Friday, 29 August 2014


Due to various vacation plans and foggy weather it has been an age since I flew last.

To start with I welcomed the break, it was needed both physically and mentally.

But now I’m itching to get back in the sky, restless to fly.

The only problem is that I want to fly somewhere, anywhere. I want to discover a new airport, see some new scenery.

Instead I know I’ve got to hammer away at that airwork.

This is how I know I need to get up to test standard very soon.

Oh yeah and pass it too, I guess!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A thing of beauty

One of my work colleagues has just given me the best present I’ve ever received at work.
I took a picture of it.

Yes it’s paper but it is so much more than that, it’s proper paper; perfect in size and form and unknown on this continent.

This is A4 paper.

This is the standard to which paper is held in the rest of the civilized world. You can read about the sheer mathematical beauty of this size of paper here 

For some reason North America decided to thumb their nose at reason and logic and adopt a series of paper sizes baffling to anyone from the rest of the planet.

They use sizes such as Letter, legal , tabloid, diplodicus (I may have made that last one up).

The names tell you NOTHING about the size, aspect ratio or anything. They lead to you looking like a dumb foreigner when you stand in the mail room exasperated, asking a bemused audience “Ok, can anyone tell me what size this is please?” whilst brandishing a piece of paper like a weapon.

Letter is cunningly disguised to look almost like proper A4 paper, but just be subtly different enough ( slightly narrower and longer) that when the rest of the world sends you documents on sensibly sized paper, your printer has a fit.

I have been in Canada 7 years and still miss proper paper. So thanks E and B for the gift, now if you could just get the rest of the continent on board, that’d be great.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

It’s all in the spread.

Bob’s on vacation and I had a solo flight booked. I’m finally cleared to do those power on stalls solo and I was determined I was going to kill this particular demon once and for all and have another bash at the forced approaches. Always good to keep them fresh and clear in my mind, as well as the other airwork that I need to practice.

As usual the weather had other ideas. The day before I woke to a completely white vista, fog so thick you couldn’t tell there was an outside world. It’s been a feature of our summer this year. Temperatures have been a lot cooler than usual but the air is still as humid as ever.

One lesson I managed to retain from my painful attempts to hack my way through the required knowledge for the meteorology exam was the conditions that are conducive to fog formation. Temperature and dewpoint close together and light winds usually equal fog. Because the temperatures have been low, fog has been common.

Sure enough on the day of my lesson I woke up to low ceilings and IFR reports at the airport. This is the METAR/TAF from about an hour before I needed to leave. Even though the ceilings were predicted to lift, it wasn’t going to be enough to do any upper airwork.

More worringly was the view out to the west. Barely visible in the photo but painfully obvious to me was a bank of fog sitting just over the Humber Bay.

Having lived here long enough now, I know that the situation could change very quickly. Or stay static. It was so hard to predict. If the temperatures warmed up, the spread would increase and the fog burn off (that happened the day before) but equally possible was the fog staying around or getting worse.

So I cancelled. Quelle surprise.

As it turned out the ceilings varied between 800 and 3800ft for the entire morning. The fog waited until later.

Maybe I could have flown. I certainly couldn’t have done the upper airwork that I wanted to.
Sure enough, later that evening, as the temperature dropped I looked out the window and saw that the airport was gone.

This photo shows that the fog bank starts off as a thin layer.

And then creeps over the buildings.

It is very very eerie to watch, but fascinating none the less. But you don't want to fly in it.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Not a word

Yes I know the WMAP has been on the quiet side for the past few days.

Combo of many things.

I have posts I need to work on but they are picture heavy and require some manipulation.

I’ve started a few sections in my book that I’m writing, so my mind has been elsewhere.

Bob’s away and I’m not flying so immediate material is in short supply.

I’m back at work after three weeks away so am playing major catch up.

Today was the first day of school for our faculty and was spent predominantly in meetings, so from a doing anything productive point of view was a total washout.

I won’t harp on about the usefulness or otherwise of these events as I’m sure every industry has its own little peculiarities but I remain unconvinced that “organisationalised” is an actual word. 

Friday, 22 August 2014

Having a lazy day.

Having a lazy day.

Slightly cruddy weather, nowhere really that I need to go, nothing that I really need to do.

Am having a lazy day with book, music and computer.

