Archive for the Actual Lessons Category

Extra 200 & The Weather

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012 | Permalink

G-GLOC in climb

G-GLOC in climb

Not having much luck with this plane at the moment, from it’s engine not starting, to it having a flat tyre and then bad weather.

It doesn’t seem to like me much.

Having recently had a few days off work I thought I’d have another go at getting up in it, but it was still not to be, two days of terrible fog and a cloud base of 200ft at its worst, forget doing aerobatics 🙁

We’ll keep trying though, all good things…..


Lesson 35: Advanced Turns

Monday, November 19th, 2012 | Permalink

The first words ever posted on this blog were:  “It’s going to be about flying and nothing but flying…”   The opening lines of the ‘about page’ at the time, setting the scene for:   “Why document it all anyway?”  ……and also a subtle hint that, as you might have noticed, I don’t name instructors.   That was always intentional for two reasons:  I was conscious from the get go that it’s not fun to find your name randomly on web pages and secondly a lot of what gets written up is subjective afterthought with lots of scope for error.   Why bring it up now?

This lesson ended with that slightly awkward moment, I’ve seen other blogs go through:

So are you still writing that blog then?

Busted…….it was inevitable, I’ve mentioned the aircraft names in every post (they can’t sue me for libel) and recently I was conscious of using the airports name and photographs more and more, it was getting easier and easier to stumble upon and be able to connect the dots.

Still, if you come away with any impression other than the club and instructors there are all fantastic – you’re on the wrong blog.   Fingers crossed my bad lessons grumble more at myself then anyone else, to enjoy the highs you must experience the lows….

Back in good old Whiskey Kilo :  Low Fuel



With a general lack of AVGAS at the airport, this lesson would be done in G-SHWK, it’s only been a few weeks apart, but I miss flying it 🙂

After a short discussion on the lesson and a general summary of lesson background theory and objectives:

  • Steep Turns (45 Degrees)
  • Collision Avoidance
  • Stalling/Recovery during a Steep Turn
  • Demo of a Practice Forced Landing

Actually ‘collision avoidance’ was more of a rationale for the need to do a steep turn. Finding a reason to do one (other than because they’re fun) was something I actually faffed around trying to find…..avoiding hitting something, so obvious!  :-\

On with the plane checkout.

Upon turning the master switch on, the fuel gauges read “5 gallons Left, ~10 gallons Right.”   That’s as low as I’ve ever seen (except for when they didn’t respond at all) and at that moment I was pondering going back and checking we were still taking this plane…….bit of quick math (~15 gallons in the tank, ~10 gallons/hour fuel consumption:   1 hour lesson + 30 minutes reserve).   Doable, I’d crack on and see if it was all in vain later.

The dip stick confirmed the fuel gauges could be believed.

Cleared for Immediate Take Off

Another one of those bizarre moments upon lining up for departure (why I find it bizarre I’ve no idea, but it is…).   Having called ‘ready for departure’, air traffic replied asking if we could accept an immediate clearance – we could, upon rolling on to the runway the plane on final approach made its radio call and I realised I knew the pilot…… if I didn’t get out of the way sharpish and forced a go around, I wasn’t going to hear the end of it.   Full power!!!

A tip from my instructor that if ATC ask if we can accept an immediate clearance, we can just start rolling and accept as we go, rather than confirm we could, then get offered, then accept and get going.   Arguably the latter is more procedurally correct (otherwise you’re moving, potentially on to the ‘Landing Area’, without actually having a clearance to do so).   The counter argument would be one of inference…..Debate amongst yourselves, I do as I’m told 🙂

Once in the climb, looking down and left I realised I could see the runway, we were getting pushed right by the wind.  An average attempt to compensate followed.

Commencing a 20 degree climbing turn to the right, it was just a matter of time before Air Traffic would ask us to switch frequencies.

More R/T errors and Brain Stalling

A lot of time has been spent pondering the mental stall from last lesson, so I was hoping to avoid it.  It’s sort of strange that in the last 10 months, it’s only in the last 2-3 lessons that I’ve had to switch frequencies.

The call to actually switch frequencies went ok, it went wrong when I called Approach and they called back the QNH (pressure setting for measuring altitude above sea level), that for no obvious reason threw me completely…….maybe they said QNH 1011 and I didn’t hear the QNH, maybe they didn’t say QNH, all I know is I just heard “1011” – for which I found myself thinking “what?  what’s that?”

I’ve got to get over this locking up issue, it’s at risk of becoming a bigger headache then my previous obsessive desire to fly on instruments.

Steep Turns

After a couple of steep turn demos, executed with zero change in altitude (a tough act to follow!), it was time for me to have a go.

First a 180, 45 degree banking turn to the right.

It went pretty well, from my memory of the dials it was completed with +90ft (apparently the limit is +/-150ft, so not bad for my first go).

Followed by the same thing to the left (to prove it wasn’t a fluke), it wasn’t quite as good but still within limits.

Collision Avoidance Turns

Essentially the same maneuver, but without any of the smoothness in entering the turn/applying power etc.   Just roll straight into it as if your life depended on it…….compared to the steep turns I’ve done in the Extra this was still a very civilised affair, but a bit more aggressive in motion then the first two.

Stalling in a Steep Turn

Before any stall there is a HASELL check (Height, Airframe, Engine, Location, Lookout).  Normally the lookout is a 360 degree turn at 30 degrees of bank, as we were up here to do steep turns, why not do a steep turn orbit.   The longer you’re in the turn the harder it is to keep everything in check, it wasn’t my best orbit, but it wasn’t too bad.

When asked what the first thing to do to recover was?  I answered “roll the wings level” …..Wrong.  In hindsight I have flash backs to being told this is what people tend to do automatically when in a wing drop stall, the correct action is to actually push the control column forward and get airspeed first.   Ahhh the stuff not yet engraved in my brain…..

After a quick demo and noting that it’s actually quite hard to stall in such a tight turn, it was time for me to have a go.

You learn faster from your mistakes so at least running through the “what are you going to do” meant it went smoothly on the practical (lets  all now forget the answers given in the theory shall we).

Demo of a Practice Forced Landing

Nothing quite makes you want to come back for more, like seeing what you’ll be doing/attempting next.

Time to see a practice forced landing, albeit one executed more calmly and with seemingly much more time then it would feel if I was attempting it.   Picking a brown field and gliding down, warming the engine every 1000ft, to around 700ft before finally calling it off.   It always amazes me how calm and almost relaxing it is to be in a plane with essentially no power gliding to the ground……strange (perhaps I have blind faith in the engine restarting).

My glide approaches in the past had a tendency to undershoot, so we’ll have to see how it goes.

Returning home

The fuel warning annunciator was flashing low fuel, the gauges were saying roughly zero in a turn 🙁    and about 5 gallons in straight and level……..time to run for home.

A bit of a practice run with my instructor for the radio calls, this might actually go half decent for once.

…..and the hand over back to the tower went fine, all well until they asked how we wanted to rejoin.   Good question.   I’ve only ever done overhead joins, they had to be awkward and give me options 🙂

Descending back into the circuit via a crosswind rejoin, dropping a touch low and then going a touch high (+/-100ft of circuit height), it was an average circuit.

Crosswind Landing

The turn on to final was late, resulting in an overshoot leaving us right of the approach.   This needed to be corrected for while flying into a crosswind.   Historically my crosswind landings have been bordering rubbish, only recently have they started to touchdown without an almighty thud.

I can actually remember flying the approach pondering what I was doing……..yes we were staying straight, but it was a half crabbed, half rolled approach to keep it that way and noting previous lessons afterthoughts of It goes wrong because I’m not reacting fast enough, this approach had a ton of input.

Just above the runway I mentally reminded myself to stop looking at the asphalt and look along the runway, applying a bit more back pressure we touched down almost as smooth as I’ve ever landed.   The technique for getting down might have been debatable, but the landing was one of my better ones……and if you want to walk away from a lesson happy, it’s all about that touch down.


Seemingly some good points, turns were in limits etc.   then a note on the approach technique and that it basically wasn’t right, the result was one wing kept lifting and this probably played into why there was a ton of input to keep it looking reasonable.   But I got it kicked straight just before we landed and the landing itself was alright 🙂

We can refine the technique getting down, compared to my early crosswind attempts, I’ll take that landing any day of the week 🙂


Lesson 34: Short-field Take Off & Revision

Monday, October 15th, 2012 | Permalink

Having had a glance through the training sheet, I was semi-prepared for the tick box objectives of this lesson before arrival (though I have to admit I’ve not yet memorised the emergency procedures sheet quite as well as I should – equally I was expecting a slight grilling on this).


G-MEGS Garmin 1000 Glass Cockpit

Garmin 1000 Glass Cockpit

With several of the clubs airplanes in for maintenance, it would be another trip in G-MEGS.   I couldn’t have timed finishing circuits and having a flight in the book for MEGS any better, now it’s playing to my advantage, as not all students are allowed to fly G-MEGS (I certainly went a year walking past it).   If I heard the instructor right, you need at least two solo’s – these are just club rules, but I’d guess the lack of analog gauge planes is causing other students some availability issues.

