Saturday, 31 May 2014


RTH and I are finally the proud owners of 1000 square feet of prime Toronto real estate. It’s no secret that I love where we live; although I appreciate the condo life style isn’t for everyone.

The truth is that it suits RTH and I just fine. We don’t like gardening and are not massive DIY enthusiasts either. A place that comes with no outdoor space and no indoor maintenance required is the perfect home for us.

The second we moved in here I fell in love with the view. I’m a big “people watcher”, I love watching the world go by. So, a view that allows me to see the lake, the airport, a major highway and a park as well as the usual city hustle and bustle, well it was going to take something extraordinary to drag me away from here. On a good day you can see the other shore of Lake Ontario.

I mean how many people get to judge the conditions at their local airport by looking out the window? I can almost see the windsock from my bed!

I love this place and am glad that we can finally call it our own.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Art a la WMAP

I doodle constantly, it is a habit of mine. If I’m on the phone or in a meeting, I’m doodling.

I’m not particularly artistic though.

This is my latest effort created during a conversation with flight service.

Parachutist or man getting eaten by a giant jellyfish? You decide!

Thursday, 29 May 2014


People have personalities and so do planes. JPM is twitchy, SAR is feisty and JES is a little on the sensitive side. Already I’m starting to notice the difference in the way she performs from summer to winter*.

There are many combinations of personalities at play at the moment. I’m working towards my PPL, RTH is working on his night rating and Bob is guiding both of us through the process. All of us are flying the same trio of planes.

I can’t help but compare and contrast these various combinations. Bob and RTH have very similar character traits. They are methodical and organised.  Cool, calm and collected they gently guide the plane from place to place.

This probably explains how they manage to have actual conversations whilst flying together. They are able to discuss life, the universe and everything.

WMAP and JES, well that’s another story. We ping through the sky, bouncing from one high drama to the next, all flair and flourishes. We exist in the peaks and troughs. High successes, dismal failures.

Bob and RTH are the steady line that cuts through the highs and lows.

And while I’m sure Bob enjoys flying with RTH, sometimes I wonder what he makes of the wild haired, wild eyed, whirling dervish that he inherited  from him. 

* The temperature has swung nearly 50 degrees in the last two months. From minus 20 to nearly plus 30. Already JES is starting to lumber in the climb a little

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Hanging with the Harvards.

Tillsonburg airport is home to a squadron of Harvards. The same Harvards that I had to follow home  oh so long ago when I was just being let loose in the circuit.

I was hopeful that I’d at least be able to sneak a look at the shiny yellow beauties on the ground.
Anyways, I was on my way to Tillsonburg, heading the correct way courtesy of Toronto Terminal. 

At five miles out they instructed me to report on the local channel and bade me farewell. Helpfully adding that there was traffic in the circuit, so that if I spotted it, I should have a fair idea of where the airport was.

Hmm, I can see something. I can see three somethings. One of them is trailing smoke. There appears to be an airshow going on.

Weird. Still I need to let the locals know I’m here. So I report to the Unicom. The gentleman is highly apologetic but would I mind terribly holding North of the airport until they are done.

I agree to (not a huge choice really!) and find a suitable farm building to orbit over.  Wondering aloud “why won’t people let me land!” I suddenly realise that I have the best vantage point ever.

I’m watching an airshow from the air!

Careful to concentrate on the flying, I can’t help but sneak the odd glance as three Harvards barrel roll over the runway.

Eventually the kind people at Tillsonburg let me know that there’s going to be a short gap. I take the opportunity to sneak in. I make the appropriate radio calls and join mid downwind for 26. As I turn over the airfield it dawns on me that a lot of people came out to watch these majestic planes.

And currently they are short of viewing material.

I’m going to have one hell of an audience for this landing.

Pleasedontscrewup, pleasedontscrewup, pleasedontscrewup. I mutter under my breath as I set up for an obstacle landing to avoid the inconveniently placed trees at the threshold.

I land without incident, which I’ll take anyday and exit the active, remembering to report clear so that the Harvards can land after me.

I wander into the flight school, get my log book stamped and introduce myself to the gentleman on the other end of the Unicom. He apologises profusely for the delay. I’m hyped up and buzzing from the view I’ve just had. I tell him that was the coolest thing that has ever happened to me. No apologies needed at all.

