Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why flying and running are related?

This comment came across on the 99s flight training mailing list. Maybe this is why flying and running seem so closely related and addictive to me?
Accelerated learning is about using deliberate brain-friendly techniques that help YOUR brain to accelerate -- understanding, absorption and retrieval. Fear makes people dumb, i.e., it shuts them down! Brilliance is about being able to multitask (which flying demands), so every new skill has to be built on in steps. BTW, when we're multitasking/splitting our attention deliberately, we're in frontal lobe and oh-so-present--- it is then we naturally get that gorgeous serotonin high in the sky.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You can't take the sky from me...

This song makes me think of flying... being free, being a pilot. You can't take the sky from me. On the ground, on the sea... I can always see the sky, and that is me. No one can take that from me.

Firefly Theme Song
Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me
Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me
There's no place I can be
Since I found Serenity
But you can't take the sky from me...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

If you only listen to your CFI one time.....

do it when he/she isn't there!

Realistically, we want to listen to our CFIs all the time. However, some people who will remain nameless sometimes don't do that so well. When your CFI isn't there and its just you and the plane, that's when to listen really REALLY hard. Because your CFI isn't there to jump in and take the controls and save your butt from bruised ego, battered plane or worse.

No, nothing happened... I did fly solo today. For the first time I flew away from RHV, only to the practice area and back after a couple trips around the pattern. While I was on my way there and back I listened to my CFI's voice calmly reminding me to watch altitude, stay left of 101 to avoid Class Charlie airspace, go through the checklist, start my descent, etc. etc. The voice is always there if I listen hard enough... and when my CFI isn't there, I should always listen extra hard, because that little voice can keep me out of trouble that I can't get myself out of.

For my flight, I found some gaps in my knowledge that I will get filled. I practiced maintaining my spacing from other planes in the pattern and did that well. I forgot to look at the end of the runway three times.. one time resulted in a go around, which I did well. *shrug*

Its all part of that learning process. Two steps forward, one step back. It was fun!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

How to show a girl a good time ...

I spent my Friday and Saturday night last weekend doing night flights with my CFI before Daylight Savings Time started Sunday. Most people would prefer to be out with friends, maybe at a party, watching a movie.. something. Not me.

Friday night started with the ground school lesson on night flying. Rods and cones, the eye's adaptation to darkness and how to preserve it, optical illusions and surviving after the crash at night. How easy it is to fly into clouds or mountains when you can't see them. Stuff like that. I think I will avoid flying at night unless the moon is full and there are no clouds in the sky. Just to feel more comfortable with my chances :) It sure is beautiful to fly at night though. I've been wanting to do that for a very long time. The ground school was conducted in a room in the dark. Sorta strange but fun as my eyes adjusted and demonstrated how you can't see what is right in front of you if you focus hard in the dark.. but peripheral vision works well.

After ground school and ducking out of the well lit club "lounge" we went out to the plane. There was a Piper that had pulled out and was starting up right in front of us. Problem is, he started up and the strobes came on on that plane.. as you may have noticed if you've looked at a plane at night. Strobes are BRIGHT. We hid behind the instrument panel (me behind my kneeboard) and tried not to let the flashes destroy the wonderful night vision we worked so hard to nurture.

The piper finally pulled away and off we went, for 8 trips around the pattern. The 8 trips were what the doctor ordered because I needed a total of night 10 takeoffs and landings for my PPL requirements and 8 in the pattern + 2 on a cross country = 10. See, pilots do math too.

The key item of concern for night flying is, you can't see as well. Yeah, its that deep. Many of the visual queues you use during the day just aren't there, or aren't quite as visible as you like. For instance, if you let it the optical illusion of landing at night can cause you to "pile drive" straight into the run way because you don't see the runway as well as you're used to. My CFI's solution to this problem - "don't let it suck you in". You know, I'm finally understanding what that means. I can't explain it though... just trust me when I say, 8 times around the pattern and the only "problem" I had was not maintaining Vy on climb out. My landings suddenly were back to very good... I just focused really hard on making absolutely sure I was flaring at the right time and this time I did the little adjustments for the landing. One time I overcontrolled and I fixed THAT quickly :)

It was nice, very nice ... while I was flying I was focused on what I was doing in each phase of the pattern, not worried about if I did it well or not. I just did it.

The next night, Saturday night, time for night cross country. To the garden spot of the central valley Oakdale. Apparently there used to be a chocolate factory in this town, but it wasn't there anymore. Not that I could see the town at night.. all I saw was dark and lights from towns, highways, airport beacons and a little bit of moonlight reflected off little lakes and reservoirs. High clouds blocked most of the stars.

I planned the flight from RHV to O27 (Oakdale). We took off, got flight following there, and flew from airport beacon to airport beacon, adjusting for winds and playing find the airport beacon. It was a ton of fun. We go there, flew into the pattern (my pattern entries aren't great, I think its because I have tons of practice flying at one airport, very VERY little practice going or landing anywhere else) and landed.