Found myself quite looking forward to another go in the glass cockpit aircraft.

The objective was to tick off a number of training boxes:

  • Short-field take off
  • Revision of slow flight
  • Revision of Climbing/Descending (with an emphasis on doing it at set speeds / rates).
  • Stalling with Flaps
  • Rejoining the circuit

Take Off

I’m quickly getting the impression that G-MEGS lives its life in tip top form, perhaps not getting the same abuse of trainee pilots like the other Cessna’s.

All pre-checks done, the plan had been to ask Air Traffic for permission to back track on the runway (taxi the wrong way up the runway in order to maximise distance for take off), with a plane coming into land and a mile long runway if we didn’t we might have got an immediate clearance.   I figured it’d still be more fun to do a back track and take off from there, so I requested permission to do it….  ATC as expected came back with instructions to hold…….once the Piper was down they were obliging to the request.

Lined up, with a full mile of runway ahead of us:  10 degrees of flaps set, toe brakes firmly held down, the engine was run up to 2,000RPM.    With the engine roaring, the brakes were released and the rest of the throttle opened……Everything that could be done to get this plane in the air in the shortest possible distance (apart from asking the instructor to get out), had been done and now we were charging down the runway and soon up, up and away.   Hope the kids that were at the airport enjoyed seeing this particular plane take off.

Climb out

Aiming for best angle of climb, this was done initially at 62 knots, before switching up to 80 knots once we were at a good altitude.   Really just to get some practice in flying best angle of climb.   Found the digital tape a bit easier to work with on this second trip.

Kept the climb coming up before starting a turn out to the right at 2,000ft.

Given the rubbish weather that had been forecast in the days prior, it was actually really nice flying.   A few clouds, but mostly blue sky and stable air.

Straight, Level……and Slow

My instructor asked me to fly at 70 knots.

I could just about remember that I wanted somewhere around 1,700 RPM to get this and it actually came together and trimmed up really nice.   2,500ft @ 70 knots.   Nice enough.

We did a bit of work with the flaps and various other speeds and familiarisation of flying out of the circuit.

Air Traffic Control were starting to get slammed by aircraft wanting to join or leave and we had a handful of planes to keep a look out for.  The Extra 200 was up (very fast, very aerobatic!), a Tiger Moth was around (very slow) and a Piper was somewhere in the area,  so lots to be looking out for!

Orbits at set speed

G-GLOC in climb

G-GLOC in climb

Just after being asked to make a turn, at 11 O’clock I spotted a planes wings 90 degrees dead flat to us, it was the Extra, doing a stall turn.    I must confess to now largely stopping and watching it complete the maneuver, they look good from the ground, when you’re altitude level with them, it looks even better……I have a flight in the Extra 200 booked for a couple of weeks time, started to really look forward to getting back up in that plane, sooo much fun!

My orbits were ok, I think the Extra distracted me a little, the first I lost ~130ft and that loss of height threw the speed from 70 to 82knots.   All generally ok, but I can normally orbit plus/minus 20ft.

Climb to 4,000ft

As we were about to revisit  stalling with the flaps down and stalls with flaps & power (approach configuration) it was time to climb back up, avoiding the clouds, to 4,000ft.   It’s been a while since I’ve been up this high 🙂

Found myself getting quite used to G-MEGS and the glass cockpit, once you get over the newness of it all it’s really quite easy to work with.

After an orbit to check the area for other aircraft, we did a stall with 20 degrees of flaps, with the nose and left wing dropping, it’s a fairly simple matter of pushing the control column forward, applying full power, adding some rudder and leveling the wings before recovering into a climb.

After another stall, I was asked to do one with flaps and power.   It all went fine, except I must have missed the request to recover on the ‘first sign’  (buffeting / stall warner), as I was on my way to letting it stall before the instructor said “Any signs of a stall?”       ……of course, oh right you want me to recover it already.   Fair enough.

Just to make sure, we did it again.

Descending at a set rate of descent

What goes up……… in this case, must come down at a pre-determined rate of descent.   Really just to polish up and check I could still do this stuff (it’s strange but I’ve been going round in circuits so much that it’s been months since I’ve had to descend for anything but approach to a runway).

First I was asked to descend at 500ft/min.    Seemed to get it all trimmed out nice for that no real issues and the stable atmosphere was no doubt helping the performance.    Next it was to try and make it 700ft/min.    This time the rate was wondering +/-50ft or so, but generally seemed a decent descent.

We leveled out at 2,500ft.

Just time to practice a few of those emergency scenarios I’ve not memorised enough, I think I had them in my head on run up to first solo, but now they’re slipping away, so some homework required 🙂

Circuit Rejoin

This would be my only “arrrh” moment of the flight, we got the ATIS information easy enough and my call to Approach was ok, they said to contact Tower and this was all good.   I then pressed the mic button to call the Tower and it should have gone like this:

“Cambridge Tower, Golf Mike Echo Golf Sierra, with information Alpha, QNH 999 hectopascals, request standard overhead join.”

Should have……but instead went like this:

“Cambridge Tower, Golf Mike Echo Golf Sierra, with information Alpha……….”

At which point my brain blanked out and my instructor took over to rescue the call.    I think the only issue here is I’ve not spent enough time familirising myself with the chain of events and when/who I’ll be talking to next, so I was trying to remember the who and the sequence and the sequences that would follow.

That screw up out of the way, the rest of the calls for joining the circuit were good and I was quite happy talking to the tower as we were put into a holding pattern over the airport due to traffic.

Descending on the dead side of the runway, it still surprises me how low 1,000ft feels when you’ve had an hour at 4,000ft.   Was a reasonable descent with an aircraft taking off as we were flying the crosswind leg of the circuit, just to keep things interesting.

Crosswind Landing

The weather was turning on us, from blue sky it was now an 8 knot crosswind, not far from the limits of a student.   I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through my crosswind landings, where they weren’t brilliant and consciously thinking about being more responsive.

Final approach was flown with the nose facing ~30 degrees right of the runway.

Leaving it a touch late to kick it straight (we were maybe 20ft off the ground), touch down was feather like and landings like this really put the icing on the cake of any lesson.

It had taken a bit of runway to get it all straight and calm, so ATC cleared us to back track and exit at Charlie, we could have got off at Delta but it’s a long old grass taxi if you get off there, so always grateful for their support.


G-MEGS External


All in all a good and very enjoyable lesson, I know there were a few mostly minor bits I needed to tidy up, but I was happy with everything and the instructor seemed pretty happy, noting a decent landing in crosswind (he’s been in some of my more awful landings).

The weather is just about holding and/or I’m getting pretty lucky, it won’t last I’m sure 🙂

Lesson 33: First Navigation

Monday, October 1st, 2012 | Permalink

Arriving at the club, this would be a lesson of many firsts….

Finally allowed to leave the circuit, this would be my first lesson not flying in a rectangle for a loooong time, I can’t remember being above 1000ft without being told “watch your height…”.

G-MEGS External


My instructor for the day was still out flying somewhere, so I was told to go and check out the plane, I’d be flying MEGS……..

Pardon me?   I could have sworn you said MEGS and must have misheard you……You’ll be flying G-MEGS.    They realise I’ve never flown MEGS before right?  Better check……Nope still flying it.

Ok then, G-MEGS it is.


Plane Checkout

G-MEGS Garmin 1000 Glass Cockpit

Garmin 1000 Glass Cockpit

So why the fuss about the plane, it’s a C172, so what’s the issue?    It’s a C172 with a Garmin 1000 glass cockpit.   All the bells, whistles, buttons and switches you could ever wish for appear in G-MEGS.

It was an option half way through learning circuits and an instructor thought better of it as there was enough to be learning without a whole new set of switches and lights.   So believe it or not, of the clubs 4 Cessna’s, I’ve never got to fly this one before.   Don’t get me wrong though, I’ve often walked past it wanting to one day have a go.

All those extra switches and lights require a different checklist, it’s fundamentally your standard C172 checklist, but now you have to check the G1000 isn’t detecting faults and dials now appear on the screen etc.   There are a couple of other buttons to press and as you can see below the yoke in the picture, there’s a million circuit breakers!

Briefing & Weather

Having had the slowest checkout of my life, with moments of “Where the heck is that..?”   I finally returned to the club house to catchup with my instructor and confirm we were going flying somewhere other than laps of the airport.   We were, Yaaay!!

The plan was to fly out, make a right turn, find “point Alpha” (a good reference starting point for bigger navigation sessions), do some radio work, request a QDM etc. and  come back for an overhead join.   Then it would be a touch and go, a left hand climbing turn out and then off to “Six Mile Bottom”  (it’s a small village East of the airport and has a good railway crossing a road landmark).

I forget what the actual wind was on the day, but if this had been a circuit lesson it would have been cancelled (greater than 10 Knots crosswind).   As the objective of this lesson was not about me landing, worst case the instructor could always do it, so the lesson remained on.

During the power checks another student, who from the radio calls had just been released solo, discovered the wind was to much and ATC called him back.

