Once upon a time, a self-proclaimed Archaeology-Lifer got a job as a flight attendant. No one knows quite how it happened. Here's what happened next...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Flight Attendant's ABCs - E (echo) is For...

  •  Emergency Exit Row - Always a matter of some contention.  The EE rows are generally reserved for what FAs call “ABPs”, or “Able Bodied Passengers”.  We don’t mean it to be discriminatory.  All the bodies and organizations that organize aviation regulations around the world enforce the rule that the passengers who sit in EE rows must be able to open the exit and not hinder evacuation in the event of an emergency.  So no, it's not particularly reasonable for you to ask for the extra room for your kids to play around in.  And if you're hobbling around on a broken leg with crutches, you probably aren't going to be the swiftest at getting the emergency exit open now, are you?  It’s not the FA’s fault you can’t sit there, so don’t hate.  It’s a matter of safety, and that's really,  really not a cop out.
  • Engine - What’s the difference between a jet engine and a flight attendant?  The engine stops whining at the gate.
  • Entertainment - In flight entertainment - fantastic on Air Canada and other such large carriers.  Not so good on other airlines.  Non-existent on charter companies, unless you count listening to the Flight Attendants gossiping in the galley.  But then, you pay peanuts for a week-long, all-inclusive Caribbean Vacation…do you really expect to be flown down on a shiny, brand new, fully tricked out A380 instead of a B737 that’s older than you are?  Bring an iPod, or even one of those old-fashioned book things. 
  • Engineer -  Officially, the engineer is “an enlisted man or NCO who monitors and maintains aircraft operation in-flight and otherwise aids the air crew.” (Source)  Unofficially the engineer is either the best person in the world who will fix your mutinous coffee maker four times during the flight, or he’s a jerk who sits in the back row reading/listening to music/playing on his nintendo and laughs at you when you have a flood in the galley, yet still expects to be fed, watered, and otherwise treated like a passenger.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Flight Attendant's ABCs - D (delta) is for...

  • Dead-head -  Dead-heading is the term used whenever a member of an airline crew travels on another airline in order to be positioned for work.  There are two kinds of dead-heading crew.  The first is the conspicuous variety.  The FA will find ways to `casually` let everyone know that he or she is a flight attendant in the hopes of scoring perks or upgrades or general admiration from civilians.  The second category is slightly more incognito - they keep a more low-key profile.  That way they can silently judge other flight attendants at work on their safety demonstrations, uniforms, announcements, bad jokes and so on.  Personally, I only break out the `wings`if I suspect it will get me a free drink.
  • Diet Coke Products - Diet soda, particularly Diet Coke, is the devil at altitude.  Something about the carbonation and the chemicals make it impossible to pour without getting a huge head of foam.  Ice only makes the situation worse.  Sometimes pouring it like a beer down the side of the cup can help, but on the whole you will usually spend a good two minutes trying to pour a drink and looking vaguely incompetent while doing so.
  • Delays - How to piss off passengers, pilots, flight attendants AND ground staff all at one time.  Some passengers will act extremely put out whenever a flight gets delayed, and naturally assume that it`s a ploy devised by the airline just to make their lives difficult.  What they usually fail to realise is that everyone else is just as put out as them.  It means more time at work for everyone, and most people try to avoid it.  Often when the delays are due to weather or mechanical issues with the aircraft, I like to cheerfully remind people of the well-known quote - `It`s better be to on the ground and wishing you were in the air, than to be in the air and wishing you were on the ground.`
  • Dehydration - It`s a well known fact that an aircraft is mechanically designed to suck the hydration out of you.  And at altitude NOTHING ever seems to be a good substitute for water.  Soda will only make you more thirsty (not to mention give you jet-belly), and coffee makes you want to pee.  H2O is your friend.  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Series of Anecdotes

Obviously I haven't been writing as much lately.  Not as much as I should have been, and definitely not as much as I should like.  It's just been one of those months full of "go here" and "do this" and "sleep, what's that again?"  I've been a busy little bee, and have lots of things to tell you all, but in the interest of saving writing everything out much in the fashion of an epic poem full of Vikings and pillaging and plundering, I shall provide you with a Series of Anecdotes.  Perhaps this is also an attempt to save your attention span also.  Who knows?

Early in September (or perhaps late August, I can't quite remember) I worked a pairing for The Airline.  We had been sub-contracted by another airline (one I had considered applying to) in order to operate one of their regularly scheduled flights up to Iqualuit and back again.  One of the other FAs had originally been scheduled to work this flight, as she had done the previous week, however she happily offered it up to me and I snapped it up.  I soon knew why!!!  This airline we were operating for has a RIDICULOUS service flow.  You probably get more service with this lot in a 2.5 hour flight than you would crossing the Atlantic with Air Canada.  I literally didn't have a split second to myself.  Oh shoot, my bun came undone and my hair is hanging loose?  NO TIME!  Don't fix it, just MOVE!  Somewhere between the third coffee service and the second round of "hot towels" I wondered if I had somehow slipped into the 1960s, and contemplated having a nervous breakdown.  Somehow we made it through, but I can tell you that if another of those contracts comes up, I will need some serious persuading to say yes. 

Terminal at YFB

"She's got me landing with a 30kt tailwind!! Who the hell does she think I am?!" - Overheard in the flight deck landing in Quebec City.
A few weeks ago a guitar case appeared in the customs hall.  A nice one.  A Fender.  I took a look at the tag... Steve Miller.  Um.  Wow.

A week or so back I was working in the customs hall at the airport, and a young man came up to the baggage information counter.  He looked rather upset, so I steeled myself for the incoming rant, but as it happened he was very polite.  He told me he was sorry to bother me, but the zipper on his suitcase had broken some time during the flight.  I immediately launched into the spiel about our company's baggage repair service, but he interrupted me.  He said he wasn't bothered that his bag was broken, only that his girlfriend had given him a piece of tupperware before he left, and it had fallen out of the bag somewhere along the way.  He asked if the ramp agents could check for it in the plane, which they did, and found the tupperware.  They brought it up to customs for the young man, and I had a look, expecting to see home-made baked goods or little candies or something like that.  The tupperware was empty. 
'Oh thank you so much!  I am so relieved!'  he said, and walked away.
I was forced to go to YUL for training by the company I work at the airport.  It was maddening.  I spent the better part of a week stuck in a room "learning" things I had known for almost three months, and to top it off I heard jets fly overhead every 45 seconds, and couldn't see a single one of them!  I was reluctant to go to Montreal at all, until I remembered that they had cool planes there, and I imagined myself in heaven, hunting B747s every afternoon.  The reality was a little different.  YUL is a terrible airport.  There is not ONE place in the whole building where you can see the ramp and the airplanes without having to pass through security first.  All I wanted to do was eat my lunch and stare at planes.  Is that so much to ask?  And because I am not stationed at YUL, using my Red Pass to get to the gates just to go look at planes made me feel like I was in Mission Impossible.  I managed it, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to...

Misson accomplished!

One afternoon in YUL, having made it to the gates in time to settle myself by a window and watch the sky for the appearance of my beloved B747, I noticed something strange.  A stream of water seemed to be coming from between two planes parked at the gates.  I wandered over to get a better look, and saw something wonderful!  What I believe to have been an Air Canada Embraer 190 was taxiing between two fire trucks as they discharged their water canons.  A Real Life Canon Salute!  I was very moved, and amazed when I looked around me to realise that none of the other people sitting in the terminal had any clue what they were witnessing.  I literally had chills.

