Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lets start at the start.

   So, I decided to start a blog.

  How incredibly trendy.

  Actually, been meaning to do it for awhile. Now, it seems I will be spending the summer away from my wife, family and friends, so I thought it might be a half-decent way of keeping folks abreast of my daily doings ( without the sometimes .... ok, I admit it....most of the time ) seemingly insurmountable effort involved in reaching out to my geographically scattered family on an individual basis.

  That being said, I fully intend on keeping up with everyone, but I suspect this summer will hold more than a few adventures for me, and I'd just bore you all to tears telling stories about it after. This way, you can pre-empt me and simply say...I've read the blog.... and I'll know instantly that most of the good stories have been told already.

  Most of this blog will be public as well, for friends, co-workers, colleagues and curious bystanders to read as well. So.... there will be a certain anonymity that I am going to try and maintain. I will not mention my name, nor my employers name or location. Those who know me, even peripherally, will probably be able to put it together within a short while as to who and where...but the curious bystanders, while I think I will enjoy sharing my experiences with them, I'd like to reserve the right to be anonymous to them for now anyways. 

  Today also marked a major milestone for me.  Today, I passed my Commercial Pilots Flight Test. 

  Pending a little bit of paperwork and Transport Canada's imperious wave over the envelope of offerings I send to them, I am now a Commercial Pilot.

  I've been working towards this day for the last 2.5 years. Hmm. I should correct that. I happen to be in a code-sharing agreement with The Lovely Wife ( TLW )  and she bore more than a little of the sacrifices, financial and otherwise, that were made to get here. So, We've been working on this for 2.5 years.

  October of 2006, we sat down and started talking about life, dreams and directions. We had both just finished a 2-year sojourn into self-employment that had failed to give us the lifestyle and income we had hoped it would. 

  By the end of that month, I had signed up at a local Flight Training Unit ( FTU ) and started down the road towards my Private Pilots Licence. It's something I had always wanted to do, even since I was a little kid. But somehow, it always seemed out of reach. Digging into it a little more, beneath the romanticized cliches and movie-stereotypes, there actually lurks a relatively blue-collar profession that can be done by most people. Not that its easy, but it's within reach for more people than it might seem at first glance.

  So, by December, and 10 hours of dual instruction later, I solo'd a little Cessna 152, very similar to the one depicted above...ok REALLLY similar to that one.... And I was off, albeit a little slowly..

  The Private Pilots License ( PPL ) took me just over a year to accomplish. I did it all in the mighty C152, a two-seater basic trainer aircraft. I did it part-time, evenings, weekends, that kind of thing, which tended to drag the process out a little bit. At the time, movement within the industry was fairly brisk, and I switched instructors twice, as my instructors moved on to bigger and better things. It took me just over 80 hours to complete the PPL.

  After the PPL was issued, I now had the privilege of carrying passengers. Immediately following getting the license, I had a fairly lengthy list of people to whom I had promised rides once I had my ticket.  Between the PPL and the Commercial Pilots Licence ( CPL ) there is a little bit of "extra" flight time that is not devoted to any particular discipline of aviation. Its not instrument-practice, its not practising specific maneuvers, nor anything else in particular. Its commonly referred to as " Time Building ".

  Just a quick note for anyone else working towards their commercial..and this is my experience only, your results may vary... I figured I had at least 50 hours or so of time building to do. So, I took friends and family up for rides and trips, heck I would take anyone who wanted to go, I even took a few random airport-guys and other pilots in training that I had just met up on spontaneous trips. Now that I have completed the licence, I found that the " time-building " portion was ....not wasted....but definitely not as productive as it could have been.

  Don't get me wrong, I got into this because I love flying. Anytime I'm in an aircraft, or planning a flight, or even just talking about, the part of my brain dedicated to things-I-like is lit up like a Christmas tree. So no trip was truly wasted. However, as part of a training syllabus, and working on a limited budget ( flight training / aircraft rental is NOT cheap. ), that time could have been planned out a little better.

  But, it was part of the experience as a whole, I have no regrets, only lessons learned.

  So, in short, my advice to a new pilot with a fresh PPL and a nice chunk of " time building " awaiting him; save it for last. dive straight into your night/IFR/Multi/CPL course, whichever you are doing, get the licence done, all the ratings finished, then have a look at whats left for minimum time. Another 50 hours? sweet! have some fun!

  But, if you have delays, or your training is interrupted, or you just plain need more time to get up to standards on a certain part of your flying, you will be happy to have those "extra" hours in the bank to use towards training. I finished the whole shebang a little over 20 hours later than I had hoped. Not too bad, but I could have used a few of the dollars I spent sightseeing on training instead and it would have been a little bit more practical. 

Like I said, no regrets, just some learning that occurred after the fact.

  One thing I did do with my time building time, that was practical, was to take some lessons from a local Float Plane outfit. I did the basic "float" rating, and then spent some time taking additional instruction from their experienced instructors on how to really operate a float plane. The rating just barely covers the basics in the 7 hours mandated by Transport Canada ( TC ).