The digital RPM on the G1000 makes you faff with the throttle,  1722 RPM, but I want 1800….. that sort of thing.

Take-Off with Crosswind

The crosswind was so high that I asked the instructor “I think I’m doing this take-off….” during take-off brief.  A reminder to turn ailerons into wind and level them before rotation, but other than that yeah I could have a go.

Other than the crosswind that made for a semi-straight run, the take-off was ok.  The G1000 continued to have a “new toy” effect on me, rather than glancing at a gauge that is ballpark “80knots”, the digital airspeed just appeared to be all over the place, 72, 80, 84, 76, 80, 74, 81…….   I had a flash back to a previous lesson where the instructor said “You know what an 80 knot climb looks like… look out of the window and fly what looks like 80 knots!”    To that end I gave up on the digital display, looked up and started flying properly again.

Navigation to Point Alpha

Point Alpha

Point Alpha : Aerial Photo

It’s just basic maths, but it still surprises me how quick by plane you can be over a “nearby” landmark, which by car would have taken a lot longer to reach.

Such was the case with point alpha, I’d climbed up to 2000ft, turned right and within a matter of minutes (it felt like a handful of seconds), my instructor was asking “So let me know when you can see point alpha….”    Looking down and to my left, it seemed to already be there.   This is some sort of trick question, I’m going to point it out and then get told “ahhh everyone says that, but notice how….”    Nope, it really was point alpha – my god we reached that quick.

Strangely I’d looked at this point on my map a week before briefly, but hadn’t topped up on my knowledge of the surrounding area.   My instructor pointed out a few of the surrounding villages, I may have lived in this area for several years, but my geography is going to need work 🙂


Now to see about getting Cambridge to supply us a QDM (Magnetic Track to a VHF Direction Finding Station), or in short:  “Which way should I point the plane if I wanted to fly to Cambridge????”

This is done with the syntax:


The repetition is to allow the station being called sufficient time to get a fix.   They then reply with a bearing and a class of its accuracy, with “Class A” being +/-2 degrees.

Every radio call I was making was having me think twice as hard as normal, the new aircraft call sign: Golf Mike Echo Golf Sierra, kept making me think “remember what plane you’re in”.    I guess I’ve flown  Whiskey Kilo too much.

Compass errors

With that done, we set the heading bug and then went on to have a play around with compass errors.   To demonstrate how awful a compass is in a turn my instructor covered up the Garmin with his map (I’m used to flying with a map covering my instruments).

There was traffic in the area so ATC told us not to go above 3,000ft, we were at 2,200ft and if I’m honest my altitude keeping was a bit all over the show (+/-200ft), but I’m gonna blame the wind and the Garmin 1000 vertical speed tape that just seemed to be all over the place half the time.

Suffice to say the compass was once again verified to be rubbish in a turn, no awards for discovery there, but always nice to have a practical to prove it.

Touch n Go : Lots of Crosswind

Radio calls done to indicate we had the airfield insight it was time to rejoin the circuit, flying over the 05 numbers at 2,000ft and then turning back to cross the runway before making a descending turn – taking all the power off to get it down to a thousand feet.

Crossing 05, my altitude dipped to 930ft……I’d been flying nothing but a 1000ft for almost as long as I can remember, but suddenly with just 20 minutes up at 2,300ft, now everything felt really low.   It was a lot like driving at 70 mph and then pulling off into a 20 mph zone, feeling like you could just stop, get out and walk faster……..Now I almost felt like we were low enough to hit something, a double take that we were at 1000ft again.   Normal circuit stuff.

Such was the crosswind on final we were flying in with the nose 45 degrees off from the runway, and such was my concentration on attempting to make a decent show of the approach that I forgot to radio “final”  (400m out my instructor asked if I was going to…….arrgh).    If there’s one thing I’ve found in flying, it’s the ability for the mind to zone in on 1 task and forget everything else, it’s almost scary how focused you can become to the defeat of all else.

Don’t know why I bothered concentrating though, the last 50ft were awful and some instructor assistance was required to get it down with grace.   Crosswind landings have got to be a motor memory thing, I’m not reacting to the inputs quickly enough, there’s a reaction but because everything is reactive, the reaction and the amount of input needs to be instinctive…….and well, it clearly isn’t instinctive enough yet.

Navigation to Six Mile Bottom:   That’s a railway line?

Six Mile Bottom

Six Mile Bottom / Railway Line

As we climbed up my instructor told me to follow the railway line, my thoughts were “Ok I reckon that must be the train track…….but it must be one narrow train!”    I hope it looks wider on the ground, because it almost looked like a public footpath from the sky.

Again, no sooner was I convinced it was a railway line, the landmark I was looking for (road crossing the railway line) was insight – but self doubt kept playing in my mind such that I hadn’t gone “Yay there it is…..”    And we were over it moments later.

To try and put this distance thing into perspective, as the crow flies from the end of the runway to the yellow highlighted circle of Six Mile Bottom, it’s exactly 6 miles.

At 100 knots, subject to wind affecting ground speed, you’ll cover this distance in ~3 minutes.   However, you’re 2000ft up, a quick bit of crude math suggests that from 2000ft, if you look down with an angle of 10 degrees (or 80 from the planes perspective), you will be able to see a point 11,500ft away (2.1 miles).   Make that angle 5 degrees and it will be theoretically in immediate sight.

True Bearing, True Bearing…..

Just to get a bit of practice in, time to request a true bearing (also known as a QTE) from Cambridge.   This simply gives you the true bearing of the plane from the airport/station.   If you then fly the reciprocal of the bearing given, you’ll be heading to the station.

All done exactly as a QDM, but although it’s known as a QTE, the call is still for a “True Bearing”.

Time to head home

Calling ATC to tell them we had the airfield insight and request an overhead join, it was time to head home.   We were told to report when “overhead”  (2000ft and over the top of the airport).

Until my instructor spotted he’d turned off my RPM gauge (aren’t glass cockpits fun), I was flying for a while on the sound of the engine with my brain going “I’m sure the RPM was on the left of the display…..where’s it gone?”

Once over the dead side it was just a simple case of make a descending turn, down to a thousand feet and then it was as my instructor put it “back in your normal circuit”.     Yay the safety of the circuit, how I’ve missed you these last 55 minutes 🙂

To help keep the speeds up and maybe make it all a bit better, tried to do the landing flapless.   I may have remembered my radio calls this time, but the crosswind was still relatively immense, my attempt at landing in this much crosswind was, well, rubbish.   Time for a little help from someone who knew what they’re doing……

G-MEGS all turned off

G-MEGS Shutdown

All that being said, after months and months of going round in circles, this was an enjoyable lesson.

Finally have all four Cessna’s in the book, so maybe I’ll get to fly it again from time to time now.

Some links you might find useful for radio calls:

CAA: Radiotelephony Full Manual

CAA: Quick Guide for General Aviation Pilots

Lesson 32: Circuits Complete (Solo #6)

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 | Permalink

If the last lesson was booked on an adrenalin rush, with completing circuits within reach, this lesson was booked because the weather forecast screamed “Last chance!!!”.

As predicted, the weather on the morning was glorious sunshine, no clouds but surprisingly a 10 knot wind.   Unlike the last lesson though, this time it was straight down the runway, giving a cross wind of almost zero knots.   Perfect for flying.

I’d been grabbing cancellations and booking more lessons then I really should have all over the place through August.   With only a handful of minutes of solo circuit time remaining, I was very conscious that financially, it might be now or never to complete circuit flying (…..well, given I might never get the weather again this year, it felt like it might be now or never).   No pressure then!

Flying with an instructor who so far, had never sent me solo before.   I didn’t know the hows and why’s, I didn’t ask, but some how I was back at ’40 minutes of solo time required’.   So the mission statement was pretty simple:

In the least number of circuits possible, impress the instructor enough to send me solo for maximum time.

Sounds simple right?   But I knew historically, my first circuit, especially one at 9am, was not typically my best…….today it would have to be!

I didn’t want Charlie Bravo again, to much was staked on this lesson to be messed about by the ‘airplane’.   So just to be sure, we took G-HERC (Romeo Charlie), it’s been historically very good for me on solo time.

A quick re-cap of circuits for non-pilot readers of this blog:

Circuit Flying Briefing White Board

Circuit Flying Briefing White Board

Taxi & Take-Off

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

With the plane checked out the instructor jumped in and went through her general plan of attack:   We’d do maybe two circuits, she’d say nothing, see how they went and then hopefully she’d be getting out and I could go and get my solo time.   I’ve never been sent solo in two circuits before, so now they’d really have to be good right out of the blocks.

All pre-checks done and with a queue of other Cessna’s all not very far behind us in their checks we made a dash for holding point Alpha.   The radio calls started coming in “Charlie Bravo…..request taxi.”,   “Whiskey Kilo……request taxi”.  It’s going to be busy in the circuit this morning.

Lined up on the runway and cleared to take-off, I always make one final check with the instructor if they’re happy.   With that, full power on and Romeo Charlie begins its charge down the runway.

It begins to climb at 60 knots and pushing in some right rudder we begin what turns out to be a really nice straight climb up – looking good so far at least.

