Mountain Meanderings

Mountain Meanderings

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Mutli IFR Flight Test...Post 1

With every phase in life, comes a new challenge. With every new challenge comes a new reward. On April 18th, i passed my Multi IFR flight test. The angst, the sweat, the struggle all built up to one hour of ground questions and 1.5 hours in the air. It almost seems like a dream or a blur looking back on it now. After months of interruptions caused either by mechanical issues, the worst foggy spring the island had seen in years, and my fluctuations in confidence, i was finally preapred for the test. The eve before was a sea of almost eerie calm. I went to my favorite yoga class and lost myself in the music, motion and rhythm of breath. I fell asleep astonishingly early. When the next day broke, I had that familiar flight test feeling... I had done everything that i could to prepare. It came down now to executing everything i had learned...


This post was written in December 2014 but never published. It explains my emotions perfectly during that month... I am somewhere between my destiny and and my reality. Suspended in and confused, I am "grounded" by a fog of conflicting schedules, bad weather, and seemingly insurmountable challenges. I am currently attempting to complete my Multi IFR rating. I have been training with higher intensity over the past fall, beginning in September. October was an exciting and successful month. After being trapped in the sim by my inability to master NDB holds, I finally broke free in med October and started flying the seminole again consistantly.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Mutli Engine Flight Test: Two engines: Twice the fun.

July 16 was one of the best days of my life. A day that proved to me that i can do things that utterly and totally surprise me, things i never imagined were possible. Strangely enough, 26 years ago, if it weren't for that day, i would not have been alive at all! July 16th is in fact my birthday....and the day i became licensed to fly twin engine aircraft. In my absence from writing i began working on my Multi Engine rating. At first it was literally the most challenging thing i had ever done in my life. First of all, there was too much happening to keep track of. The first time i got in the airplane, the only things i recognized were the control column and the altimeter. I could barely find the heading indicator! I felt like a two year old sitting in a plastic pedal car. I just looked around wildly and waited for someone else to push me so i could go.

Over the next 15.5 hours, i struggled uphill both ways towards a multi engine rating. I started with one instructor who clearly did not have enough time for me. Despite my open availability, i only managed to get 3 flights in with him in a month. I was frustrated beyond belief. Amazingly, it was on a vacation to Morocco that i truly found my focus. Long hours bouncing across gorgeously stark desert roads, reciting in whispered tones my emergency procedures, i finally allowed myself the time and the confidence to work hard to memorize what i needed to learn to pass. A particularily poignant memory comes to me, as we drove in a rickety Toyota, screaming around mountain corners, i barely looked up from my note sin time to see us turning sharply around what looked to be an endlessly cavernous cliff! Two months after i arrived home, after exhausting hours of pushing myself to the limit in that tiny, shuddering, stifling cockpit on (strangely!) sheepskin seats, 'twas the night before flight test!

As the sun set across the fie
ld from the hangar, i placed my hand on one of the Seminole's Lycoming engines, and i whispered to her. It was just her and i, alone on the ramp, and i tried to tangibly connect with the airplane. How hilarious! how many hours of practice, studying, talking to myself alone in my apartment while my roomate giggled at me in wonder, and here i was, resorting to a spiritual, almost supersticious ceremony to get me though the next day. I can't remember my words exactly, but i know that i was unintentionally practicing positive reinforcement and self love...with an inanimate object! As silly as i must have sounded and looked, stroking and whispering to an airplane in the sunset, i think this practice set me up for success. You can do this. You have worked hard. you have all the knowledge and the strength of spirit to get through this test. This flight will be like any other. It is a process which only exists to make you, and thus, everyone in the skies, safer.

Of course, it didn't feel like just any other flight. It was 32 degrees. i could see beads of sweat literally forming on my thighs as we waited for takeoff. there was an 18 knot wind, and at least a 9 knot crosswind on the circuits. i almost botched my first procedure entirely by coming in way too low due to nerves. But when it came down to the wire, i did it. i performed every procedure to standards, i was careful, organized, calm, and confident in my actions. and i succeeded. it was the happiest day of my life!

