, students in the circuit, helicopter tours and one irritating guy who is stepping on everyone’s calls. Wincing against the feedback, I remind myself that I’ve been that person before and try not to judge them too harshly.

Momentarily I panic, I’m not 100% sure I’ve been given clearance into the zone. I mean we’ve established two way communications but that’s not enough for the Class C around city. I need permission. Just as I’m contemplating the nuances of this and discussing them with Bob she gets back to me and the instructions given could legitimately be considered a “clearance”. I have enough time to fire back a response before Mr. Irritating jumps in on frequency again.

While the ATC pandemonium continues, I quietly fly my plane over the city, hoping that my passenger is enjoying the view, despite the rough ride. The bumps and jolts are bothering me more than the radio racket. The plane is fighting me more and more and I’ve lost the ability to gently guide her, we are engaged in a full blown wrestling match now and I have a suspicion that i'm not exactly winning. I daren’t talk to my passenger in case I miss out on a radio call directed to me. I have a suspicion that ATC are trying to talk to me but Mr. Irritating is blundering his way across everyone’s comms yet again.

I decide that there is nothing I can do; flying the plane against the turbulence is taking up a large portion of my attention and comms ranks as number three on my priority list. I make a conscious decision that I’m just going to follow my previous instructions until ATC tell me otherwise. Secretly I’m hoping to get brownie points for being the quiet unassuming plane that isn’t causing any hassles .Maybe I’ll get landing priority or something.

Ha!!!! No such luck but that’s for another post.

Despite my previous post where I’m majorly concerned about my navigational skills, I’m taking a great deal of comfort from the fact that I wasn’t in the slightest bit bothered by this situation. It may have been barely controlled chaos but it was my kind of chaos. 

This I know how to handle. 

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Must do better.

Ok negative or not, there are some things that I seriously need to get sorted out before I can even think of doing this cross country stuff on my own.

While superficially it would seem that the flight was a success, I got the three of us there and back with no collateral damage after all. Some things still really scare me.

On the way back, I lost my way. Not in a “OMG I have no idea where I am” kind of way. No in a way that actually I consider to be a lot more dangerous.

The fact is I knew I was off track, whether it was because I wasn’t maintaining my heading or if my calculations were off or the winds had changed, I don’t know but it soon became obvious that I wasn’t where I was meant to be.

Bob, in his infinite patience, tried to talk me through the process of reorienting myself and re-establishing a new heading but I was stubborn. I did something that probably would have seen me bust some serious airspace if I was on my own.

The trouble is when I get lost or disoriented or whatever you want to call it, I get flustered. When I get flustered my brain sees what it wants to see.  I knew that the next checkpoint I was looking for was Uxbridge village, so I alter my course slightly and sure enough there’s a built up area. Uxbridge, excellent, sorted.

Except really my brain knows that this Uxbridge doesn’t look quite the same as the one going out did. But it would be soooo handy if this was Uxbridge, so let’s convince our self that it is. Despite Bob’s prompting I’m not picking upon the visual clues that I’m really not where I should be. It takes a blatantly obvious landmark like Frenchman’s Bay, and the realisation that I’m waaaaay further west than I should be to finally convince me.

I’m further west and further south than I thought. Continuing on this course would have seen me in Buttonville’s airspace before I knew it. As it is, I’m too high really. I need to get down before I’m in Terminal’s airspace. I put the plane in an ear-popping descent to avoid any nasty repercussions, mindful of the fact that it might not be so comfortable for my passenger but I’m too flustered to explain to them what’s going on.

The fact that I can now navigate by familiarity is eclipsed by the fact that we are now low and in dirty air. I make a note to figure out a new descriptor, we left “sporty” behind a while back and “feisty” isn’t even beginning to cover this.

Although I eventually got us back on track, I’ll be honest; this kind of stuff really scares me.  Getting lost is one thing but the easy way I can convince myself that I’m elsewhere is a major red flag as far as I’m concerned.

