Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How Not to Kill Yourself Via Quebec

With that title, I'm not even remotely referring to issues, headaches, groans, or whatever negative effects Quebec Separatism causes. I'm talking about literally not killing yourself via impact into the physical ground of the province as a whole.

It sounds weird, but it's one of the ideas that pop into my head when I think about stalling an aircraft. I got a demonstration of it today, in my slow flight lesson. That in itself was nerve-wracking, because slow flight is the range of speed between endurance flight and stalling. You're flying the aircraft near the edge of a stall - i.e., as slow as you can go before your weight out-balances the lift of the wings. After that happens, you start falling. You're 'stalled.'

The word itself is interesting to me because traditionally it's always meant, to me, that you've stopped the engine of your car. In terms of flight and aviation, it has the same meaning - you've stopped flying - but the engine in the plane is still running. Divorcing those two is the only difference.

I've never been in a stall in the air before, excluding landing on the runway (it's the same thing, but you're inches off the ground in that case). Having never experienced it, I was anxious in holding the plane in the slow-flight attitude for fear of inducing a full stall. The stall-warning horn is sounding, the nose is pitched up, your speed is between forty and fifty knots. Just pull the throttle out to idle and pitch even higher, and you're falling. It's pretty easy to do so in that situation.

Of course, my instructor made sure to demonstrate a stall afterwards, so I still had to experience it.

This was after a couple of weeks of teasing and grinning. Once I'd become aware that stalls, spins, and spirals were all part of the training, I became apprehensive and worried about them. I asked questions over and over, all of which were similar: How hard is the force? How fast? Interestingly, everyone from my instructor to the dispatcher (also a pilot) waved them off as 'fun' and 'easy.'

I didn't know that for sure. In the days when Ottawa had an exhibition at the end of the summer, I always avoided the scary rides - specifically, rides that induce a lot of sudden G-force and physical movement, like roller coasters or those spinning-rotating things. The ferris wheel, for obvious reasons, was my favourite. I just wasn't up, in any possible way, for being spun or flung about or pulled downward. The one time my father took me, it was even worse because he got annoyed and put-off at my limited choice in rides.

The real worry I had, really, wasn't of falling necessarily, but of being pulled down by the much bigger, heavier aircraft. It's going to start falling a lot faster than I am; my terminal velocity is probably tiny compared to it. So as the end of the lesson came and the instructor, as I worried, told me he was going to demonstrate a stall, I braced myself as he went into slow flight, the horn started buzzing...and then the nose tipped forward.

For a brief second, the horizon sprung up beyond the windshield, and the trees and land of Quebec came up straight ahead. Then my instructor pushed forward on the column, added power, and immediately recovered.

I briefly sounded like I was struggling on the toilet - but it was so fast there wasn't any pull. We might as well have just dipped forward. In my mind, I was thinking, "okay. So, if that's it...can we do it again? To make absolutely sure?" Of course I didn't say that out loud.

I spent the rest of the day feeling a false sense of self-appreciation, because I lived through a mere flightless dip at an altitude of 3,500 feet that was controlled and recovered by an experienced pilot. I fell out of the sky, briefly. More like fell through the sky. More so, it was cool. I was heading straight at the provence of Quebec for a second. The practice area is north of Gatineau, around Wakefield. It was decided at likely thanks to favourably un-busy, empty airspace and a low urban density on the ground below. I guess the provincial or municipal government has an agreement with the school for use of that airspace, or perhaps that sort of thing is laid back at the interprovincial level. I find it slightly funny that, at least for Rockcliffe, students learn to fly in the province next door. At least it isn't in French. Are residents aware that light aircraft often stall or do spins or spirals over their land? Maybe some have binoculars so they can watch the students avoid killing themselves via their trees or property. Another thing that amuses me is our often close proximity to land that is actually owned by my grandfather; imagine performing a spin over that?

Today was just a quick demonstration; my next lesson is literally just stalling, where I have to intentionally stall the plane - and then recover. No doubt the end of that lesson will also feature a spin demonstration - where the plane is stalled and spun around on all its axis. Pitching, yawing, and rolling all at once. That'll be something. They say it's fun. Perhaps it actually is; I worried so much about stalling only to find it's a simple dip forward (that kind of stall, anyway) that's as long as you let it last (so preferably as brief as possible) At least I'll learn how to avoid hitting Quebec - and, more importantly, Ontario, Canada, and anywhere else I fly when I'm not landing. For now, it starts with the province next door.

Red Cloud
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