Archive for June, 2012

Lesson 24 : First Solo!!!!!!!

Thursday, June 28th, 2012 | Permalink

The Extra 200 that did not want to start its engine!I had all sorts of time booked at the aero club, the Saturday I was supposed to be in the Cessna, but that got cancelled due to high wind.   The very next day I had the Extra 200 booked for some fun flying (you can spin the Extra and I wanted to do some ‘sensible’ spins as well as get into some inverted spins for fun…….if you’ve not flown an Extra, it really is out of this world fun).

Somewhere around 10am on the day of the Extra lesson the phone rang 🙁   This is almost always bad thing……

Sure enough my Extra 200 lesson was getting called off, not for bad weather, the weather was fine – it had a puncture!   Of all the things, I’ve had a lesson where it wouldn’t start, now it had a puncture.    Every cloud has a silver lining and this one was the fact that now there was an instructor free to go ‘sensible’ flying with.

The weather was scheduled to just keep getting better, so I snapped up the offer.

Arrival at the Aero Club

One of the other club members was getting set up to do his final ground exam, my instructor was trying to get him setup while also sorting me out with keys to the plane.

A quick question amongst the rushing back and forth:

Have you got your Medical with you?


“Do you know why I’m asking?”

“Oh Yes.”

While the instructor finished off sorting out getting the exam started, I took the keys to G-HERC and went to check it out.

All good except it wasn’t parked up on the grass…….ahhh there it is behind two other planes in the refueling area.   You’ve got to assume it’s about when you’re holding the keys 🙂

Internal Checks & Taxi

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

I haven’t flown G-HERC for weeks, if not months, it felt a bit weird getting back into it.   I’ve said it before, it’s one of 4 Cessna 172’s, but they’re all a bit different.   G-HERC has a slightly different Heading Indicator, no auto-pilot and a few other switches and dials that aren’t quite in the same places.

Just to mix it up or keep me on my toes, the artificial horizon was bust and was reading total nonsense for pitch.   In the instructors words:   “Good thing we don’t fly on instruments…”    Hmmm, I actually quite like to at least reassure myself the world outside is correct 🙂

On top of the ‘new’ plane, it was a ‘new’ instructor (or at least I haven’t flown with him in weeks) and a ‘new’ circuit (back to left hand circuits after weeks of right hand).   My instructor asked to see my medical certificate and was happy it was in order, now all we had to do was a few good landings…

Circuit #1

Take off was good, overshot the pattern height a bit, going to around 1150ft.   My normal first circuit is traditionally a bit rough and this was no exception.

The approach was as high as you like, just properly far to high and even with all the flap on and all the power off it wasn’t happening.

“Golf Romeo Charlie……..Going Around.”


Circuit #2

A fairly decent circuit, but due to traffic we were asked to extend downwind.   I’m sure I could have done the approach a bit better, but it wasn’t bad.

~70ft from touch down as the hold off began, the plane got lift and started going up.

Not wanting to balloon it……..Full power On.

“Golf Romeo Charlie……..Going Around.”


Circuit #3

My instructor assured me there wasn’t much wrong with the second circuit and I could have landed it, but it was good to see good decision making etc.    Yeah ok, but we didn’t land it, so it’s nice but there’s no points for go-arounds.

Strangely this is where I calmed down, two approaches messed up I was pretty sure that one more and it was all over for another lesson.

The circuit was a perfect 1000ft all the way around, the approach was as good as any I’ve seen or done and the landing while ok a bit flat, was like a feather touching down.  You’d have hardly have noticed the transition from air to ground – I’ve never been in a landing smoother than this one.

Flaps up, lets see if we can repeat that.

Circuit #4

Another pretty spot on circuit, finished off with a good enough landing – not quite circuit #3, but plenty good enough to keep the instructor happy.

Circuit #5 – ‘To Land’

On the downwind leg, my instructor said:

“You seem to like pressure, so how about this:   Make a good job of this landing and you can take it solo.”

Feel the pressure!

The landing was a touch flat and a touch bumpier then I’d hoped for, but my instructor was happy enough with it:   “There’s nothing unsafe about it.”

“Ok, Park up next to that jet and let me out….”