Also while in YUL, I went to visit a friend of mine.  He was previously a ramp supervisor here in Ottawa, but had left about two months ago, and got a job at one of the FBOs at YUL.  He invited me over to the FBO one evening, and spent some time showing me the incredible private jets of the rich and famous.  Shining gorgeous challengers all crammed into  one hangar with fancy sports cars parked between them, and the whole place smelled of Jet Fuel!  I just wanted to bring a sleeping bag and move in.  To make it even better, the FBO was right on the runway, so we stood on the ramp for a long time and watched the B777s and the B747s and the A330s taking off.  My friend even let me sit in one of the Mazeratis, AND turn it on!  I'm not really a car girl, but the sound of that engine was jaw-droppingly sexy.

On Tuesday this week I finally got my behind back in an airplane, after a two week gap between lessons, thanks to rotten weather and my trip to YUL.  I was more than a little nervous, to tell the truth.  We were due to undertake my first Instruments lesson, which is accomplished by making the student wear a "hood" which blocks the student's view of anything but the instrument panel.  No visual flying.  Meanwhile the instructor takes care of the radio calls, keeps an eye out for traffic, and gives the student directional instructions.  The idea of having part of my vision obscured gave me the creeps, but I sucked it up and dealt with it, and although it wasn't the most pleasant lesson, I felt pretty confident that I performed well.  My Instructor gave me a bit of a break half way through the lesson, and had me land on a grass strip to give me some practice with Soft Field landings and take-offs, which was pretty enjoyable.  And then it was back to the sky and back under the hood.  Halfway back to Ottawa I realised that I was essentially flying an aircraft blind, except for my instruments.  I had no idea where I was and no idea where any other traffic might be. 
'Damn,' I said to My Instructor.  'It's a good job I trust you.'


Thursday, October 7, 2010

The 52nd Annual Fly Day at the Ottawa Flying Club

Flying an airplane is one of the best highs I can get.  Nothing is comparable to being a few thousand feet above the ground in a small plane, and I tell everyone I talk to that they should try it at least once in their lives, if not more.

But let's face it; flying is not exactly cheap.  Unless you're lucky enough to be relatively wealthy, or else you are like me and willing to budget yourself to within an inch of your life and work your tail off at two or three jobs, it's unlikely that you will get to spend a great deal of time in the sky.  The Ottawa Flying Club (my second home) offers introductory lessons/city tours for approximately $90 after taxes, which is really reasonable in the aviation world, but still doesn't exactly qualify as spare change. 

When I heard about the annual Fly Day, it sounded to me like a brilliant idea.  City Tour flights are offered by experienced pilots in small planes for $30 per person, and all proceeds go to charity.  I knew I wanted to volunteer and help out, so at Ridiculous AM on Saturday morning after driving home from Montreal the night before, I dragged my butt out of bed and headed off to the OFC.  I am beginning to get the idea that a life in aviation and getting a good amount of sleep are two things that are totally incompatible.  But really, who needs sleep when there are airplanes nearby?!

It was a gorgeous fall day, if a bit cold, and the weather looked very promising.  The odd low cloud here and there, but nothing that looked too menacing.  By the time I arrived, things were already well under way.  A line of planes were on the tarmac, dropping off passengers, picking up new ones, getting refueled, and taking off again in a steady routine.  I was given a very stylish orange vest and put to work as an Escort (of passengers...to and from the planes.  This is a family show people.)  Already there was a crowd, and I was told that almost two hundred tickets had already been sold.

Marshalling in the traffic.
And so I got to work, not that I would exactly call it that.  I ended up enjoying myself immensely, and smiled so much that my face hurt.  I was on the ramp, there were airplanes everywhere, and I was helping out a worthwhile cause.  Not exactly hard work, in my book!  And putting little children in airplanes for the first time in their lives, and seeing the elation on their faces after they had landed did not, for one single second, get old.

As the day wore on, I was amazed by a number of things.  The amount of planning that must have gone into making this day a success must have been staggering.  I can't even begin to imagine the co-ordination with the OFC, the pilots, the ATC tower and the Rotary Club that it must have required.  It appeared that the Tower was pretty relaxed with us too, although I can't imagine we made their day an easy one, with flight after flight after flight taking off and landing, so I am quite sure that their co-operation and patience was appreciated by all!   The pilots  flew relentlessly, some only stopping long enough to fuel their aircraft and then head off again with the next load of passengers. 

The passengers themselves impressed the heck out of me too.  In the end I believe somewhere along the lines of four hundred tickets were sold, and almost three hundred and fifty people took flights.  We stopped selling tickets at around 11am, and needless to say it took all day to get through all the passengers that waited it out.  But everyone was, for the most part, incredibly patient.  It must have been especially difficult for families with small children to keep the little ones from throwing tantrums at the idea of having to wait all day, but I witnessed very few meltdowns.  Impressive.  I got the impression that people realised this was something worth waiting for, and that they appreciated the restrictions we had to work with - such as only being able to send three people at a time in each plane, and the necessary stop times for refueling and pilot breaks, and so on.

Based upon the remarks from the passengers after their flights, most of them seemed to think that it was well worth the wait, which I was very happy to hear.  Obviously I am a little biased, and think flying is just about the best thing ever.  But it was nice to hear that people were happy to wait for so long and were still able to go away content.  It made me feel very proud of the OFC for pulling off such a successful event. To add to the enjoyment, Vintage Wings brought over a few of their planes - a Harvard and a Tiger Moth - which caused a little bit of excitement, and a few lucky people got to take flights in them.

 A more surprising addition to the party came with the arrival of a Norseman.  One lucky couple took a flight in that amazing plane, during which time the young man made a successful marriage proposal!  How's that for romantic!  I'd definitely have a hard time saying "no" if someone proposed to me in a vintage aircraft.

The Norseman
As I mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Not only did I get to spend the whole day on the ramp, but I made some new friends, received a prophecy of marriage from one young boy, was told by another that I was a Fairy Princess (yeah, that's a name that just screams Badass Pilot...), and I bonded with my new Fairy Godmother.  What more can a girl ask for?

At the end of the day, everyone left happy, and the Ottawa Rotary Home went away having raised almost $10,000!  Quite the feat!  Please visit the Ottawa Rotary Home's website for more information on this fantastic organization, and if you are interested in next year's Fly Day, check out the official website!

The stunning photographs were taken by Mike McKay from the OFC - as always, demonstrating his enviable photography skills!  In true form, I had (as always) left my camera at home.  But I was too busy enjoying myself to have taken any photographs anyway!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Unintended Hiatus

I didn't really intend to take a break from posting, but I suppose that's just the way these things go sometimes.  It hasn't been quite two weeks since my last post, but it feels like much longer since I have put much effort in here.  Life has been life, and I've been having one of those busy periods of time where you feel like you can't remember the last time you got to sleep as long as you wanted to, or spend a whole day doing whatever you wanted to do with no prior commitments.

My flying hasn't been as regular as I should like. I counted up and during August I only scraped 3.7 hours in total, a number which I shall probably surpass by mid September.  I was away, My Instructor was away, bad weather, etc etc.  About a week after my first solo I had a lesson with The Bearded One.  It was quite an enjoyable experience, having never flown with him before.  We did a couple of circuits, he determined that I was good to go, and sent me off to do four or five circuits by myself.  I didn't realise it at the time, but I had a massive adrenaline rush doing those solo circuits.  I only noticed it an hour later when I showed up to work and discovered that my hands were shaking. 

