Thursday, 30 October 2008

a teacher's grid reference crisis!

As a primary teacher I teach maths and when teaching co-ordinates, I put across the (x,y) concept by saying, "Go along the corridor and up the stairs", but am horrified to discover that, even though I aced my TA map-reading exam, I have been misreading maps all my life. Effectively, you give the y axis first! This is bound to result, one brain-fuzzed day, in me doing a Wrong-way Corrigan and flying off into the middle of Atlantic, looking for Birmingham.

I have started a thread on my newly-induced co-ordinate neurosis on the TES teacher's forum, where I post as "crucible".

UPDATE: Well, that is a relief. It seems from talking with various teachers on the TES that Ordnance Survey maps do work in exactly the way I have used them all these years, as this explanation shows, but marine maps (and aerial charts too?) use the "world geodetic survey 1984" system, referred to as WGS84, which is the datum used for GPS. It seems I am not mad and that others share my confusion and surprise at the conceptual mismatch.

Suited and Booted

Great news from Cath: my flying suit has arrived. Can't wait to get it on.

The other bit of news is that I fitted the new starter motor to my car yesterday, so now I will be able to drive to Sywell instead of bike it, which will mean arriving warm and dry...

...and it increases the likelihood that I will arrive at all!

It'll be nice not having to waterproof everything, not having to stuff saddlebags, etc and not having to get all kitted up, worry about someone blocking the drive, getting the bike out, locking the garage, opening the security gate etc etc. I'll just get up, get dressed and get in the warm car.

Maybe I will be able to lie in until 6.30 a.m. too: Luxury!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

What went wrong?

I got 86% in one exam and 100% in the other, which sounds fantastic in text messages to people for whom 86% is a First and 100% makes you a genius, but up in the Pantheon of the Gods you just get, "86%! . . . What went wrong?"

Ah well, at least I passed.

Hero Worship

I was in the office with Stew, Neill and Cath and overheard what was obviously a private conversation between Stew and Neill, so tried to be discreet and got chatting to Cath. Stew was saying how much he appreciated Neill, that they had really clicked and how much he valued his dedication....and when he covered his eyes and Cath handed him a tissue I realised the bastards were parodying my blog!

But, sod it, I am not editing the eulogy out, even if it makes it sound like I fancy Neill! It is in my make-up to look up to mentors. I have seen it before, like when I did my intensive bike licence course, when I took up fencing in earnest or when I learnt Tai Chi in the US....

...well, no, maybe that last one isn't a good example, as I fell in love with her and we got engaged!

I just have a healthy respect for people who know more than me about anything that interests me, the more so when they are very good at something that I want to be able to do well, and which I know from experience is hard.


Later, Neill's family was visiting Flylight and he bribed Cath (who is a merciless piss-taker) with chocolate, not to say or do anything that might embarrass him. I cellotaped a sign across my front saying "My Hero" (with a left arrow and right arrow - one of which could be covered by hand) and crept up and stood next to him in the hangar, and the whole gathering of in-laws, aunts, nieces etc cracked up.

(Maybe next time I will get chocolate too)

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Exam anxiety eclipses soloing anxieties

I am off early tomorrow morning to Sywell, where (if weather allows) I will do another hour of engine failures with Neill, then do an hour or two solo in the circuit. But foremost in my mind (eclipsing even the prospect of solo flight!) is my exam on Monday on the principles of flight, airframes, engines, ancillaries and instruments! Crikey. I rather stupidly assumed that since the different areas had their own chapters, they would be in different exams.

I am not ready! My night in the B&B and any time grounded by the weather will be spent mugging up.

Monday, 13 October 2008


Ex17a only ever appears in a logbook once, and it is now in mine, along with "Well Done!" from Neill, who ten minutes before sunset sent me solo. I can't remember exactly what he said but I remember him saying I was ready and, having initially responded a little reticently and heard him say "not good enough", realised I had to be very positive and before he could categorically declare, I insisted that I was ready, saying something ungracious but necessarily assertive like, "**** it, I'm ready, get out".

And I WAS ready too. I was nervous and excited, sure, but not scared. I was committed and got the most enormous wave of elation as I lifted off and knew that I was completely on my own and that from here on I was dependent entirely on my own skills and judgement. As I turned onto the down-wind leg, at about 7oo' (because of low cloudbase) my legs started shaking uncontrollably and late down-wind my foot jumped on the footpedal, briefly losing me revs, which must have alarmed Neill on the ground. There was nothing I could do about my disco legs, so I just tried to relax and concentrate on the turn-in.

All along I realised I was doing all my checks out loud, which is probably not a bad habit anyway, and I am pleased that I remembered all my RT calls. I think I rounded at base rather nicely and my descent on final and my round-out were good. It was incredibly exciting. It flew on longer, predictably, and leaning forward to ensure good length on my flare, I was able to brace my legs so that the nosewheel didn't shudder as I feared it might....and the touch-down was not bad at all - Cath actually said it was good! (steps back in amazement!). I let out a cheer, then turned and taxyed back to Neill, who was waiting with camera and congratulations.

I taxyed back to the hangar on my own and as I passed the fuel pumps I saw Cath and Dave holding up placards with marks out of ten :) and they were later joined by Stew for some more photos.

The drinks were on me in the Aviator.

Thanks to Stewart, Cath, Dave and Neill for sticking around to celebrate. But of course my greatest thanks go to Neill.


Sunday, 12 October 2008

Farm money saved

The day started badly, a one hundred mile ride through dark and fog, which is fine in a car with demisters and wipers, but on a bike it means condensation inside your visor and inside your specs too....and you can't get to either too easily at 70mph. One option is to hold your breath; not a good option.