With the engine idling my instructor unplugged his headset and got out, reminding me that his chart was in the side pocket (if we needed that, we’ve done something properly wrong, but it is a legal requirement).    Followed by instructions that the plane was now:

Student Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie

First Solo

At a recent aero club meeting someone I wish I could remember the name of said “Your first solo will always be engraved in your mind…”

Requesting ‘further taxi’ it was clear my radio calls would also go a bit off, the tower called back with the current QFE (pressure for setting an altimeter to read height) and the first time I might have ‘ignored’ them, not thinking they wanted it called back.   We got there though and I was cleared to taxi to Holding Point Alpha.

Power checks into wind all done, taxi light off, landing light & strobes on and final checks, double checked.

“Student Golf Romeo Charlie, ready for departure…..”

Words will never quite capture the excitement at this point, even with an instructor in the right hand seat there’s few feelings like the one you get from lining up on a runway.

………Clear for Take Off……

Trying to keep remembering to prefix ‘Student’ in front of all my radio calls, I radioed back “….clear for departure”, which is wrong, it should be “take off”.   ATC got the idea though and in a mix of adrenaline and nerves it’s easily done.

I lined it up on runway 23 and with no hesitation other then a brief pause for breath to try and capture the picture in my mind, on with full power and we were off, charging down the runway, 40kts, 50kts, 55kts…..Rotate.

The Cessna got airborne at around 60/65kts, at 200ft I remember saying to myself:  “Ok, 200ft, from now:  land it or crash….”

I’m not sure if that was reiterating reality or just something to keep everything calm, but generally on the climb up to 600ft for the first turn I was feeling amazingly relaxed and calm – more than anything I wanted to fly this circuit at 1000ft.

Turning on to the downwind leg, with a  few moments to enjoy the view, the altimeter read a perfect 1000ft the wind was being nice and I was trying to ensure I didn’t converge in the circuit so I had time to get everything sorted when I turned on to base.

Pre-Landing checks done and everything in the green, a quick radio call to tell ATC they still had a student downwind 🙂

Looking for a white house I’d been using as a reference to ensure I didn’t turn too early, I gave myself maybe an extra 100m just to ensure base and final had plenty of time.

It was strangely calm, peaceful and just an amazing feeling.  Turning onto base the enjoyment had to take a backseat because now the focus had to turn to getting the speed down into the white arc (flap extension speed), start putting on the first twenty degrees of flaps and thinking about turning onto final.

Final approach was looking pretty good, I’d given myself plenty of time to get it all trimmed up.   I kept reciting audibly “Don’t mess this up….” and at times I did wonder what I must have sounded like if my radio push-to-talk button was stuck on 😉

Final calls to ATC done and clearance to land given, it was all now down to lowering the last stage of flaps and watching two things:   Airspeed, Runway, Airspeed, Runway….

As I crossed the runway threshold I was doing 60kts, but as I went into trying to ‘stop it from landing’, I was being super careful not to do anything that would let the plane catch any wind or even think about gaining lift (begin a balloon).   The price for that was that I probably could have held it off longer with a bit more back pressure. Instead I touched down, dead on the centre line, but a bit flat and a bit hard.   It stayed on the ground and stayed straight……for my first go all on my own, I’ll take that!

Air Traffic Control came on the radio to say “G-RC, vacate next right – Congratulations”

I thought about saying thanks back to them, but thought I better stick to the script and just read back the vacate instruction.

Done……I was back on the ground safely, plane in one piece, now just the task of remembering how/where to park!

Parking and Debrief

After parking, one of my regular instructors parked a different Cessna next to me, I’d forgot she was around today.   After weeks of being told “more back pressure…”  hopefully she didn’t see that landing 😉

The instructor for today came over, congratulated me and reminded me the landing was a bit flat but in his words “There’s things I can tell you could have been technically better, but that’s not really what this is about, it’s about getting through that psychological barrier of knowing you can fly it yourself….everything else we’ll iron out with time and experience”

We were definitely through any such barriers:  Properly enjoyed that flight!

I’ve never been so thankful for a flat tyre as I was today.

Finally, first solo done, we can start pretending we know what we’re doing  🙂

Lesson 24: Circuits (Cancelled – High Wind)

Monday, June 25th, 2012 | Permalink

The day before the lesson, the wind was forecast to be 24 mph (20 knots) and gusting even higher.