TEN DAYS later I finally got the chance to go for another lesson, this time with one of my regular Secondary Instructors.  I had hoped to get some solo circuit time in, but it was pretty windy (Ok so it was gusting 20kts...lets not be picky).  But we decided to go for a bit and see how things went.  I was concerned that it had been a while since I flew, so I at least wanted to keep my hand at it.  It was clear after my first take-off though that I was not going to be flying solo.  The wind was making the first two hundred feet or so unbelievably bumpy, and I found it a real struggle to keep control of the plane.  The Instructor gave me the choice to go solo(although I think he was just testing my judgement) but I said hell no.  We did a grand total of twenty minutes, and the wind was a real challenge.  It was the first time I had tried to take-off and land in a strong  headwind, and while it was interesting, I definitely felt myself begin to sweat a bit.  I wasn't comfortable flying by myself, and to be honest I was even getting stressed with the instructor being there to help me, so we called it a day.

Another ten days passed and on Saturday I finally got back in the air again.  It was an absolutely beautiful morning for flying, and I felt butterflies of excitement in my stomach as I drove into the city.  I scored my favourite plane (LKN) and my heart did an excited little dance.  Flying on a gorgeous morning, barely a breath of wind, with My Instructor and then solo in My Favourite Plane?  What could be better?  It felt like forever since I had worked with My Instructor, so it was actually quite nice to have him raise an eyebrow at me and give me a hit of that dry sense of humour when I came in from my walk around to admit (rather sheepishly) that I had somehow managed to get the fuel pipe all tangled up on the rack and couldn't get it unstuck.

We did two circuits and everything went pretty well, although I had some interesting and different clearances from ATC - unfortunately our multi-engine JFE was sitting on runway 25, having suffered a nosegear collapse, so the tower was a little tense and busy that morning.  Heartbreaking about the plane though, it was a bit of a mess, and will take a fair bit of time to be repaired so I understand.

The circuits went well, so My Instructor sent me on my way for an hour.  My first take-off was less than pleasant.  I came unbelievably close to hitting a goose, and in a moment of blind panic I realised I had very little idea about what to do if that actually happened.  I wasn't even sure what kind of effect that would have on my little Cessna 150, but the alarm bells singing in my head informed me that it would be really bad news.  Somehow the goose and I missed eachother, so that was good.  However the whole encounter did little to repair the ill relations that goosekind and I have been having for years now.  It would take a UN meeting of epic proportions to have us be allies.

Once my heart vacated my throat and I was able to breathe again, I turned crosswind and downwind, and pulled off a nice landing.  Several more landings (and a few more tense moments with gulls) later I felt pretty comfortable.  I had one landing where I knew I was going to be awfully high, despite my best efforts, and it became clear I would have to do a full-flap overshoot.  I did my best to not let my nerves get the better of me, and pulled it off relatively well.  I'm sure it wasn't perfect, but that's what practicing is all about. 

When I landed I took delight in entering a full 1.1 hours of solo time in my log book - I am now just hovering under 30 hours in total, and just under 3 hours solo.  I also made sure to request that My Instructor goes over some emergency procedure type things in my next lesson.  Such as what I should do if I actually hit a bird and sh*t Goes South for the Winter.  What registered in my mind as a pretty close call with a Real Problem made me realise that I am perhaps not as comfortable as I would like to be with emergency procedures, so we must work on that, hopefully later on this week!

I do have some flight attendant related entries planned (including Delta and Echo in my Flight Attendant ABCs series), but for now I have a plane on its way in which requires greeting.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Too Stubborn for my Own Good (Or - The Day I Fell Out of a B737)

Once upon a time a Flight Attendant worked at the 1R door.  That Flight Attendant was me.

On my last pairing I had a minor clutzy moment.  I had to open my door in order to empty my garbage cans, and noticed it was rather heavier and hard to push open than I was used to.  But I got the door open no trouble.  When the time came to close the door, however, I had a hard time pulling it back.  It was very heavy, and didn't seem inclined to budge.  The mechanic was nearby, and mentioned that the door needed to be fixed, as it had gotten very stiff, and offered to close it for me.

I am a stubborn kind of person, and when someone tells me I can't do something, it usually makes me want to do it more.  So the door said "No, I am not closing" and I replied "Like hell you aren't, I will MAKE you close!"

The next thing I knew I was hanging out of the plane, only holding on by the door handle with my legs swinging ten feet above the ground.  The mechanic was nice enough to pull me back in, but the massive bruise on my leg will serve as a reminder of one of the most important lessons a Flight Attendant (or Pilot) can learn.

Sometimes you just gotta let the mechanic deal with it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Whiskey Zulu November, confirm that was your first solo?"

Well this has been a long time coming.  No excuses, just apologies.

On Thursday morning I woke up early and went straight to my window to check the weather.  Slightly windy, a few clouds, but nothing too sinister.  I immediately got butterflies.  I was going to go for my first solo.  I packed a change of clothes, and attempted to eat some breakfast, but couldn't manage much more than an English Muffin.  During the drive to the Flying Club, I felt as though my stomach had vacated my body, and was somehow already cruising around at circuit altitude checking out the conditions.  The little voice in my head seemed to be stuck on repeating two tracks.  The first went "What am I doing?  This is nuts.  Why am I nuts?!"  The second; "I'm gonna fly today, AND I'm gonna fly by myself today! Oh my god oh my god oh my god yay!"

Parts of the day are a blur.  Some things really stick out in my mind, but others have just blended in, overshadowed by others.  I met up with the instructor who was going to be taking me out that morning, and he sent me out to do my walk-around while he had a cigarette - hopefully NOT to calm his nerves!  The walk-around went well, and I even managed not to have a single clumsy moment. 

Checking out the fuel - I hear it's useful.

 After I had determined my plane was good to go, I walked back to the club feeling slightly dazed, and following what I vaguely remember as being a quick weight and balance sheet and checking out of the weather, it was suddenly time to go.  I am quite sure that at least half an hour passed between my walk-around and climbing into the plane to go, but I can't for the life of me remember it.  There may even have been a briefing situation.  Like I said...there are blurs.

 As I climbed into the plane (Whiskey Zulu November, definitely one of my favourites!) I calmed down a bit.  It was just going to be like doing normal circuits with My Instructor.  That was no problem.  It was the bit after that would be the challenge.  I went through the motions of all my start-up procedures and such, and we taxied out to line up on the runway.  Just a normal take-off, although the circuit was a little busier than I am used to.  My first landing an approach was unbelievable - I had no idea I was capable of performing such a smooth and gentle landing.  My confidence soared, and hearing the instructor say "Holy crap, that was amazing!" made me smile so much my face hurt.

Naturally, because it's me, my second landing was awful.  Cringeworthy, unbelievably poor.  I think I landed twice.  Facepalm of the century.  I started to worry that the instructor would just say "I have control" and call the whole damned thing off.  The movie theatre in my mind played a film of us parking on the grass and me walking up to the club with my head hanging in shame while everyone stared at me and said "What happened?" as they lowered the water guns which were supposed to provide me with a celebratory soaking. 

But nothing happened.  I opened the throttle again, and took off.  The instructor showed no signs of taking control of the plane and berating me for a poor performance.  I perked up my hopes again, and started mentally preparing myself for my third landing.  The approach was better this time, and I somehow pulled off another good landing.  At this point there is a huge gap in my memory.  I can't for the life of me remember if that was my last circuit with the instructor, or if we went around again.  The next thing I remember was the instructor telling ATC that we were going to do a full stop and drop off a passenger.  My mind did the math - a little sluggishly, like ailerons in slow flight, but when the solution arrived, it hit like a truck.  We were letting off a passenger, and I was going to fly solo!

