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...

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!!!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Canada Day in the Sky

Yesterday afternoon one of the pilots from the Algonquin program was kind enough to take me for a flight.  The wind was pretty strong, but I said that a bumpy flight didn't bother me if it didn't bother him, so off we went!  We flew south of the city and followed the highway for a while, and then out into the country towards my house.  I almost didn't see it at first - it was right under the nose of the plane, so it was only when we were right above it that I spotted it.  The pilot circled it a few times, and I took a few photographs.  I could see my Mum and Basil (our beagle) out in the garden, and Mum was waving - she figured out it was me.

It was very interesting.  I have never seen my house from above like that, and it was really nice to see all of the surrounding land.  Although I kind of knew, I had no idea that we lived so far out in the middle of nowhere.  No wonder it takes me 45 minutes to an hour to get into the city!  Fifteen minutes in a Cessna is way better!  Time to build a personal landing strip, I think!

The other thing that surprised me was just how many little aerodromes are out here in the country.  We saw at least four active ones, and one abandoned.  And yet once we got away from the airport traffic, we didn't see another plane until we turned back towards the city and rejoined the circuit.

Since HRM, The Queen is in town, there were restrictions in the NOTAMs.  There was an area around the downtown which was restricted airspace for the day - kind of a shame, as it would have been cool to see some of the Canada Day celebrations from above.  These restrictions stopped us from landing on 22/04, our usual runway, and was hindering the use of 25/07 also, so we ended up landing on 32.  A 10,000ft runway seems a little excessive for a tiny little Cessna really...

All in all it was a lovely afternoon.  Really I don't care where I go, I am just happy to be in the air!