Monday, September 28, 2015

Blood Moon

Last night I was in the air during a total lunar eclipse / "super" moon combination. This particular event is called a blood moon. It looked about like this picture from 5500 feet and 3500 feet over the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a beautiful night and a smooth flight with appreciative passengers. Even my hyper critical self had to admit I flew well, especially on the return flight and landing at night. I could hardly ask for more!

Oddly enough, when I saw the moon as I flew I was impressed with the color but I forgot the color was due to the eclipse. I thought, as I flew along, the color was due to smoke or thin clouds obscuring the moon. I was a bit disappointed that we weren't seeing the moon unobscured. It was cool, but not what I was expecting. I thought the eclipse would be more "impressive" for some reason. It wasn't until we were over SJC airport approaching Reid-Hillview to land and a sliver of brilliant, almost blinding,  silver started to peak around the edges of the dull red that I realized what I looking at but not seeing and how special it really was.

It occurs to me now my experience of this moon could be an analogy of my experience of myself, my own flight training. Looking but not seeing and appreciating the beauty of what I'm seeing. Not until it is almost done.

My last flight lesson was the first in a very long time that I didn't leave feeling about 2 inches tall. There's a reason for that. I was not because I was perfect in the air. I was good, but not perfect. It was because I was practicing self critique during that lesson with my CFI's help. Critiquing every maneuver I flew - what worked, what didn't work and what I would do different to further improve. Every critique had to start with what worked first. Every single one. 

In truth it was hard to do. Hard for me to pull my mind away from the result and what could be improved to what was done that worked. It's hard to explain and it will take practice but the emotional result was amazing. I left the lesson feeling good, feeling good about myself, about my progress, about my future. What a wonderful change!

I need to practice seeing the good, seeing what works. It's not easy, especially for me. However, it is a skill I need to develop in order to progress in this journey. It's a skill I need to practice when critiquing my future students. Even the FAA says the #1 duty of the flight instructor is to focus on the positive. If the FAA says so I guess I gotta do it!  *grin*

Thursday, September 24, 2015


This is an incredible story... and I'll tell you why I share it here. When she describes what it is like in the right hemisphere of the brain... that's what its like when I fly... when I am flying and not trying. Just flying. It's hard to describe but she does it very well. This is worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Between the Headsets

Sometimes I don't know what is best for me to write. A message of encouragement, hope, desperation, frustration, discomfort, comfort, abject fear, confidence, wanting to quit, being willing to succeed no matter what it takes? the ups or the downs? All of the above?

I've been through it all in this CFI journey. Do I share it all and expose myself as human and sometimes lacking even though I am training to be an aviation educator? Will future students respect or want to learn from a CFI that had to work so hard? Will they google my name and find this blog and be drawn towards a CFI who understands, intimately, the joys and the frustrations the student pilot will experience? Does it matter? I just don't know. Today I'm in a particularly sharing mood and I'm feeling positive for my aviation future after some extremely difficult recent struggles. So I'll share for now. If I sound whiny or weak or female or whatever, so be it. I am what I am and I can't change without being honest with myself.

Between the Headsets

I asked my CFI when I started this CFI training what he thought my struggles would be. He'd trained me for all of my other certificates and ratings so he would know pretty well what it would be. I don't recall exactly what he said... I believe it was something about knowledge shouldn't be a problem, he didn't know how well I would teach but he could teach that, I'd fly OK. My problem would be "between the headsets".  In other words. The problem wouldn't be something that could be trained, it would be something mental that I'd have to deal with, if I had a problem at all.

I had found training for the Instrument Rating to be relatively easy, in spite of hearing how hard it was. So I hoped, after hearing how hard CFI typically is, I would find CFI relatively easy too. Unfortunately I've run straight into some of my worst mental, emotional challenges in this journey. Learning the knowledge I need was relatively easy. Flying from the right seat was a challenge initially but now I fly just as well from right or left seat. Actually I'm doing some of the best flying I've done in my life. But I have been so close to quitting many times. Frustration at not making the progress I want. Feeling stuck. That's all normal and expected.

Fear Raises its Ugly Head

One thing I didn't expect was to revisit fear. When I started flying I was very afraid. As a matter of fact this blog started the day I realized I was flying and not scared at the same time. I've had to face many fears, turbulence was huge, stalls, I've even had to spin a plane on purpose. But I thought all of those fears were done. I was wrong.

Two weekends ago I went up to demonstrate all of the stalls I have to know how to do as a CFI. I hadn't practiced them since March so I was nervous, rusty and uncomfortable doing them. After that flight my CFI said I seemed to be afraid as I flew and I need to get over those fears. I took that the wrong way. I convinced myself I really was afraid. So the next time I flew and tried to do the stalls again solo, I actually was afraid. Very much so. It was like I was back in my student pilot days, terrified of doing a stall but this time I didn't have a CFI there to yell at me and make me do it. I gave up, flew back to base and was shattered. Was I too afraid to do my job as CFI? How could I do this?