Circuit #1 & #2

That climb really set the trend, the air was really stable and downwind was as smooth as anything at a perfect 1000ft.

Turn on to final and approach on circuit one was almost as perfect as I’ve ever done, all flaps down and radio calls done I just needed a good last 50ft (I’d go around if I had to, but I really wanted to get this right).   It wasn’t a perfect landing, we flew along the runway longer than I’d have liked, but when it touched down it was pretty reasonable.

With a vote of confidence about the landing from my instructor, I pressed on with circuit two.   A few minutes later I was told:

“We’ll make this to land…”

That could only mean one thing:   Don’t screw up this next landing and the solo was on!!

We touched down off circuit two with a bit of a bounce, nothing special but it made me grimace a little, it could have been better – there was a lot riding on that landing.  Should I have gone around?  Was I pushing it too much?    By the time all those questions had gone through my head, we were approaching the turn off point and my instructor was suggesting my flying was perfectly safe to be sent solo.

One tick in a box……now I had to go and do it four more times, on my own.

Solo Flight Number #6

My instructors last words were a reminder that I might only be minutes away from completing circuits, but if the weather did turn or the wind picked up, or I wasn’t happy generally, land it.

With that, I was on my own in the plane.

There’s a wonderful moment, about 15 seconds after the instructor gets out that is almost worth learning to fly for all on its own.   Without experiencing it, words can’t quite describe how brilliant it feels to be at the controls of a plane, on your own, about to take off into the skies…….it’s just special and I’d recommend it to anyone (though be warned, it’s highly addictive).

Taxi clearances done it was off back to holding point Alpha.   I realised about halfway there I was taxing a bit quick, so I backed off the power.   What was I rushing for, I had a clear 50 minutes of lesson time remaining and if I ‘borrowed’ the plane for ten minutes into the next persons lesson,  I don’t think anyone would have minded too much.   With blue skies and perfect wind conditions, I wanted to just enjoy this flight.

Solo Circuit #1

With so many Cessna’s in the circuit, it was no surprise ATC told me to hold, I watched Whiskey Kilo cross the threshold and do a very nice touch down.   I have no idea what my landings look like from outside, but I want to bet a good percentage don’t look as nice as whoever did that one.

I knew that two instructors who I’ve flown with (and have been previously sent solo by) were now in the circuit and they might be watching to see if my landings solo, were remotely like that one, for all I know one of them did it just to show me how it’s done 🙂

ATC came back and cleared me to line-up behind the just touched down Cessna, once they were back up at around 600ft, I was cleared for take-off.

These are the other few moments which words will never do justice, a mile of runway before you, all the power on and you’re soon charging down asphalt.   If you weren’t concentrating on airspeed and keeping the plane straight, you’d be overexcited with the thrill of it all.

The circuit went sweetly, a 1000ft, no wind and nice stable air.  ATC told me I was number two for my touch and go.   I decided I’d do the first few with flaps.

Touch down was almost good, just didn’t quite get the nose up enough and touched down with a slight bump.   Fingers crossed that looked alright from the tower.

Solo Circuit #2

With so little wind it was just great flying, the only planes around were the other two Cessna’s, all from my aero club, so it was sort of fun to be flying around with other club members.   Even though we really weren’t involved with each others objectives.

Another ‘with flaps’ landing.  If anything this was a bit of a rubbish landing,  I don’t look back and think I should have gone around, it didn’t need that, but I know I could have done it better.

Just to keep things interesting a radio call from one of the other Cessna’s indicated that another instructor was about to get out and soon there’d be two students in the circuit!  (I won’t hit you, if you don’t hit me 😉 ).

Solo Circuit #3

I needed to get a really good landing on the books, something that was feather like on touch down, just for my own sake and to bring back some of that excitement that comes from a perfect landing.   With that in mind I knew my best landings come from landing flapless, so I decided to extend downwind and come in flapless.

However, the radio call gaps told me someone wasn’t as far behind as I’d like, so I couldn’t extend to much or I’d mess up everyone’s horizontal separation.

In all that thinking and listening to others radio calls to try and get a good picture of how far they were behind etc. I nearly jumped out of the seat with a moment of “Arrrgh, downwind radio call!”  

About 1 mile out on final I realised that if I did nothing, I wasn’t going to get this plane down in time.   Rather than come in to high and have to abort it late, I decided I could take flaps now (well within the white arc, flying 70 knots) and I’d get it down.

With flaps it really came down, the sink over the last mile made me think if I’d just stuck with it I might have actually got it down without flaps.   A mental note for later….

Touch down was with a fairly hard thump, that was three that personally I felt were a bit average and I was starting to ponder how the first two with the instructor had ever been as good as they were.   Really needed to get a great one in the bag.

Solo Circuit #4

Now I wanted to do a flapless landing more than anything.   I was still conscious of others in the circuit, but I’d had a re-think:   I’d extend my downwind, so they might catch-up a bit, but I’d also be flying the approach at 70 knots instead of 65, so it should all sort itself out ok.

To land or  not to land, that was the question.   I had a clock running in the plane and it was showing 37 minutes, by the time I landed it should be over 40……but what if it wasn’t?   I really wanted to get this done now and not have to come back up with an instructor just to get 1 more circuit solo done.   I figured if I’d ran out of time and they wanted me to land, ATC would tell me, so I called “downwind, for touch and go….”   Might as well max out my solo time if I can 🙂

Turning on to final I initially thought “damn, didn’t extend enough……too high again!”    However, this time I wasn’t so quick to bail on the flapless approach, I kept just a touch of power on as it helps the stability and then told myself “It’ll come down……give it few hundred more meters….it’ll come down”.  This wasn’t wishful thinking, as noted on circuit #3, by about three quarters of a mile out there’s a significant period of sink.   So I might be staring at four white lights telling me I was to high now, but I was pretty confident they’d quickly become two by half a mile out and then we’d be good to go.

Sure enough it came down really nicely, three white one red, then two and we were now on a nice 3 degree approach at about the right time.   Crossing the threshold the sensation of having time and everything feeling calm and slow is the give away feeling that it’s going to be a nice landing.    With a really gentle thud, the main wheels touched down and I lowered the nose.

That is how to land a Cessna 172……. hope someone was watching 🙂

Solo Circuit #5  –  Time to Land.

With good landing in the bag and knowing the clock would be well over 40 minutes on this circuit, I called it to land.

The Cessna that was behind me had aborted its previous landing so was doing a pretty good job of catching me in the circuit and they wanted to now land as well – better not overshoot the touch down then had I.

All flaps down, it was looking perfect and was going to be on the numbers.   Still looking perfect, still looking perfect…… Thump, the back wheels hit the numbers but hit hard and the plane bounced back into the air, all of about 5 ft, before coming back down on its main wheels and I could then lower the nose wheel.   It was never a balloon, there was nothing like enough lift, but it had gone from a really pretty landing, to a moment of “arrrgh how did that bounce?”

Still we were down and Air Traffic gave instructions to vacate at Charlie, all easy enough.   It’d been a really good morning of flying.   I looked at the clock:   48 minutes of solo flight time, it was undisputable, I was done with circuits!

Parking :  Wooow Parked properly.

Here’s a weird thing about learning to fly:   You wait to fly solo and by the time you do you’ve done take offs and landings without a word from an instructor, many, many times.

Not once do they say nothing when you’re trying to park the thing.    So the first time you’re on your own to try and park it, is when you solo.   This has meant that I’d so far had a total of just 5 goes parking a plane properly (by this I mean straight and aligned with all the others AND able to get the tie downs to reach both sides), they’d all been pretty rubbish.

This time I was determined, it was going to be perfect parking.

I made sure I was perfectly straight as I stopped the nose wheel on its concrete slab and triple checked the left wing to make sure it was about right for distances to tie down (the tie downs only just reach at the best of times).

Returning to the club house my excited announcement to all around wasn’t “Wooow finished circuits.”   Instead, it was a rather more random burst of excitement:

Yaaaay!   I parked the plane!!!!    …….and flew some solo 😉

……Next Lesson, time to look at leaving & re-joining the circuit.   Who knows, maybe even a map will be required…….that’s if I can remember how to fly anything but rectangles, I’ve done quite a lot of it.   I’ve got quite used to looking down on Cambridge Airport from a 1000ft, it’s going to feel weird not to have it within sight!  🙂

Lesson 31: Circuits with Cross Wind

Saturday, September 8th, 2012 | Permalink

This all came about from the adrenalin rush of being within touching distance of ending circuit flying and being allowed to go somewhere, anywhere, other than round and round the airport.

Had I been thinking sanely I may have spaced this lesson out a bit more, but the counter-risk if you do, is you might not be “as good” next time you get in the plane.  I’ve had my share of feeling like an hours flying was actually just one small step backwards for man.

The aspiration then was to get signed off to fly solo…..then get the remaining minutes of solo time in the bag.

The wind had other ideas…….


G-UFCB Cessna 172SP

G-UFCB : Cessna 172SP

We’d take G-UFCB….   Historically, this plane doesn’t like me, so not a great start.