Not sure how to move on from this. I simply have to do better.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

A sporty ride.

I knew it was going to be bad, upper winds a whopping 30 knots from the north. My groundspeed calculated to be 70 odd knots on the way out but 130ish on the way back. My fears were confirmed by flight services who, while reassuring me that the ceilings and general weather were going to stay good, it was going to be by their words “a bumpy ride”

Funnily enough, this didn’t bother me unduly. I wasn’t going to be attempting any fancy airwork, I just needed to keep the plane pointing in a straight line. I even had a little bit of altitude to play with, once I was outside the practice area and away from Terminal’s control zone, I could fly at either 3500 or 5500 to find some clean air.

Sure enough she was a little sporty on the way out, right through 3500. Beyond that, as I hoped we found some smoother air, the strong winds working in my favour as our 70 knot ground speed meant that I had ample time to figure out where I was and navigate accordingly.

A few initial hiccups aside I was amazed that I actually managed to spot Muskoka airport from quite a ways out. Initially I was very excited about this fact, then I dialled it back a little, suddenly conscious of the fact that a pilot being excited about spotting an airport might not be exactly reassuring to the passenger in the back. A passenger who was a little quiet by this point!

The approach to the runway itself became a little more than sporty, maybe even upgraded to “feisty” but I was completely unconcerned from a flying perspective, Muskoka’s runway is massive, almost twice as long as what I’m used to. I had plenty of room to sort it all out.

The runway was slightly snow covered, just enough that I couldn’t really see the centreline. Not bothered at all, with no visual centreline I didn’t I have to worry about Bob bitchin’ when I missed it!
Plane down, first time. No bouncing, no worries. I brake, backtrack and report clear of the runway.
We park up and I breathe a long sigh of relief. There and down in one piece.

The trip back, not so much fun though.

Next time.

Friday, 28 March 2014

My first passenger.

It is kind of fitting that my brother was my first passenger. When he learnt to drive I was the first passenger in his souped up Talbot Sunbeam*. That car was fun, I recall it being quite “sporty”, we’ll come back to that phrase in a moment.

My brother was quite fascinated with the amount of preparation that went in before the flight, even then he didn’t see all of it because I got up about 3 hours before we needed to leave in order to do the last minute course stuff, plugging in the current winds and so on.

A few days before I sat at our table plugging numbers into the weight and balance sheet. Technically I have a spreadsheet I can use for this, but like anything at the moment, I’m getting as much practice as I can doing everything by hand. I showed him the various weights and the fact that they act at different parts of the plane, so you need to check if the centre of gravity is within limits.

I’d never carried passengers or stuff in the back before so I needed to carefully figure out just how much fuel we could take. I’d already realised that we were going to need one of the S models, with their extra 100 pound or so capacity.

Numbers crunched, I worked out that at ¾ tanks we would be good from a weight limit and a take off COG limit too.

“So, all good then?” My brother enquired.

“Not exactly, I’ve calculated that we are fine to take off, Now I’ve got to figure some fuel burn and see if we are ok to land!”

We both agreed that landing at some point would be nice!

On the day, we trundled down to the airport, picnic bag in hand. My brother clutching the spare headset I the manner of someone who really doesn’t know what he’s meant to do with it.

I’d already had a brief chat with him about how he could talk to me, and no ATC wouldn’t be able to hear him, but when someone was talking on the radio, I needed him to be quiet. I also explained that there would probably be times where I wouldn’t be able to talk to him, like on takeoff and landing.

There are a few things that I would have liked to have done differently from a passenger perspective. I would have liked to explain the walkround a little more but the plane was outside, it was minus twenty odd, so the walkround became a little brisk, pace wise. I think my brother was still getting over the fact that we just pushed open a door and wandered onto the apron.

I honestly don’t know what he thought of the amount of checks and stuff we have to do on the ground before we takeoff, and I don’t think I really spent a lot of time beforehand explaining it all to him. It’s a lot for a non pilot to take in to be honest but before we knew it, I was lined up on my favourite runway, had the crosswind corrections in and we were airborne.