I talked with my siblings, who know me better than anyone and they pointed out how I didn't say I was afraid when I did those demo stalls the first time. So maybe the CFI was wrong and I really was just rusty and uncomfortable. They said I didn't have to be afraid and if I convinced myself I was afraid I would be. So I resolved to myself that I didn't have to be afraid, that I could fly and do what I needed to do. I decided I needed to believe in me, just like the tiny Foxtato in my previous post. I promised myself to make myself do the stalls until I was comfortable. I would do it by myself and I wouldn't need anyone to yell at me to do it.

The next day I drove down to the airport to fly and my usual plane was down for maintenance. So I took out another Arrow I wasn't so familiar with and took it up at dusk and found myself with no issue doing stalls. Normally I wouldn't want to take up a plane I didn't know very well and do stalls, but I just told myself I know how to recover from a stall so it does't matter what the plane does. I would handle it. In the end I had no issue at all. I wasn't afraid anymore, as a matter of fact I was annoyed with the plane because it was positively boring when it stalled. What a difference!

Next flight with my CFI the usual plane was down again, so we went up in the alternate Arrow. He recommended we do unusual attitude recovery because he noticed I tend to get uncomfortable when a plane is in an unusual attitude. We put the plane into all kinds of unusual attitudes... extreme banked turning power on stalls, nose very high and nose very low maneuvers. Lots of g-forces, little g-forces. We did that because high g-forces make me queasy and uncomfortable. I was able to sit and observe the plane, both when I was flying and when he was, without fear. Just observe and take the appropriate action. These maneuvers that would have left me crying 4 years ago.

Next flight I was solo in the usual plane. I did all of the stalls and it was great. No fear, total comfort. I was even happy and excited to find a way to stall a plane in a nose level attitude! I wasn't sure I was doing a couple of the stalls right (accelerated and cross controlled stalls were the particular ones) so I made sure to ask about them for my next flight. I also practiced Lazy 8s with the hope I could demonstrate those and check another item off the CFI training "list".

Frustration Attacks Too

Last flight we went up and I screwed up Lazy 8s in a way I'd never done before. So we spent an hour working on that, by the end of the hour he said I was doing Lazy 8s better than he'd ever seen me do them. But, this is me, I was frustrated that I didn't nail it the first time so I got very down on myself. Then we did the stalls that I wanted to work on, he showed me the tricks to make them really work well and we were done. We went back and debriefed on the flight and I drove home. Depressed and frustrated again. It did occur to me to email my CFI and ask him about what he observed about my comfort level doing the stalls. He was extremely positive about what he saw. My confidence was still low though. I thought I had those Lazy 8s down and I screwed them up. That's what I focused on, not on the progress I made on that maneuver in one hour (the last time I tried to demonstrate them I flailed around for over an hour and he finally told me to focus on easier maneuvers for a while). Even after learning my CFI saw a huge improvement in my comfort level I didn't focus on the positive.

Yep, the problem is between the headsets.

Another of my CFI's CFI candidates, a young man who started training for his CFI some months after I did, is going up for his CFI check ride tomorrow. Even as I type this I feel envious and bad about myself because I started first and will finish last. I shake my head. This guy is about 20 years younger than me, probably grew up dreaming about aviation... he doesn't have to drive an hour each way to get to the airport. He doesn't balance life as a mom and wife and professional with a 50-60 hour a week job (1.5 hour commute each way for that one) and business travel at least once a month. Yet I compare myself to him and find myself wanting. Oh yes, I compare myself with all of the unnamed hundreds or thousands of CFIs out there that must have trained quicker than me and I feel bad.

It's All About Ego

My CFI says this ... Private Pilot is about safety. Instrument is about procedures. Commercial is about finesse. CFI is about ego. Well, I have been feeling like my ego is getting the beating of a lifetime. I've never felt so small as I have going through this training process. The thing is, I am starting to realize, no one is making me feel small but me. No one is saying I suck or I can't do this. No one but me. I've been beating up my own ego to the point of almost giving up. Ignoring all of the good things I've been doing and clinging to all of the problems.

Fact is, I have the knowledge down. I can teach. I can teach and fly at the same time. I am actually good at preparing people for the knowledge portion of their check rides. There are a couple more things I need to check off on the "CFI list" but I am very close to done with that list. I am consistently doing some of the best flying of my life. I have, with a single conscious decision, turned my mental/emotional experience of stalls from at best nervous, at worst fear to total comfort. There are people that are waiting for me to finish my CFI because they want to learn from me. Me!

I'm beginning to think it is time for me to let go of all of the problems and set backs and unmet self expectations. It is time for me to rebuild my own ego the same way I reset my experience of stalls. If I can change that, something that's bothered me for over 700 hours of flying. I can do anything! I just have to let it happen and believe in myself. I can do this just as well or even better than a young man 20 years my junior. I just have to do it and believe in myself instead of beating myself up. Since I'm the one that's been tearing my ego down. I'll just have to build it back up.

