I took a six month break from flying — basically, work, a long wait for new fuel caps at my annual, and a family vacation in London (UK) got in the way. I also managed to prove the third rule of aviation (after the large-fortune and old-bold pilots ones):
You can have enough time to fly, or enough money to fly, but not both.
Changes in work
Consulting work has been wonderful crazy busy for me and pretty-much every other consultant I know, whether in IT, business, aid work, development, or what-have-you. Canada barely got brushed by the recession that devastated the US in 2008-09 (with record-high property prices in most of our big cities, it may be that our bubble just hasn’t burst yet). The problem is that my customers are mostly in Canada and the UK now — the US economy isn’t so great, remember — so I don’t have work excuses to fly down to Boston, NYC, Washington, etc. like I used to.
I’ve never taken such a long break before. After six months away from flying, bad things start to happen:
- You can’t fly IFR, because you have to have done six hours real/simulated IMC and six approaches within the last six months (the infamous 6-6-6).
- You can’t carry passengers at night, because you have to have done five takeoffs and landings at night within the last six months.
- You can’t carry passengers during the day, even other pilots, because you have to have done five takeoffs and landings (any time) within the last six months.
Recency Regained (part 1)
So now it’s a matter of crawling my way out of the hole, milestone by milestone, until I can get back to my regular IFR/cross-country kind of flying. I started by calling my flying buddy Mike Hopkinson and asking for an intervention, and he complied by texting me last Saturday to remind me to get to the @#$% airport and then meeting me after his shift on dispatch. I uncovered the plane, made some stupid mistakes trying to start it (yes, it does help to check the fuel cutoff), recharged the battery that I drained, then did my normal post-maintenance checks:
- Long, thorough preflight, including control movements.
- Confirm that the engine compartment is clean (I even took a picture for before/after comparison).
- Do a 5-minute lean ground-runup, and watch for anomalies.
- Do a high-speed taxi down the runway to check what happens as the controls become effective.
- Shut down and search for stains, leaks, cracks, or anything else that shouts DON’T FLY!
- Start up again and fly circuits, always within gliding distance of the runway.
- Shut down and repeat the stain/leak/crack checks.
The plane passed with flying colours (so to speak — my paint scheme is drab), and I managed five touch-and-go landings in a crisp cross-wind, progressing from “what-the-hell-was-that?” on the first to “now I’ll gently lower the nosewheel exactly on the centreline” on the fifth. It turns out the the rules make sense — 5 really is the magic number, and now I was legal to carry passengers in day VFR.
Victory lap to Toronto and back
As soon as I was done that and mentioned it on Facebook, my older daughter asked me if I could pick her up in Toronto and bring her home for a break from her studies at U of T. It grated to be a VFR-only pilot, but the weather on Friday co-operated beautifully, so I managed to get 4 hours of proper cross-country flight time (3.6 hours air time) on a beautiful spring day. I was ridiculously nervous beforehand, but on the day of, my flying and radio work through the busy Ottawa and Toronto airspace was fine, and the flight was as boring and uneventful as I want all my flights to be (my rule is that the only excitement in flying should come from the scenery outside the window). No new milestones from that flight, but I feel confident now to start back into the night and IFR work — 2 more milestones to go.