Saturday, October 26, 2013

You'll Be a Great Dog One Day

Compliments come in strange forms.... as I flew with my CFI this afternoon we were working on power off 180s which I had been having some trouble dialing in. [For those of you following at home, a power off 180 is a commercial maneuver where you cut the power to the plane abeam your landing point and you have to manage your airspeed and drag to land within 200 feet of that point, without adding any power.] My CFI quickly identified what I was doing wrong after the first time around. Next challenge, help me do it right. He started suggesting different techniques and quickly adjusted his suggestions for what was working for me. After three or four times around it was starting to click. After five or six times I was starting to get it.

A couple more time around he started talking about the golden retriever puppies he and his family have raised. He said something about how puppies start off a little unruly and he and his wife would have to console themselves by telling the puppy, "You're gonna be a great dog one day." Eventually the puppies would grow up and be great dogs and they could say to the dog, "Great dog!"

We did another touch and go after a particularly good power off 180. I'm accelerating the plane to Vy and retracting the gear. I heard the grin in his voice as he said, "You're gonna be a great power off 180 pilot one day." I smiled. By the time we were done flying that hour, I had transitioned from being consistently short to consistently making the runway. I discovered how much fun it was to adjust the glide and the radius of my turn towards the runway, using the flaps a little or a lot, or slipping aggressively to bleed off a lot of altitude or slipping a little to bleed off a little.

Yeah, I believe he's right. I'm going to be a great power off 180 pilot (and not only that) one day and that day is not far off at all!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

400 Hours Later

Today I flew my 400th hour. Fittingly, that hour was spent in the pattern with my CFI working on commercial pilot maneuvers. This is the same CFI I've worked with for all of my ratings so far. Another thing made this particular hour special. This was the first hour I flew after I made up my mind to stop worrying about my doubts and instead just be the pilot I know I can be. We both enjoyed the flight and I'm looking forward to practicing again on my own at the end of the week. I'm even looking forward to doing accelerated stalls the next time my CFI and I get together! It really doesn't get much better than this.

Here's to 400 hours and looking forward to 400 more :)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pilots Just Know Pilots

On the way home from a business trip today a Southwest Airlines pilot put a big smile on my face. I was boarding the plane to head home and said a cheerful hello to the flight attendant standing by the door. I'm always cheerful when I'm headed home.

As I turned down the aisle I heard a male voice behind me say,  "She'd rather be flying." He must have seen the I'D RATHER BE FLYING tag I have on my backpack. I turned around and saw the plane's captain standing there... grinning. I grinned back and said, "Yep." He asked, "Do you fly?" and I said, "Yeah, but much smaller planes than this one."

A woman in line behind me overheard the conversation and as I walked down the aisle I heard her ask the captain, "How did you know?"  His response, "Pilots just know pilots."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reflections on Doubt

Trail to Forester Pass - 13,280 feet
Sometimes my path seems very much like the trail in this photo. What is immediately ahead is relatively clear, but the trail disappears in the distance, I have no perspective to tell me how much trail remains, and the goal is hidden around the bend.

The path is lonely also. There are only about 617,000 active pilots in the US population in 2011. Of those, 62,000 are in California and approx. 13,214 of those have a commercial rating (my current milestone).  A pretty small number. Want to feel lonelier? Be a female pilot. Only 41,316 women pilots in the US, 4,766 in California and, drum roll, only 860 of the women pilots hold a commercial rating. That number is smaller than the count of people in my high school student body and faculty. In other words, not many. Interestingly enough there are almost as many female flight instructors, 753, in California as there are commercial rated female pilots (or 87%). Get lonelier still... be a forty-something tech worker, runner, mom, wife, adult-onset aviator.

Any path is hard when you feel alone. Make the path itself long and winding without a clear outcome in sight, with only a dream to guide you and no one beside you. I expect it is quite normal to have the occasional doubt in that situation. After a particularly rough flight, like my last one, I get some doubts. What am I doing? Why? What's the point? Will I be able to, eventually, trade my high tech career for flying? Am I kidding myself thinking that I can? It seems a bit harder because there isn't exactly a well known career track for 40 something female pilots that don't have a four year college degree who don't plan on going for a job with the airlines.

I remember my good friends who say whenever I set my mind to something, I will accomplish it. And I do know, in spite of my most recent performance at the controls, I absolutely can finish my commercial license training and earn that commercial pilots license. I have no doubt of that. I'm not certain what the next step will be after that milestone. Like I said, there isn't a well beaten path after CPL and definitely not after CFI. All I know is I don't want to stop.

Then again, it is very much like me to forge my own path. I didn't follow a conventional route into the career I'm in, the man I'm married to, the place I live, etc. I didn't come to flying on the conventional routes either. This wasn't something I've always dreamed of doing. I just found myself at the controls of a small plane for no reason I ever could have imagined and fell in love with it. I don't need to follow a conventional route for my new path either. I will just have to have faith and trust my heart.

I know this path is right for me, even when I have doubts. When I look out the window of a commercial terminal and watch the captain and first officer of the jet parked at the gate going through their checklists I feel a sense of kinship and a longing. Or when I think of my solo flight around the desert southwest this summer; the daily rhythm of pre-flight, flight, post flight care of the plane, flight planning, care of self, and sleep; I know flying is where I belong and what I was meant to do. I guess doubt is another part of the journey, some light to moderate chop of emotional turbulence for me to ride through perhaps.