  I like to look at flying as many different " specialties ". There are quite a few people who simply want to fly airliners, there are others who want to be fire-bombers, others that want to fly helicopters, or balloons, or low-level survey planes, crop dusters, etc, etc.  I want to fly float planes. I want to fly people who are as happy to be on the plane as I am to be flying them, taking them places they want to go, in the way they WANT to go there.  I want to fly in the environment I love, the bush. I want to walk around my plane and hear the gravel crunch under my feet, hear the wind in the trees, a coyote loping across my runway...hey! get off MY runway! ...sorry, I kind of drifted off there. But you get the idea. 

  So, I took some additional float training in my "time building"*, as this was the " specialty " I had chosen. I have float hours in my logbook now, not a lot, but more than the bare minimum.  Float planes are not cheap to rent, so it was an investment in training that I hoped would give me a little bit of an edge when it came time to be job searching for that first job.

* Sorry to keep on " quoting " the term Time Building, but its a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I don't like the term, as to me it kind of implies flying without purpose and without any learning going on, simply burning fuel to make an entry in a logbook. That's not how it works out, there is ALWAYS something learned on every flight and to imply otherwise makes me cringe a little.

  So, back to the training.... a couple months back, back when we were still very much in the grip of winter, here in the Great White North, I started to look for a job. Most float flying operations revolve around a summer fishing season, where tourists book a holiday in the back-country, and are flown out to the cabins in float planes.  

  As the winter is when these operations plan and prepare for their busy, busy summers, I wanted to be sending out resumes when they were looking for people, not in the summer when they were too busy running their show to bother with some low-time / no-time pilot bugging them for a job. My dilemma was...I didn't have a CPL licence yet....what to do.... 

  I imagine that from an employers point of view, there must be a ton of resumes crossing your desk every year. Most of them from guys as green as me. Not much experience in how things really work, not much experience in telling you what you want to hear, and possibly, telling you things you don't want to hear, inadvertently.

  So you get a resume from some guy, who doesn't even have a licence? ha ha. garbage can.

  But, I swallowed my pride and did it anyway. At the very least, I figured, it would give me a reason to send out a followup email once the licence was in hand. 

  I sent out almost 200 resumes by email, attached to a fairly generic "cover-page" email outlining my situation and a couple extra points tailored o the specific operation. 

  I got about 20 responses total. 15 of them were, thanks but no thanks, good luck, too early, you don't have enough experience, we're full up, good-bye.

  Out of the other 5, 2 of them were for dockhand jobs at outfits that no longer had their own planes and sub-contracted the transport end of their operation over to an air service. Thus my exposure to the world of float flying would be to watch them come and go while I tended to bags, lawn mowers, beer cases and coolers. Sorry, I explained, I really am trying to break into a flying job, and I need to be a little closer to the cockpit than that, but thanks anyway.

  The other three were of a little more interest, and all resulted in a phone interview;

#1  offered my a job as an all-round type guy for a lodge waaaaay up north...like no more tree's north. their season was incredibly small, less than three months total, including set-up and wind-up operations. I would be assisting the pilot in dock/loading/grunt jobs revolving around the operation of their turbine otter aircraft.  No flight time possible, but it would be good experience in how a lodge operation works and their would be some opportunity to learn about the other parts of operating an aircraft, other than wiggling the controlly bits.

#2 kind-of, sort-of offered my a dispatcher position for a good-sized float operation. Their would not be any flying involved, but a lot of learning about the admin side of things. Their was the implied promise as well that the following season, I would be considered for a dockhand or pilot position as they only hire from within for these coveted spots. The offer wasnt explicitly offered, but I got the feeling that if I expressed genuine interest in it and followed up with them a little more aggressively, I could have had it.
#3 Was an offer of pilot/dockhand for an outfit with a couple of planes, one of which is a DeHavilland Otter ( Piston Engine ).  The amount of actual flight time would not be great, and would most likely come in the form of dead legs and freight runs on the smaller planes, but there would be some flying. Mostly however, there would be learning. The employer stressed that the main benefit to me of this job would be that they would take the time to teach me how things operate in the real world.

  You can probably read the bias already, and know that I took #3. 

  The pay would not be great, but lodging would be included. 

  Being away from The Lovely Wife for an entire summer was going to be difficult, for both of us. We had talked about this possibility when we made the choice to specialize in floats. It was on the table as an unpleasant but very possible side effect of the first couple years of cutting my teeth in this business, that the work would be seasonal, it would be far away, it would involve me living in camp and it would not be able to support both of us cutting roots to try and survive in a small town for a summer.

  So, back to today... Licence is ready ( thankfully, well before the operation starts up ) and I'm getting ready to start out.

   That's the back story. 

  From here out, I'm going to try and update this as often as possible. You have a little idea of where I'm coming from and where I'm going...

  Now, just to clarify, most of the stuff you will read on here is the view of a VERY inexperienced pilot. I have yet to fly an aircraft for hire and I have only the very basic, minimum training as prescribed by law to be able to operate an aircraft. I have A LOT to learn. But I'm loving the learning so far and it seems like this about to take on a whole new dimension as far as quantity and quality as well.

  You should consider most of what I write on here to be tailored to be read by someone who has very little aviation knowledge Those pilots with any sort of experience will I'm sure find some entertainment in my naive notions and greenhorn ideas.... If I've truly entertained you by my inexperience, drop a tip in my jar, maybe a comment as to how you would do things differently or what your experience was. 

Its only fair, right? I've given you a chuckle.. you kind of owe me.



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