And to top it all off, i celebrated in the best way possible... several hours later, (though plagued by total exhaustion and an epic stress headache!) My roomate and boyfriend conspired to throw me a surprise party on a BEACH!!!!!!! beautiful. Whenever i feel stuck, as i have been feeling the past month while slogging through my Multi IFR, i remember this day with joy, and smile!!!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sharing my passion with family and friends.

My boyfriend and I after taking his father up for a ride! What a happy day. The Next photo is myself and my 88 year old granny, followed by my favorite flight of all time, with my roommate, boyfriend and friend to Texada Island.

From a child to a woman.

As long as I have lived, I have always been defined by a self-created identity of "a child." Not a child as defined by age or in comparison to my parents, but I have always felt as though I was on the younger side of the population. Now, at age 25, I have recently had experiences which challenge this notion.

It started in 2011, when surprising everyone, even myself, when I truly get down to it, I left my partner of just over 10 years, and in the space of 8 hours, packed most of my earthly belongings into my rusty little ford and drove off, tears filling my eyes, to a destination which I could not myself clearly formulate. I ended up in a spare room of my friend, staring at the peeling wallpaper at the corner of the ceiling until the birds started singing and the sun cautiously began to rise. I think, at that moment, I moved beyond being a child. Even though I had lived independently from my father for almost 2 years, now finally alone, the true nature and challenge of the world, and the consequences of what I had created, began to register. It was exactly this time when I began to fly. I therefore have a deep connection between the end of my childhood and the beginning of my adventures in flight.

My correlation between my identity as a child and flight takes yet another form: that of an uncanny role reversal. When I passed my flight test last June and became a private pilot, I took a road trip to Tofino the next weekend. On the drive, I had much time to think, as majestic spruce and grey raindrops whizzed past. I was in complete awe that I could now rent a plane, and just fly away, going wherever I wanted, taking whoever I wanted with me. It was an amazing jolt of freedom, but also a healthy dose of responsibility. When I first began taking friends as passengers aboard, I was nervous but not daunted. As peers, I knew that they would be respectful and mostly in awe, experiencing their flight without judgement. My first passenger as a private pilot was my boyfriend, a man who had supported me and watched me in awe from both afar and near over the last six months as I worked towards my exams and flight test. I was overjoyed to finally include him in the experience in a tangible and sentimental way. My second crew was a group of work friends, who though I strove to impress, I didn't have to focus too much energy on doing so. They were in awe regardless. But when it came time to include my family in the experience, I found that I had never felt as nervous or small.

My mother and grandma were both decently acquainted with the world of general aviation, my mother having been married to my father, an air traffic controller, for 25 years. Since their divorce she still remained curious and relatively informed about flying. My grandma spent most of her life in small Canadian northern communities, relying on regional air transport. Their familiarity, however, meant nothing when I had them settled in as passengers one pleasant sunlit summer evening. As I went through my checklist, words stuck in my throat and I fumbled with steps I normally ran through fluidly. When I lined up for takeoff, my heart was pounding and I was acutely aware of the whirring of my mom's little camcorder. As we lifted off, my hyper awareness remained, I was vigilant of airspeed, my departure route, the squelch on the radio, every little thing seemed heightened and not quite right. After five minutes or so, however, that beautiful calm and flow of the pattern and tasks of flight calmed my mind. My heart slowed. My hands loosened their grip on the control column. I smiled as I watched my grandma stare at the ground below in rapt attention. It was beautiful. I realized what made me so much more nervous and aware. It was the unsettling feeling of a strange role reversal. I was the child, the grandchild. I had once been wrapped in a bundle small enough to cradle to the bosom, my very existence and survival had once depended on my family. I had once heard my mother's words as law, I had once needed my mother's hand in mine to guide me. Now it was me upon whom they depended for survival, me alone up here that they trusted. It was a beautiful ad humbling feeling.

