Archive for March, 2012

Lesson 14: Circuit Flying – (#2)

Sunday, March 4th, 2012 | Permalink



After quite a few cancelled lessons due to bad weather, we finally got there.   Winter is beginning to fall away and with that the 4pm slot is available again as it’s now just about still officially daylight at 5pm.

This lesson would be flying G-SHWK with an instructor I’ve not flown with for a while, but we’ve done a couples of lessons (inc. a night flight) so it’s all good.


As I’d had a three week gap in my training, the instructor just wanted to go back over the approach perspectives to landing.    Other than that it was as simple as “Can you remember your speeds, altitudes etc…..” – answer yes and get on with it.

The wind was approaching no go speeds, currently at a reported 14-16mph from 240 degrees.    But my instructor said we’d give it a go and worst case the lesson would have to be cut short if the wind got really bad on final.

The plane (Whiskey Kilo) had a broken taxi light, but other than that, brimming with AVGAS and in basically tip-top shape.


After one or two lessons some time back where the plane wouldn’t start first time, I still find myself breathing a sigh of relief when the engine kicks in and starts to run.    I should be over this, but I think it might be stuck with me now as one of those little ritual things you pick up.

Air Traffic Control seemed fairly relaxed and tolerant of my taxi clearance radio call “…..G-SHWK <stop> for Runway 23.”     Which is syntactically wrong (call sign ends the message), but they got the idea.

Bailed from doing the take-off briefing, at the end of the day I’m not envisioning the instructor letting me do an emergency landing in a real emergency, so I think we can both be confident he’ll take control should that occur.

Take Off

In my previous lesson (different instructor), I was told to level the nose during the take off to see how good/or bad it was with respect to being straight without using instruments…   So this time I did level the nose, and got promptly told we shouldn’t be able to see the horizon, point the nose up.    Now one thing to note about the sanity of the first instructors idea, is that the runway I take off from is massive (1,965m) with respect to the amount required for a Cessna 172SP to take off on (~500m) – so you’re airborne while you’ve still got 2/3 of the runway left to go.    However, it’s another one of those small examples of the problems you get from constantly swapping instructors.

Other than that, the take off was fine – it’s one of those things.   A few months back I’d be sitting in the plane hoping to do the take of, when I started doing them you’d be hoping it’ll come off looking pretty good.   Now I find I’m just expecting to do it and expecting it will be good.


So much was going on during this lesson with air traffic control (as we’d find out while doing laps of the airport they were not having their finest day).  It’s hard to actually remember on which circuit each event happened – but here’s my best recollection of events.

On the first circuit my instructor did the radio, everything went largely ok, the approach was fairly nice but the wind was “immense” (relative to my first lesson where it was practically zero).    The problem with this was not so much an issue for keeping it lined up – but the increased volume of corrective actions required to keep it lined up, every other second there was a gust of wind making the plane want to go somewhere else.

The approach down to 80-100ft was nice enough, from here on I wasn’t happy with it.   I’d come in on the glide slope (~3 degrees), this is a fairly shallow approach, meaning you’re fairly ‘flat’ to the runway, the net result is its harder to shed the remaining speed and rather then a gentle touch down, it was a hard thump.    Not main wheel destroying, but not good enough in my own mind and compared to my first two landings, this was like taking a step backwards.

Flaps up, power back on and we were off to try doing that again!

On the second circuit air traffic told us to extend down wind, we did, they then gave instructions to another plane that my instructor suggested they’d regret.  And moments later, they retracted their call to the other plane.

Again the approach was fine other than the wind trying hard to stop the landing from happening at all, but we stayed on course.    I don’t think I had the airspeed trimmed in very well (if at all) and the flare was more of a fight then an action.

Try again…..

Orbit, don’t Orbit……whatever you want ATC

As we were going down wind air traffic asked us to orbit right, so after looking under both wings, I started the turn – my instructor again suggested “he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s going to regret asking us to do that”.   Sure enough, no more than 40 degrees into the 360 degree turn, ATC came back with “Cancel orbit, continue downwind.”

Great, except we’re now pointing away from the circuit!    Still nothing a sharpish left turn can’t fix, and it’s all good practice and the result of learning at a busy airport.

The landing was better, but still hard and I figured in my head “one more and these will be starting to look decent.”

Abort Landing, Go Around – Repeat Abort.

On the next circuit I was set to try and do it decently, it was beginning to get dark and the runway looks like landing at heathrow when its dark (which can be off-putting all on its own).   Very conscious we were starting to run out of time.

Air Traffic threw in some more fun and games on the down wind leg.

Final was going fine, 400ft, 300ft, 200ft…..somewhere around 150ft and at this point you’re just about to cross a busy road at a fairly low altitude.  Air Traffic Control radio “G-SHWK,  Go Around.”      Knowing our altitude my instructor radioed back “We’re below 200ft, confirm the go around….”      ATC came back repeating the instruction to go around.

Concurrently with a lot of mumbling my instructor took control, full power went on, the last stage of flaps was removed and we began our abort shift slightly to the dead side (right) of the runway.

Damn it, that was going to be a nice landing too – and I never did hear the reason for the request.

Final Touch and Go, Landing.

Both were pretty much repeats or slight variants of what had come before:  Not shocking, not so awful that my instructor wanted to grab the controls for fear of his life……..but they just could have been better.

My instructor said what I kept doing was approaching nicely, but coming in to shallow (this goes back to the debate of whether you should fly the glide slope or not in a light aircraft, I’m beginning to agree with the “not” argument).   To achieve it I was finding myself over the runway in a configuration that couldn’t be flared, so the only option was to reduce power and thus thump the runway.

Personally, with hindsight, I also think I was focusing on landing on the numbers more than making the landing smooth.   I was ‘flying it down to the landing’ rather than trimming it up to fly itself down to the runway, which would probably be fine on a calm day, but the wind was really high and it was a fight to keep the airspeed attitude correct (which probably didn’t need to have been).


Nothing overly critical, the general comment was that I “didn’t have enough penetration on the approach, so you had nothing left to flare with”.    Other than that, generally good comments on the setup and overall approach perspective and reactions to being high/low etc.

It was enjoyable, but it just needed one sweet landing to have made me happy and I got robbed of that by ATC  (as good an excuse as any).

Another 50 minutes in the log book, another instructor who’s survived several of my landings 🙂