Friday, May 20, 2005

KFS - Plain As the Nose on Your Face... NOT!

It is possible, through good navigation, to know you are directly over an airport... and still not be able to see it.

-- Kimm Viebrock
Soaring Mountains: Piloting tips applicable to everyday living

This was one of the earlier entries in the original Kimm's Flying School (you didn't think I was going to mention heading off this direction and not deliver, did you? Consider it a bonus, two-for-one day to make up for some of the delayed postings!). A lot of the entries come from the old sayings we used to toss around on the flight line back when I was a student and again later when I was an instructor. Pilots do a lot of hangar flying. I always understood that it was one way to learn and to pass on knowledge. Re-hash a flight - your own or somebody else's - often enough with enough heads on the matter and everyone will probably come out of the conversations with ideas for how to better handle similar situations in the future.

There's another component to hangar flying too that I may not have properly understood back then - by sorting out and categorizing all the "what if"'s, by identifying mistakes that somebody else made that we'd never make, by generally pulling it all to pieces and putting them back together again to find some other result than a bad landing, near-miss, or worse... we find in all of that some source of solace in dealing with the sometimes unpredictable nature and inherent riskiness of aviation. It is a way of dealing with ambiguity, something that geeks by nature tend to know a bit about too. We all have a need to feel in control of the sometimes uncontrollable.

This particular KFS entry comes from something along those lines - trying to understand my own experience. In flight school, navigation was one of the things I was good at. I still am flabbergasted that anyone could be in professional flight training, make a straight out departure from a runway and not be able to say (five minutes & no turns later) that the airport was directly behind them. I wouldn't believe it today if I hadn't been in the plane at the time.

I'm the complete opposite (for those navigationally impaired, that's a 180, not a 360!). One of the few people I know with a better sense of direction than mine - my father (two of the others are my spousal unit and my son; I'm getting the impression it could be genetic) - can be spun around blindfolded in a basement and still tell you which way is north. I'm not that good... but I am good enough that on one flight, I far exceeded any expectations in figuring out where I was after being blindfolded and flown around the countryside for a while.

Within five seconds of removing the blindfold, I was able to tell the instructor where we were. I picked it up so quickly because he had managed to fly me directly over my grandfather's ranch by mistake. That in itself was quite a feat given that it was a good 80 miles or so from where we'd started but I figured maybe it wasn't a fair test.

He said he was impressed anyway with my ability to figure out where I was given that I'd never seen that area from the air before. Although it did look a bit different from what I see when I'm on the ground there, what I think made it so much easier for me than it would have been for most people is that my sense of a place (even when I'm on the ground) is more than two dimensional. I actually do have at least some sense of what a place would look like from the air so that when I am up above it for real, it's still recognizable to me.

Having seen me do this made the instructor all the more amused the time we went looking for a small strip I hadn't yet been to. I navigated straight to it, told him (correctly) that we were right over it... but for some reason could not see the darned thing. He made me keep circling until I could point it out to him - how embarrassing!

I'm still not exactly certain why I couldn't find the airport. There were trees, yes, and a road nearby that kept drawing my eye. But the unmistakable strip of pavement with a windsock, a hangar and a plane or two... somehow I couldn't spot it. After many years in puzzlement over the matter I've decided that it's more useful to understand that this phenomenon occurs than it is to work out why that is. I've learned to expect it and that's been what's been helpful to me and more than once.

There are times when I do all the right things, take all the right steps and then sometimes I have to trust the process and the fact that the answer is right there in front of me, even if I don't see it. When I find myself there, I take a deep breath and resolve to spend some time shifting my perspective before I rush off to scrap the work that's already been done & start from scratch.

Trust the process, and the results will take care of themselves - providing of course that you carry enough fuel to keep you going while you work out that result part!

What is in front of you now that you're missing?