Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Penguin Finally Earns Her Wings

TTU Plane at Sparta Airport, TN
"Stall an airplane at the wrong time, and it's a crash.  Stall it at the right time, and it's a safe landing."

This is how my FAA ground school instructor opened today's inaugural ground school class.  One of the perks of TTU Aviation membership is free ground school instruction, so two minutes later I was reaching for my credit card (Membership also included the 2012 FAA manual for ground school, my first empty log book, and a really snazzy cool yellow membership card without lamination with my name in red marker). 

I already had hours from flying years ago, but since I was grounded due to an inner-ear problem and then ran out of funds, and regulations have changed so quickly along with the planes themselves, I decided to start from the beginning again, and one of the perks of being one of my Twits is that you get to read about every hair-raising, joy-inducing and mind-numbingly-boring moment as they happen.

Space Shuttle Atlantis in its final rollout to launch pad
at Kennedy Space Center, July 2011
I guess my love of flying came from my dad and his side of the family.  Our cousin Gary was an air-traffic controller for the Navy and then the private sector for twenty years (he refers to the both of us as "a couple of fixed-wing nuts" since he has his private pilot certification, too), eventually becoming a supervisor.  My great Uncle Elmer (now deceased) was head mechanic for San Francisco Int'l airport, and his son retired from the same position.  Then I've bored everyone with tales of my great Uncle Keith (also deceased) who worked at McDonnell-Douglas in Saint Louis, on the team of aerospace engineers who designed the original Space Shuttle.

Then there's my dad.  Poor eyesight precluded his fulfilling his dream of flying rotary-wing aircraft (helicopters), but an insatiable love of them didn't preclude his talking about them incessantly, and I think it sort of rubbed off.  (Psst:  Don't tell him, but I plan to surprise him next October 4 on his birthday by chartering a plane, landing on the hill of a nearby farm and then taking him up and letting him fly again.  That's been another little bucket list item of mine and I can't wait.  I'll post later where to send flowers.)

If you've never been at the controls of a fixed-wing aircraft, flying is like a secret no one else knows.  Feeling the G-forces as you manoeuver, knowing the risks of flying beyond the specifications and limitations of the craft (just because you've always wanted to know what it's like to fly through a Cumulus cloud and feel alive when that lightning strikes your head), being fully prepared for what to do if you lose an engine on your twin-engine Cessna, while losing attitude control, while you're low on fuel, and all while discovering that you've suddenly run out of Twinkies.

It's. a. rush.  Well, not the Twinkie part, but follow along.

I was under the impression that there were five classificatons of pilot licenses:  Private without instruments (single-engine), private with instruments (single-engine), private double-engine land, private double-engine water, and commercial (where you could fly for a major carrier like American Airlines).

Man, I hate to be wrong.  Classes are:

  • Grade - determines the kinds of flying a pilot can do
    • Student Pilot - local solo training flights without passengers (I will have this as soon as next week)
    • Recreational Pilot - local uncontrolled day flights 1 passenger
    • Private Pilot - flights worldwide with passengers, non-profit (I will have this after my first solo flight in eight-ten hours from now of in-plane time with my instructor)
    • Commercial Pilot - paid flying allowed, can be airline copilot (Think bush pilots of Alaska)
    • Airline Transport Pilot - paid flights, can be airline captain
  • Ratings - what aircraft a pilot can fly and how - VFR or IFR
    • Category - Airplane, Glider, Rotorcraft, Lighter Than Air...
    • Class - eg Airplane Single or Multi Engine Land/Sea
    • Type - needed for each turbojet or heavier than 12,500 lbs
    • Instrument - separate for each Class and Type Rating

VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules (Flying only by visual ground cues; something you can't use, for instance, while your city suffers the effects of hurricane Lee [!]), and IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules (You need to know how to fly by instruments if you wish to fly at night, solo, or even get your water certificate; if you wish to fly into Nashville Airport, you don't need IFR because it's a Class-A airport, but if you wish to fly into Atlanta, then you need to have your instrument rating or else they will deny you permission to land, because they're a Class-B airport.)

Over the next three or four months, follow my weekly account as I relate to you the struggles of juggling a busy Astrophysics/Applied Mathematics schedule with additional book training for passing my Private Pilot certificate, while dealing with Systemic Lupus and Fibromyalgia and debilitating fatigue sometimes so severe I can't hold a fork.

And don't forget the Twinkies.  Will keep you fully updated on the supply.

This has been my dream since I was a kid--to hold a Commercial and eventual ATP Certificate.  So what's an Astrophysicist who also holds advanced degrees in Applied Mathematics want with a license to fly idiot people on jumbo jets cross-country?

It's all about the flight, baby.

And I'll end with my favourite DaVinci quote about flying:

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."


  1. Way to go! I keep crashing my Piper Cub in Microsoft Flight Simulator, so I guess I will stay on the ground. But I will be there in spirit, oh maybe that's the wrong word to use in this context.


    1. I am so embarrassed to say that it's now 4 years later, and I didn't ever get a notice anyone had replied!

      The club disband shortly after this, but thanks for your well-wishes. Again, my apologies. :(