Bad news for you is that no really insightful blog post today. Good news is that I’ve actually made a start on the book I always promised myself I would write.

Noone feels like doing much today. Even the Roomba gave up after half an hour.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Necessity is the mother of invention (part two)

Last post we saw how things are meant to be organised in the cockpit. I’m fairly certain for example that RTH has a similar theme of items in his knee board and somehow manages to use it efficiently and consistently each time.

I, however; don’t. Where I put stuff depends on the type of flight I’m doing and if I happen to be solo or with Bob.

Solo flights are easy, no one in the passenger seat means that I can just dump my stuff on there; usually the entire knee board just sits on it. The only exception to this is if I’m doing stalls and other stuff where I need a secure cockpit.

If I’m flying with Bob, then a little more creativity is called for. My VTA usually gets jammed between the dash and the windshield. This makes it readily accessible (I have a tendency to dive the plane if I’m trying to map read from my lap). The only downside of this is that I’ve lost more than one chart by accidentally leaving it in the plane.

If I don’t have the spare space of an empty passenger seat the clipboard usually gets separated from the rest of the kneeboard and shoved in the front pocket at the side of the plane. I pull it out when needed during the start and end of the flights but otherwise leave it alone in there. Thus freeing up my legs for doing whatever legs need to do during a flight.

The above seems to work, if not being exactly optimal I guess. The only issue I seem to have is with writing implements. Believe it or not loose pens can be a major safety hazard. Drop one and you can more or less guarantee that it’ll get jammed under the rudder. In aviation we call that “a bad thing.”

I tried to get around this by attaching my pen to my kneeboard with a piece of mostly works except for two problems. One, it just doesn’t seem to stretch enough when I’m trying to draw a line on my chart for diversion planning etc. the tension seems to pull the line in a funny direction and secondly I really need to use a pencil anyways to avoid needing a new chart every time Bob pulls the “surprise diversion” routine on me. And I’ve not found a brand of mechanical pencil with a hole in the clip section big enough to fit the string through.

But necessity being the mother of invention, I have a solution. I’m not sure if I should be totally ashamed or proud of this answer.

It’s summer. I tend to wear tank tops and a loose shirt over the top. I discovered purely by accident whilst struggling to find enough hands to do what I need to that the perfect place to store my pencil, so that it is close at hand and yet in no danger of falling is ermm, well, I don’t know how to say this delicately.

It lives between my boobs.

Don’t judge me. It works.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Necessity is the mother of invention (part one)

This post got me thinking about my own kneeboard. For those of you unfamiliar with such a beast, it looks basically like this, with a Velcro strap that goes around your thigh.

When you sit down it forms a workable surface on which to do your en route stuff.

And here’s the confession. I hate mine and I will do anything to avoid using it.

It might be a necessary evil as you don’t exactly have much space to work but I’ve never, ever gotten on with mine.

I think the combination of short legs and chunky thighs means that it either sits so high up that it interferes with the free movement of the yoke or it gradually slips down my leg until I’m pulling it above my knee.

Obviously at one time I had every intention of using it effectively, as I’ve just looked and it is chock full of useful stuff. Let us go from left to right

Left pocket includes:

VNC – I’ve just realised that this is my chopped down version I used on my cross country. I really should replace it with a full version.

Spare checklist – occasionally the one in the plane is missing* or the wrong one. This one has been labelled with my name so that I don’t leave it behind.

E6b – the flight computer that you see illustrated in the knee board above. Mine isn’t metal and isn’t threaded through neatly either.

Middle section:

Clipboard – this has some info pre-printed on it. Some useful, some not so much. Amongst the useful info includes light gun signals for comms failure as well as conversion factors from various time zones to UTC. Less useful is the phonetic alphabet (seriously you really should know this people!) and VFR cruising altitudes (again, you really should know those!)

Paper/index card – depending on what I’ve got handy. This is where I scribble the Time up, time down, Hobbs start and Hobbs finish times I need to be billed for the flight as well as the ATIS info at various points. Actually I don’t tend to need to write down the ATIS anymore. Alt setting gets set as they tell me, wind direction is marked by the heading bug, but it helps to scrawl down the identifier as you look really stupid when you tell ATC that you’ve gotten information Echo when they are still on Delta.

