Archive for September, 2013

Private Pilot Mason

Flying Collage.001

I’m very excited to report that I passed my Private Pilot flight test this weekend! I’m not quite a licensed pilot yet—I still have to do a long cross country flight with an instructor, and then the same flight on my own. This mostly involves not getting lost, though, so it’s more about getting it done than anything else. The flight test is definitely the hard part.

I didn’t ace the test, no pilot prodigy here. In fact I “partialled” the exam by failing one of the exercises. In “slow flight” you deliberately fly the plane at its minimum controllable speed, just above the stall. It’s a great exercise because every time you land you’re doing the same thing. You fly slow, add power, and avoid stalling. Except in my exam, and for the first time ever, I stalled it. That’s an automatic fail. It was really odd, it was quite near the beginning of the test, and somehow it took the pressure off. I passed everything else—including making the field in the dreaded engine-failure forced approach—and when we got back my instructor (and everyone else) was really confused. “He stalled it in slow flight?!?”

Fortunately if you mess up on only one or two exercises you can do a partial re-ride and test just those (although if you fly like crap you can fail on things you had previously passed). So I went back up with my instructor for literally 15 minutes, got permission from Calgary Terminal to do the exercise in controlled airspace, landed, and went and did it again with the examiner. Passed!

The final week preparing for this was unfortunately less fun than the other flying. Everyone at home got sick including me, and I was honestly just barely holding it all together until the flight test. Now that it’s over I feel a huge relief, a sense of accomplishment, and no small amount of sadness. This summer has been a dream come true. I’ve been flying nearly every day, working hard but enjoying it immensely, and now it’s over. In reality this is theĀ start of my flying career but it’s also coming up to the end of my sabbatical and back to “real life.” In a lot of ways I’m sad to go back to reality.

I owe a debt to several people for making this happen. Firstly to my wife Michelle for putting up with the kids while I cavorted around in a dinky little plane for the summer. To the kids, for putting up with Daddy spending all his time flying. To ThoughtWorks, whose ten year sabbatical program gave me the time to actually do this. To Sid Pinney for his encouragement and pilot advice. And finally to Carley, a great instructor who demanded high standards and who is one of my new aviation friends. I couldn’t have done it without all of your help. Thank you.


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mike on September 30th 2013 in Flying

Going Solo


This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long time.

As a ten year veteran at ThoughtWorks, I’ve been able to take advantage of a three month sabbatical to really focus on the flying. Trying to learn a new thing is pretty tiring. I’ve spent my days both going flying and studying the ground school, and by the end of the day I’m knackered! The good news is that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel—I’ve finished ground school and practice exams and I “just” need to take the real exam now.

About a week ago I got frustrated with progress. I was practicing landings in the circuit, but wasn’t very consistent. I’d have a session where my first landing of the day was awesome, and then they would be really variable. Took a ride with a senior instructor and he told me the secret—any pilot telling you they “greased it” three times in a row is fibbing—no-one is that consistent, everyone has good landings and bad landings. The key is to make sure they’re all safe. Maybe this was the dose of reality I needed, but my landings have been a lot better since then. Not 100% consistent, but some really good ones in there with those that are the “safe but not perfect” variety.

I’ve been held up for about ten days waiting for my Transport Canada medical paperwork. This is required to have a student pilot permit, which enables you to solo. Very frustrating to be stuck waiting on paperwork, but it finally came through. I went up and did some circuits with my instructor, and to be brutally honest the day started off pretty badly! Took me a long time to get warmed up and comfortable, but eventually I got to do one on my own.


Springbank Air Training College has a tradition of “bucketing” students who successfully solo — the picture above is me getting dunked. It was very nerve wracking to be up in the sky on my own, knowing that I’m the person who has to get this thing back on the ground safely. But I made it, and with a pretty decent landing too. I’d give myself 8/10!

I shot some video of the solo, more for my benefit than anyone else’s. It doesn’t seem that fast when you’re coming in to land and looking forward, but this view makes it look really fast. I guess a landing is around 75 MPH.

This is a big step in my training and things will hopefully progress rapidly from here. I’ve got about a month left before I have to get back to my real job, so fingers crossed the weather holds and I can become a real pilot!

First solo thumbnail

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mike on September 3rd 2013 in Flying