If I don't believe in me, no student will.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I Believe in You

Powerful words. I believe in you. I don't think those words are spoken often enough. The simple expression of the belief that someone can, indeed, do the thing.

This weekend I've had two opportunities to work with (hopefully) future Private Pilots. They both came to me asking for an evaluation of their readiness for the knowledge portion of the Private Pilot practical test. We refer to this portion as the "oral".

Since I am an Advanced Ground Instructor (AGI) I can provide ground instruction for most certificates & ratings. I am particularly interested in teaching the knowledge, planning and judgement skills needed to fly safely because I believe firmly those skills are what will keep a pilot safe and flying a long time. I've also learned from my friendship with a senior CFI and DPE that many candidates for Private Pilot are woefully unprepared for the oral portion of their check rides. It as if the CFIs that trained them are so focused on being flight instructors, getting air time and teaching stick and rudder skills that they forget they need to teach the knowledge, planning and judgement skills too. This weekend I worked with both extremes.

Left to His Own Devices

The first candidate is a future film-maker and current tech worker. He had the typical history of being handed between 5 different flight instructors to date. He likes his current instructor and really wants to do his check ride soon. He was confident that he's ready for the ride but smart enough to take some advice and get a "second opinion" on his readiness to do the oral portion of the check ride. Talking with him on the phone I was impressed with his very positive attitude and self confidence. I was hopeful that he would sail through the mock oral and walk out ready for his ride. I was wrong.

I met with him for 3 hours and did my best DPE imitation. I asked scenario based questions that covered all of the knowledge and special emphasis areas in the Private Pilot PTS. Very similar to the last person I worked with, he was left to his own devices to study and prepare for the test. That did not work well for him. He is not ready for his check ride. We uncovered many areas that he needs to improve before he'll be ready for the ride. There were some areas I couldn't even evaluate because he didn't have the basics done.

After we were done we chatted a bit about how he may proceed from here. I recommended he study specific areas and then we get back together (or he work with his CFI) to help him really understand what he's studying. We also talked about how he was (not) prepared for the orals. He said when he asked questions of his CFIs they'd briefly talk about it and then "$170 later" he was back where he started. He said it seemed none of the CFIs he worked with took any responsibility for the ground learning he had to do. At one point he laughed and said, "It would have been nice to have some fucking warning about how hard this is!"

I emphasized to him that I was impressed with his attitude and I totally believe he can learn what he needs to learn and he can pass his check ride. I asked him to not give up. I believe in you. He left in a good mood with his positive attitude intact in spite of what he described as a humbling experience. We agreed to get back together today but he later asked to postpone so he could study more. I hope he doesn't give up.

More Prepared, Less Confident

The next candidate is someone I know better. I know him to be very studious and conscientious in everything he does. What I didn't know is some of why he's flying. This is his life long dream, a dream that started with the story of his grandfather. His grandfather flew in World War II in China. He and his unit helped rescue American airmen downed in China, Taiwan and Japan. After the war he was imprisoned by the Chinese government in a labor camp for 20 years for helping the Americans. Here was this man's grandson.  I could feel his passion for flying and nervousness about doing this test.

Once again I did my best DPE impression and walked him through scenarios and questions to evaluate his ability to apply what he'd learned in his training. This candidate was very different. He was less confident, more nervous and more prepared. He would not have passed, he was weak in two areas. However, there were some areas that he did extremely well and in most areas he was obviously competent, if nervous. He was prepared by his CFI. His CFI also sat with me to debrief on the weak areas. I know he will do well ultimately.

The thing that ties this candidate to the story is, I told him when he left that I am totally confident he will pass his check ride.  I believe in you. The look of gratitude and relief on his face was just wonderful.

Another Candidate

These two candidates are not unlike me. I, too, am preparing for my own check ride. I'm preparing for my Flight Instructor check ride. I'm more like the second candidate, than the first. I'm conscientious but not so confident. Trying hard with a CFI who is working to prepare me for both the flight and the knowledge portion. Just like them, I have areas I'm weak on. And just like them, sometimes I need to hear I believe in you.

That is one thing my CFI is not good at. He doesn't do much encouraging. I've known him a long time and know he wouldn't spend time training someone on something he doesn't believe they can do, but he doesn't come out and say it. On the other hand, I'm fortunate that I have good friends and family who do believe in me and do tell me so. When I need those precious words I reach out to them and they re-affirm their belief in me. Which helps me believe in myself.

As I continue on my aviation journey and I work with these private pilot candidates I see the power of a couple words of encouragement. I'll make sure to encourage my students. Not to do it too much, but when the time is right, when confidence is low but ability is high, I'll make sure to say I believe in you.