Pieces of Paper

Another long week finished. Monday and Tuesday were challenging flying days as we had thunderstorms rolling through the area. It was especially challenging as I was trying to get my last few missions in before my initial clear hood test (ICHT). Two missions before my test we departed and found a hole in the clouds to get above the low layer of clouds and find some clear air to do aerobatic practice in. It's amazing how a day can seem dark and gloomy on the ground, but if you get up above the clouds you find yourself bathed in beautiful sunshine with a layer of white sprawled out beneath you. It's an amazing experience that only benefits from the stark contrast of on the ground and in the air. It was also a fun challenge doing aerobatics with no ground references (we use roads normally to tell if we are flying straight while going through a loop or another inverted maneuver). At one point we simply chose a particularly fluffy cloud and called that our reference point. I also had two area solo's that unfortunately became  supervised solo's, or "super solo's". This simply means that the weather is too poor to allow me to go solo, so they will send an instructor up with me in the back seat and he just lets me fly as if I were completely solo. The instructor is only there as  a safety precaution in case the weather should close in and I can't safely get back to base. Despite not being a true solo, the first trip was still a very enjoyable and challenging trip as I found a narrow space between the clouds to practice more aerobatics. The second super solo was less enjoyable as the weather was truly terrible and we flew all the way to the back of the area (40 NM away) to see if we could find some clear air. Failing that, we came back to base and spent 45 minutes in the traffic pattern. Although beneficial for my test, it wasn't the most exciting solo trip.

Finally on Wednesday I completed my ICHT. Overall it was a very good flight that went very quick. The entire mission was exactly an hour long, and we didn't repeat any items or do anything extra (this is a good sign as a repeated maneuver automatically caps your top mark at an Achieved Standard). Despite this, I only received a Standard Achieved on the trip as I made a number of smaller mistakes. The most critical mistake I made came right at the very end of the trip when I exceeded the nose-wheel steering speed while taxiing back and trying to clear the runway for another aircraft that was taking off. This is a big no-no, and students have failed tests in the past for this exact reason. Fortunately for me, it merely was a debrief point and didn't cost me my test. Although I passed with a decent mark, I was hoping to perform better. Oh well, on to the next one!

Anyways, the main topic I wanted to discuss today is something that has come up twice in the recent past, and both times was accompanied by that feeling of suddenly being washed away by a wave of overwhelming reality. Both times I felt like someone through a bucket of cold ice water on my head and shocked my system into alertness and realization. This impact came both times by looking at a piece of paper that held amazing influence over me and my life. The first one came a couple weeks ago when I was unpacking boxes that I had left at home when I left for RMC. These boxes had been packed over 5 years ago, and I hadn't opened them since. Now that I finally have a place to call my own, I had these boxes shipped, and when I unpacked one of them, I discovered this tiny scrap of paper that changed my life nearly 5 years ago.

This slip of paper is my result from the Canadian Forces Aircrew Selection Course (CFASC). Basically, when I applied to the forces I went to aircrew selection, which is a course that tests candidates aptitude towards becoming a pilot. They basically do this by having students fly a "simulator" where they are given instruction on how to do basic maneuvers such as turns and climbs. I put simulator in quotes as this contraption in no way replicated how aircraft fly, and had a reputation for baffling those with previous experience in aircraft and left everyone wondering how on earth this would indicate if we were capable to be pilots. Despite what we thought of it, we had to pass it in order to become pilots in the RCAF. When I found this slip of paper it amazed me how a paper that carried so much significance could appear so plain and insignificant. No certificate, no words of congratulations, no glowing paragraph outlining your candidacy and the thoughts of duty and honor that went along with that. Simply a check in the box that says "YES/OUI". This tiny piece of paper with a simple check in the box was my golden ticket to becoming a pilot. The officer who signed it may not have thought it meant very much, but it meant the world to me.

The second piece of paper came this week when I was called to the orderly room to sign a Statement of Understanding (SOU) regarding my restricted release. Essentially, because training pilots is an extremely expensive endeavor, the military doesn't like it when pilots quit the military or change trades before their contract expires. In fact, they state that my training as a pilot will provide me with a "particular skill that is required by the Canadian Forces" that "cannot be easily or quickly replaced or developed. The premature or unexpected loss the particular skill will be to the detriment of the Canadian Forces". What this means is that once I become a "winged" military pilot, I am locked into the trade and the military for 7 years. This isn't news to me, this was explained when I signed up for the forces and my contract when I joined was drafted to expire in the year 2023 (a 12 year contract to cover 4 years of education, 2 years of training, and 6 years of service). This SOU is a specific amendment for pilots as non-pilot trades only owe 6 years of service, and can voluntarily switch trades in the military. Despite knowing all these things, it still came as a shock of reality to see it all written in black and white, and scribble a signature saying that I will continue doing my job for another 7 years (assuming I get wings this year). If you want to see what signing 7 years of your life away looks like, look below.

A final thought on waves of reality. This week also came with a sudden realization that very soon I will be "selected" to fly either Jets, Multi or Helo. The result of this selection obviously has a large implications for my future in terms of where I'll live, and what I'll be doing. My current choices are listed as 90% Jets, and 10% multi. It's been this way for basically as long as I have wanted to be in the RCAF. I've always wanted Jets, and always thought Multi would be a good second choice. I've also always said that no matter what I get, as long as I'm flying, I'll be happy. Despite having always wanted to fly Jets, now that the reality of selection is fast approaching, I find myself constantly questioning my desire "Do I really want this?". "Is THIS the thing I want to do for the next 7 years?". "Do I really want to live in Cold Lake, AB or Bagottville, QC for the next 7 years?" These are all questions to which the answer is "Yes, I think". Ultimately I've decided that I will at the very least try to go fly jets, if nothing else than for the challenge. If I don't get jets, or do and then fail while trying, that will be better than not having tried at all.