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  • Dyfrig Gibbs

The progression paradigm

PA28 Warrior

It's 22:10. Five hours ago I was sat at my desk in my cycling get up, ready to bolt for the door. Bella is working tonight: when this is the case I like to leave smack on 5pm at the latest. This gives us a 10 minute window to share any important/relevant news from our days before she wheel spins out of our sleepy suburb and I embark on bribing Aria to eat some food, and Bear not to throw it at me.

Today we had a course running in one of the classrooms, and I was the last member of staff in the building. I couldn't very well kick em out, so I got changed and carried on writing emails and contacting students. At 17:15 they started filing out. Four minutes later the building was empty, secure and I was emerging from it like Adrian Brownly emerges from the sea and vaulting onto my bike. Twenty minutes, and 7 miles later I was disembarking like Johnny Brownly at the end of that infamous race. Bella opened the door for me and departed swiftly through it.

Catching my breath and perspiring like a squeezed sponge I survey the situation. Bear is shouting at the door whilst sat in a puddle of his pee and Aria is trying to re-catch her pet baby toad that is trying to make a break for it. Bella has prepared dinner, she's literally wonder woman, I swear it. The next four hours of this evening are absorbed in the dinner show, bath time, story time, bed time and the clean up operation. On a good evening this can be achieved by 21:00.

21:00 will soon signify time to addle my brain with polar stereographic charts, lift equations, vectors, trigonometry and the jet stream: ATPL study.

Soon, because I'm tantalisingly close to actually qualifying as a Private Pilot: tantalisingly close and at the same time frustratingly far. I took last week off work in an attempt to finish my PPL. I started the week on about 33 hours and well aware there were so many factors that would make completing my PPL in that week a long shot, but it didn't stop me hoping it would be possible. The weather, my own rate of progression and a healthy dose of time pressure in certain instances contrived to see me fall short of ticking all the boxes for PPL issue. I did get 12 hours of flying done, some that was half decent and some that was far from slick. During the week I felt the exact same emotion I felt whilst learning to snowboard, elation at the sensation that I had it mastered, only for it to be replaced the very next day by complete ineptitude. The experience and knowledge that mastery will prevail does nothing to sooth the frustrations of making mistakes.

Our human reaction to these processes and the relationship between them is odd really: you cannot have mastery without mistakes, they are absolutely integral to progression and achieving a desired standard, but when we make a mistake we don't immediately feel great that we've made a big step forward in our development - it feels blinking awful, and generally I beat myself up about them - I wish I didn't. A friend of mine, currently on type-rating with a well known Low Cost Carrier, was telling me how wonderful they are this week, and that they have a really fantastic open, honest and fair culture that allows pilots the freedom to admit their mistakes, allowing others to learn from them. Even to the extent that a Captain that performed a Go-Around and subsequently a visual circuit at 425 ft with a 55 degree angle of bank when turning base, just got a little demotion. His explanation for his action: he couldn't honestly say, he just did it. There's hope for us all.

The absolute pinnacle of my week, was last Tuesday: the weather was glorious, I had been told the previous afternoon that if it was, I'd be doing my Qualifying Cross Country. Your QXC (to give it it's obligatory aviation acronym) is generally the last big hurdle before skills test. It requires you to fly solo at least 150NM and land at two separate airfields from the one you took off from. I flew to Shobdon on the English/Welsh border, near Leominster then on to Turweston, that sits right next to Silverstone race track. In all honestly the flight could do with having a proper post dedicated to it, but to summarise, it was almost entirely bereft of mistakes and certainly signified a moment of absolute confidence in my abilities to command a light aircraft: It was nearly 3 hours of flying that was as equally rewarding as it was beautiful beholding the lush green British summer morning from my solitary vantage point.

It's going to be a joy sharing that vantage point - if anyone can accept my mistakes that is.

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