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Tag: pilot

Over and out: Waterville Airport

People in an airplane.

Taking my family for a flight at the Waterville Airport, NS.

A tiny airport in Nova Scotia is closing and for many of you reading this blog it won’t mean a thing. But for me, it’s where I first learned to check the oil, feel the wings for dents and bruises, kick the tires and then…fly.

The Waterville/Kings County Municipal Airport has been operating since the late 1970s. The aerodrome is in a nice little spot with its runway right in the middle of the Annapolis Valley. Sometimes the high hills (or North and South Mountain as Bluenosers call them) capture the fog and keep it prisoner in the early morning. Eventually it escapes and seeks refuge in the Bay of Fundy, sitting just over North Mountain. A few years ago I got stuck in the air in that dawn summer mist but that’s another story. For now, I’ll let other memories soar.

A few years ago, in the beginning of this millennium, I moved back to Nova Scotia from Alberta to become a pilot. I had been working as a journalist at a television station and needed a change. (TV isn’t the glamorous job you think it is.) Since I was young, I had always wanted to fly. When I was seven I saw my uncle’s airplane parked at his Winnipeg house and that was that. I wanted to go up in the air.

Learning to fly was cheaper in Nova Scotia, half the cost of Calgary. I moved back in with my parents and got a job at one of the two flight schools at Waterville. I become a part-time receptionist and hired hand helping out with planes.

I spent hours at the flight centre and often had two lessons a day. My very first flight was on a sunny spring day. My instructor Mark and I squeezed into the cockpit of a two-seater Cessna 150, XBR (or X-Ray Bravo Romeo). There was almost no room to move in the 150 but as we rolled onto the runway, it didn’t seem to matter.

Cessna 150.

The first airplane I flew – Cessna 150 XBR – at the Waterville Airport, NS.

Mark took the Cessna up into the air and as soon as we were levelled off – he handed me the wheel.

“You have control,” he said.

“I have control,” I said and pointed the red striped plane north. I flew us to the training area near the house where I grew up. Once I spotted it, a green roof sticking out of the brown forest, I circled a few times, looking almost right into my bedroom. It was a strange thought that, just an hour ago, I was in that room. Bound to the floor. Now here I was, in the air, hanging over my home.

I flew back to Waterville, picking out the runway with ease. It’s right beside the extra-large Michelin tire plant, which is why the airport is now relocating as the factory is expanding. I didn’t land the plane that first flying lesson, Mark did that. Landing for me would come later and I would only learn after a few “crash landings.”

Flying for me wasn’t about the freedom I hear many other pilots describe. It wasn’t about being higher than the ravens and the hawks and the eagles. It wasn’t about escaping earth. For me it was about fulfilling a life time goal. It was about doing something I aspired to do and never thought I would ever have the chance. Getting my private pilot’s licence meant the future was wide open and I could do anything I wanted.

During the year I was learning to fly, 9/11 happened. The airline industry faltered and it was hard for people to find flying jobs. Since then I’ve been taking a few commercial training flights even though it’s expensive and time-consuming. One day I would like to complete that goal too. One day.

With the closure of the Waterville Airport comes the end of flying lessons, parachute courses, ground school and many other things connected to aviation. But it’s not the end of the memories of taking off runway 28 and shooting straight into the sky, a blue sky when the weather is perfect.

“I have control.”

Learning to land

Me landing at the Waterville Airport, NS.

Me landing at the Waterville Airport, NS. That plane is a 172.

It’s pretty cool knowing how to fly an airplane. Being able to be the person to take the plane off the ground. And being the person who puts the wheels back on the ground. I’m one of those people. I have my private pilot’s licence and I learned at the controls of a Cessa 150 over Nova Scotia.

The 150 is a two-seater. It’s a small airplane the catches every breath of wind and can be pushed to and fro if you let it. The cockpit is tiny and makes you feel like you’re part of the machine. This is needed if you’re trying to learn how to land. Something I didn’t excel at.

I always had trouble with landings. No matter how much I practiced, I just couldn’t see the runway properly. I was either too high or too low or too fast or too slow. The little Cessna-150, two-seater, wanted more time in the sky.

My instructor told me to look down the runway. I was trying too hard to park my Cessna like a car. I wanted that spot right there and I was going to get it. But it doesn’t work that way. You have to let your airplane decide where it wants to go. Finally, one day we clicked and we both found the earth at the same time.

Next step: learning how to land without the runway. Forced landings are important to a pilot. If your plane ever runs into trouble, you must know how to get it down quickly and safely wherever you are. You have to learn how to land on anything.

After an engine failure in flight, the best glide speed, 60 knots, should be established as quickly as possible. This will help the airplane maintain altitude until a safe landing can be made.

-Pilot Knowledge Handbook-

Sixty knots. That’s the speed my airplane has to be set at in order to make an emergency – forced — landing safely. To alight on a field, an iced lake, an abandoned road. To be able to glide from the air without any power.  Only hope.

A pilot should always be on constant attention and look for alternative landing sites in case of emergency and he can’t make his destination.

-Pilot Knowledge Handbook-

This pilot is a she.

My flight instructor took me over the fields of Canning. He taught me how to pick a spot where a two-seater could land. These places can be anything from a meadow to a country road. There are a few telltale signs that signal danger. Things like telephone poles wreak havoc on wings. Deep furrows in pastures can flip the Cessna.

“God help you if you have to land in trees or water,” my instructor says.

I picture myself being propelled into the top of an evergreen. I picture myself drowning in clear water surrounded by thousands of full bubbles.

My instructor pulls the throttle out all the way out. That stops the motor. A few gurgles from the motor and the plane is free flying.

The propeller continues to turn with the wind. I have a few seconds to make my choice of where I am to land. If I don’t make the decision soon, I will be dead. In theory.

The pilot should always pick a proper landing area. One that is not too far or too close. One that will not provide the pilot with new problems.

-Pilot Knowledge Handbook-

Look to the left. Look to the right. Look straight in front of me. There are maybe three spots I can put plane down. One seems to be too far. The other too close. Perhaps…that one will do.

I set the plane for its glide speed at 60. I concentrate on keeping the knots at the correct pace. I try and estimate the distance to the chosen field. It’s zooming closer and closer. The strip I’ve chosen looks to be OK. No poles in the way. No trees. No plough has disturbed the grass. I can land there.

Or can I?

Floating quickly towards the point I’ve picked, I put about 10 degrees of flaps on. Will this slow me down enough and bring me to my spot?

Flaps are high lift devices. Flaps can also slow the airplane down and make it easier to make your mark.

-Pilot knowledge Handbook-

“Flaps are a girl’s best friend!” is what I’m heard saying a lot. They make you fall fast and drag you down. Perfect when you’re landing.

The crude runway is approaching. Faster and faster and faster. The roar of the engine makes me believe my plane is a lion. I need to tame it so I put more flaps on. 20 degrees. We sink. The Cessna settles into its glide speed. I don’t try to take control. It’ll come. I’ll land when I’m ready.

 

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