It was unnerving turning base in the dark at this airport... all of the sudden all I could see in front of me was dark. When you turn base, you are descending... into the dark. I could see a vague haze of light from the landing lights hitting the slightly moist air.. Scott asked me what the field elevation was. 237 feet I tell him and hope the elevation *around* the field wasn't much higher! Finish the base turn, and see the runway lights. Turn final and come in for a landing.. no problem, even in the dark at a new airport.

This particular plane pulls hard to the left on landing, I don't know why but my landing was left of center line (Scott wants his students ON the center line). But I didn't get upset, just corrected and made note to expect this on the return trip. I haven't flown this particular plane in a long time so ... that's what happens.

Return trip was cool... we adjusted for the extra corrections we had to make on the way out, and the adjustment was perfect. Strangely perfect... I'll explain sometime if someone wants to hear why that was strange. On the approach back into the Bay Area valley, we flew over Calaveras Reservoir, which is perched in the hills over the bay. In the dark. That was unnerving, my first time returning over Calaveras and I couldn't see the hills I knew I was flying straight towards. Made a quick note to self, next time know EXACTLY what the minimum safe altitude for the route of flight is over every part of the route. I wasn't in danger because Scott's flown that route probably thousands of times, and we had a GPS with terrain warning capabilities. No problem, got over the hill, into the lights of the valley.

He coached me more specifically through the pattern entry for RHV and I did it really well, good pattern, good landing. Debriefed on the taxi back.. he said he is very close to signing off on me doing a cross country on my own, which he'd never even considered for a student before after just two cross countries (one day and one night). Says my planning and execution are excellent just need to do better at "flying the airplane". Which is Scott code for operating in an unfamiliar airport environment I believe and handling whatever happens smoothly. He's right about that... I've been out of RHV airspace a total of 7 times, 6 times to one airstrip, 1 time to another one, before my two cross countries.

So, next lesson will be going to three different little airports in the area to give me more opportunities to "fly the airplane". Sounds like fun :)

Some people, younger, more exciting perhaps, would prefer to go out on a hot date or to the bars or movies or a show on a Friday and Saturday night, but for me... a couple nights of flying suits me just fine :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why this, why now?

I am of the opinion that this "flying thing" was introduced to my life for a reason. I've never before had something become so emotionally connected with my psyche as flying. Something that gives me so much joy and so much frustration at the same time. Perhaps its just a midlife crisis, but whatever the cause, there it is.

I went from terrified of being in a small plane with anyone but a professional pilot at the controls (and by professional pilot I don't mean private pilot, I mean career pilot), to being driven almost to the point of obsession to fly myself. The first time I flew in a plane with Jeff at the controls and me in the co-pilot seat I refused to touch the radio or the heat vent, I was scared to death. I actually made sure to ride in the back as often as possible so I wouldn't have to worry about it. Now you can't keep me away. My CFI said this is the biggest turn around he's ever seen. He also pointed out he's waiting to see if the pendulum swings back. To be honest, so am I. But its been on this end of the spectrum for a long time now and the more I do the more I want to do... not less.

Ok, so why does the Universe introduce me to something that is expensive, risky, hard, exciting, joyful, mentally and physically challenging that I can do pretty good, but not perfect, not yet, right now? Something that I want to do so bad that I'm willing to bang my head on this wall over and over and over again, fly the pattern for almost 20 hours trying to "get it right", to finally figure out I'm not going to get it right and then 8 hours to get comfortable with my own capabilities before letting the CFI out of the cockpit. My friends say its just because when I set my mind to something I do it. True, but it has never taken so much effort before. I'm convinced that I'm creating a lot of unnecessary effort in the process.

I am convinced if there is one thing that will keep me from getting my pilots license, or IFR Rating or CPL for that matter. It will be the great difficulty I have dealing with not being perfect, not being able to perform or make whatever I do operate to my standards. I have such high standards for myself, that I'm not even conscious of most of the time, that I just cannot achieve them in this flying environment in the way I am subconsciously demanding I must do. No one can.

If I can't get over the fact that I'm not perfect that I won't normally meet my own high standards, especially right now as I'm learning these new skills. If I can't just FISH and fly the airplane.... if I can't just say, its OK and OK is good enough. I will fail. I'll quit.

Just like I've done in so many jobs I've excelled at, I get frustrated when I can't make things work to my standards and eventually I get to the point where I quit and try to find somewhere else that I think, for some reason I can meet those standards, which I can't. I'm doing the same cycle at work right now... everyone says I'm doing a wonderful job, but I feel like I just can't meet my standards and I want to quit. I'm thinking that it would be a bad move to quit this particular job with this particular boss because he does see I do very well and he understands and points out the way I am about my standards. I just need to give myself a break he says... sounds just like every other good boss I've had. Sounds just like what my CFI has told me.