Crosswind was at 7 knots, 90 degrees to the runway direction (Arrgh!) and gusting up to 9 knots.   Right from the start this was looking questionable.

So questionable in fact that the idea of doing circuits was scrapped by the instructor and instead the plan was to set out and do the beginnings of Nav.

I’ve been going round in circles for so many lessons now that the opportunity to go somewhere, anywhere else was very appealing.

Aircraft Checkout & Change of Plan

The wind didn’t seem that bad while checking out the plane and either the instructor got told to scrap his plan and not take me out of the circuit until the boxes had been ticked.   Or he to was thinking it might just work….

All checked out and taxi clearance granted,  we were off pretty quick.

Circuit #1

There are some lessons I can remember every second, others (normally the ones where it goes wrong), I can’t remember what happened, when.   As this is one of the latter, you can conclude it didn’t really go that well.

The wind successfully blew me left of track on the climb up, not a great start but the rest of the circuit was ok, bit gusty but no worries, it was a 90 knot, 1000ft about as good as they come circuit.   Turned to early on to final:  When there’s a solid cross wind this is easier to do then it sounds, because you have airspeed but your ground speed is rubbish, so if you start a turn at the same point as always you’ll complete it having had a tighter turn relative to the ground.   Think of it like driving a car, if you turn the steering wheel to a set point, the tightness of the turn and therefore what you’re facing after 90 degrees of turn, depends on your speed, slower you drive while turning the tighter you can turn.

All things considered the landing wasn’t bad, I got the usual comment:

“a bit more back pressure”

Considering I’ve done a million circuits and I’ve been solo now five times, I find myself bemused at still getting this comment.   There are moments I wonder if these landings are any better than the first landings I ever did?

I look back and I think this comment was the death of the lesson, I would spend the next 50 minutes trying to improve this and the more I moved away from flying it “my way” (Whatever that is), the worse it all got.

Circuit #2

Much better climb, compensated for the cross wind and stayed on track this time.

The turn on to final also got the correction treatment, the landing however in my mind was forced down and the attempts to get more back pressure on the controls lead to quite a high nose attitude, the stall warner going off still about 20ft off the runway and basically the last 50ft felt like a total mess pulled together.

A positive was that when it did touch down, it did it quite softly.

The Other Circuits

I’m going to keep this short, while I generally enjoyed the flying, this lesson makes me grumpy.

Just before turning base on the next one I was asked to do it flapless, I should have known from that far out I’d never get it down with no flaps……I didn’t, we were still 300ft above the runway upon crossing the threshold, so we aborted.

The rest were progressive levels of rubbish, hard landings, all over the place landings.

Hindsight is 20:20, but lessons like this are where you need it to be called quits early.   The objective right now is not to tidy up this or that, we didn’t come up here to fly cross winds or tidy up cross wind landings.   It’s to get solo time in order to tick that box and move on.

Waaaay back when I started, one of the head instructors used to occasionally sound really fussy to me about not wanting to send other people in borderline conditions for the objective they were there to achieve.    I even had a few lessons cancelled where he’s said “You need solo time, you won’t get it in weather like this, so there’s little to be gained from being with an instructor at this point…..”    You start your training thinking this all sounds a bit pessimistic, but I’ve now come to conclude that this is a voice of experience.

I’m going to leave this post positive though, my crosswind flying is better now then it once was.


Lesson 30 : Thunderstorm brings end to circuits (Solo #5)

Thursday, August 30th, 2012 | Permalink

The objective seems to be clock up 2.5 hours solo circuit flying, as fast as possible.   As a result every recent lesson has been signed out with anticipation for being sent solo.   To that end though, the morning of this lesson was a no go.   The cross wind was to high for solo flying.   Computer #1 was showing Max. 11 knots, right on the limit of solo.  To my instructors credit he did check the Met Office again and then resort to looking at computer #2 to see if it was some how showing a different number…….but if anything it was getting worse, computer #1 was now at 14 Knots, computer #2 was even less forgiving.   Oh well, time to call it quits.

In a glimmer of hope, another instructor asked if I was around all day, just in case the weather improved and they could fit it in?   Sure why not.

The Phone Rings….

Around mid-day the aero club’s number appeared on my phone, could I come in, immediately?    No problems…….well it was no problem after a little negotiation with my better half 🙂

Fastest Plane Check Out Ever.



On arrival I was told the plan basically consisted of:

  • Instructor is doing a check flight now, will be down in ~10 min.
  • Go check the plane.
  • Instructor will then come fly with me for a few circuits
  • We land…….hopefully instructor signs off for sending me solo
  • Instructor goes and takes his 2pm lesson.
  • I go flying solo.

Roughly translated into:  A scramble to squeeze it all in.   All credit to the aero club for pulling out the stops to get my last 40 minutes of solo circuits done.

Hi-Viz jacket on, I’ve never checked a plane out so quick in my life (all the time watching a C172 touring round the circuit as my guide for time remaining).  It was all checked, even down to cleaning the windscreen, but it did prove I could do this faster than normal, when I wanted to.

A quick brief of the general plan:  Go do some circuits……..and then time to get going, the instructor was due back at 2pm and it was already heading for 1:10pm!

Even Faster Taxi

“I know you know how to do all these checks, so I’ll just get us going…..”

My instructor just blitzed the checks, engine start and everything else, I got our taxi clearance and we were off taxing at pace to holding point Alpha.

Circuit #1 :  The Pressure is on.

This trip out shouldn’t be viewed as a lesson as such, but as an experience generator, the whole point was to get minutes on the clock flying solo.   The only way to get that time though is to get a tick in the box from an instructor that on this day, at this hour, I was flying decent enough to be approved to go and fly solo……and I had a little under 45 minutes remaining to prove this.   Every circuit, right from the start, were going to have to be ‘good enough’.

Because we’d blitzed our way though all the checks, one last check with the instructor he was happy to go as we lined up with the centre line and we were off, tearing down the one mile runway.

Very conscious on the climb up not to overshoot the circuit height and once there absolute determination to keep it, with my last trip out with Whiskey Kilo firmly in my mind.   I’ll admit I wasn’t letting anything drift out through bad trim, when I wasn’t in trim I was just holding the plane with force to 1000ft, then bringing it back in trim.

A decent enough circuit really, no doubt it had rough bits from an instructors perspective, but it was on the better side of the ‘good enough’ curve I’d say.

Landing was looking really nice, but the last ten feet were just not quite perfect, in an effort to do a better flare, I came down harder on the rear wheels, got a bit of a bounce (I honestly didn’t think at the time we’d bounced) and then landed flat.   At the time I was convinced we’d landed on the main wheels ok, then I’d lowered the nose to hard/quickly – but my instructor knows what he’s talking about so I’ll go with his version of what happened.

Circuit #2

Second circuit, consisted of a lot of thought to make absolutely sure we were going nowhere but holding 1000ft.  Better on the landing, but not dead straight, just got blown off a bit by the wind on the last 50ft or so but a smoother touchdown.   Flaps up, power on….

Circuit #3

My instructor said we should make this a flapless landing, no worries…….at least until ATC had to try and free up 23 Main for another plane, so we got asked if we could accept a grass landing.   I’ve done 23 grass a few times so was more confident about landing it, but I always check with the instructor before accepting a grass landing.   We were on for the grass.

It had meant to be a flapless landing, but almost subconciously once we accepted grass, I went about taking flaps on the base leg.  Probably a good thing, there’s more friction on the grass, but I’ve never tried doing a grass approach flapless and it’s always bumpy when you’re down so who knows what it would be like landing even faster.   All I could do was say over the intercom I realised it was supposed to have been flapless, but I’d taken the flaps.

The landing was good enough, always room for improvement, but considering how rare I land on the grass, I was quite pleased with it.

By this stage I was feeling pretty positive, the circuits had been good, the landings all no worse then I’ve ever done before when I’ve gone solo.  Guess the next circuit would be the decider.

Circuit #4

I was told this time round we would do it with no flaps, but also to make it a ‘to land’.   It was clearly all going well enough, I could go and get a few in solo and maybe tick the box.

Half way through the downwind leg, we were told over the radio the instructors 2pm slot had cancelled (funny really considering it was originally mine anyway and I’d cancelled it the week before).

No real problems, now to crack on and get a couple done solo…….


Solo Flight Number #5

I had 40 minutes solo flight time to clock before completing my circuit flying part of this course, and there was time to get it done.   Once my instructor jumped out, as always I took a handful of short moments to stop and think about what I was going to do next:    Consciously I told myself “No matter what, we’ve got to get 4 circuits done…..”

Solo Circuit #1

First solo circuit, bit windy, but kept everything fairly nice.   I’d already decided to do this with flaps, so the base leg gave the party/fun fair/car boot sale thing below a bit of an air display (still perfectly legal in height, just they’d already seen this Cessna go round and over them 4 times, this one just happened to be at 900ft and descending over them).

Good approach, not quite as perfect a landing as I was after but got the nose up and it came down alright.   Flaps up, power on.

As I started the climb I could see a wall of rain & miserable weather approaching in the distance of South Cambridge.    My thoughts were now

“Oh, might just squeeze one more in if I’m quick…..”