Taxiing back to the club with the instructor.

 We landed and taxied over to the club.  The instructor spent a few minutes going over a few last minute instructions, and hopped out.  As he shut the door, he said something to me along the lines of "good luck and have fun", and shut the door.  I was alone in an airplane with the engine on.  I took a moment to appreciate that fact, and only succeeded in making my nerves come back tenfold.  I paused for a moment before calling ground control and requesting my taxi clearance.

A few last-minute instructions...

As I taxied to the runway I felt as though someone was dancing a tango inside of me.  I could not believe this was happening.  I felt sure that at some point before I reached 04 someone was going to come sprinting across the field and say "NO!  What are you doing?  Get your overreaching butt back to the club right now young lady!" but the request to return never came, so I positioned myself on the runway when instructed to do so, and it was time.

"Full power.  Oil and temperature gauges are green.  Airspeed is coming alive...and who the f*** am I talking to?"

And that was it.  I was in the air.  My nerves seemed to have been left on the ground - their own airspeed hadn't come alive quite as quickly, and the sudden and surprising rate of climb had caught them off guard.  They weren't going to catch me now!  I had been warned that the plane would climb a lot faster without the added weight of an instructor next to me, but I wasn't prepared to be quite so high in such a short time.  I felt like I was auditioning for a role in Top Gun.  Ok not quite.

I had no issues during the circuit more than a bump or two, a result of the wind picking up slightly.  But considering I always seem to be flying in strong wings, I wasn't bothered.  At one point I turned to say something to My Instructor, having completely forgotten that he wouldn't be there, and instead of his head and a teasingly raised eyebrow, I saw the view out the right side of the plane. 

Coming in to land I started to feel slight anxiety again - this was the big test.  Landing by myself.  But then I realised that there really wasn't any reason that landing by myself should be any different from landing with someone else there, so I just ignored my brain and went for it - not exactly like I had a choice.  I had gotten myself up into the air.  At some point I was going to have to get myself back down again.

The landing is a blur, and taxiing off of the runway I can recall in a haze of happiness and pride in myself.  As I did my post-landing procedures I became aware of several people on the radio - mainly Controllers wishing me congratulations on my first solo.  I even received a congratulatory call from 1102, which turned out to be an Air Canada flight just on its way off to Winnipeg! 

I taxied over to the club, and parked the plane on the grass.  As I shut down the engine, I realised my hands were shaking.  Seemingly out of nowhere, My Instructor appeared and showed me how to enter my times on the sheet, before kindly taking my things so they wouldn't be soaked in the upcoming ritual.  We walked back to the club, the others taking care to stay clear behind me, and I saw the group of people waiting and trying to look innocent.

'Hey, what are you all sitting around here for?' I asked, trying not to laugh, just before a bucket of water was dumped on me from behind.  Got to love traditions.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Day I'll Always Remember

Yesterday I flew a plane solo for the very first time.  It was an incredible experience, and be assured that I have plenty to say about it!

Unfortunately, I have to get my butt to work, and I would rather spend a bit of time on the entry rather than just bash something out for you guys.  Expect it some time between 2am tonight when I get off work, and 2pm tomorrow afternoon when I have to go to work again!

In the meantime, HERE is a link to the Ottawa Flying Club blog, where Mike kindly wrote a blog entry for the club's news page - complete with photographs of me in a wet t-shirt!  If that doesn't entice you to follow the link, then I don't know what will! 


Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Two posts in one day!  Goodness me, how dedicated I am this week!

I didn't hear back from My Instructor this morning, so I sucked it up and drove into the city, figuring I'd find something to do with myself if I couldn't have a lesson.  South of the city there was nothing but beautiful clear skies (although unreasonably hot).  However towards the north and east I could see a line of sketchy looking clouds - just around where I reasoned the Practice Area to be.  I didn't feel hopeful.

My Instructor was still in the air when I arrived, so I waited to do a walk-around before getting his go-ahead.  Why waste the time, I figured, convinced he was going to say it was yet another no-go.  But to my delight he walked in and said we were on!  I immediately bounced out the door and began to check out my plane (Tango Mike Mike - the first one I ever flew in).  All went well, until it was time to check the oil.  The plane had just been out, and that in combination with how hot the weather was made the oil-cap unbearable to touch!  It was screwed on pretty tight, and I simply could not get a good enough grip to turn it without burning my hand.  I found a glove, but it was a right hand, and that made it too awkward to turn, so eventually I begged a paper towel from the mechanic and wrapped that around my hand.  By the time I got it uncapped I was practically sweating with the effort required, not to mention feeling like a bit of a tool.

I did a quick briefing with My Instructor to refresh my memory of a few exercises, like stalls and slow flight, and to learn about the new subject of the day - steep turns.  We had a bit of confusion with the radio and my squawk code - the flight planning service had assigned me the code 4211, but the Clearance Delivery and the Ground stations switched me to 4222 - I'm still not entirely sure what that was about.  Still, in a short time it was sorted out, and I was lining up to take off.  I felt slightly nervous.  It had been ten days since my last flight, and I was worried that I would forget how to do things. 

I was very pleased with my take-off.  It felt just perfect - so much easier with no wind than with the crosswinds I usually end up having to deal with.  The trip out to the practice area was nice and smooth, and I could see that most of the clouds were hovering over the Gatineau hills, leaving most of the PA clear. 

I made a couple of mistakes during the lesson, having not practiced some of the manouevers in quite some time, but practice makes perfect, and after a few tries I got them right again.  I suppose the next step will be just practicing until everything is truly stuck in my memory.

Steep turns were fun - one of my favourite exercises so far.  It's quite something to see when you're on such a steep angle, and of course you really feel the Gs when you have to pull back to keep your altitude.  I felt pretty confident that I did a reasonable job of the exercise, and before long we were headed back to Ottawa.  My approach to landing wasn't the greatest, but the landing itself could have been worse.  I caught some kind of draft or something just as I was flaring, which pushed my plane up a few feet, but I managed to correct it for a relatively smooth landing. 

After the lesson My Instructor and I sat down to discuss the lesson, and he finally signed off on the recommend for a solo!  We booked the Assistant Chief Flying Instructor (the same man who previously tricked me into a good landing) for Thursday at 11am for the pre-solo check, and hopefully if that goes well enough he will hop out onto the tarmac after a couple of circuits and I will finally fly a plane by myself!

The Vengeful Weather, and Other Fables

I am going to lose it really soon.  Once again it's my day to fly and the weather is looking completely inconvenient.  I asked My Instructor via text if he could let me know by 1 if we will get to fly, thus saving me a trip into the city and hanging around until 7pm for groundschool.  I haven't heard back yet, which I am hoping means that the weather in the city is better than it is here, and he's up in a plane right now.

I feel like I am finally there, I'm at my solo, it's here, and all I want to do is book it and then ping around like a housefly on steroids due to the excitement.  But now the Universe is going "Oh no, this is so ill-advised that I'm going to throw all my weather at you and get in the way".  I just need that one lesson.  One more.  Why is this proving to be so difficult?  I haven't flown since last Saturday.  That's a very long time for me, and although I was pretty damned good that day (if I do say so myself), I am really scared that after so long I am going to get in the plane and fall flat on my face (metaphorically speaking...literally that would be extra bad).  I don't want to have lost all my awesome superpowers (translation: the ability to flare) with the long gap between flights.  If I suck today (or tomorrow, or whenever), My Instructor could easily say he wants me to have another lesson before the big day.