I chat with some of the spectators and then hear the amazing noise as the Yellow Beauties land.  As I’m wandering back out to JES, the pilots come over to talk to me­­. Once again they seem to be apologising. Once again I quickly reassure them that I am more than happy to have encountered that kind of delay.

Gallantly they offer to help me move JES around. She’s totally fine where she is but they are all kinds of cute so I reluctantly accept their offer of assistance.

We talk a little more, they wish me well for my future flying, complement me on my radiowork (I sound like a pro apparently!) and I said farewell. As I was strapping myself in I heard a knock on the window.

In a final gentlemanly act they give me a strip of Harvard commemorative stickers “for being such a good sport.”

To cap off an amazing visit, I get to give way to a Mustang as it landed.

How many students get to experience that!

Almost worth getting lost for.

Being the muppet that I am, I really did fail to get any decent photos. I was too busy gawping at the planes. But I did shoot a couple.

So here’s JES, just hanging with the Harvards!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A tale of two flights

I knew this flight was going to be different. I knew that my attitude was different. I knew that somehow I’d manage it.

Don’t get me wrong I was still overwhelmed with the workload, with the what-ifs?, with the general enormity of what I was trying to do. But somehow I knew I was going to go ahead and do it anyway.

It helps that the flight planning is finally getting easier. It’s been a long, messy drawn out process, fraught with danger (at least from RTH’s point of view I suspect!) but I’m actually at the point where the weather dependent stuff can be done in less than an hour. My E6b dances in my hands rather than flies through the air!

Bob’s feeling the difference too. I’d gotten down the flight school early so that I could pull the weather at my leisure and find a quiet spot in which to work my whizz wheel magic. Unlike last time where Bob found me slowly weeping over a pile of papers, this time, by the time he’d arrived I’d:

  • Gotten the weather and done all my course and fuel burn calculations
  • Phoned for a weather and NOTAM briefing
  • Filed my flight plan
  • Arranged for dispatch to call for fuel to top off the tanks
  • Reviewed the Journey Log to check that the plane was legal to fly (fresh out of maintenance!)
  • Dumped what I could of my stuff in the plane to save time later
  • Got my charts in front of me, marked off key points (Calling points etc.) and was mentally walking through the flight in my head.
  • Scribbled down a notebook page full of question/points I wanted clarifying

I still had a mountain of paperwork in front of me. The exact same amount of paperwork that I had the first time I attempted the cross country malarkey. I contemplated it with a small degree of amusement. Bob ran his magic eye over it (why do I still feel like a school kid having their homework marked when he does this?) and seemed generally satisfied.

It was here that the general tone of the conversation seemed to change. I no longer felt like I was being quizzed incessantly about my planning, my choices. It felt more like a …. discussion than anything.
It wasn’t a “tell me where you are going to make your call to xxxx” kind of inquisition. It was more of a “So are you planning to do A or B?” with a dialogue about the pros and cons of each option. I’d made choices and Bob was interested in the reasoning behind them. There was no right or wrong answer here.

Satisfied that I suitably prepared, we tag-teamed the walkround (Bob does fuel to save me time and climbing effort), there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to get in that plane and takeoff.

My first solo cross country, I was stupidly scared the entire time. It was a little bumpy in places. On the yet-to-be-made-public video, you can clearly hear me whimpering “I want to go home”.

For this flight it was also bumpy but you can clearly hear me singing!

For my first flight, despite my fears the navigation actually went really well. I managed to map read my way out of any uncertainty and make it there without any assistance. And yet still I stressed out over the whole thing.

This flight I got gloriously, messily, spectacularly lost.

And I loved every moment of it.

I was smiling, giggling, laughing and yes even singing at one point (my apologies to any song writers I’ve offended out there!)

It was by far the most enjoyable flight I have ever done. Despite having the wrestle my way through some not insignificant bumpage either.

I wasn’t fazed, hassled or otherwise bothered. I had full tanks of gas, I plane I like flying, a vague idea of which way I should be heading and ATC on hand if needed. What more can you ask for?

Oh and it’s not just me who has lightened up a bit, Bob admitted that he’d spent my first cross country flight on tenterhooks the entire time, fingers poised over his phone waiting for me to text. This time, apparently, he went shopping instead!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Say again?