Solo Circuit #2

That was the decision maker for doing the next circuit flapless, I wanted to get round the lap and down, fast to maximise the hope of getting a third circuit in before the rain hit.

Downwind, the plan of a third circuit (and of completing my solo circuit time this lesson) had to be chucked in the bin.   Upon reporting “….downwind for Touch and Go.”   Air Traffic Control came back and told me to make it to land due to CB’s in the area.    “CB” stands for “Cumulonimbus”, it’s the type of cloud associated with thunderstorms!

Two minutes later a plane was requesting taxi and air traffic control was advising them of the bad weather they were about to get once airborne.

Extending past and turned base just behind the car boot / fairground gathering and turning on to final the whole world was going dark, quickly!   I could now see the plane that had requested the taxi, it was what looked like a Piper Mirage and was now declaring ready for departure, only to be told to hold and line-up after landing cessna (me).

ATC asked again if he was aware of the CB ~2 miles away and said the’d just heard thunder in the tower, the Mirage replied saying that’s why they wanted to get going and wanted ‘this guy’ to hurry up and get down……..I’m coming in flapless at 70-75 knots, there’s no much more I can do in terms of landing faster!

On the final approach, rain drops were already starting to hit the windscreen.

I came in so fast and was very conscious the Mirage wasn’t going to hang about lining up behind me (and wouldn’t be massively impressed if I had to back-track or carry on rolling down the runway to Delta), that getting the C172 stopped in time for exit Charlie was a bit tight.   I know if an instructor had been in the plane they might not have agreed entirely with when I chose to apply brakes, but all things considered, exiting at Charlie was the safest option for everyone – it was just a task to make it happen.

The parking was shocking though, the rope wouldn’t reach one wing, it was now tipping it down with rain.   Growling thunder was starting to kick in.    I gave up – the aero club needs to buy longer tie downs 🙂


Not much from the instructor, some background questioning between instructors on whether anyone had seen the massive horrid weather coming.    To be fair, it had looked ok when we were doing duel circuits, so good I was convinced this was going to be the lesson I’d end circuits.

The picture below generated around the time I was flying solo, tells a slightly different picture of weather conditions:

Lightning Strikes in British Isles

Actual Lightning Strikes from Met Office

Hmmm, quite a few lightning strikes then – quite glad I got it landed when I did and didn’t go round for another lap (also quite pleased I got it landed when I intended to).    The weather rolled in soooooo fast and the rain was so hard, with almost immediate thunder once I was on the ground that I suspect had I had to make the decision to go-around on that last approach, the circuit might have been an “interesting” one.

In the end it was all good……..but 20 minutes of solo flying in the circuit remains.

No to worry, I’m enjoying this all far to much to worry about how many lessons it takes.


Lesson 29 : Standard and Flapless Circuits (Solo #4)

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 | Permalink

After the mess the day before, I was hoping for better things the following morning.   The weather looked like it was going to do its bit at least.

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

Upon arrival I discovered the new instructor who’d had to put up with my efforts to land yesterday, was once again signed up to another session.   I was sort of hopeful that wouldn’t have been the case, but only on subconscious effects on my flying.

Multiple signatures later to declare I’d read everything, had appropriate pieces of paper with me and giving provision for, if all went well, the instructor to hop out at any time (well almost any time).

Just to be different we took Romeo Charlie today (G-HERC), funny really I fly this plane rarely but the major moments always appear to happen in it:   My first ever flight in a C172, my first Solo etc.   all in Romeo Charlie.

There was some debate in the club as to whether runway 23 or 05 should be used, the computer said 23 was the active runway, but the wind said 05 should be.   The Deputy Chief Flying Instructor said he’d give the tower a call and suggest 05, I didn’t mind too much which way round I flew, though a bit conscious that it’s pretty rare to fly 05.

Checkout & Taxi

A broken taxi light, but other than that a plane full of fuel and looking good.

No mass checklist item misses today, just turned the landing light on and forgetting the strobes (arrgh).

Sure enough the runway direction had changed and we now had the long old task of taxing down to Delta (Google tells me it’s a 820m trek!).

Circuit #1 – Tiger Moth in the Circuit!

The take off was going really quite well, a bit of divergence from the straight line of the runway (after take off), but generally not a bad climb out.

As I began the turn onto the crosswind leg, it became very apparent that we had a Tiger Moth (G-AHIZ) in front of us (also doing circuits), ATC confirmed this with an advisory call.

My problem now was that while I was just about to throttle back and settle into a 90kt circuit, he must have been doing no more than 80kts – a bit of obvious math suggested we were going to catch him, and catch him quite soon.

It was helpful that the tiger moth was flying a slightly wider circuit then me and helped much more when my instructor radioed Air Traffic Control and requested a reposition, to put us in front of the tiger moth for the approach.   Not much sooner was this granted, then we were passing him a few hundred meters on our left.   I can imagine it was a lot of fun being in that other plane, I must look into having a go one day.

Now I just had to try and not embarrass myself on the approach & landing, checks and radio calls done just a matter of getting a good landing.

It could have been a touch better:  I needed to add a touch of power just before we crossed the threshold, a bit more of a bump then I’d like, but it flew down to the runway nice and nothing harder then I’ve had from most instructors so I came away from it pretty happy.

Flaps up, power on, we were off again…….no time to wait, there was a tiger moth coming in on 05 grass (now to our right), so we had to get airborne and get past the crosswind leg before he was into a climb.

Circuit #2

Runway 05 - Water then a Mile of runway

The climb out could still have been straighter, but another nice circuit, good speeds, no headaches from the plane and give or take 20ft, 1000ft constant.   All the problems of the day before had vanished.

Pre-landing checks done and radio calls all sorted, all that remained was a good approach.

Easier said then done, because of the sinking affect you get from flying over water, I tend to fly in with a bit more power on to compensate as the plane goes over the water.

Might have overdone it a bit, came in over the water on the high side, really quite high.  My instructor just remarked “It’s a big runway….”

Sure enough, it might not have touched down ‘on the numbers’, but maybe 100ft later we were down and it was a fairly nice landing, perhaps I could have got the nose a bit higher, but it wasn’t flat and it didn’t bounce or  skid, so you can’t ask for much more 🙂

Circuit #3 – Flapless

Flying it in with flaps was going well, now to try one flapless.

Finally got the climb out to be absolutely on the money and another good circuit, things were looking up for maybe going solo today.

Without flaps it’s harder to lose the height, so I radioed air traffic to inform them we’d be doing a flapless approach and then extended downwind so we’d have a good long stretch of final.

Another nice touch down in the bag.

Circuit #4

This is normally the deciding moment, four good circuits and the instructor will get out to ensure there’s enough remaining time to do a bit solo.

On the downwind leg, air traffic asked if we could accept an 05 Grass landing.   I’ve landed on the grass before, but never on 05, so my instructor declined the request and proposed we orbit instead if they needed time.   Air traffic decided against that plan and just told us to continue.

A bit of a bump on the landing, I’d had better, but it was good enough.   Time to taxi to the tower and let the instructor get out – then we’d see if I could do some on my own (not that he’d touched the controls all flight anyway).


Solo Flight Number #4

With a few passing reminders and instruction to go and try maybe 2 normal and 2 flapless landings, the most continuous number of circuits I’d have ever done on my own.   The instructor got out and I was on my own in the plane.

I’d decided I was going to do the first two normal, then the second two I’d do flapless and keep what I was doing on each circuit fairly straight forward to remember.

Solo Circuit #1

I made sure the transponder and everything else was set before declaring ready for departure, there was a plane in the circuit so I was expecting the call back to be to “Hold”, but not today, I was given clearance to take-off…….so unexpected was this, that as I began to taxi on to the runway I was double & triple checking the approach, just in case.   Then just before turning on to the runway I spotted the other plane was still on the downwind leg, I’d be well clear before he was anywhere near final approach.

Throttle fully open and we were off.

It doesn’t get better than this, charging down a one mile runway solo and about to take off.

The climb out wasn’t as straight as I was hoping to demonstrate, but it wasn’t too bad, followed by a pretty good circuit.   Actively thinking all the way round, remembering radio calls and checks, the altitudes and speeds today were all about as good as they’re ever going to get.

Found myself coming in a bit high on final, but with full flaps extended and the usual sink of crossing the water it would come right.   80ft, 50ft, 20ft, raise the nose a little more…..and we were down.

There’s a handful of moments to enjoy it, before you need to be back thinking “Raise the flaps”, “Power On…..”   and you’re pretty soon back in the air.

Solo Circuit #2 :   The Tiger Moth returns….

As I was on the climb out, the tiger moth was back just turning on to down wind.   All I could now think about was “give him space……we don’t want to catch that.”

I knew I was going to be going faster so I tried to slow the rate of climb a little, but there’s only so far out you can go.  Turning on to crosswind, I again tried to slow it all down, climb slower and let him get as far away as possible.