On that note, I appreciate that I am perhaps making too much of a big deal out my solo.  I spoke to a few other students about it all last week, and the consensus seemed to be that no one had really cared all that much about their solos.  It was just another day and they got on with it.  But for me, it's a huge accomplishment.  I'm the kind of person who can look at something, even small, and say "this is proof that I have done something/worked hard/am awesome".  I find it keeps me positive.

To be quite honest, I completely fail to see how anyone could pooh-pooh at flying a plane alone for the very first time.  You're flying a plane alone for the first time for crying out loud.  That's amazing!  Six months ago it's something I never would have imagined to be possible for myself.  I would never have dreamed about even flying a plane at all, let alone being able to do it by myself!  And now here I am, my mind is completely overrun by a tiny tin can with an engine and wings and all I want to do is throw myself through the air inside it completely by myself.

Well...if today's lesson gets called off, I suppose the next step is to beg My Instructor to come in on his day off (tomorrow)...perhaps bribe him with cookies, so that I can still look at going solo on Thursday.  IF THE WEATHER CO-OPERATES!  I'm cranky anyway because I had to turn down a pairing with The Airline this weekend thanks to my full time job, so if I add in not getting my solo again, I am likely to snap and make a dramatic exit like this guy.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Airport Life

I have been working at the YOW airport for about a month now as a passenger service rep for one of the US airlines there.  I enjoy the job, although it can be challenging at times - particularly since the airline I work for it notorious for delayed baggage, and as I work in the evenings my job primarily consists of arrivals and baggage claims. 

Still, airport life is never dull, and as interesting as YOW is during the day, I absolutely love it at night time.  There are fewer passengers passing through, but the same amount of staff.  There are always people to talk to, spend time with, and get coffee with.  There are funny stories to be heard, languages to learn, and interesting and useful tidbits to be picked up and tucked away for future use in my career.  There are lovely people, good looking people, angry people, smelly people, strange people, cool people.  Every day is a little bit different.

The airport is like a small community of its own.  Everyone knows everyone else who works there, and gossip runs around like mad.  But it's an addictive environment, and I know people who have two or three jobs at the airport and rarely seem to leave.

The customs hall is one of my favourite spots.  To being with, it's where you find the customs officers, who always have something interesting to tell you and keep you company when your flight is delayed for over two hours and you're stuck there until it decides to show up.  The customs hall can be chaotic when lots of flights arrive at the same time - yesterday an A330 from Heathrow and a B767 from Frankfurt arrived at the same time as two or three US flights, and I could barely move in the hall, and the noise!  But then when it empties out it's large and almost peaceful, until you start to see another flight full of people begin to make their way through.

Naturally for me, part of the enjoyment of the job comes from getting to spend so much time around airplanes.  There are some great ones that come in - the Heathrow and Frankfurt flights I mentioned earlier.  I discovered that by making friends with agents from other airlines, sometimes I will get to take little field trips to see the planes from the inside.  I have decided that the B767 is beautiful on the outside, but the A330 is beautiful on the inside!  And those sleeper pods are hardcore.  I almost want to pay to travel first class just for the experience of flying in one of those!

And of course there is all the time I spend on the ramp or sitting on the bridge with my legs dangling over the side, waiting for my flights to arrive.  Sometimes I take pictures.  Other times I just enjoy the view of the runways I get from such spots.

By far one of the best things I have learned so far was to drive a jetbridge.  I was very nervous to begin with, but I've gotten a lot better.  It's so exciting to park it next to the airplane and then open the door (extremely challenging from the outside, who knew?)

Although there are some days I want to beat my head against the wall - usually ones where no one on their flight gets their bag but I get twenty delayed bags from the day before instead - I am loving airport life, and am being voluntarily sucked in.  Who needs a life when there's an aiport?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I think the hangar ended up in Oz. Or on the other side of the fence...

This is me pitching a fit.

That's right, the weather royally screwed up my hopes and plans of doing my first solo flight tomorrow afternoon.  I got to the OFC a little early in order to study and write my final pre-solo exam, and the weather didn't look good.  Still, it didn't look as though the apocalypse was on its way in, but My Instructor said no flying.  I tried not to have a temper tantrum, and wrote my test instead.  Sure enough, just as I finished up, an insane thunderstorm popped up, seemingly out of nowhere, and attempted to steal the OFC's picnic table and umbrella.  The fence caught it though, so that was fine...

The storm was a real whopper, and put paid to a small private hangar around the corner from the club.  Luckily no one was hurt and no planes were damaged, although from what I understand, a car got the short straw, and ended up right underneath the hangar's new location.

Thanks to the Tall Estonian for the picture, because once again something interesting happened and I didn't have a camera.  The storm lasted for maybe twenty minutes, although it rained for a long time after.  I haven't seen so much rain in a long time - most of the taxiways and part of the field were completely covered in a few centimeters of water.  I suppose in hindsight it was a good job we didn't go flying.  It would have been seriously bad news to get caught up in all of that.

The good news was that I passed my pre-solo exam, although there were a few questions that had me a little stumped.  I recalled the practice I learned in university of making something up if you don't know the answer - you are never going to get points for a blank space, after all.  I was more than a little amused to watch My Instructor trying to mark it.  I could tell what question he was at, based upon the level of WTF readable on his face.  But in the end everything was marked up, and we determined that I had made the grade, so we set about getting me a delightful piece of paper which declares that I am, officially, a  Student Pilot!

The bad news is that I was going to have another crack at a lesson today in the hopes of still being ready for a solo tomorrow, but once again the weather has other ideas, and we've got another terrific thunderstorm rolling through right now.  Schedules for the weekend are not what you could call relaxed, and so now I am looking at my lesson on Tuesday next week, and then my solo on August 12th!  I am trying not to be too disappointed, but I had really been looking forward to doing it tomorrow.  It feels like I have been waiting for this for ages.

Still, at least the tests are finally out of the way, so I don't have to feel like I need to spend every waking moment studying my face off anymore. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

"I think there was a bit of grease on that landing..."

This past week my flying has completely consumed my mind.  Not that I ever really had much space in my brain for anything else, but the past little while I have felt as though I really am bordering on obsessed.  I have spent a lot of my time getting sucked into the addictive city that is the YOW airport, but when I haven't been working or driving to and from home, it is most likely that I am to be found in the lounge of the OFC with lots of books, occasionally snaring some poor instructor or more advanced student and making them teach me things.

When My Instructor told me it was almost time for my solo, it became time to put in the final bit of effort and get my pre-solo tests done.  I aced the PSTAR last week, and tried not to come off as looking too pleased with myself.  Putting both hands in the air in a gesture of victory may have given the game away slightly, but it is possible that it came off less as less conspicuous than it felt.  Yesterday I passed my radio license test.  I didn't get a perfect score, which frankly pissed me off, but I passed anyway.  Tomorrow is the final one - the OFC pre-solo exam, which is making me feel like it would be less work to just memorize the POH as a whole.

