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, 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!