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...

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.


  1. Learning has a plateau. I'm sure you've heard that phrase a thousand times by now, but any pilot who claims not to have gotten stuck on at least a couple of things during training is lying. You're already ahead of the pack by staying motivated, flying frequently, and having a secondary instructor to help your primary one. Most students don't realize the importance of those things until they are well into their training. I didn't, and I wasted a lot because of that.

    As a current instructor, I wish to offer three pieces of advice about learning to flare:

    A) Where you look during the roundout and flare is important, but it's even more important to keep your eyes moving. Studies (http://www.humanfactors.illinois.edu/Reports%26PapersPDFs/isap01/proced01.pdf) have shown that experienced pilots' better landings correlate with an outside visual scan that uses frequent visual fixations of short individual duration. As such, I tell my students that upon beginning the flare they should move their HEAD to point at the end of the runway, but keep their EYES moving side to side and try to use their peripheral vision. Staring at any one thing causes loss of height perception, which causes bad landings.

    B) Touch and go's are good for practicing physical technique but not for mentally learning what needs to happen. If you feel like you're not getting enough out of each landing because there's too much to do on the takeoff and climb, it may help to switch back to full stop landings if you haven't already.

    C) Landing is determined by just a handful of physical variables. Sure, you can learn to land artfully and intuitively, and eventually you will. Really. But sometimes a good alternative way to teach the process is by breaking it down into a handful of variables you can control individually. There really are only a few:

    1. Approach angle. You said you already feel comfortable controlling this. Keep it up. A stable approach will put you in a consistent place to begin your flare.

    2. Flare rate. If you feel like you are having trouble bringing the nose up at the right speed, you can practice this by doing power-off stalls.

    3. Target touchdown attitude. You can also practice this by doing power-off stalls if necessary.

    4. Flare height. After you've learned how to achieve a consistent flare rate and attitude, WHEN to start the flare is the final piece of the puzzle for most students. This is because human beings simply aren't naturally good at visually or mentally working in the 3rd dimension. It's probably much easier to land when your instructor tells you when to flare, right? You will get better at judging this on your own with experience--by taking in information from peripheral vision and keeping your eyes moving, it becomes easier to tell how high you are above the ground. But there is another way. You can use horizontal distance instead of vertical height.

    Have your instructor demonstrate a good stabilized approach to a normal landing and ask him or her to tell you right before starting the flare. Take note of his or her aim point and use the same one when you're flying your approach. When your instructor says he or she is about to flare, use side-to-side and peripheral vision to see what part of the runway is being covered up the far end of the glareshield (or whatever part of the glareshield you feel comfortable using). Call this the "cutoff point." Now, when you fly your approach, begin your flare when your chosen part of the glareshield covers the cutoff point. You just picked a distance away from your aim point instead of a height above it. Since your approach angle is consistent, they're just different sides to the same triangle. This is the Jacobson Flare (http://aviationmentor.blogspot.com/2010/07/jacobsons-ladder.html).

    One final suggestion, if you don't mind. Enjoy this time in your piloting career when just flying the airplane is the biggest focus...

  2. Thanks for your comment Will! I really appreciate the advice.

    Learning absolutely has a plateau, and I finally feel like I am getting off it. I tried to put some of your tips into action in my lesson today and I'm happy to say I was a lot more successful than I have been in my previous few!

    Flying is definitely enjoyable, although when I get stressed out it's a little less so. I think the key is just to relax more, and then when I'm enjoying myself I'm more likely to pick up on things. :)