The rest is for another post. 

*I think I've got the make right, I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Just don’t

My head hurts.

Last night in a spectacular fashion I nearly cracked my skull open while attempting to help an old lady pick up her spilled groceries.

Today I have managed to glue my own eyelashes together with sticky tack

Don’t ask.

Just don’t.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

If it’s not one thing…

 So I’ve had enforced breaks in flying due to weather and work and now I’m looking at another weekend with no flying.

Don’t really want to complain, this one is of my own choice. We have a friend visiting from the UK and want to show them the sights as it were, so the weekend is calling for a ROAD TRIP!!* 

Although I’m not going to get flying I’m looking forward to it, we still haven’t worked out our itinerary yet but I’m relishing the break. By the time Friday gets here I’ll have worked 12 days straight without a break. 

I’m already in danger of dozing off at my desk and I’m forgetting important details, like my name and phone extension. I picked up the phone to answer a coworkers call and struggled with forming a coherent sentence, instead of my usual “Good morning, WMAP speaking”, I managed “Good morning, um yeah it’s me speaking”

* Has to be said with an obligatory “WHOOOOP!” at the end, at least if you want to annoy your husband!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Does everyone do this?

I was more than a little happy after my last flight, taking my brother on a brunch trip to Muskoka. It was the first flight where I’d had to do the flight planning for real, where I’d had to deal with flight plans and flight services and proper navigation and all that jazz.

I was mildly elated that we made it there in one piece, despite the blustery north winds trying their best to shake the controls out of my hands. It was a high workload flight for sure and for the most part I did OK, I mean I got myself, two passengers and the plane there and back intact.

I even managed some funky stuff on return to city, but in reflection now I see so many things that I could have done better, some things I didn’t even think of at all and some things that I deferred to Bob’s judgement perhaps more than I should have.

Before this flight I was convinced that I was well on my way to getting that license, I was a pilot; dammit and nothing was going to stop me. It was just a matter of time.

Now, in reflection, I’m once again daunted by the epic scale of the task ahead of me. In terms of conquering that mountain, I’ve barely made base camp.

Does everyone pull their own performance apart like this, or am I just overly critical?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Lesser known items…

…In a conference organisers purse.

Flashlight – you can guarantee that light switches and IT connector panels are hidden in totally inaccessible places. Parking lots are also scary places when you are the last one to leave at night

Screwdriver/multi tool – the above normally need some kind of connector reconnecting or dodgy wire reattaching.

Hammer – useful for a number of reasons, this session it has been mostly used for breaking up bags of ice (I’m organiser, caterer and cleaner on this event). It has other uses. I’m not saying anymore ;)

A smile – obligatory  at all times- sometimes needs faking.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Not what I meant.

I was sat here being the conference host type person looking yearningly upwards.

The sky was blue, the temperature above freezing, the winds light.

I was gutted that I wasn’t going to get airborne this week.  I want to fly, I want to get back into my training regime. I want to debrief the last flight with Bob, honestly without an audience present.
I was almost dreading today, another day of yearning at the wide blue yonder.

Well, it snowed, it rained, the winds are due to be 30 odd knots.

This really wasn’t what I had in mind at all weather.

Go home winter, you’ve really outstayed your welcome.

Friday, 21 March 2014


Am at work, am going to be here all weekend, being the happy smiling face of my employer.

Normally I enjoy running conferences but this one is leaving me a little flat.

Maybe it’s because I’m hosting on behalf of someone else, so this isn’t my baby.

Maybe it’s because they are all theatre-arty types

Maybe it’s because this particular workshop isn’t a revenue earner

Maybe it’s because Spring seems to be slowly pushing through and I don’t get to fly this weekend

Stuck here. Want to be elsewhere

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Missing the blindingly obvious

Just when I think I’m getting on top of all this stuff and might just be getting slight less behind my instructor than normal, Bob throws a curveball my way.