On Saturday I spent an hour in the circuit with My Instructor doing touch and gos.  Now I have finally relaxed about my whole landing debacle, I was able to enjoy myself, and realised just how much fun landing is.  Previously I would end the lesson and literally be in pain as a result of how tense I would be throughout the lesson.  On Saturday I felt relaxed and calm and even (drumroll please) confident!  As I lined up on one of my approaches I realised I was pretty high, so I used full flaps - something which usually would have put my blood pressure right up.  But instead of panicking I kept my cool, enjoyed the view, and thought to myself Yeah, I got this.  I touched down nicely, grinned widely and cheered silently in my head.
My Instructor laughed, and said to me 'I think there was  bit of grease on that landing.'
I don't think I could have had any better praise that afternoon!

My one issue on Saturday was the carb heat.  Usually I am pretty good at remembering when to have it at hot or cold, but for some reason that afternoon I kept forgetting about it.  We were turning from the crosswind into a downwind at one point when My Instructor noticed I had the carb heat on hot.
'Has that been like that the whole time?' he questioned me.
'Uuuuh...' I quickly pushed the knob back in to "cold".  'Maybe...' I said.  But as I said, it's usually something I am good at remembering, so I am hoping that there will be no repeat performance of those blonde moments.

I am scheduled in for a lesson tomorrow, but the weather is looking to be awful.  I really hope that it's just because The Weather Network never gets it right, and not because it is actually going to thunderstorm all day.  I'm extra keen for my lesson to go ahead because it's the final review lesson before the big solo!  If all goes well, I am hoping to do my first solo flight on Thursday afternoon!  I can hardly believe it.  I feel ready and I feel excited.  I'm going to pitch a fit if the weather spoils my plans!

Monday, July 26, 2010

"We tried to use a car cigarette lighter, but it didn't work so well..."

I'm such a busy little bee these days it's a tad bit ridiculous, and I'm starting to wonder when (if ever) it is likely to let up. Work, sleep, work, sleep, study, fly, work, study sleep. This is my life. I'd like to cut a little bit of the work out, but it does't look like it'll happen any time soon.

Last week on Wednesday I wrote my PSTAR, which is one of the three tests prior to my first solo flight. I was a little nervous, but the inner perfectionist reared it's ugly head and made me study until I could recite the practice exam (some 200 questions, the real test takes 50 questions at random) by heart. Since the exam was multiple choice it wasn't too taxing once I had studied up. It took me about fifteen minutes (the time allotted is an hour and a half!) and then took it up to be graded, which was met with a raised eyebrow. But I was pretty confident, and sure enough I scored 100%! I tried not to look to pleased with myself.

As I mentioned before, the weekend was spent in Toronto celebrating the marriage of one of my best friends. It was a lot of fun, and Pocket Venus looked absolutely wonderful! The ceremony was beautiful, and although I didn't think I would cry, the second she walked down the aisle I started giggling hysterically and bawling my eyes out at the same time. NOT attractive. I was very surprised at how much hard work it is, standing around looking pretty all day for the photographers. It was all "pose this way" and "smile more" and "crouch down" and "do this" and so on. One very awkward set up had us bridesmaids fawning over the new groom as though we all fancied the pants off him. The photographer piped up with "comfortable"? Oh yeah, we all make passes at our BFF's new husband all the time...

While I was in Toronto I realised that my schedule and that of My Instructor didn't mesh too well for this week. I was looking at Friday before I could get a lesson in. I knew I wouldn't be able to wait that long to get back in the air, and it's definitely not good to go so long between lessons, so I asked nicely if he wouldn't mind taking me up Sunday evening. So Sunday being the morning after the wedding, I got in my car and drove all the way back to Ottawa just in time for a lesson at 6pm.

A text from My Instructor asked me to bring hot dog buns, and bribed me with the possibility of hot dogs for my dinner. Easily convinced, I stopped off at the shop before heading to the club. When I arrived, I found three of the instructors, mine included, engaged in a quest for fire. Apparently barbeques need flames to work, and no one had a lighter. Watching these three (generally intelligent) men attempt to create fire was ridiculously entertaining, and I was almost disappointed when they finally figured it out, because I was so much enjoying watching them try.

After the hot dogs which were an hour and a half in the making, My Instructor and I finally got back in the sky. The winds were gusting 17kts in a perfect crosswind on runway 22. Everyone else seemed to be opting to take off from 32 into a headwind, but I decided to be stubbourn and take off in the crosswind. It was challenging, that's for sure, but My Instructor said I did a nice job of it.

Instead of working in the circuit, we took advantage of the windy day to head out to the Pracice Area for my lesson on illusions created by drift. It was a fun lesson, and it was pretty cool to be flying around only 700ft above the ground on such a windy day. Despite the wind, it was a beautiful evening. I had little trouble keeping my altitude, and started to feel like a good student pilot again. A little break from circuits appears to have been just what I needed. No worries about my landings, little in the way of radio communications, just us, the plane and the sky.

After an enjoyable hour in the sky, we turned around and headed back to YOW, where I opted to land in a headwind - still a challenge, but definitely registered among my better landings. You can just imagine my sigh of relief. I spent most of the lesson enjoying the view and the exercises, and laughed a lot. My Instructor commented after I had landed and taxied back to the club that I seemed significantly more relaxed now, and that it translated into my flying. I felt so pleased to hear that from him, after having so many lessons with him where I could not make myself perform the way I wanted to.

While My Instructor and I debriefed, he said something I had been waiting to hear for a very long time. I finally have an idea of when my first solo flight will take place. He wants me to do two more lessons - I think one more round of circuits, and a review lesson in the practice area, and then after those two lessons it will time. I finally feel ready. I feel nervous to think about it coming up so soon, but as I have sad before, nervous is good, useful energy, as opposed to fear. So now all I have to do is write a couple of tests (I am aiming for early next week) and get those two lessons out of the way as soon as I have the time and the funds, and I can book my very first solo flight. Who would have thought it?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Oh I see what you did there...twelve hours later.

On Thursday last week I spent an hour in the circuit with an instructor I had never flown with before in order to shake things up for myself and see if I couldn't pull myself out of that mental block on my flare.  Things started to improve slightly, and I ended a lesson without wanting to scream at myself.  We went back to basics, and he explained the entire process as though I was brand new to it.  This allowed me to clear my mind out a little and look at it as a fresh start.  All we did was circuits to work on the flare - we didn't even bother with anything else.  By the end of the lesson I could practically feel my confidence poking its head out of the deep pit it's been digging itself into the past few weeks.  

I spent the rest of the week and weekend at the airport learning more of the ins and outs of my job, and simply enjoying being around the airplanes. Having made friends with some of the Air Canada employees, they will sometimes take me to see the planes - so far my favourite has been the Airbus330.  It goes on forever and ever, and there is enough room in the flight deck to make up a camp bed and go to sleep!  It has been a really long time since I have been on a wide-bodied aircraft, and the last time I had the chance I didn't full appreciate it as my interest in aviation had not yet taken hold.  However the A330 could soon be eclipsed in my mind - one of the baggage agents has promised to take me to the Boeing 767 next time he and I work together, and I can hardly wait!

This afternoon I had a flying lesson with the assistant chief instructor, which killed two birds with one stone - I was able to get my Supervisor flight out of the way, and got to get yet another perspective on the landing situation.  Compared to the last couple of weeks, I felt like a completely different person.  I felt significantly more confident and capable, and really got back to enjoying myself instead of allowing stress to cloud my mind. 