But what do I do to myself? the same thing my parents did to me. A B in an honors class isn't good enough, even though its a 4.0. A IQ test result one point short of genius, not good enough. "I'm sure you could do better if you took it again." is the response, not "Hey, that's great, you're pretty smart!"

When you grow up thinking nothing you do will ever be good enough, this is what you get. A frustrated, insecure overachiever who ignores all of the good feedback and finds ways to punish herself for not meeting impossible standards that no one else needs on difficult tasks that most people wouldn't even attempt, much less excel at like I can. I've faced this particular challenge over and over and failed in all but one case. The one case was running. In running I finally figured out it is OK to not be the fastest as long as I'm having fun, and in that I am happy. So I know it is possible... somehow.

And that's why I think this "flying thing" is here and now. Flying is the one activity / experience I have found in life that entrances and makes joyful the dreamer and the scientist and the adventurer and poet in me. It has me totally in its thrall and its not letting go. Midlife crisis maybe. But if I can conquer.. no conquer is the wrong word, one does not conquer ones self... if I can do that subtle dance of recognizing when I'm going off course and beating myself up and fixing it quick, over and over and over and over again. I'll be on course more and more often and I can almost feel just how happy I would be.

If I can do that in flight, and I can do that in running, and I can do that in work. I can stop chasing my tail and start enjoying the good job I have with the great boss and great pay and go home at night happy to be in a home with the people I love and spending weekends and nights and sometimes workdays doing the things I love to do. I could be content. Not that I will ever stop pushing for more challenges and more adventure, but content that I am and have done a good job in almost all things I care about.

Wouldn't that be nice? I think the process of learning to fly will force the issue. One way or another. I'll either learn how to give myself a break and just fly the plane, or I'll quit. I think, I hope, the pull flying has on me will be enough to overwhelm the impossible standards and I'll do this just like I do running. And I hope this experience will bleed into my career and the other things I care about.

I believe I'm being given an opportunity in a very strong way to make a change in my life. And that's why flying and why now. I think its time and I think I deserve it. It really would be nice.

Monday, March 7, 2011

I imagine what IFR looks like sometimes...

IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules. These are the rules and procedures a pilot uses to fly safely in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). In other words, this is how pilots fly safely in clouds and fog and other places where you can't see your hand in front of your face yet you need to avoid flying into things like mountains, buildings and other planes. If you've flown a commercial airline you have probably flown in IMC, and you have definitely flown in a plane being operated under Instrument Flight Rules for a good majority of the flight, even if the air is crystal clear.

You don't have to be in IFR conditions to be flying IFR... but IMC cannot be done safely without flight in reference to your instruments and under ATC control. Anyway, that's how I understand it, being a VFR only student pilot who hasn't even flown in Simulated Instrument conditions (that will happen before I can try do to a check ride).

So what's this about? you ask. I want to show you what different visual conditions look like. These pictures are from Infineon Raceway, from about 100 ft up in Race Control at the top of the grandstand. You can imagine trying to land a plane from this height...

This picture shows very nice visual (VFR) conditions.

This picture shows a wall of clouds nearby, this would be called MVFR. I don't know if the M is minimum or minimal, either way, not a good place to be if you are a VFR only pilot.

In this picture, same location, you can see the track (or runway if you prefer) barely. But you could probably land a plane, if you could fly using instruments only. In this case you would fly IFR in IMC.

This picture, it shows a spot where you aren't going to land. This would be called a closed runway... or at best LIFR (limited IFR).

I want to learn how to fly IFR and fly through the clouds. I love flying through clouds as a passenger in a jet. I really want to do that in a small plane. I am told it is totally different. *sigh* so much I want to do up there...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

When running feels like flying

I went for a run this morning at one of my favorite places. The place is Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve. Rancho, as its known in the running/hiking community around the bay area, is a large open space area in the hills near Los Altos, CA. There are miles and miles of trails, meadows, trees, open spaces, dear, turkeys, quail, bunnies, birds, bobcats and mountain lions (and I haven't even talked about the farm!).

One of my favorite runs there is going "up and over". We start at the bathrooms near a parking lot, run up Rogue Valley trail which does a slow climb through more open space, goes past a wet season pond, along side a creek to the hairpin. From the hairpin you run up what we call 1 mile hill. Its about a 500ft climb in a mile. Get to the top and run the ridge for a bit, then you go down Upper Wildcat Canyon trail. This is where it gets really fun.

Upper Wildcat Canyon trail runs through, get this, Wildcat Canyon... yeah, amazing. The canyon is full of trees and another creek, the trail is a narrow single track that hugs the canyon edge and crosses back and forth across the creek on little wooden bridges. The air is always cooler than the ridge line and the trees are either beautiful green or have dropped orange and yellow leaves to carpet the path. This picture is of one of the bridges from the website of Alan Dean. I hope Alan doesn't mind me using this picture, but its perfect.

