I've been working on my night rating, you see, and between kids and work schedules and official nightfall (Note to self: Night rating in summer? Bad idea!!), I've got to fly whenever I can. This weekend, I had two child-free evenings in a row when my partner -- who also happens to be my flight instructor -- was available, too, and so I jumped on them.
Coincidentally, it's also Canada Day weekend, which means that as soon as the sun goes down, the fireworks start!
Nevertheless, I am determined to get this darned night rating done. More specifically, I have to build some solo time, and -- as the winds were calm and pretty much right down the runway -- off we went to the airport, so that Tats could send me solo ("and do more than two circuits this time!", she scolded).
It's an odd relationship, the one between pilot and controller. Other than a call sign (my aircraft's and his "ground" or "tower"), we don't know one another's names.
And yet, he is my everything!
As a student pilot especially, one often thinks the controller is God-like, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent when flying in controlled airspace. (Being in the unique position of having a partner who spent a few years with Nav Canada, I have seen behind the proverbial curtain, so I know that's not entirely so in real life. Nevertheless, it felt comforting to hear a confident, familiar voice in my headphones as I prepared to do my first full solo night flight without a dual beforehand.)
The nameless controller took good care of me last night. Although I was primarily alone in the circuit, there was lots of traffic in the zone, as everyone within a 50 mile radius and access to an aircraft seemed to want to come to Toronto for a "city tour" and to watch the fireworks at precisely 9:45 - 10:30, which was when I was flying circuits!
While I struggled to achieve and maintain appropriate altitude and heading for different legs of the circuit without being distracted by fireworks to the east and west of the field (and at one point in the centre of the field, when fireworks apparently formed part of "Electric Island", currently underway at Hanlan's point!!), the controller managed the surrounding traffic with a remarkably calm grace. As much as possible, he exuded an air of accommodating professionalism when able, and was firm but kind when the sky over the city became saturated with as many small aircraft as could be safely accommodated, and he had to turn other hopefuls away. And on top of it all, he cleared me to touch and go before I called him on base for almost every circuit I flew!
As someone keenly interested in the human/social science part of aviation, I struggled to focus on the practicalities of my circuits while my mind wandered to marveling at this guy's ability to juggle it all, and my eyes wandered towards at the fireworks on either side of me.
I also tried to surreptitiously snap a photo of the beautiful light show using my iphone, which is actually a huge no-no when you are flying solo. I didn't really focus on the photography, and so the few pics I got ended up just looking like a colourful blobby mess of lights!
After a particularly bumpy landing and some tongue-tied radio work, I decided to call it a night, and requested a full stop.
It wasn't a perfect flight from a piloting perspective, but thanks largely to the calm, confident voice on the other end of the radio, it was a reasonably good one, and it certainly built my confidence to fly alone amidst the chaos and beauty of all those lights!