Last week I was blessed to experience this feeling again. My boyfriend, a native of England, is rarely able to see his parents, and his father had just arrived for a visit. United in adventurous spirit, both men shared the adorable quality of enthusiasm and ability to be up for anything, the more adventurous the better. Therefore my boyfriend thought it would be exciting for his father to go flying. I waited and waited for the perfect day, and finally one came. On a crisp and sunny spring morning we made our way to the flying club. The familiar waves of nervousness and hyper vigilance came crashing upon me again on route to the airport. This time my wings were weighed by something even heavier. Although most would argue that when I landed in the field last summer with my boyfriend on board, I saved his life by quick and unwavering decision making and avoiding a worse future problem, but I still battled with guilt. When I met his father, my initial impression, before happiness to finally meet him or pleasure at seeing father and son reunite, was "your son could be gone from you and it would have been thanks to me." The thought caused me to break into sweat and almost squirm with remorse. As an only child myself, I will never forget the look in my own father's eyes when he saw me in the hospital bed for the first time after the ambulance had evacuated us from the field. In his eyes was a haunted look for the child, the light in his life that was almost extinguished. I couldn't imagine what my boyfriend's parents had felt when they heard the news of the forced landing from the other side of the world. Despite my guilt and fears, I was too pervaded by a feeling of positivity and optimism. A feeling Of being eager to share my love of flight with Others, which had become more frequent after my float rating, also made me excited. Although I still stumbled, I had come so far from nights of laying awake, worries and flashbacks that interrupted my life, and moved to a place of confidence and happiness in my flying again. I was overjoyed when my boyfriend had suggested taking his dad for a flight when he heard he was coming to visit. I had too many people believing in me now to let my success be undermined by my own fears and insecurities.

As we took off that day, father and son on board, there was no fear. There was heightened awareness, there was vigilance, there was caution and scrupulousness, but no energy was wasted on fretting or contemplating the past. The feeling of role reversal was still strange to me, but pleasantly so. The pilot that day was no longer a child. She was a woman, with clarity, passion, growing confidence, and pride. No longer a child, yet grinning into the cloudless sky as if she had been given a handful of candy and toys, her eager craft tumbling and playing in the skies.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Secrets of the Skies

I overheard someone a couple weeks ago starting a conversation with a friend in a coffee shop with "I had one of those dreams last night where i was flying..."

Sometimes it overwhelms me, but the things some people can only dream about, i am blessed to be able to do. Have you ever noticed how many sayings hail flight as the ultimate expression of ecstasy? "Reach the sky", "flying high"...i'm sure there are many more. I had a moment like that today, as i flew with my new instructor, and the club's CFI *Grant for the second lesson in my Multi Engine Rating today.

From the ground the day was grey, overcast, dull, and drizzly. When Grant and i roared the powerful little Piper Seminole to life and taxied down the runway, i could have never imagined the beauty awaiting us up above. We took off and climbed, feeling the addictive and powerful thrust of the two engines purring beside me for only the second time ever. I worked, admittedly behind the airplane, to set the throttles to 2500 RPM and the Manifold Pressure to 25 inches to the climb, simultaniously worrying about putting the gear up, then retracting the flaps. It all happened so fast, in this new airplane, that i was stunned and pleasantly surprised to look up from my instruments as i began my level-off checklist to see that we had broken through patchy layers of cloud into glorious spring sunshine. I have been flight training for 15 months, with almost 150 hours, and many views like this under my belt, but it never ceases to fill me with joy when i see the city and the ocean below, looking like toys, as i level off and take in the sights around me. From up here, everything seems so simple. Everything on the ground, all the worries, the to-do lists, the conflicts, the errands, the obligations, the challenges, the regrets, the dramas, the indecision, the pain that the bonds of the earth's surface hold, all melt away into the whisps of feathery cloud, and the healing enveloping blue around me. Between 2500 - 4000 feet today, held promises of challenge, learning, improvement, and a certain release from everything below.