OK, so this time it wasn’t so much him being deliberately tricky more me missing the blindingly obvious!
I was doing my very best to visually spot the landmarks I’d identified for our trip to Muskoka. Some were easy, Claremont for example, I’m fairly familiar with and Thorah Island in Lake Simcoe is blindingly obvious even when the lake is frozen. Others are a bit more tricky, I always struggle to correctly id Uxbridge and I’m not convinced I ever really spotted Sparrow Lake.

One thing I did spot (with a little prompting from Bob) was Orillia airport.. With a single east-west runway ploughed straight into the snow it was pretty obvious*. Once we were both happy that I had it in sight and was sure of my position on the chart, I went back to the important business of enjoying the view. A minute or so passes.

“So WMAP, if your engine quit now, what’s your plan?”

Ha, I’ve played this game before. I take brief look around me. “There’s a nice field at my 9 O’clock. Flat and square, means I can come at it from any direction.”

“okaaaaay,” contemplates Bob. 

Damn, this means I’ve missed something. “or, perhaps…..” he prompts.

Ah Crap !!!

“Ah, yeah, ermm I guess I probably could make the airport from here.”

Yes, airports are better than fields for landing. I think that’s generally considered to be one of the earlier lessons in learning to fly.

Talk about missing the blindly obvious.


* which makes this report a little bizarre to be honest

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Not my fault this time.

Yay I’m famous (infamous?) in another CADOR report! This one totally not my fault. Full report is here

 Main jist of the text is below:

Winds variable from NW gusting 20kts, Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited (CAVU). A privately registered Piper PA-32RT on a local flight from Toronto/ Billy Bishop, ON (CYTZ) elected to land runway 26, blown front tire on landing, unable to exit, stopped at intersection runways 26 & 33. An Island Air Flight School & Charters Cessna 172S (C-GSAR) from Maskoka, ON (CYQA) to Toronto/ Billy Bishop, ON (CYTZ) on final runway 26 instructed to pull up, go around, orbit in downwind, not interested in using runway 24 nor orbiting over city. Runway 26 inspected, tow coordinated for Piper PA-32RT-300T. An Island Air Flight & Charters Cessna 172R (C-FJES), VFR on a local flight from Toronto/ Billy Bishop, ON (CYTZ) elected to depart runway 24. Spacing coordinated for Porter Airlines (POE724). Wind reduced to 8kts, C-GSAR elected to land runway 24. Runways operational 1758Z

Now I don’t have a huge amount to say about this but again the wording is odd, apparently I “wasn’t interested” in using 24 or orbiting over the city.

Let’s look at the facts, I was just completing a high workload and fairly long flight. Runway 26 would have been a reasonably sporty crosswind, 24 would have just been icky. The approach over the city had been bumpy enough to leave me wishing that I was wearing a sports bra!

No I really wasn’t “interested” in either of those options. As it was the landing on 24 was exciting enough.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Service with a smile

I took on many firsts during this flight, the subtleties of many of them will probably escape most of you but I have to give a special shout out to the fine people at London Flight Services. Thank you so much for making my dealings with you a total pleasure despite my nerves.

My first dealings with flight services was the usual weather briefing, a cheerful flight specialist confirmed my interpretation that any lower ceilings and scud would stick to the west and not bother me too much, we discussed the strong north winds and commiserated over the frigid temperatures, “at least it’s keeping the parachutists away!” they joked.

The next horror to contemplate was the flight plan. I’ve never filed a flight plan before, Bob’s sneakily filed one on my behalf, but I’ve never filed one myself. It’s not that difficult, you fill in a paper form with various bits of info and then phone up Flight Services to file it. You tend to leave the paper copy with dispatch so they know what you intend to do.

