Saturday, December 31, 2011

Joy - 2011

Today is the last day of 2011. I celebrated the end of the year the best way possible... flying! I flew my husband on a Bay Tour  up to one of our favorite places to fly in and eat - Santa Rosa Charles M Shultz Airport's Sky Lounge. The weather here has been in a basically stagnant pattern for a month.... cool hazy conditions with an occiasional wind blowing out the haze, then hazy conditions once again. Today was a clear day, light winds, minimum haze. A beautiful day for a trip around some of the Bay Area's iconic spots.

We flew up the peninsula past Stanford University, Crystal Springs Reservoir, San Fransisco Airport, directly over downtown San Francisco. Then we turned towards the ocean to fly in to the Bay over the Golden Gate Bridge (that's a view no one sees from the ground), we flew out to Angel Island and around it, then back towards downtown San Francisco over Alkatraz Island. Another turn towards the Marin Headlands and we were ready to go eat. We didn't take pictures, we took video of the whole flight.. once the video is done I'll post highlights to share.

We then flew up to Santa Rosa and I did my first approach and landing to a airport with a control tower that wasn't my home airport... it was amazingly easy. We parked and went into the terminal to eat. When were were done we hung out on the ramp to watch an Alaskan Airlines flight come in to the terminal and take pictures of a Grumman Albatross that was parked there.

That's when we got into a bit of trouble. The airport operations manager drove up in his truck and explained we should not be on the ramp except to go to and from our plane. We apologized and started to head for the plane. He told me to go ahead and take a last picture... he said "Hey, you're here, you got caught, you may as well take the picture!" We laughed, thanked him, took the picture and headed back to the plane.

But this little adventure isn't really what this post is about... or maybe it is exactly what this post is about. When I started training for my PPL, the term "joy" entered my vocabulary. I'd never used it  to describe my life or my wishes for others before.. but now I know joy. My joy comes from flying... from all aspects of it. The little adventures, the risks, the rewards, the amazing views of the world from above, views that no ground bound person can see. The challenges of flight training, my frustrations, fears, every down has had an equal up. When I fly I feel so alive, the world is new and immediate and challenging and demanding and soft and friendly at the same time. I get to feel and experience first hand the air under my wings. I get to interact with the same air traffic control that the big jets that carry hundreds of passengers do. I've met new and interesting and awesome people. I've become a part of a community of a very small percentage of the population that can fly. I'm part of an even smaller percentage of that group that are women.

When I look back at 2011, my view is through the lens of the joy of flight. The joys and frustrations and triumphs of my year of training that resulted in my PPL in November and the fun flights I've had since then enjoying the freedom's I've earned. The other highlights of my year were being able to spend a week with all of my brothers and sisters for the first time in many, many years and meeting my new niece and nephew, running the St. George Marathon in spite of not training for it, many parties and celebrations with my friends, teaming up with some other former student pilots to kidnap our CFI for a beer to thank him for granting us the gift of flight, feeling closer to my husband than I ever have before. There were many disappointments this year too... sprained ankle, work continued to be a struggle and my running suffered due to my flying. However, overall, I will remember 2011 as a year of joy. A year where I earned my wings and now I can exercise that joy whenever the weather and scheduling gods allow.

This next year I hope to use my new wings to visit my family more often. I'd like to start and finish training for an Instrument Rating so I can fly safely in the clouds. I'd like to somehow gain more peace at work. I'd like to grow closer to my teenage daughter and continue to explore the world with my husband. I'd like to run more and spend more time with my close friends who sacrificed their time with me so I can gain my wings. I'd like to take them with me on flights so they can see first hand the joy of flight.

My wish for you, my friend, is that you find your joy in 2012, whatever that may be. When you find that joy, share it with the people around you. Maybe together, we can spread joy in the world and there will be more joy, peace and love for all. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

- AB

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Willows Finally!