The instructor took me to the South Field right away, and we did most of my touch and gos on runway 25.  The real benefit on a 7,000ft runway is that a little Cessna can easily get a couple of take-off and landings before running out of tarmac.  Coming in behind a B737 made me a little nervous about possible wake-turbulence, but we managed to avoid the worst of it.  Judging my approaches felt much easier, and I had finally managed to score a day with pretty calm winds, which allowed me to focus on the flare.  I followed the instructor's direction to look back and forth between the runway and the airspeed indicator, and my brain piped up and said "take a couple of glances out the left side of the plane too".  So with my glancing to the runway and my instruments and then a few quick side looks, I finally managed to touch down quite gently, first on one wheel, then the second, and finally the nosegear.  Success!

The instructor also had a go at that little trick My Instructor attempted with me last week, only I was too frazzled, totally botched it and completely missed the point.  We got the plane into a landing attitude over the runway, and then he added a little bit of power and then reduced it to idle so gently I barely noticed.  He told me to not allow the plane to land no matter what happened, telling me that the point of the exercise was to stay in the flared attitude so I could see how it should look.  Despite my best efforts, the plane would not remain airborne, and sank onto the runway.  However my struggling to keep it off of the ground turned it into gentle touchdown on the rear wheels - my best landing yet.  Completely failing to see the point, I cursed and apologized for messing up and not being able to keep the plane off the ground when told to, which caused the instructor to laugh at me and said I had done perfectly and that the real point was to land exactly as I had done.

I kind of laughed and nodded my head at the time, but it's only been really since I sat down to write this entry that my brain finally did the math and it clicked.  That's how I need to go about landing a plane.  Ooooooh.  I feel like yelling out "duh", but that little lightbulb just switched on and now it seems so obvious!  I was tricked into a good landing, and now (twelve hours after the fact) I understand how to do it again!  Now I'm laughing at how dense I can be at times, and am itching to try it again.  Unfortunately I probably won't have a chance until mid next week some time!  This is likely to drive me nuts.  Why does my life have to include things that aren't flying which suck up all of my time?  Like working?  And sleeping?

After several more successful touch and gos we called it a day and headed back to the club where I spent some time studying.  I am taking my PSTAR test tomorrow, and hopefully the other two pre-solo exams I need to write next week some time.  The evening consisted of my first ground school lesson.  It felt surprisingly good to be back in a classroom setting again, and after all of the introductory information about getting the PPL, we got into a little bit about the theory of flight.  None of it was really news to me, except a little bit about how the reduced pressure above the wing pulls it upwards finally made sense.  But it was like my sub-conscious knew exactly what to do, and all of a sudden I had several pages of notes.  "Education? Oh yeah, I remember how to do that!"

I get the feeling that I am really going to enjoy having ground school every week.  Reading and homework assignments and classes and tests!  Who would have thought that a year and a half after finishing up my degrees I would be enthusiastic about homework again?  I'm excited to get to work, but want to get my pre-solo tests out of the way before ground school thieves my attention span.

This weekend I shall banish aviation from my mind (a bit) and allow the girly side to take over as I head to Toronto for my darling Pocket Venus' wedding.  I get to wear dresses and stilettos (and I hope I get this giant oil stain from the engine off my arm before the wedding) and get my hair done.  Glee!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting Spiky.

Is flight training always going to be so up and down? (Ho ho).

Working on my PPL is one of the most wonderful things I have ever done, but it is also shaping up to be one of the most stressful and frustrating.  It can be so many contradictions at once.  I can feel on top of the world and have giddy excitement when I realise "I'm flying an airplane!", and at the same time I can feel like a complete fool when I don't get something quite right.  Some days I adore that they let me fly airplanes.  Other days - usually the ones where I injure myself somehow before I even get in the plane - I wonder if they really think it's wise.

This week I feel stuck.  I feel like I'm not progressing, and don't know how to get past it.

It's been a crazy couple of weeks.  I just checked the calendar, and today is the first day that I haven't had to work (or be deadheading to or from work) since June 28th.  After my pairing I had some training at a new part time relief job I picked up, and then I started training at my new full-time job at the airport.  I am now a Passenger Service Representative for one of the airlines that operates to and from YOW.  So far I am really enjoying it, although it's been some real sink or swim "training" that usually seems to consist of people calling in sick and me being left to work by myself until 1am.  Still, I get to be at the airport and greet all of the planes that come in for the airline.  Doesn't take much more than being around lots of airplanes to make me happy.

Yesterday was my third attempt to get a flying lesson in.  I was scheduled in with one of the instructors on Friday, but we had some crazy storms in Ottawa, so the lesson didn't go ahead.  I booked a lesson with My Instructor for Saturday at 1pm, thinking I could go before I had to work at 4, but it was harder than I thought to adjust to the late nights my job now requires.  I didn't get home until 3am, and was so exhausted I slept through both of my alarms and woke up fifteen minutes before I was supposed to have a flying lesson.  My first no-show.  I have never felt like such an idiot before, and I'm going to hate myself if I allow it to happen again.

Once I got over being angry and disappointed in myself, I worked up the nerve to book yet another lesson.  I knew it was going to be one of those days before I had even finished my walk-around - I had already given myself a small handful of bruises, a particularly painful one from scraping my foot on the step when climbing up on the wing to check my fuel.  And no, I don't know how I managed it.

Before we left, My Instructor went over some runway change instructions.  It took a few minutes to kick my brain into action - "No, your other right" - but soon enough we were climbing into a scorching hot Cessna and taxiing towards runway 22.  What followed was an hour of me becoming increasingly frustrated, and eventually I felt as though I would rather jump out above the river and just swim home than land the bloody plane again.  I would have been quite happy to stay in the circuit all day, I just didn't want to land

My problem seems to be the flaring part of the landing.  I can tell I am getting better at judging my approaches, although I am still not quite where I should be.  It's just the getting the plane on the ground without taking some space off the shocks I'm not managing.  My Instructor tried to show me how the flare should look and feel by having me come in as though I would land, and then adding power in order to have me hold the nose-up attitude above the runway. 

But somehow I am just not getting it.  I feel like I want someone to climb inside my brain and take control of my hands and then do it for me so that I would know how it is supposed to feel.  I simply don't seem able to judge things the way I want to when I get close to the runway.  In the end, even My Instructor could tell I was this close to screaming in aggravation.

Once the lesson was over I had to remove myself to the (thankfully unused) ladies washroom at the club for a short time so as not to let on to everyone and their brother that I'm a crazy, emotional girl (it's a secret, shh!).  Once I'd calmed down, I spent some time in the lounge with Trendy Argyle, whose bragging about his own "greased" landings with My Instructor the previous day succeeded in both making me want to smack him, and (surprisingly) cheering me up slightly.  At least My Instructor gets to work with someone who can land a plane!  And his obvious pride in being a good pilot was infectious - it made me look forward to being able to speak about my own landings like that one day.

Last time I got this frazzled and upset it was before my first flight with a Supervisor Instructor, and coincided with spins.  That time, I found that the new way of looking at things provided by a fresh teaching style helped me a lot, and gave me my first real hit of aviation-related confidence.  So now I am looking at booking a lesson with another one of the instructors at the club.  I can tell My Instructor is trying to help me get past whatever my hang up is, but for whatever reason I can't budge.  I'm like a ketchup bottle - sometimes you just have to pick it up and shake it around a bit to get anything out of it!  Maybe this other instructor will have a different perspective which will help things click into place for me.

Perhaps this is why people have primary and secondary instructors?  So that they can switch things up if they feel like they are getting in a rut.