These are the secrets of the skies. It is a place to come, for most, as a necessity . To travel somewhere. To get to that important business meeting, to that family reunion, or if we are lucky, on that much needed vacation. For those privileged individuals who make the skies their office, it is a place to come to keep people safe, and make a living doing so. However, those pilots were all once in my position, a student with an open heart, an open mind, and perhaps knack for losing about 100 feet every time they attempt a right-hand steep turn (grr!) The sky even has the magic to make even the most seasoned and trucker-mouthed pilots a little soft at heart. Today, my gruff, crass yet gentle instructor referred to synching the props as "making two hearts beat as one". Hahaha!!! He quickly went on to laugh abruptly, clear his throat, and tell me never to repeat that to anyone!!!

My multi engine rating so far has been full of mind boggling multitasking and memory jarring checklists, but it continues to awake the passion for flight in me to a new level. Today, even though we practiced slow flight and stalls, dirty and clean, i found that i was not as nervous as i used to be. Every day and every tiny success opens up a new door in my heart and in the slow progression to my dream career. I found, with great excitement, that my instructor noticed the improvements i felt that i had made since my float rating. "You can tell you're a real float pilot! I can see it's all in your feet!" Wow, what an unbelievable thing to hear him say.

My second really cool moment today came when i decided to mention to Grant, as we climbed that I "had a secret."
From the corner of my eye i could see his intrigue, as he urged me to go on."
"After i made the forced landing this summer, lots of things kind of scare me now." I squeaked in a little mouselike voice. I cleared my throat, attempting to sound more pilot-ey.
"So, uh....sorry if sometimes i'm a bit of a pussy."
I could almost hear Grant thinking into his mouthpiece. There was a pause.
"That's no worry at all." He finally replied.

"I had a near death experience in the airplane once too. It changed me forever. I'll tell you more about it someday."

It was cryptic, but i instantly felt a deeper affinity with the man. Few pilots have, or would hope to have, an experience in which their fate would be determined, based upon their actions. We, sitting side by side, climbing into the pure spring sunlight, were two.

However, in this moment, filled with the joy of seeing the city from above, with the adrenaline of flying this new, powerful aircraft, another more prominent feeling had already overtaken me. And i had chosen to let this feeling be the one that would change my fate. This was the feeling that i was on the right path. That i had found my place in the world, by being up above the surface of it. It was a feeling of true passion.

So, as we climbed and descended, turned and painted our nose across the horizon, i let this feeling instead be the one that would forever rule my fate.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My Float Rating: In the key of Awesome.

I woke up yesterday morning feeling as though it was going to be a very lazy day. Having just worked the last 4 early morning shifts, i peeked out from under the covers at 8 and decided to dive back in and close my eyes for as long as i felt like it on my day off. I had nothing planned and was in the mood for a relaxing day. I didn't know that so much more was in store for me!

I hadn't flown the float plane since February 19, the day of my last post. My instructor said the wind had to be less than 5 knots, and it had been a steady 2 weeks of windy days, complimented by me working longer horus and heading up to the local ski hill for a weekend trip. My one day off, my intructor was too fully booked to accomodate me, so i was resigned to a lazy day of sleeping in. I awoke rudely at the early hour of 11 (hah!) to a text message from my instructor. "Pulled some strings. Can you do 1:00 today?" I was instantly stoked and wracked with nerves all at the same time. My confidence is a little shaky on the best of days in the airplane, and i knew that the goal was the get my 5 solo takeoffs and landings done as soon as possible. There was just something about an empty co-pilot seat in that float plane that gave me the jitters. Worst case scenarios about flaring too low and catching my tips, sending myself catapaulting over, raced through my mind. I had been trying to work through these worries for weeks by running through Pedro's words in my mind, that he would never send me solo, risking hmy life, his livelihood if he did not deem me ready. However i drove out to the airport with absolutley no expectations, as it had been about 2 weeks since my last flight in the float plane.

When i hopped out of the car into the sunshine to see Pedro's smiling face at the launch, I was nervous all over again. What were his expectations? How would i fly today after so long off and with a head cold? I could barely remember the power settings, which were blending together in my mind with those from the Piper Seminole, which i had just begun training in on Wednesday. (More on that in another post!)