I finally flew to Willows today. It was a day of a couple firsts... my first flight to Willows (WLW) as PIC. My first cross country in a 172SP. My first aborted takeoff requested by a tower. My first non-training night cross country return. Today was my last chance to get in a cross country flight before the Christmas break and a trip to Houston to visit family. I was anxious to be able to complete a flight before the time away.

Our rented SP at WLW. Ready to go home.
About the trip.. I got to exercise the new skill I learned last week, the aborted take off. This time because the tower cancelled my take off clearance after I started my takeoff roll. A Citabria landed on the parallel runway and didn't read back the hold instructions the tower gave them not to cross my runway. So the tower had me abort to be sure of no crash. I was ready for that to happen because I heard the lack of response from the Citabria. I was ready to abort myself if the other pilot didn't stop. In any case, I brought the plane to a very nice stop and exited on Delta.. then taxied back to try again.

128kts ground speed for
115 kts IAS. Not bad :)
The flight to Willows was mostly uneventful. We got flight following of course and had a lot of traffic pointed out to us on the way. The air was rather hazy in the valley but the flight was smooth and it was a very familiar route.. part of why we picked that destination. I was flying a plane I wasn't familiar with so I wanted to reduce the number of unfamiliar variables I had to deal with (that and I've been wanting to fly to Willows myself for months, literally!).  We had a headwind on the way there but we took off with full fuel so that would not be a problem at all.

As usual I had no problem with radio work, or the cruise portion of the flight. My pattern needs help though. I keep forgetting to pick a target point when I turn base and I find I am rusty on power off landings still. In any case I got us on the ground with a smooth landing and we enjoyed the food at Nancy's Airport Cafe and watched the Broncos play on TV for a while. We ordered a slice of pie for our daughter and then headed back out to the plane for the trip home.

For the return trip I opted to take off on runway 16 since that pointed us the direction we'd be going. I announced our intentions over CTAF and was in the runup for 16 when a blue taildragger took off on the same runway in the opposite direction. Welcome to the world of the non-towered airport. People aren't required to use radios at these airports. That plane was a good reminder of why we have to keep our eyes peeled for people who aren't listening or talking about where they are going.

This plane has a very well lit panel.
On the way back it got dark.. as scheduled. I found this plane is a pleasure to fly at night. It has a very well lit instrument panel. Strobes and separate landing and taxi lights in addition to the required navigation lights and beacon. I felt a bit safer with those stobes going as we approached the busy Livermore to Calaveras corridor where planes approach from all over the central valley to transition into the bay area proper. I wanted to fly into the bay area over the Sunol grade, but I spotted a cloud bank that I would have to fly around if I took that route. So I switched to come in over Calaveras reservoir.

I got to do my first night landing in that plane too .. I almost forgot to turn on the landing lights, but I did on short final. Because of that momentary distraction I let the airspeed go down below the normal approach speed. As a result I ended up landing a short field landing. I was wondering how to do a short field landing in a plane with only 30 degrees of flaps. Turns out the answer is easy, fly slower.

I definitely need to practice more on many of my flying skills.. power off landings and learning this particular plane are two of them. At the end of the day I'm just happy about the flight, about being able to fly and spend time with my husband in the plane. I finally made it to Willows as PIC and got to log more cross country and night cross country time too. I hope for many many more days like this one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Aviation and Life

Two small instances where my involvement in aviation (and specifically my flight training) have improved my life.
  1. My work life is being upheaved at the moment. The group I've been working in for the last 3 years or so is re-organized, I have a new boss and more responsibility and less people to help with it. However, for some reason I've had three different people that I've worked with over the years come up to me and say stuff like "I don't know what you are doing but keep doing it. You've always been on top of things but you are handling this so well. You really are in charge this time." I can only blame my flight training as when the *#$&@ started hitting the fan I sat myself down and told myself. "Just fly the airplane." I am focusing on what is important and prioritizing the rest. The other thing "I'm not helpless." This time I'm not going to let people assume I'll just take on more work. Even when I CAN do it, it isn't my role or responsibility any more. I will do what it takes to make sure the work gets done, but it will not be me doing it.
  2. This one is bit more fun... when I was in the middle of a 6:30 AM conference call this morning with another 5 hours of conference calls to do and my husband texted me asking me to bring him something in town. I was able to reply back with a single word "unable" and he understood exactly what I meant. 
Bonus points for people who know where that "I'm not helpless" quote comes from. :)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More Ups and Downs