VTA – this used to sit on the clip part of the board, it doesn’t anymore. More about that later

London Radio frequencies – the list of various frequencies that London Radio ( my nearest FSS) can be reached on. This can be used to give VFR position reports, ask for weather updates or scream for help if I’m seriously lost or otherwise in the sh!t. My clipboard sits behind this in such a way that the useless info on the bottom of the board is covered but the frequencies are visible.

Right hand section:

Emergency procedure checklist – obviously the time critical ones have to be memorised. For things like engine failure and various fire situations, you don’t have time to be faffing around with bits of paper. But other situations give you a bit more time. Again you should have the time critical stuff down pat but scenarios such as loss of oil pressure and avionics failure give you a little time to work through the problem.  

C172R and C172S Key performance data – To be truthful I’d forgotten I’d got this. It has various useful bits of info on it for both models of planes such as Max takeoff weight, useable fuel and important reference speeds. Vr, Vr(10 degrees flap), Vx, Vy, Va for various weights, Vs and Vso to name a few. Bob has helpfully highlighted the ones I need to memorise. I really should get onto that!

Flight reference card – as illustrated below. For my cross country flight I did one of these for each leg. It lists all the frequencies, in the order I’ll need them. As well as telling me what the frequency is (tower, ground etc.) Also any notes about what I might need to say to them. The top part is an airport diagram showing what the runway configuration will look like as seen from the direction I’ll be approaching as well as the airport elevation and circuit height.

So that’s all the stuff I carry and allegedly the knee board is the vessel for utilising it effectively. Although I will admit that I did wear the board for the majority of my cross country flights, next post I’ll admit to you where things usually live in the cockpit when I’m flying.

*confession time again. I used to accidentally walk off with the checklist from the plane. It wasn't deliberate it just used to get caught up with my things until one day I realised that I had 5 of the damn things. I've been subtly sneaking them back in the plane until I just had the one left. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Barely heard of it, now can’t get away from it.

Despite my long standing dislike of meteorology I actually faired reasonably well on that section in the written exam, with a respectable 80 odd %. Most of the questions I got wrong had very little to do with my understanding of weather phenomena and more to do with Transport Canada’s dicey wording.

Still the one I will admit to getting wrong through a lack of knowledge was to do with a weather phenomenon that simply doesn’t occur in the UK, it is called virga.

For those of you who can’t be bothered with the wiki article, it is basically rain that falls from the clouds but evaporates before it hits the ground. It indicates highly unstable air. That much I knew already.

The question, though, wanted to know about the type of instability associated with it. I narrowed it down to two answers, basically up or down drafts. In a futile attempt to apply some logic to the situation I picked “up”; evaporation = heat and heat rises right?

Apparently not, virga causes downdrafts. So now I know. I’m not unduly concerned about my lack of knowledge, in the couple of years that I’ve been flying I’ve never really encountered it, as far as I can tell it is very much a phenomena of the prairies.

Again, apparently not. Shortly afterwards the word was mentioned in two consecutive weather briefings I received, with rain bearing clouds being picked up on the radar but no precipitation being reported on the ground stations. I don’t know what information they have but the weather specialist assured me that the clouds were at 6000ft and the virga wouldn’t be an issue below 3000ft.

As I was planning to do low level airwork (forced approaches and the like) I was good to go. Sure enough though while I was up there I could see the cloud bases and the streams of precipitation falling but stopping a ways below the cloud.

I’ve seen similar conditions, in the air, on at least two other occasions now. I don’t know if it is due to the weird summer we are having, or that now I’m aware of it, I’m seeing it everywhere.

Monday, 18 August 2014

In a flap

An obstacle takeoff is the speciality take off of choice for this lesson. I tend to just rotate through the speciality takeoffs now as I don’t appear to have any more difficulty with one over another. Takeoffs, in general, are a lot easier than landings. Fundamentally planes want to fly and need very little encouragement to takeoff but occasionally have to be coaxed down from their airborne state.

Today’s takeoff started really well, I’d got it all straight in my mind: 10 degrees of flap, static start, slightly early rotation and then best angle of climb.

I do exactly that, then call “obstacle clear” before transitioning to best rate of climb. Breathing a quick sigh of relief that it went so well, I nudge us back onto the extended centreline. I’m a hairs breadth off because the nose up attitude means I lose sight of the runway for a brief while.