The people I have spoken to are helpful and supportive.  They tell me it takes time, and that one day I will just get it and then I will wonder what I was so aggravated about.  I know this is true, but I'm impatient.  Now I have received my medical clearance and am preparing for my pre-solo tests, all I want to do is be ready.  I want that solo.  I want that freedom and that excitement.  God help me, I even want that bucket of water thrown on me after - it's been a hot summer so far.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Here's an interesting word - "Obsession". 
Dictionary.com says:



.  The domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea,image, desire, etc.

UrbanDictionary.com has a few different takes on the word "obsession"
  •  Something you can't stop doing because you are officially addicted to it.  
  • A word best used to sum up the Cardiff City supporters love affair with Swansea City FC. Swansea City FC are said to dominate or preoccupy the thoughts, feelings and desires of the uneducated Cardiff City fans. 
  • Nature's way of telling you "this rocks!"
And my personal favourite...
  • A word used by the lazy to describe dedication.
I've heard this word a lot lately.  Mostly people saying to me "You're obsessed".  I suppose it certainly comes off that way.  But I'm looking at it in a slightly different light.

I have so much to learn.  I've spent most of my life absorbing everything I could in relation to archaeology.  My brain was wired and trained through years of school to be an archaeologist's brain.  I asked My Instructor once how long he had wanted to be a pilot, and he said since he was about ten years old.  He's almost twenty now, so that's ten solid years of being interested in aviation.  It seems to be the trend - people who want to be pilots have generally wanted it since they were young children.  They probably would have picked up on all the things that I am only learning now all throughout their youth. 

I have a lot to learn.  And I want to take in everything I can.  I'm starting out a little late here - I can only say that I have been interested in aviation for seven months now, and have wanted to be a pilot for only four.  It sure as hell doesn't make me any less determined that I will be a pilot, but I'm a little behind.  I need to catch up.  If I can absorb everything I can about aviation and learn quickly, it can only make me a better pilot.

So perhaps I am a little obsessed, or perhaps I am simply conscious that there is a lot I don't know, and a lot that I want to know.  The pursuit of knowledge regarding something you are passionate about is a wonderful quest.

Don't say obsessed like it's a bad thing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


What could be better than a weekend spent in the air? 

I kicked off my weekend with a flying lesson.  It was a bumpy and windy Saturday afternoon, and landing in a crosswind is difficult.  But My Instructor and I flew over to Carp for some practice in uncontrolled circuits, which was quite enjoyable, except for the part where I did a terrible job of an overshoot.  I should have seen it coming when My Instructor put my flaps all the way down, but I didn't.  I know the steps, I memorized them ages ago, but somehow they dropped out of my head.  Oops?  My thought process was as follows:
  • What do you mean "someone's on the runway", no one is on the runway, I'd be able to see them...
  • Oooh, it's a training exercise.  I get it.
  • But I want to land, I need the practice!
  • Oh sh*t, I have to do an overshoot
  • Wait, how does that go again?
  • *%$#^@!!!!!
 Next time I will just have to do better.  My next lesson has to be with a Supervisor Instructor again.  I want to see if I can go with the man who taught My Instructor - he has another job, and is leaving at the end of the week, so I would really love the chance to fly with him.

Still no real progress on that landing, but I've had lots of words of encouragement, and I'm going to try and do as My Instructor suggested and just focus on everything else, because my much-desired graceful landing will come eventually.

Following my lesson I hopped on a plane to deadhead to YYZ.  It was interesting to fly back over the Carp aerodrome again, this time from a much greater altitude in a B737.  At that point I got the idea to have a go at attempting to navigate with my map, which was still in my bag.  And yes, I am a huge geek.  But it was fun and a  bit challenging to try and match the lakes on the ground to the ones on the map and track our route.

We landed in YYZ, and I was delighted when we pulled into a gate right next to not one but two Boeing 747s!  One was KLM, and the other was Air France.  Unfortunately, the angle of the terminal made it impossible for me to get a good shot once I had deplaned.

Didn't stop me from trying though...
I sat myself outside the gate for my next flight and stared out of the window, hoping for one of them to taxi past.  It didn't look hopeful, but just as I was about to step onto the bridge and board my next flight, there went Air France in all its gorgeousness!

The flight from YYZ to YYT was relatively uneventful.  I spent most of the time studying for my PSTAR.  The girl in front of me was a royal pain, and kept putting her seat up and down and up and down, and not gently either, all the while I've got my books and papers and things on my tray table.  She kept knocking my AIM onto the floor, which I would then struggle to pick up with no space because her chair was all the way back.  I wanted desperately to punch her in the back of the head.  Eventually I burst out with a frustrated "OH MY GOD make your mind up!" which earned me a dirty look from her mother, but she finally decided on her seat all the way back.  Sigh.  We got into St John's at Stupid AM and crashed at the hotel.  St John's is my favourite place to stay when on a pairing, because they put us up in a gorgeous hotel which has the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in.

I had all these grand plans for getting up early and going to the gym and hiking up Signal Hill in the morning, and generally being an awesome morning person.  It didn't really pan out.  I simply could not drag my butt out of that bed!  Eventually I had to get ready for work, so I showered and preened and ate some oatmeal, and off we went!

Watching my favourite plane land and taxi into the gate had me doing a little dance of giddy excitement.  The two gallons of coffee I had consumed helped.  I was a little wired.  The flights went smoothly -  easy service and no real problems.  Although I had initially expected a plane full of  firefighters, I was a little disappointed to discover that we were actually moving Cadets.  It was pretty cool to see them all in their uniforms... I want the navy blue one in a serious way... But 150 firefighters would have been a bit more pleasing on the eyes...

The last leg of the flight was a ferry flight, which meant three things.  One - that we had to clean all the tray tables because they were icky.  Two - I was allowed to sit in the flight deck for the take-off and landing, which made my MONTH!  And Three - time for a Flight Attendant Photoshoot!

Being in the flight deck for take-off and landing was amazing.  It certainly wasn't the first time I've had the opportunity, but it was the first time since I started my own flight training, and the whole experience was so much more appreciable now that I am able to recognize a bit about what is going on.  I had the biggest, goofiest grin on my face during take-off.  And naturally I attempted to take a million and four photographs. 

We flew over Niagara Falls while we were inbound to Hamilton, and it proved tricky to get a decent shot.  Still, it was incredible to see the falls from above!
 Eventually it was time to land, and we lined up on the runway.  I was keen to observe our First Officer do the landing.  It really wasn't much different - a few extra instruments here and there aside, I suppose there wouldn't be that much difference in landing a plane - the basics are always going to be the same.

We finished off the pairing with drinks and a lovely dinner at a restaurant called "Spice Avenue", which the First Officer suggested, and it turned out to be one of the best meals I've had in ages.  And accompanied by an amazing "Asian Pear Mojito". 

 Over dinner, we mostly talked shop - the pilots gave me lots of awesome advice.  I love how willing people are to talk to me about my learning to fly.  I don't want to feel at like I am pestering people for information, and I really don't want to bug anyone, so it's very nice to find people who are actually willing to take the time and talk with me and share tips that they think will benefit me.  It all comes together to build up the confidence I need to have in myself.

To round out a wonderful weekend, we deadheaded back to YOW on Air Canada on an Embraer 190.  Although the flight itself was really bumpy, the landing was absolutely amazing, the best I've ever experienced.  On the way out, I poked my head in the flight deck to check it out, and saw a woman sitting in the left seat!  Colour me inspired!!!