This is the great part... the angle of the trail is a perfect downhill that lets you get up some really good speed with very little effort. Just lean forward and let gravity do the work... the faster you go the lighter you have to be on your feet. On a really good day, like today, the air is cool, the ground firm but not hard, traction is good.

Then its like flying... I can hear the wind of my own passing, I dance from step to step, light on my feet, the ground rushes below me and rocks and branches flash into and out of my view. Its exhilarating.. and I feel primal and whole. On a *really* good day, like today, everything just clicks and it feels like flying.

I've always said that it feels like flying when the run is like that. Even long before I ever sat in a small plane, much less flew on my own. But now that I've flown, it really does feel like flying. Or maybe flying feels like running down that path?

More specifically, the part of flying that most closely matches the run is a great landing. I've had a good share of great landings. In a great landing, the ground rushes up and below me. The wind rushes by and, in a great landing, its a fine dance of small and light adjustments to the wind and the air as it moves past me. I don't even feel like there's a plane and me. All I feel is me and wind and adjustments for what the wind does.

I haven't had many great landings recently... but, I think this run was a good reminder for me of what its like and what I need to do. The other thing my CFI always talks about... never stop flying, don't let it touch the ground. That's like the run too... you certainly don't want to touch the ground suddenly in the run. That would hurt. The only way to do that run is keep light on the feet and always adjust.

I'm very glad I'm a runner.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A long time coming...

Did my first cross country yesterday. Unfortunately, I totally forgot to take the picture I promised. I'm not feeling very verbose tonight.. but there are a few notes to make.

  1. Flight planning works amazingly well. Flew the flight as planned on the way to the destination and the heading, timing, checkpoints... it all worked. Ended up landing only 2 minutes later than I had planned. Just amazing. Scott was right, of course.
  2. Bad checkpoints are hard to find, but fun if you have someone with you that knows what the hell he's doing. We didn't find the checkpoint we thought would be easy to find, but lucked out on the tower and found the buildings, ranches and race tracks that we figured would the hardest to find basically by knowing what the big picture should be and comparing that to what it was.
  3. Northern California's hills are absolutely beautiful in the winter... the most gorgeous emerald green from the sky. And there are little hidden valleys with lakes and even landing strips. Ranches with cows looking like black dots on bright green pillows.

I'd been waiting for that flight for a very long time, a very very long time. I'm not going to say where I flew, it really doesn't matter. What mattered was the journey. Life's like that sometimes, the journey means more than the destination.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cross Country Flight Planning

In this life after solo I have been learning and practicing Cross Country Flight Planning. This is a picture of the table at home with almost all of the "stuff" needed spread out. The thing I'm missing is the E6B flight computer which my awesome sibs got me for Christmas...

In this picture you see the Sectional (that's the map you use to fly, it has land data and airspace data), the spiral bound book is an airports directory with details on all of the little and big airports and airstrips in CA, a rotating plotter, a flight log, the piece of paper in the back is airplane performance data... a pencil and, most important, an eraser. You really need the eraser when you're a beginner like me.

This picture is a completed flight log with all of the details filled in... I am having a lot of fun filling in the details. You take the course the plane needs to travel on the map between checkpoints (true course), adjust it for wind direction and speed to get the direction you'll be pointing the plane to maintain the true course, this is the true heading. Then you have to adjust for the variation of the magnetic field of the earth where you happen to be to get the magnetic heading, then you have to adjust for the affects of the electronics and metal stuff in the plane on the compass in the plane to get the compass heading. That's the actual direction you fly based on the compass in the plane.

Of course I haven't even mentioned stuff like calculating actual ground speed, how long it will take to fly each leg, how much fuel will be used (including the fact that you use more fuel on a climb than you use in cruise flight). Fuel is VERY important, without fuel, the plane becomes a glider, and not a great one. A good one, yes, but not a great one. Lucky for me I have the super awesome E6B my sibs got me for Christmas to make these calculations easy.. but you still have to DO them.

Of course, there are programs that will do almost all of this stuff for you. They'll even file your flight plan for you. But I'm enjoying this part, I get to put my science brain into action. My scientifically and mathematically and musically inclined siblings would love this stuff.

Then you need to know stuff about where you're going... for instance, will there be clouds there? What runways are available? Is there fuel available? What frequency do you use to communicate with other planes at the location? What frequency do you use to get wind, temp and visibility information? Is the runway long enough for you to land on?

Anyway.. with luck tomorrow will be my first Cross Country Flight. Not solo, not yet... but I am really looking forward to the adventure! I'll make sure to get pictures of me somewhere NOT at RHV :)