Downwind I lost visual with the tiger moth, Air Traffic Control told me I was number 2 in the circuit and then I suffered a visual illusion that has been known to catch pilots out in the past.   In the distance of the downwind leg something was reflecting, I figured “Ok, that’s the tiger moth.”    For maybe 20 seconds I kept looking back at this point while continuing a good lookout for anything else (you get a ton of traffic at Cambridge).    Then, just as I was starting to conclude this scenario was impossible, I should be catching the moth in front of me, I glanced towards the final approach leg……and spotted the real tiger moth!

It was a slight sense of relief, he was well clear of me and I could now crack on with getting ready for base and final with confidence that there should be no issues with separation or clearances to land.

Considering this was with flaps, it was another nice landing.   I’m getting to quite like flying Runway 05, for the few times I’ve done it, it always seems to go well.

Solo Circuit #3  : Flapless

Time to switch on to doing a couple of flapless landings.

All my efforts to slow it all down and buy some separation had worked, there was no need to be concerned with the tiger moth.

This circuit could just be enjoyed and I was properly enjoying myself, still actively thinking lots about everything, but having moments of “My god this is good….”

Just under a year since I had my first trial flight in this very plane, I was now flying it solo.

Having informed Air Traffic I was going to do this approach flapless, I extended the downwind a little to give myself plenty of final approach to get height and speeds sorted out.

Bit more of a bump on touch down then my normal flapless landings, but nothing I’d be ashamed of, plenty good enough.   One more and we’d call it a day, I’d been flying for well over an hour now.

Solo Circuit #4 :   No Clearance to Land!  (Oooopps!)

Finishing the climb up and turning on to crosswind, there was the Tiger Moth, again!   Closer than ever, oh we were going to catch it this time…..

At first I thought I might be able to build some distance by slowing it down, extending the crosswind a little and all those sort of tricks, but as I got onto the downwind, forget it.   I was getting ever closer to him.   He radioed downwind, a few seconds later I radioed downwind… land.

My air-to-air estimates of distance aren’t probably the best, but I’d guestimate we had about 600-800m of separation.   This was all getting to close for comfort, I love vintage planes and I really didn’t want to be the cause for there being one less in the world (nor did I want the headlines “Student Pilot wipes out Tiger Moth….”).

Time to do something…….with a click of the Push To Talk radio button, I requested permission from air traffic control to do an orbit (a big 360 degree circle, flown at a constant 30 degrees of bank).   Probably fully aware I was getting pretty close to the Moth, ATC authorised the orbit.

My latest instructor has never seen me orbit, but he was about to watch one from the ground, if I do one thing half well, it’s circles at 1000ft 🙂

By the time I was finished the Tiger Moth was well on its way on final approach, a quick radio call from me to tell ATC the orbit was complete (more to check if I could continue or needed to do something else) it was back to the job of aiming to land.

There was a key radio call at this point:

“……report final.”

“Number 2, Wilco, Golf Romeo Charlie.”

I’d agreed, as is normal, to tell air traffic once I was on final approach.   Nothing new, this back-and-forth happens most circuits (except for the number 2 part, but I was following the Moth).

No problems, except for the fact I was clearly enjoying myself so much, that 200ft off the floor it suddenly dawned on me:

“Arrrrgh, I haven’t called final…….”

Right at that moment, some other plane made a radio call (damn it!).    Now what the hell do you do?   I was below decision height, I wasn’t technically cleared to land, ATC knew I was in the circuit, they knew I was a student so hopefully they were being vigilant for me.   No worries, a quick call and we might fix this……

“………Say again………”

Ohhh for god sake, of all the times to not hear the radio, now ATC had to repeat themselves and the other guy would have to read back the call.   Out of time.    Less than 100ft off the deck, time to make a decision and my 10 millisecond decision process went like this:

  • Aviate
  • Navigate
  • Communicate

At this altitude, with a handful of seconds to decide what to do next, I decided the safest thing I could do was land it.   Hindsight is 20:20, but that was the decision I made in the moment.    Going around presented its own risks, the longer you’re in the air, the greater your probability of failure.    Excuses and explanations out of the way though, in hindsight the correct thing to do was probably a go around.   I’m going to play the “You learn from your failures” and “this is what being a student is all about” card…..


Not surprisingly a debriefing that consisted of “any problems?   No, good…..looked fine from the tower.”   Stopped with a moment of:

Were you cleared to land on that final one?

What can you do…..I just had to smile and say “Maybe not……I realised, then I couldn’t get on the radio.”   A reminder that in this case I should have gone around.    Like I said, you will make these sort of errors along the way, it’s part of the learning experience and this one I just have to chalk up and  not repeat.

Other than that last moment though, by a country mile, a fantastic lesson.    Totally contrasting the day before.

The Circuit Milestone is within reach.

Just as I was paying up, my ‘regular’ (or at least the most featured name in my log book) instructor did the math on how much more circuit time I had to complete:    40 Minutes  that’s just 4 solo circuits, then we’re done with the campaign of flying in circles.    If the weather holds and I don’t botch the lesson, we could have this ticked off by the next lesson!

Very excited…….better get a few exams done.    Next up, Human Factors.


Lesson 28 : Standard & Flapless Circuits (……or that was the theory)

Monday, August 20th, 2012 | Permalink

It was scorching hot weather, the sky was blue, so I was very surprised when the aero clubs number appeared on my phone.  I had no lessons booked for them to cancel today and surely nobody would have cancelled in weather like this, would they?

Someone had, now I just had to decide if I wanted their slot…….after a bit of a reshuffle of the schedule for the day (and some negotiations), sure why not 🙂

Instructor Number Eight.



Upon arrival I was told I’d be flying with another new (to my log book) instructor, we’d nearly gone flying before but I’d had lessons cancelled.  However, if we’re being honest I’m not a huge fan of getting new instructors.   There’s a phase of learning each others ways which is just hard work at best and feels like you’ve gone a quarter of a lesson backwards at worst.

Still, when it happens, I remind myself that the examiner will be someone new and I just have to be able to jump in a plane with anyone.

He seemed keen to go, so several signatures to authorise the flight and a set of keys for G-SHWK later I was out checking the plane.

Maybe it’s just me, but I quite like walking round a plane in the sunshine – there are just worst places in the world you can be than at an airport playing with aeroplanes, surrounded by other aeroplanes.

That’s where the enjoyment ended.

The checks were fine, we got our clearances and taxi’d out no problems, but from there it just unraveled.

I put the checklist away after the power checks, thought about it, thought some more.  Then the instructor said “Done with all the checks?”    Then it dawned on me I’d put the checklist away about 15 items to soon!  I knew it felt like I was missing something…..arrrgh.    It might sound daft, but the checklist could almost do with a “You’re done, taxi to holding….”  line.

Circuit #1  :  Low

Whiskey Kilo was having none of it today, I brought the power back to 2000RPM for 90 knots, forget it, it just wanted to sink.   I ended up at 2,200 RPM just to get the right speed and it all still felt wrong, the attitude looked wrong, the power settings should be wrong………

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when the the landing was a bounce, a few milliseconds to grumble and then on with the power and abort the landing for a go around (not on to a great start).

Even the go around went wrong, I retracted the flaps below 200ft.

Circuit #2 :   More wrongness

The plane still didn’t sit right, I’ve never had to put this much power on to get it to be in a fighting chance of keeping it all together.   I want to say I can look back now and it was obvious, or that the instructor reminded me I was doing something stupid or out of sequence……..but I can’t.

Height was still a bit of a mess on the circuit and for such a blue sky day, we were getting constant gusts of wind raising one wing or the other – not helping the workload.

The approach was better and I got it down this time, on the left wheel first, which made for a messy touchdown.  Still at least the landing matched the circuit, just not my best form at all.

Circuit #3

On the climb out I was asked “How are the conditions….?”   

With hindsight perhaps I should have called it here, it wasn’t happening today and maybe the smart move would have been to quit and try again tomorrow.  However, I’ve been there before, if you walk away early, you’ll walk away unhappy with itthe risk now was:  Don’t walk away and you’re burning money.   I decided to risk it, that the next few circuits would be better.

I’m pretty sure I was doing a fairly rubbish job and my instructor seemed to agree, this approach even got some added instruction on getting the landing a bit better and to be fair, the landing was better.

There are highs and there are lows, this lesson was becoming one to write off.

Circuit #4 :  Flapless

Forget going solo today, even I wouldn’t have sent me solo today.  Still when the instructor said “lets try one flapless.”   My confidence took a boost, I think because I’ve never had one I can remember that was bad, I nailed it first time and went solo on my first proper go at them.   This is probably because the approach speed is a touch faster and the nose ends up naturally being higher……In my head I could land a C172 without flaps any day of the week, why adding flap makes the landings more hit and miss remains a mystery.

I’d got use to Whiskey Kilo giving me a really hard time on the power and the circuits were starting to return to my normal good 1000ft.   Honestly, for the plane I fly the most it was kicking me today – though my tendency to converge on downwind I couldn’t really blame on the plane 🙁

Sure enough the approach was nicer, 70 knots all the way down ending in an ok landing.