Bit of a puzzling interaction with ATC last flight. One of those incidents where I suspect each of us was hearing something other than what was actually being said.

I’m not criticising ATC here. He was dealing with a plane that had wandered into his zone unannounced and one that was fussing over a semi functioning transponder.

Video is here.

Tell me what you think he thought I was saying. I’m convinced that my readback of the code was correct. Are you?

I ask because, despite being as native an English speaker as they get, some people have issues with understanding me. The main difference in Canadian spoken English as opposed to English spoken English tends to be in the vowel sounds, this means I often have to repeat myself to be understood. 
And people in Starbucks, Timmies etc. have no hope in hell of getting my 2/3 vowels name correct.
I invent names on a regular basis to use in such stores to save the inevitable.

McDonald’s last attempt at my real name was  SHARI.

Not. Even. Close

Flight following is f#cking fabulous.

 Sorry for the profanity but they are truly amazing.

A little bit of background. The cross country out west is kind of brutal. It’s over a lot of featureless terrain and what terrain there is all looks the same (at least to me anyways). While the flight out east is over a whole lot of nothing (not much in the way of civilization), the flight out west is much much harder to navigate.
I knew it was going to be an issue. But I had a plan (sorta!)

The leg from Waterloo to Tillsonburg is the worst. Basically you fly your heading and have faith that there is going to be an airport at the other end of it. An invisible airport, just to make life interesting.

I didn’t have much faith, especially after my epic failure to find a large international airport.

It got worse.

Waterloo kept me on a “fly runway heading” course waaaay longer than I anticipated or wanted. I knew that every minute on that heading took me further and further away from my intended track. This was going bad quite quickly.

What to do?

Well you see the funny thing about planes is that they don’t actually know or care if you are lost. They don’t plummet out of the sky because the pilot is clueless as to their actual location.

This can be a good or bad thing. It’s good because the plane stays in the air but bad because they will quite happily blunder into any controlled airspace they happen across. And really it’s no good panicking about being lost.

Panic doesn’t make you magically “unlost”, it just makes you stressed and lost.

Now you have two problems, you are still lost but the chances are you that you are going to do something stupid about it. Whilst having a giggling fit about the fact that you are, yet again, lost; may not be the most conventional approach. It doesn’t do any harm. It lets you take stock of the actual situation and realise that; one, the plane is indeed still flying and two, the chances of you blundering into a control zone are fairly remote because you are in fact on "flight following". If they want you to pass through a control zone, they hand you over.

So the plane is in the air, someone knows where you are and you are finding the whole thing a teeny bit amusing. There are definitely worse situations to be in.

Wait a minute , someone knows where I am right, so lets ask them for directions. 

One radio call to flight following

One request for a bearing.

Basically I told them that Waterloo had given me a funky departure and asked if they could give me a heading to Tillsonburg.

They did….. and more. They very nicely gave me a heading and counted down my distance every 5 miles until I could see the airport.

The airport was still fricken hidden but there was something else that allowed me to get a good idea of where it was. That’s for another post though.

Seriously though, I have no idea where the people at Toronto Terminal are based and I know that I am very literally just a blip on the screen to them. But this “blip” was eternally grateful for a professional service, graciously delivered that got me to the airport intact.

You guys ROCK!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The one where WMAP fails to identify….. well pretty much anything really.

WMAP and JES have just returned from yet another epic adventure. This one was all kinds of eventful and all kinds of fun.

Believe me there are a gazillion blog posts about this journey on their way. The short story is that JES and I managed to get through all three legs from City to Waterloo and on to Tillsonburg before heading home back to city, without crashing or annoying anyone too much.

In the interests of full disclosure though, here are some of the things that WMAP failed to identify on this flight. And yet despite this , she had the most fun, ever!

Go figure.

1)      The “Ident” button on her transponder. I know where it isn’t. It isn’t the “Standby” button that I pressed the first time ATC ever asked me to “Squawk Ident”. Despite this my gaze failed to locate the button in question. Leading to a very embarrassed “Standby” given to ATC while I tried to locate the damn thing. For the record, it is on the top left hand side of the transponder (not the radio which is where I think I was looking). It is difficult to miss and somehow I managed.  There’s kind of an “inception” like quality about someone who can’t identify the identify feature!