Something else I realize as I write this. I shouldn't think of these phases or goals of my flying necessarily as destinations. Instead I should think of them as waypoints on my journey. A journey that won't stop until the day I stop flying and being part of the aviation community, hopefully a very very long time from now. There are many and varied options in aviation far beyond the standard airline pilot everyone thinks about. Who knows where I will visit or how long I'll be there? One of the very cool things about aviation is, a pilot is not limited to only one type of flying. CFI and contract pilot for instance. Freight, traffic watch, aerial photography and sight seeing. Corporate, charter and business aviation too. I certainly won't get bored. As my CFI said to me a long time ago, the CPL doesn't guarantee anything, but it is a ticket to the dance. This is a dance I most definitely want to attend :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

One of Those Days

I've been flying for a while now and every once in a while I think I know what I'm doing. Then I have one of those days where its like someone removed half my brain, the important half!

I've been working on my commercial rating for a while now. We are getting near the end of introducing me to all of the required maneuvers, chandelles, lazy 8s, steep spirals, emergency descents, etc, etc. are all going nicely. The exception is 8's on pylons - I think I am going through every possible way to do them wrong but I'll get to doing them right at some point. Today was supposed to be "just" soft and short field take offs to commercial grade and power off 180s.

So I roll out on the runway the first soft field take off with my feet on the brakes! Then I bounced the plane a bit by over-correcting trying to keep it in ground effect. Then I forgot what rudders are for. The rest of that trip around the pattern didn't get much better. Let it suffice to say my CFI said very confidently, "I KNOW you can do better than that!". Yeah, I do too. I got to the point where I was doing good short field take offs with good smoothness. But, WOW! I struggled in the pattern. Airspeeds all over the place. Altitudes all over the place. Didn't get a single stabilized approach in. I even found a new "high" in being above glide slope, I've never seen white over black before!

Well... it was one of those days. My next flights will be better!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

From Fear to Fun

Tonight's sunset from the Lick Observatory.

Thought I would share this picture of my flying stomping grounds from the Lick Observatory Mt. Ham Cam. This is a beautiful sunset shot taken tonight is a reflection of my happy mood after today's training flight. What a difference a little attitude adjustment makes.... it resulted in a night and day difference in my flying.


My last training flight before today was before I took the commercial written. That flight was not a happy one. There was an AIRMET for turbulence before we took off. Winds were strong. I was afraid, very afraid. We were going up to introduce me to Lazy 8's, another commercial maneuver. Its hard for me, today, to describe what I was afraid of, but I was afraid. We went up and my CFI demonstrated the maneuver and it scared me. The turbulence bothered me, the winds were not helping make the maneuver any less scary. At first I refused to do it... I was just too scared. I was on the verge of tears. But finally I said I would try one. I did one and didn't like it. Maybe I tried another one. I'm not sure, but I was not enjoying that at all.

We decided to come back in since the turbulence was bad (not moderate but bad) and I was just not in a state to learn. On the way back to RHV I picked up the ATIS and it reported AIRMETs Tango, Zulu and Sierra. A trifecta of bad conditions... that matched my mood perfectly. I did manage a good approach and landing in the strong winds. "Great time to practice short field landings", my CFI said. I was not pleased. There wasn't much to debrief. I understood the maneuver, I just had to get over my fear. 

How to Get Over Fear

I struggled the next few days trying to figure out how to get over my fear. I knew I just had to do it. I had an old fortune cookie in my log book "Fear and Desire. Two sides of the same coin." it said. I had kept that in my log book for a long time. I decided I should get rid of that fortune cookie. Time to put aside the fear. Strangely when I went to my logbook the little sheet of paper was gone. Maybe it knew it was time to depart. The only thing I could think of to get over the fear was to get as familiar as possible with the maneuver, and try to focus on fun instead. 

I found as I walked through the maneuvers in my living room, I was able to adequately simulate the view of the rotation of the airplane from the 45 to 90 to 135 degree point. That rotation was something I was afraid of doing wrong in the air but on the ground it fascinated me. Then I remembered how, in spite of the turbulence, my CFI made the plane rotate so smoothly that there were no g-forces or slipping or sliding feelings. I was able to make my hands show that same rotation as I walked through the maneuver. It wasn't scarey. It was actually fascinating.  I kept repeating the walk through over and over  to get myself more familiar with what I was seeing. As what I was seeing got more familiar I felt the fear retreating.

From Fear to Fun

Today I finally got to go up again with my CFI and try out those Lazy 8s.  No AIRMETs this time and calmer winds, though not perfect conditions, better than we had before. We went out and made sure we both agreed on what 45, 90 and 135 degrees were. Then I asked him to demonstrate another Lazy 8 while I kept my hands on the controls. It wasn't scary at all. Then I did one with his hands on the controls, not scary. Then I started doing them on my own with him coaching me, sometimes I was pitching without turning, sometimes too much bank, sometimes not enough rudder, other times rolling out too quickly. I wasn't doing bad, not scared at all, I was actually having fun and by the end I was doing it "to spec". It was actually funny, towards the end of the flight I kept saying, "OK, lets do one more." and then "one more" and then "one more" after about the fifth "one more" it really was time to come back. 

We were both smiling on the way back to RHV. As we listened to RHV's tower traffic we heard a Bonanza pilot ask the tower to check their front landing gear. They weren't sure it was coming down. Sure enough, the problem was a burnt out gear indicator bulb. I said I could tell they weren't trained by my CFI. Anyone trained by him would know to check that right away. Time to come in to land, the approach was good, the landing was actually very soft.  I even parked the plane well. 

Yeah, it was a great flight and great transformation from fear to fun. Just as I decided I must do. I'm not sure if I'm more pleased about the successful attitude adjustment or how well I did in the flight but in the end I'll take them both and be happy :)