Both Bob and RTH have taken time to go through filling the paper form in with me. I was relatively confident about what goes where. Unfortunately neither of them could prepare me for the worst bit of the process, actually having to talk to someone on the phone. I don’t like this. I’m sure I may have mentioned this fact before!

I met Bob early to go through my planning, as we looked over the flight plan Bob was happy with what I’d done. “Am I really going to file a flight plan for this flight?” I asked, desperate to find a way out. Hoping against all hope that Bob’d confess it was all just a training exercise.

I picked up my phone. I looked at it. I looked at the flight plan. I looked back at Bob “I really don’t want to do this, “ I try one last ditch appeal to his better nature.
“You’ll be fine,” fixing me with a steady gaze, the implication being I’m not getting anywhere near a plane until I make that phone call

So I reluctantly call flight services, hesitantly I open with “Good morning, I’d like to file a flight plan please”

First question I’m asked is the plane’s registration. This I can do. So far, so good. They helpfully inform me that they already have some info on file for this plane. I’m asked to confirm the name of the flight school as the owner. I do so and instantly realise that the person on the other end probably has a fair idea that I’m a student. Relief washes over me as they lead the conversation, asking me for the bits of info that they don’t have. Infinitely patient as I struggle through the fact that they are skipping some sections of the flight plan, they don’t seem to be too bothered by the fact that occasionally I suspect I’m answering a different question to the one they are asking.

Flight plan filled they chirpily wish me a good flight and I gratefully hang up. Actually it was relatively painless.

Onwards and upwards.

My next encounter is once I’m airborne and out of City’s control zone. I need to contact London Radio and confirm my flight plan has been opened and revise my time airborne. Once again I’m hesitant. Unlike my dealings  with City Tower, I’m not sure how this conversation will work out. I’m used to City’s radio chatter. I know its forms and patterns. I know how it works, this is unknown territory.  I stumble my way through the call without any major issues and once again am confronted by a polite and cheerful person on the other end of the radio. Again my relief is palpable.

At the half way point I brave another call, this time with a VFR position report. Once again, new territory for me and once again the radio operator infinitely patient as I blunder my way through the call, one eye on my knee board. On the ground my notes made perfect sense. In the air, wrestling with a laden plane in bumpy weather, the nuances escape me.

My dealings on the way back are similarly uneventful. The operators cheerful and helpful, prompting me for information when I neglect to provide it. At some point it occurs to me that maybe these people actually like talking to pilots, maybe they are genuinely pleased to be offering this service. Unlike the hectic control zone around City, where the more you shut up the more ATC like you, these people actually seem to want to talk to you.

Let’s wrap it up to say that I’m very grateful to everyone from LFS that I dealt with today, you left me with a very positive experience and it means that I’m not worried at all about dealing with you in the future. In fact I’ll actually try to match your cheer and good humour, please understand I was a little stressed out this time.

Still, I  hope I gave you a little bit of a giggle when I got my radio frequencies mixed up and was still on your frequency when making a radio call that went like this “Simcoe traffic this is Golf Sierra Alpha Romeo, currently…….oh crap!”

Monday, 17 March 2014

Two words

So the purpose of today’s “local drive east” was an interesting one. HB has recently introduced me to the concept of geocaching.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, well HB has a T-shirt that describes it as “using million dollar satellite equipment to find Tupperware in the woods”. For a more complete description try here or the official site here.

Urban geocaching is incredible fun. Places that you walk past everyday hide a veritable treasure trove of finds. The trick being to locate them and sign the log without being spotted. HB and I spent a fun morning locating caches within a very small local radius. As we looked online for likely candidates we realised that one site is actually visible from our window!

More rural locations though take on a whole other dimension in this weather. We set out, WMAP, HB and RTH on our drive, set on finding some more caches.

OK, if you are unaccustomed to our weather foibles, I have two words for you. Snow Banks.
Now HB is not a stranger to unforgiving terrain, or wildlife for that matter (interesting story about caching in Florida and a closer-than-you’d-really-like encounter with an alligator) but even he isn’t used to the sheer volume of snow we get.