2)      Waterloo airport – Yup another one to add to my list of “airports-that-elude-WMAP’s-not-so-watchful-gaze”. This one is a major embarrassment.  It’s a large international airport. It shouldn’t be able to hide. Except that this one decide to send out a decoy industrial estate to pretend to be an airport. Yet again WMAP had to ‘fess up and say to the Tower once she’d been handed over “errr be advised Waterloo tower, JES does NOT have you in sight”. I figured that I’d rather tie up the frequency for a few seconds than screw up the traffic for several minutes. Tower probably agreed, they kindly gave me pretty good directions until I spotted them.

3)      Tillsonburgh airport – Yeah, if Waterloo was elusive, I didn’t stand a freakin chance with this little strip. As advertised I had real trouble with this one.  I kinda, maybe cheated a little. More in another post but I didn’t upset anyone on the way and landed without clipping any trees either.

So if I spectacularly failed to identify pretty much anything I needed to do this trip, how did it actually go so smoothly, I hear you ask.

Well the things I did manage to identify were probably the most useful things a pilot can use. I correctly identified when I needed help and I successfully identified where I could get that help from.

So this trip wasn’t exactly my own work but I’ve a reasonable suspicion that I didn’t do anything that other pilots don’t do.

Of course I didn’t. I’m practically one of them now. BTW this flight, I believe, marks the end of the official number of solo hours (total and cross country) that I need to get my PPL.
Yes, you can probably hear me celebrating from wherever you are!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Tower tour

The sporty winds cut my circuit lesson shorter than expected and low cloud bases at the destinations put paid to RTH’s night cross country jaunt. Rather than write the entire evening off, Bob had another plan.

He very kindly phoned up the ATC tower to see if we could get a tour. And even more kindly, they agreed!

Now I totally appreciate how busy these guys are, this is above and beyond the call of duty. But oh so valuable.

I, of course, made my usual entrance, designed to impress those around me. By tripping up the top step and near launching myself into their workplace*. Still they didn’t hold it against me, introducing themselves and enquiring as to my flying experience.  I confirmed that I was, indeed, a student pilot here and that I’d just landed about 20 minutes ago.

At least one of them put two and two together because any example he showed me on the screen, he pulled up JPM as the sample aeroplane.

I watched as they put together the new ATIS on the hour. I got to see how they create all the electronic flight strips for each flight (the strips for the flight school’s planes seem to be pre populated with some info) and how the move them around on the screen depend on what the plane is actually doing ,before swapping them over from ground to tower and so on.

I asked tons of questions and got a great idea of what they actually see when I’m talking to them.  The radar is actually kind of underwhelming to be honest. Literally small dots on a big screen. 2D that needs picturing in 3D. I have no idea how they do it.

Even though they showed me how they can zoom the radar in and out, I honestly don’t see how they get good enough resolution to track us small aircraft in the circuit. They must do it mostly visually.

So maybe that explains how occasionally they misplace us, or get us to do something funky.
I got to see how the traffic flow from Pearson affects us in terms of tying up airspace. In seeing what they actually do, it helps me understand how I fit into the picture.

Hopefully it’ll work both ways. I’m fairly distinctive on the radio. Maybe they’ll see a face to the pilot in the plane next time I fly. One with a healthy curiosity as to what they do and an overwhelming respect for what they achieve.

Seriously guys, I really appreciated you taking the time to show a student around. You have the coolest workplace ever!

*Steps and I have an interesting history.I pretty much met RTH after falling down a set.

Friday, 23 May 2014


Been a while since I flew. Cross country was planned for last weekend but for various reasons didn’t happen. I’m planning on having another go this weekend, but yet again I’ve fallen foul of the “solo currency” rule.

Not being particularly keen on doing the inevitable token-one-circuit-with-the-instructor-to-prove-you-haven’t-forgotten-how-to-fly immediately prior to a long cross country flight.  Bob graciously offered to squeeze in a lesson after work.

The plan was for some dual circuits, solo if I wanted. No pressure but RTH had the plane booked immediately after me for a night lesson, so it was kind of implied that I should try my hardest not to damage it too much!