Pedro and i engaged in our usual banter and chatting as we set the plane up, and i jumped in the pilot's seat and fumbled around trying to relocate where all the switches and dials were on this particular model. I nervously fumbled with the seatbelt and jangled my headset cords around. I basically looked like a 25 hour pilot.

But as I worked together with Pedro, smoothly applying full power and pulling aft, and the little beauty gained speed, bumping through the waves to pop magestically aloft them and then 3-2-1 becoming unstuck from the watery grasps of the waves, all my knowledge trickled back to me. We flew towards Shawnigan lake, the place where Pedro takes all his students to solo. I fought to keep my palms from sweating on the yoke. We arrived at Shawnigan the water looked perfect. A gentle ripple of wind on the surface which gives the water definition, yet not too much as to create a bumpy landing. He eased me into my first landing, guiding me through with his hand gently bracing the controls just in case. It was a seamless landing. A smile broke out over my face. With the water rudders still up, we chatted for a moment before i smoothly applied full power again, counteracting the yaw with hard right rudder. The plane did not fishtail around on the surface like it had in my early lessons, it held its heading under the firm pressure of my foot as we gained speed. As we levelled off i found i remembered my level-off checklist perfectl, and as we turned base i could gently and confidently execute speed control as i slowed her down to a purring 70 knots and regulated my alititude with power settings. The early spring sun shone into our eyes and i felt happy, excited and confident!

We did about 5 circuits and my arm began to feel that familiar ache of good solid stick and rudder flying, before Pedro announced something surprising.
"I'm going to show you a few emergency procedures now."
I knew what that meant! he had told me that on solo day he would show me a few emergency maneuvers, and then set me free! I instantly felt alert and surreal. First he showed me engine failure on take-off, which frankly freaked the crap out of me. Taking control, he rotated and climbed about 40 feet before pulling the power and jamming down on the yoke into a steep dive. My stomach lifted out of my body and i let out a little yelp, flinging my hands into the air.

"it's ok!" he soothed, grabbing my arm to calm me before gently levelling and flaring, making the perfect landing. "When the engine fails, you need to do the opposite of what you think you need to do. Peopel always want to pull aft to climb. But you have no power! You'll go into slow flight and maybe even stall. push down to gain enough airspeed for an approaqch. get 70 knots, then level off, float, sink, then flare. Make a nice eay landing. Just don't try and pull up to get it to climb. You have no power, so you need to gain speed by nosing down."

After locating my dignity somewhere in the back seat where i had tossed it with my little shriek, i practiced engine failure in flight (turn for the lake, get 70 knots and land where appropriate) and overshoot (kind of the same as a land overshoot).

After a circuit made up of these procedures, Pedro sat in silence for an entire circuit, looking bored. The tight mountainous landscape that had once scared me at the beginning of this day was familiar and my maneuvers within in were methodical. I was flying without overthinking, and with an even mixture of alertness and calm. After a nice landing, Pedro told me to taxi to the dock and let him out! I was more nervous about pumping the floats into the dock than flying at that point!

As he hopped out, Pedro smiled at me and gave me a thumbs up. "How you feeling?" he asked.
"Nervous!" i replied quietly.
"Don't worry, there hasn't been a pilot, with the exception of maybe one of two fearless 18 year old, who wasn't nervous on their float solo. Just remember, you're flying well! You are a licensed pilot already! This is just like any other flight. You're going to do great. Now have fun! Let's see a smile!"
I smiled unconvincingly and he laughed.
"Go have fun out there!"
I turned on the master and started her up, putting away from the dock. I looked over my shoulder, past the empty seat beside me to Pedro waving from the dock. This was it.

Out in the open water, i second guessed where i should take off. I got on the radio. "Should i wait until after this signpost?" I asked Pedro feebly
"Go ahead there if you feel right." He replied. A clear message that if i looked inside myself to find my true confidence, i knew what i was doing and would find the asnwers. This part was about engaging my inner pilot in command and beleiving her!