Last Friday, Dec 9 - An Up
Friday was an exciting day... my day job was starting to sort itself and I joined the team at work volunteering at 2nd Harvest Food Bank's warehouse in the Silicon Valley.. sorting oranges and filling 775 3# bags of oranges for the hungry. Another of my CFI's PPL students (another problem child like me) passed his checkride and I actually helped him a bit in the process. And, I went up and flew at night for the first time since my night cross country back in March.

I went up for the required 3 take offs and landings to a full stop 1 hour after sunset. The pattern was busy that night, it was calm and clear so many people had the same idea I did to get night current. I watched as other planes seemed to float most of the way down the runway and felt proud of myself for not having the same problem. I also re-learned how convincing those night optical illusions can be. At one point it appeared the plane I was following in the pattern was headed straight for the ground. I was literally waiting for the fireball! It turned out he was descending earlier than I expected and while I was watching him I was climbing.. the resulting change in visual angle made it appear like he was descending steeply. He wasn't. Another re-learning... if you are going 100kts you need to make a much steeper turn than you use at 75kts if you want to start and finish the turn at the same point. Or.. even better, turn earlier, or go slower. Yeah, I wasn't perfect but I was feeling pretty cocky after that flight.

Sunday, Dec 11 - A Down (aka Learning Experience)
Today I was in a different plane, a 172R instead of the 172N I've been flying for months. It was my first time flying in this particular plane as pilot (I've flown in it as passenger before). I wanted to do a short cross country flight today but the weather didn't cooperate. So I decided to do a couple times around the pattern to get used to this plane. My hubby and his friend hung out in the flight club and waited for me to finish.

I'm going to skip most of my miscues with the plane and get to the really exciting one. One bit of background, as I did the preflight on the plane I noticed the previous pilot left the plane trimmed almost all of the way nose up. The trim tab wasn't set at the "take off" position marked on the trim wheel. So I put the tab back on the take off position marked on the trim wheel. I did the normal runup and verified controls were free and correct, etc. Then it was time to take off. I got my clearance and rolled on to the runway. Full power and the plane surged forward with more enthusiasm than my usual 172N. As the plane rolled I felt the nose gear shimmy like it would if there was downward pressure on the nose wheel. I applied a bit of back pressure to correct for that and all seemed fine. 55kts came and went. 60kts and the plane wasn't taking off. I couldn't figure out why so I aborted the take off. Pulled out the power and mixture and braked carefully but aggressively. I was running out of runway so I steered for the final taxiway and piloted the plane across a grassy strip and finally came to rest on another taxiway.

I took a deep breath and notified the tower of my position. They had me talk to ground. Ground asked my intentions and I said, of course, that I was going to have to restart and go back to parking. Because of my unfamiliarity with the fuel injected engine I quickly flooded it and wasn't able to start. So ground sent over a crew to help me push the plane clear of the taxi way. Then I was told to call the tower. Uh oh. I called the tower and the controller there and his supervisor talked to me. They wanted to make sure there was no damage to the plane (there wasn't).. nothing fell off the plane on the runway or in the grass. No prop strike. No one hurt, etc.  They took my contact info and told me everything was fine.

I had to call my husband to help me restart the flooded engine (embarrassing!), then I taxied it back to its parking spot. I was upset, mostly because I started to figure out what happened and there was most likely nothing wrong with that plane... it was me. I had the plane trimmed "for take off" which was probably too far nose down for the fact that there was nothing in the back of the plane. And, I didn't apply the back pressure necessary to make the plane take off. I only applied what I was used to using for my usual plane, which had a habit of dancing off the runway on its own at 55kts. 