What appears to be a simple “drive by” according to the website turns into a little bit more of an epic adventure. Often the “easily accessible” cache is the other side of a mound of snow, often the mound of snow is taller than me.

HB was also introduced to different types of snow, specifically compacted vs not. Compacted snow is fairly easy to walk on, non-compacted means you risk disappearing up to your knees in the white stuff. And this is exactly what happened, our foraging occasionally punctuated by yelps of peoples’ legs disappearing into the wild white yonder.

Apparently RTH and I can consider ourselves seasoned geocachers now as we both have sustained injuries associated with the hobby. I have scratches on my scalp from ducking through tree branches and RTH has managed to stab his palm with some sharp ice.

Even the more tame sites prove a little challenging this time of year. A bench in a village park, should be easy to spot you’d think but as we stomped through it, I read the description out loud. Hmm, that’s a little worrying, “Guys?! I think we’re standing on a pond. Can you hear creaking?”
Fortunately we didn’t end up in the pond, but we didn’t exactly stay dry either. Waterproof boots are fine, until the snow enters them from above.

190 kilometres and 8 caches later (would have been more but some were obviously not winter accessible) we returned home; exhausted, a tad damp but happy.

Two words summing up the day: Awesome fun!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Local drive east

I’ve got family visiting at the moment, specifically my brother. He’s hilarious to be around so shall henceforth be known as Hilarious Brother or HB.

I’ve been introducing HB to the various delights of Canadian life. He’s experienced a nice balmy spring day where the temperatures got up to around 5 degrees C where we went for a nice trek around town, followed by 15cm of snow the next day. That one we decided to sit out.

Today RTH kindly hired a car and we went for a little drive. We had a purpose in mind, which I’ll explain another post.

One of the fun things about today was our destination, we were heading to the Claremont area and beyond, hoping to end up somewhere around Lake Scugog. HB was already vaguely familiar with the areas as I’d pointed them out on my aviation charts. Regular followers will know that our practice area is mainly centred around Claremont.

As we discussed the route HB enquired “so how long will it take to get there?” A very reasonable question, you would think.

At this point I had to admit, rather shame-faced. “I don’t honestly know. I’ve only ever flown there!”

Friday, 14 March 2014

Almost a pilot.

I’m in a good place confidence wise at the moment. I’ve almost stopped thinking of myself as a student pilot. I guess I consider myself a pilot who just hasn’t passed her flight test yet.

I really think I’ve got the basics sorted now; I just need to gain experience and polish off the rough edges. I honestly know that I can do what I need to do to get my license. It’s just a matter of time now.
Of course time isn’t being kind to me, winter has just been totally brutal this year and the end still doesn’t seem to be in sight.

Last weekend RTH and I took a little jaunt to the base of Lake Simcoe, it suddenly dawned on me that RTH wasn’t doing anything that I couldn’t do. I could have handled that flight easily on my own. In fact, as RTH pointed out, at this point I’m actually more flight current than he is. A quick look in his log book revealed that, due to being in the circuit working on his night rating, he hadn’t been above 2000ft in nearly 6 months.

He actually asked me to remind him if he had missed anything or was about to do something stupid. This was kind of weird, a shift in the balance of power a little bit. I’m not used to being the “experienced” pilot in the cockpit but yes, I’m certainly more “away from the airport” current than RTH is.

The simple fact is that for all intents and purposes I’m a capable and competent pilot albeit a little low on the hours and experience.

I need to widen my horizons a little bit. I’m already expanding my comfort zone in terms of weather and crosswind capabilities.  Now I’m looking at new airports and cross country flights.

I’m also about to do something either incredibly brave or stupid. I’m about to take my first passenger on a trip to an airport that I’ve never flown to before. A full on flight with route planning, filing a flight plan and all that jazz.

Okay so Bob is going to be in the righthand seat but this is a massive step for me. I’m equal measures scared and excited and proud.