I looked at the mountains acorss the lake, and swept my hand across the cockpit in a pre-takeoff check. I reached down to pull the water rudder, applied left rudder and gently pushed the throttle in to full power. As I gained speed, a strange relief rolled through me like rain down a windowpaine. I realised that it was getting here that was so hard for me. Convincing myself to let go and trust my skills, sit proudly in the left seat and let my training take over. Getting over my fear of the float solo and forcing myself into my seat, letting my instructor get out, i discovered that the challenge and the fear was all in my mind, and now that i had gotten here, it was time to have fun and let my skills keep me safe and help me achieve and strive forward. I thought about a little card called a "wisdom card" that i had pulled out of a basket from my yoga instructor after class the day before. "It is time to let go of things no longer serving you. it is only then that you will move forward." It had said. It was not serving me to worry about this moment. The moment was now, and it was time to live it and choose to engage and excel within it!

As i lifted off, i was filled with a burning in my throat of adrenaline, and a smile burst out across my face. I raised the flaps to 10 degrees, and set power and manifold pressure to 21" and 2450 rpm. I climbed past the sunlit spruce and toward the mountains at the end of the lake, filled with excitement. I turned crosswind and levelled off at 950 feet, setting the power to 17" and 2300 at 1000 ft. On my downwind leg i did a downwing checklist and then sat in awe, riding the gently rolling currents of air and listening to the engine purr. My mind was not worrying and anticipating the future. It was not stuck revisitng the past. If only i could live every moment of my life like i live it in the pilot's seat! in a total state of being in the now.

Abeam the little island i made my base turn, reducing to 15" and adding 20 of flap. I used power to help my descent and pitched to slow her gently to 75 knots in the turn, then to 70 on the approach. I was vauguely aware of Pedro's figure on the dock in the distance, but was too focused on my runway and my airspeed to give it much energy. As i softly came down, i let my senses guide me into the moment at which i levelled off. When i felt the familiar sinking feeling, i flared and held my nose across the horizon, waiting for the sensation when my floats met the water's surface. It came gently and with a satisfying "whoooooosh", and Pedro got on the radio from the dock immediately, saying an encouraging "WOW!" I had made my first solo landing! and it was a greaser!

Throughout the next 4 circuits I enjoyed the ride. On one i hit some daytime heating turbulence, on another i landed a little hard due to excessive sink rate from a little lack of power. Overall, it was a perfect day, and my flying and my accomplishment felt surreal, even as i was completing it. After my last landing i could not beleive it. I stared in awe at the glimmering lake's surface as i putted back to the dock. In my traditional way, i had to do a little left seat happy dance! My float rating was done! This day had truly been living proof that having no expectations and freeing the mind of hang-ups on the past will get you far.

And what was the first thing i did, as a newly rated float plane pilot?

I peed in the bushes!

haha! it had been over 2 hours of flying and i had drank a grande latte on the drive to the airport! Like a true and strong BC girl, i jumped from the left seat, gave my instructor a hug, and then raced inexplicably into the bushes to find a secret place to pee. He was both baffled and amused.

It turned out that I had finished my rating in less than the required hours, so we had some time to burn! Pedro had a surprise in store. He navigated me up and out of Shawnigan and to the West atop a hill about 10 miles away. There he showed me a tiny hidden mountain lake caleld Grant lake, with nothing but a lone wooden cabin and a logging road that lead there. He demonstrated for me a glassy-water short field landing on the tiny isolated lake. I felt like we were the only two people in the universe, that feeling brought to me only by wandering the wild on camping trips or getting up early on the beach to see the sun rise. This is why we fly floats! To find the world's last little isolated paradises :)

Though i may not have it in my future cards to fly loggers up north, or businessmen to Vancouver on a twin otter, flying floats awoke the raw and bold pilot in me. I was living what John Magee described when he "danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;" Float flying was the closest flying comes to dancing. I will take forward with me into my next, often more structured and methodical ratings, a sense of creativity, adventure, dexterity and fluidity that float flying has taught me. If flying can be broken down into types of music, then floats are definitey playing jazz. And i will remember this tune fondly all my life long :)