The weather the previous day had sucked. The kind of fog where you can’t see the ground. I was busy at work for most of the day but the fact that I could see a patch of blue if I craned my head and peered out of my sub-basement office window filled me with some degree of confidence.
The winds were a little blustery but forecast to die down and swing around to be pretty much down 26 by the time I’d be solo.

Off course it would seem that the wind didn’t get the memo. Bob and I took off into Northerly gusting winds. It was hard work. I was in JPM as well. She fights back.

That combined with the mechanical turbulence that gets thrown up from the condo towers made for a sporty ride.

You know what though, as well as being physically hard work, wrestling the plane from place to place.

It was FUN.

I can’t believe I’m saying that.

Yeah it was really challenging, not just because of the crosswind, but the fact that the winds were so unpredictable. I really had to be on top of them, focussed. Anticipating where they were going to shove me next.

Make the base to final turn later because the wind’s going to push you out. Add a squirt of power on final as the gusts suddenly cause you to lose 10 knots of airspeed. Keep those crosswind inputs right the way down and there you go.

A reasonably successful touchdown!

On the third circuit Bob offered me the easier option of a full stop on 33.
Amazingly enough, I declined. I was enjoying myself too much. I wanted the practice. I was doing well.

Challenge accepted and met.

When I first started circuits I used to get mock-angry with Bob for suggesting that crosswinds were fun. It may have taken me a couple of years to get what he meant.

But maybe I finally do.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Shaping up to be a great team.

As a belated birthday present RTH took me up for a flight this weekend. It made up for the fact that I’d had to cancel my planned Cross Country on Saturday (More about that another time).

The weather has been kinda, meh, all weekend nothing outrageously horrible but not exactly great either.
RTH and I had a plane booked for a nice little afternoon three hour slot and we planned to go………. somewhere.

Nowhere in particular, just …..somewhere.

Conscious of the fact that this was meant to be fun, we decided on a nice, familiar lap around Lake Simcoe. Even I’m confident enough now that I could do this with minimal navigation issues and the Lake itself is very very pretty. Last time I saw it, it was still frozen. It would be nice to get a reminder that winter is well and truly behind us now.

We kept a careful eye on the weather, both agreeing that the threat of light showers didn’t concern us to much but the forecast cloud would mean keeping a close eye on our altitude.

We arrived to find that we’d been bumped from JES (both of us prefer her) to JPM (universally reviled), but at least the plane was there unlike the last few times we’ve attempted this where we’ve been waiting up to an hour for our plane to wander back.

Fuelled up and preflighted, we got ourselves settled in and started her up. Between me and RTH we are kind of in a weird situation at the moment. He’s the most experienced pilot with 120+ hours under his belt (and an actual license as opposed to a student permit) but I’m the most current.  I’ve flown fairly regularly in the last couple of years. He hasn’t.

The two are linked of course. I’m kind of stealing the “flying money” at the moment. Hopefully that’ll change soon.

RTH in his usual awesomeness, doesn’t make me feel bad about this at all (I still do, but hey), in fact he realises that I may actually be of some use up there, so he actually asks my opinion of things.

We were flying along in some bump air at 2500ft, discussing the height of the clouds and figuring out just where we might find some stable air. RTH was asking my opinion on whether it was worth climbing or not.
Despite it being a little on the sporty side (nowhere near “feisty” though), I wasn’t too concerned. It was the kind of weather I can tolerate flying in but don’t much like trying to do airwork in. I could see that RTH was wrestling a little with JPM.

Interestingly enough he was having exactly the same issues that I have with her.

“I just can’t get this damn plane trimmed out,” he complained. “and if I do , my airspeed is ridiculously low”
I sympathised that I’d run into the exact same issues with JPM. I just find her, twitchy, for the want of a better word. I constantly feel like I’m fighting her, whereas JES and, to some extent, SAR can usually be coaxed into doing what you want them to do.

As the flight unfolded we discussed general flying type things, altitude choices, routing, when to switch your strobes on, why the guy flying round Lake Skugog sounded like a Dalek on the radio and so on.

We really are shaping up to be quite a team up there, mutual respect for what each other is currently bringing to the table and the ability to recognise when someone has a better idea than you do.

RTH agreed that I’m getting much better as a passenger now, but I disagree. I’m not becoming a better passenger, I’m becoming a more effective co-pilot.

When I get my PPL , we are going to make a great flying team for sure.