Bob nods his approval “nicely done!”

I turn my attention to the rest of the flight. I know ATC have restricted me to “not above 2000ft” but there was nothing about north or south of the stacks so I turn crosswind for a normal circuit type exit from the airport.

I keep an eye on my airspeed trying to maintain that coveted best rate. SAR is climbing like the asthmatic pigeon I’ve come to expect in the summer except that it really isn’t that hot out. The sweaty mess I am has more to do with the upcoming stalls than the lack of aircon.

ATC are in my ear “SAR, Direct NE corner of the harbour cleared to 2500ft. No delay to 2000”
I acknowledge their instructions, biting back a retort that I’m flying a Cessna in August not an F16 but a small part of my mind concedes that they may have a point, we really are limping through the altitudes here.
Bob chimes in helpfully “are we forgetting something?”

“AH SH!T!!!!!!!!!!!”

My hand immediately goes to the flap lever, staring back accusingly at me. Still set at 10 degrees! No wonder she feels draggy!

Add another thing to WMAP’s “I-can’t-believe-I-bloody-did-that” repertoire and add another thing to the list of mistakes that Bob has let me take far enough to be sure that I’ll NEVER EVER make them again.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Bracing for the inevitable.

Bob and I had a plan for today’s flight. It mostly consisted of getting-WMAP-over-her-stupid-problem-with-power-on-stalls. As mentioned before we did indeed manage to achieve this. But Bob likes to “make efficient use of our time” during lessons.

Basically this is his way of saying “don’t get too comfortable up there.”

Everything we do has a purpose. Every flight starts with a speciality takeoff and ends with a speciality landing. Even the time taken to get pout to the practice area is used efficiently, much to my disgust. For a long while it was spent under the hood, building up my instrument time. Now Bob uses it to irritate me.

Actually that's not really fair. He uses it to develop my map reading and diversion planning skills. It’s not his fault that I don’t have any.

 I knew I was in for trouble as soon as I started taxiing. As usual Bob had no interest in paying any attention whatsoever to my preflight checks. I could have been taxiing us around in high speed donuts on the apron and I’m not sure he would have noticed.

I groaned inside as I saw the inevitable chart and pencil weapons being eagerly brandished. I was more anxious than I’d like about this flight anyway, the thought of the stalls making me sweat already. I had vaguely optimistic hopes that Bob’d cut me some slack; maybe ease off the pressure just a little. To drop a subtle hint I carefully tucked my chart between the dash and windshield, hoping he’d pick up on the clue that I’d prefer not to be using it any time soon.

Apparently not.

As soon as we are enroute, Bob gives me a diversion to plan. I reluctantly extricate my chart and circle our starting point and destination, slowing the plane down a little as I do so. Line drawn I guestimate a heading and set up on what I hope is the correct path. Remembering to check my heading indicator while I’m still in straight and level flight.

A quick ETA guess and I start looking for landmarks to confirm I’m on the right track.
Of course I’m not. I spot very quickly that the zoo is coming up in front of me, but on the wrong side if the plane. I make the decision to fly overhead and then figure out a more sensible heading from there.

Realising that there are fairly significant winds aloft I attempt to correct for that.  My initial heading guess would have been fine if it wasn’t for the 10 knot or so winds from the South West.

Of course, spatially challenged idiot that I am, I go to correct the wrong way, until Bob points out my error. I mentally kick myself but there’s no time for that as we are at Claremont and the stall-torture is about to begin.

Even when that was done and dusted, we are doing another on the way back. My heading choice is better this time although I’m a little off in my initial assessment of where the hell we actually are. Nothing too major, just off a little. The problem now is that the air has gotten lumpy out here and my stomach isn’t coping too well with the chart reading and the bumps.

Eventually I have to admit defeat, our destination is insight and my stomach is distinctly unsettled. I point out our destination to Bob and announce my intention to track visually and concentrate on flying the plane rather than the chart, for both our sakes.

Truth be told I am slowly getting the hang of this, like anything to do with spatial awareness it is taking me a while.

Bob knows I have challenges with this kind of thing, we spoke about it during our debrief. He reminded me that I’ve found ways to compensate for my difficulties and will continue to do so. It is an ongoing process.

One that he seems hell bent on forcing me to confront every flight.