My CFI happened to show up at that time to talk with somebody at the club.. I told him what happened and what I thought caused it. He asked a couple questions and said that was the only thing he could think of. He reminded me that I'm so used to one plane I'm going to have to be careful and forceful with other planes. If it doesn't take off, make it take off he said. He said I'm going to have to get more and more used to dealing with that type of thing as I fly different planes. Then he congratulated me on a very powerful learning experience that fortunately no one and nothing was hurt for me to gain the experience.

*sigh* I don't like those types of learning experiences. I suppose the good thing is, this time I'm not scared, I'm annoyed with myself. Very annoyed. When I got home I filed an ASRS report. Hopefully someone else can learn from my mistakes. I'll go back out in that plane later this week with my husband and make that thing take off. Next time I fly well.. I don't think I'll get so cocky either, another "great learning experience" could be right around the corner.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Flying and Enduring

I do have a life outside of flying. When I'm not flying I volunteer and do Race Control ...think ATC for race cars... with the National Auto Sports Association (NASA). I also run a couple marathons every year.  NASA puts on a race called the 25 Hours of Thunderhill every  December. The race is held at Thunderhill Raceway Park.  Last weekend I "survived the 25" again in Race Control. I shared a link with some excellent pictures and stories with some of my flying friends. One pilot friend said quite simply... "Cool pictures, but I just don't get it."

So I tried to explain the draw in terms of flying that maybe a pilot could understand... so, for all of you pilots out there who just don't get why someone would do a 25 hour car race, or run a marathon for that matter, here is my explanation. And for those of you who do 25 hour car races or run marathons and don't understand why fly... this may bridge the gap for you as well. 

The best way I can try to describe the experience of a 25 hour endurance race, or a marathon or  running race control to you is to try to relate it to flying. I think there is a small correlation.

The reason why I enjoy marathons, endurance racing, and running race control is because each pushes me mentally, physically or emotionally or any combination of the three right to the edge of my capabilities. The fun comes from the realization that I can actually DO these things and do them well when most can't or won't. The fun comes from intellectual stimulation and challenge... All of these activities are mind games in the end. Mind over matter to get to the finish line, stay awake and manage chaos. I get similar stimulation from flying. At first I was fully challenged by just flying at all, then being able to fly a pattern and not be scared, then it was to gaining some skill, then maneuvers, then flying a cross country, etc etc each step challenged and stretched my capabilities ... The best thing about flying is the learning and challenge haven't stopped yet and I doubt it ever will!

For the people that do this particular race, some are professionals, most are amateurs. The pro teams come to win or to test for the 24 Hours of Daytona or verify the reliability of a new engine, etc. The amateurs come to push themselves ... to really push themselves in a way they probably never... ever... do.

For those of us "in control" it's the mental, physical and emotional challenge of controlling the chaos and boredom of 80 cars on the track for 25 hours. Handling car fires, rolls, life flight, passing under yellow, grouchy racers and crews all while listening to the course workers in one ear, paddock marshals in the other and race directors and event directors in both.  Pilots - imagine the busiest you've ever heard an ATC tower. That's probably close. Then do it for 7 hours straight from 11PM to 6AM after a 3 hour break after a 5 hour shift. Then imagine doing that paired with some if the most competent and compatible people you know. The combination of self challenge and teamwork is it's own rush... And reward.

The bottom line is when I push and challenge myself, mentally, physically and emotionally I feel the most alive. I've called it the Exhilaration of Exhaustion.. type E (for endurance) personality.. but now with flying I know its not the exhaustion that is the thrill necessarily, its the challenge and being up to the challenge. I get the same exhilaration from an hour flying that I do from a great run or a 25 hour car race. 

My dear friends I don't know if you would ever enjoy these things as I do. But I think if you imagine it in the context of challenging yourself and pushing yourself and finding yourself up to that challenge... You can understand.