Circuit #5 :  Flapless

Much of the same as circuit #4, as you might have gathered, the less I say about this lesson, perhaps the better.   However, once again I found I had no real problems with a flapless landing.

Circuit #6  :   Normal……and just give up

Time to land, none of these circuits had been special and the lesson wasn’t all that enjoyable as a result.  It was just a lot of work fighting a plane that seemed not to like me any more, fighting gusts of wind all the time and generally landing in sub-standard fashion.

Honestly, if first impressions count, my instructor must have walked away from this thinking “My god, they’ve sent this guy solo how many times????……Are they insane!?!”


I’ve never exited an airplane so slowly in my life, when the instructor got out and left me to tie the plane down, I found myself just sitting there contemplating how bad it had just been and how had I gone so far backwards?

In the debrief, being honest, I think my new instructor was struggling to find a good point:

  • Keep better altitude in the circuit
  • Make sure you’re speeds are trimmed up
  • Remember, 200ft and positive rate of climb before raising flaps on a go-around
  • ……the list goes on and on.

I walked away from it all wondering why I’d bothered taking this cancellation.   I’d have been better off sitting at home.

However, to enjoy the highs, you have to have the lows.   I’ve had some  massive highs and this was just a day to chalk up for the lows and try and take it on-board as an experience – I was scheduled to fly the very next day anyway, so this could either be a double whammy, or be quickly proven as a one off.

Time would tell.


Lesson 27: Glide Approach & Landing

Friday, August 10th, 2012 | Permalink



Whenever I arrive at the club looking up at the sky thinking “Maybe….”, I’m normally met with negativity on going flying.   When I arrive thinking “I bet this gets cancelled”, I’m met with “Maybe…..we’ll stick it out and see.”

Such was this lessons arrival, the weather system showed scattered clouds at 700ft, I half sarcastically (but it might have come across slightly serious or in hope) asked my instructor “Are you ok with that?”  (knowing full well the answer would be a no).   However the two instructors present seemed pretty confident it would soon burn off and be back up at 900-1000ft.  Go check-out the aircraft and we’d see what it was like in 20 minutes.

I had my choice of aircraft today, as G-SHWK (Whiskey Kilo) is now my firm favorite, I opted we take it for a spin.

Briefing on Glide Approaches

We’d do a turning climb to 1,500ft, 500ft above normal circuit height, cut the power (to idle) halfway downwind.  Hold the nose level until 70 knots (best glide speed) and then trim for that airspeed, before deciding when to turn on to base, take some flaps if required and start making our transition onto final.

A reminder not to try and pull up to extend the glide, as flying below the best glide speed would only shorten the glide – that’s instinctively hard to do, it’s essentially saying:  If you know you’re undershooting there’s nothing left you can do about it (yeah you can go around, but you don’t glide for fun, this is supposed to be a practice for an effective emergency).

Checkout : Non-Responding Fuel Gauges.

All untied, I flicked the master switch on and was met with a demoralising sight:   Both fuel gauges were flat lined 🙁     I found myself watching and hoping they’d come up, not encouraged by the ammeter bouncing up and down, but finally the right hand tank registered a full tank.   I decided to crack on, see if anything else was acting up and then report the full status of the plane rather then stopping when there could be more not playing ball.

The landing light was still bust, but I’ve been told enough times not to worry about it.

On inspection you could not only hear the fuel in the tanks glugging, but they were visually filled to the brims in both tanks.

It turned out that when fully tanked, the fuel gauges don’t register and they’d sought themselves out once we were on our way.   The weather had improved as well, we were good to go.

Flying without Coffee = Bad.

This was an early morning lesson, I’d not had chance to grab a coffee and my god was I paying for it in small mistakes:

  • Forgot to open the throttle before attempting to prime the engine with fuel (resulting in no fuel flowing with the fuel pump on…..a first for this mistake, I suspect I’ll never repeat it)
  • Turned the Avionics switch on before checking if the starter warning lights were extinguished (effectively skipping an item on the checklist).
  • Abbreviated the call sign before ATC had done so.
  • Made a mess of the Take-Off Briefing.

None of them massively bad, but just a string of stupidness, to the point of asking my instructor if she wanted to get out and we’d try again from the top 🙂

The first circuit radio call was another fine example of why I won’t be flying without coffee again.

Circuits…..more than I can remember.

Some lessons you can remember every second, others there’s so much going on that by the end it’s a blur of stuff that happened.   This was one of the latter.

The climb up to 1,500ft went well and all leveled off nicely.   Turning on to final was all driven by where the textbook said to turn rather than experience, it seemed to work well enough though and the approach ended up looking really quite good.   In fact this circuit went fantastically well until about 20ft when we slammed into the runway like I’d never landed a plane before in my life!   Just not pulling back smoothly and firmly enough and flying straight into the runway,  arrrgh we’re not going back to that lack of back pressure nonsense, we’re just not.

Second time around, was good all the way round the circuit and with a better landing but still hard enough to be disappointing.

Attempt 3, much more input from my instructor just convincing me I could keep adding on back pressure a stage at a time and it’d be all good.    I don’t think this has come about because I’ve just gone backwards, I think it relates to two things:

  • The steeper approach gives a different perspective so it’s all a bit different to the million previous approaches made and what the view out of the window looks like when you should start adding in back pressure.
  • You know at the back of your mind, if you lose height, you can’t get it back.   So somewhere subconsciously you’re keeping the airspeed as flat as you can and more than you might if you knew you could just add a bit of power later to fix the height loss.

Much better landing, almost  soft enough to be happy with, not quite as centred as I’d have liked, but by all accounts plenty good enough.

Glide Approach to the Grass Runway?

Aerial Photo of the Airport

Aerial Photo of the Airport - Generally the circuit area

Air Traffic asked us if we could accept a grass runway landing, I’ve landed on 23 grass maybe 3 times in my life – we could give it a go – as my instructor accepted on my behalf, I guess we were giving it a go, without power :-\

Funnily enough if I was happy with any of the approaches, decisions on when to take flaps and the landing itself.   This was it, if I’ve ever landed on the grass this well, I can’t remember it.

There’s something much more appropriate about the concept of doing a glide approach & landing onto a patch of grass…… Maybe that’s what made this landing better.

Ballooooooon……..Go Around.

My instructor started to get me to do the radio calls requesting permission to do a “High Glide”, they’d be sick of hearing that request by the time this was over.

Maybe a couple more good landings and I’d have ticked a box, but it wasn’t going to be today, landing 5 was more like slamming an airplane into a runway and suffering from Newton’s third law of motion,  the runway slammed back on us just as hard!     End effect:   We bounced straight back up into the air 🙁

Power straight on before we came down again…….. anyone looking for how not to land, just had a brilliant demonstration.   Properly rubbish, I couldn’t have got it more wrong if I’d tried.   Funnily enough though I didn’t come away from the event demoralised, just with a touch of regret it could have been better.

So good I can’t remember it…..

Circuit seven is a bit of a blur, I have no memories of it being rubbish so it must have been ok.

Pretty sure there were a few comments reminding me that it was a climbing turn and to remember to apply rudder.   As this was the instructor who famously taped up all the instruments when I first started flying circuits (and did so desperately wanting to do it via instruments), we had a joke that I’d end this course with the instrument panel taped up with a smiley face and my foot taped to the right rudder pedal!  🙂

If you’re short…….you’re short.

I’d been left on my own to decide when to turn, when to take flaps etc. etc. for the last few circuits and so far my judgements on height and the glides had been pretty good.   This one though was a fine example of the fact that if you have no power, once you’re low, you’re low for the duration and there’s not much left you can do about it.

From 150ft up I knew in my mind this was was going to be cutting it fine for making the runway.   It was just about looking ok to make it over the road which runs maybe a hundred feet before the start of the threshold, but making the runway numbers……doubtful, getting really doubtful by the second.

As we approached touching down on the very beginnings of what you might consider runway (though strictly is pre-threshold and at best part of the maneuvering area), my instructor opened the throttle a little and gave us just enough power to push the plane forward so we touched down on the numbers.

Done for real, we’d have walked away from it so it wasn’t unsafe, but you don’t really want to be landing there.

Last and final Circuit to Land

I hadn’t been keeping count, it didn’t feel like we’d gone round the airport 9 times – though I’m sure air traffic control were sick of hearing my voice requesting a high glide by this point.

Another good circuit, flown at 1,500ft with an average landing.

My instructor reminded me on landing to just let it keep rolling and there was no rush or need to exit at Charlie……..sure enough we rolled right past that exit before coming to a stop.   Air Traffic Control cleared us to backtrack on the runway thus allowing us to go back to Charlie and exit there for parking.   A good thing, Delta is miles away from the General Aviation parking – fun if you’re learning to taxi, a bit tedious if you’re paying £3/min to spin the propeller.


All in all some positive comments, weighted by the fact I just needed to apply a bit more back pressure, let it settle, add a bit more, let it settle and keep doing it.   If I was going to flare in one motion it needed to be a smooth constant motion.   Looking back I think I kept wanting it to land/hit the runway, rather than sticking to the mantra of “try and make it not land”.   Bizarrely the words that made landing all click for me in the first place.