While the sensible part of me knows that this is for the best, the devil inside me thinks that I have two choices here. I either become really good at the diversion planning OR I become really bad at my preflight checks, so that Bob doesn’t have time to plan these little exercises! 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Do or do not. There is no “why?”

Squeezing in a lesson before Bob disappears on a much needed vacation. Myself, I’m feeling relaxed and renewed courtesy of our trip away. I enjoyed the break from all things work and flying related, it gave my brain time to process and sort out what’s important.

With regard to the flying I came to the inevitable conclusion. The only thing standing between me and my license is those damn power on stalls.

Cutting through all the touchy-feely BS about WHY I don’t like them: the extreme nose up attitude , the anticipation of the wing drop, the stall horn screaming in my ear and putting aside my pathetic attempts to justify WHY I’ll never have to do them in real life. My protests that I would never willingly point my nose straight up, that I’d never accidentally plant the plane on its tail.

I knew that really it has come down to this. Either do the stalls and recover correctly or don’t get your license.

There really is no sugar coating it any more. I’ve known this for a while; I’m just admitting it to myself now.Bob, of course, knows this and, of course, had come up with a plan. The difference is this time I had one too!

Let the battle of the plans commence!

We had a brief conversation about what the issue was. We both agreed that it was the anticipation of the stall, and more importantly the wing drop that freaked me out. Again we are back to my control issues. What Bob perhaps didn’t realise is that it was also the physical sensation of the plane falling away from me that also sets my teeth on edge.

It was this last aspect that I’d had time to contemplate. It makes very little sense, I love boats and I love rough weather. I adore riding the waves. OK WMAP you’ve just got to persuade yourself that you are on a boat! I shared this thought with Bob, just so that we didn’t think I had completely lost my mind when I started making ocean noises!

My other plan was simply to shut up and put up. I’d also come to realise that I love the thought of being a pilot more than I hate the thought of stalls.

Bob, as I mentioned, also had a plan. He wanted me to experience a wing drop where I was in control. His idea was to do some power OFF stalls (which I’m OK with) and deliberately make the wing drop by putting in some left rudder. The idea being that I’d practice the recovery technique but I’d still be “in control”.
I understood exactly what Bob was trying to achieve but I was less than enthusiastic about trying it. I shared my plan with Bob and asked if we could try mine first.

Once out there we started off with a simple power off stall, no flaps. As simple as they come and usually something I manage, no issues. I stall, I go to recover. My damn, freakin’,stupid, hand comes up and steadies itself on the stupid bloody glare shield.


I throw a little bit of a hissy fit. So outrageously annoyed at myself. I quickly realise that I’m not impressing anyone with this display and start pointing the plane back in a direction that’ll let me set up for another go.

Full flaps this time. Successfully completed. Pheww!

And another, better than the last.

“What now?” Bob inquires?

“Power on” I commit before I think better of it.

I set us up, easing into the stall. Taking the time to let the speed bleed off, carefully centring the ball and keeping the plane coordinated.

We stall and I recover.

I look at my hand in stunned silence as I realise that it has stayed firmly on the throttle.

Bob congratulates me, I don’t even look at him “another one” I say blanking everything out of my mind completely.

A carbon copy of the first, slowly entered, perfectly coordinated, hand on the throttle throughout.
Bob shares his approval. “one more” is my only reply.

No fluke, three in a row. I finally exhale my relief. This demon well and truly conquered.

“Are you OK?” he asks, a little puzzled by my silence.

I blink, reacquaint myself with my surroundings and say “Oh yeah, sorry. I needed to pretend you were someone I couldn’t scream in front of! I’m alright now.”

I can’t begin to state my relief in having this stumbling block lifted. I’m OK to practice these solo now and the mental barrier seems to have been dissolved. Walking home I had a grin on my face the likes of which we haven’t seen since my last cross country flight!

I joked with Bob that his plan worked. I was so desperate not to have to drop the wing deliberately that I sorted them out all on my own! But joking aside, as well as being happy that we have got this manoeuvre done and dusted. I realise that I’m lucky to have an instructor who is so willing to work with me and my demons. It would be some easy for him to take the “well you just need to do them” attitude and us just bash away at them flight after flight, never getting any better or easier. Bob at least tries to understand WHY I’m having the issue and come up with a solution, even if his solution scares me enough to never want to have to do it!