So anyway, my first slot was cancelled due to fog, which covered the airfield, but had eventually cleared in time for my second slot at 1pm, after I'd had time to drop my saddle bags at the B&B and get my key - so no need to rush there at sunset if anyone wants to pub it. I also got a pastie and tin of soup at the co-op for tonight (kitchens not open on a Sunday).

While we were fog-bound Neill briefed me on unusual attitudes and dangerous manoeuvres; Ex.15 on the syllabus. It is so serious business that he gave me a call last night and primed me to read up on it in advance. The stated Aim is "To recognise potentially dangerous conditions of flight and to recover safely from unusual attitudes."

Basically, either you get these recoveries right or you have your wings ripped off and you buy the farm. Luckily, I did well and the farm money can go towards my first aeroplane instead. I won't have to do it again until the GST revision.

I am due in circuits from 5pm until sunset. Bugger....I added another good landing this pm and now have to do 17 more. It seems such a large number to get right.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

I am a phenomenon!

Neill says he's never known a student as odd as me: I fly better when it is rough than when it is smooth. My landings with cross-winds are better than in still air. He has asked other instructors if they have ever come across a phenomenon like me: I am great when it is hard and crap when it is easy.

Might it be because I am used to leaning against the wind (gauging when it will drop me and anticipating releasing pressure) when riding my motorbike, or is it, more likely, because I feel that a bad landing in rough weather can be more easily forgiven and this takes the pressure off me...and means I fly better?

Probably the latter. So, the best way to cope with this landing business has to be to care less about it. Just enjoy flying.


I managed to get myself really wound up yesterday because I have been doing myself no favours by comparing notes with others over soloing...and that exchange with Pete the Plane Crasher made it worse. However, I was encouraged to learn later that he actually soloed quite a long time after 30 hours, and Neill says I will be a lot safer once I do. That was very encouraging, as was the fact that Neill hadn't soloed by now either, and he is now a superb pilot. It is meaningless to compare notes because we all learn at our own rates.....and look how far I have come in only about 8 weeks.

Being even notionally competitive or self-critical over when you solo is a ridiculous obsession, when you think about it....not least of all because when you are doing it, you are putting yourself under pressure which is bound to affect performance.

Everyone has been at my stage....within an inch of getting it all right, over and over again. Consistency is the name of the game; the skills necessary to solo are all in place already. I have to do 20 good landings in a row. One duff one will zero my score. It is all about consistency.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Brilliance and crap!

Today I reached breaking-point in the air. As we climbed out of 210 and turned right into the cross-wind leg......I swore quite fluently and said "I am never going to get this", having flown yet another awful landing. Apparently, that put a smile on Neill's face. It is like hitting "the wall" on a marathon. That moment of crisis is the sign that you are breaking through it. Presumably it gets easier from here?

I have been flying what Neill calls a mixture of "brilliance and crap" and Stew says if I can find the average, I will be doing ok. That's the crux - consistency. Pete from Sackville made it worse by saying, "30 hours and you haven't soloed?", but then I pointed out that I haven't crashed an aeroplane either - which is what he did only a few weeks ago.

My last landing....just after the wall-breaker, followed the best circuit I have ever flown and was a beautiful one, Neill reckons, but you have to remember that, like any good teacher, he wants to be able to send me off on a high. One landing earlier in the day was apparently one he'd have been proud of himself....but others have been really dodgy.

It is pretty clear I am close to solo, which explains my tension-induced erraticism. I will fly a lot better when it is out of the way.

I have another lesson in a minute.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Waterproof on the inside

Today I discovered that my boots are only waterproof on the inside. They hold water very well. I squelched into the hangar and poured gallons out of my boots into a bucket. My suit stood up well but my tank bag let in water. Damn.

It was a miserable ride in torrential rain, the whole bloody hundred odd miles. And my horn kept going off, so either the toggle switch is loose or I think my new battery may be shorting. Don't really understand these things. Mind you, it was terrific having it fire up instantly for a change.

Neill said, "If he comes in this, he really is committed", so I suppose I must be. We spent the morning doing ground school, as the rain continued lashing down. It has stopped now and is gusting, but if I am to fly later I really must try and get my head down now. Been up since 5; it is now 2pm. Knackered already.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Neill's Grand Day Out

Cath (tug pilot) just sent me this link to a bloody funny Ben Ashman film of Neill (right) being taken hang-gliding by Stewart.
Dubbing by Ben Ashman

Make sure you have sound on.

Enjoy! :)


Thursday, 2 October 2008

"The best days of your life" - says Neill

Neill told me last weekend that he was pretty sure I'd be finished before January, the way we are progressing at the moment. He says he envies me these days of training, because just as people say that our schooldays are the best days of our lives, learning to fly - going through that huge learning process - is a rite of passage, flying-wise. He urged me not to wish it away, but to enjoy it. I'll miss it when it has gone, he says. And I know he is right.

It isn't just about me. It is very much a two man effort, and I really don't think that I could be doing this with a better bloke. I don't know why it is, but we totally click. What impresses me is that he said that because I am dedicated, he'd be dedicated to me...and so it has proved. Neill is no 9-5 instructor. He is there with me until the sun sets. We squeeze every ounce of flying out of a day.

He is a hell of a nice chap. He is obviously a fine pilot, as I saw from the back seat (went along for a met check) on Monday when he landed the Quik in what was the beginnings of "severe weather", yet he is self-deprecating with it. I respect the way he speaks admiringly of other pilots.

The training is going very well indeed and the end is now not so terribly far off, and Neill is right, I must not wish it away because these have been an absolutely fantastic couple of months and I know I will miss them when they are over.