So, I was well prepared when the phone rang for this lesson to be cancelled.

It wasn’t a total loss, I guess as my instructor was just going to be sitting around anyway she said to come in and we could get some other ground work bits and pieces signed off in my training record.

You don’t pay if the propeller ain’t spinning (money makes the propeller go round), so this was a bit of a freebie, we like free stuff 🙂


Metars are actual observations of the weather, they attempt to give you a picture of what it’s like right now.

TAF’s (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) are, as the name suggests, forecasts of the weather and give you a ‘best guess’ at what it might be like in the near future and for how long it might be like that.

Both come in an encoded text format, standardised by the ICAO if you can read them in one location, you should be able to read them anywhere in the world.

Met Office : Aviation Services

If you want accurate and up to date METAR’s & TAF’s, one of/the best source at least in the UK is The Met Office and thankfully they offer an “Aviation” service, for free.  You just need to register (free) and then login and you can get at all the information.

In addition to METAR’s & TAF’s, The Met Office provides Form F214 & 215, which provide wind speeds and graphical displays of the weather updated regularly during the day.

Really good service, if you haven’t found it/aren’t fully using it to its full potential yet, check it out.   As with all big websites there’s a lot of information and it’s sometimes hard to find where the good stuff on there is, but just those handful of bits are useful.

Aerodrome Information

Having gone through that lot and decoded a few METAR’s & TAF’s (more stuff signed off in the training sheet), I was shown possibly the only book I’ve yet to buy, the UK VFR Guide.

Maybe I shouldn’t have jumped in with “Ahhh yes, I need one of those….”  Because the excitement was shot down pretty promptly by a reminder that actually, it can go out of date and the publisher is under no requirement to inform you.

The official source of information for aerodromes, should be the CAA’s AIP, specifically the Aerodrome section.   If something changes, they will re-issue the page(s) affected.   So another useful bookmark to have is where you can find all of this information.

In addition on there you can quickly search NOTAM’s (NOtice To Air Men) and find out things like why an area is currently marked as a danger area etc.

The Out of Date Chart

When you start to fly, there’s a lot of stuff you need and you’ll either buy it all in one big spending spree of ‘super preparation’ (there’s not masses of point to this), or you’ll add loads of it to wish-lists etc. and get friends & family to buy it you….. After years of “What do you want for….???”   I finally had a huuuge list I could point people at 🙂

So of course when asked “Do you have a chart?”

The answer was an excited “Yes”, finally the beginnings of using it in anger for something!

Nicely folded, we began to unfold it and discovered it was Issue 37……bought just around the new year marker (guess), we had sailed past April and well, now it was out of date!    Issue 38 is now out 🙁

If you ever wanted proof that buying stuff before you really need it  isn’t useful, this is it – but hey, I got to practice my map folding with it so it wasn’t a total loss.

Now for the bad news, I couldn’t get the box for “Current / Valid Chart” ticked off, I might have had a very recent chart, but it wasn’t the current one  🙁

A good hour on the ground

All in all, a very enjoyable hour on the ground learning some new things, getting better at others and being shown around a few sites I probably should have been playing with a long time ago but have been far to busy with flying 🙂



Lesson 23: Circuits (Finally….)

Monday, June 25th, 2012 | Permalink

G-UFCB Cessna 172SP

G-UFCB : Cessna 172SP

I had the 9am slot booked, but at 8:40am I got the dreaded phone call that normally means only one thing:  Lesson Canceled due to…….    Sure enough that’s how the call started, but with the upshot that someone else must have cancelled because they now had an 11am slot available and did I want it?   No need to ask twice!

Upon arrival to the aero club, I discovered there were even more Olympic Games security procedures coming into play – now you can’t even get outside to the locked gate without a badge to get you through the now locked door!!   (price you pay for being one of the few airports near London that will still be open during the games).


I’d be flying with the instructor who I did my first landing with… this point, with so many forgettable attempts to duplicate that lesson behind me, I can’t tell you how good this felt.

I don’t know if he’d read my file, or just wanted to give me a typical “Haven’t flown with you in a while re-cap….”   However he went through flying the circuit again in the briefing room and it went roughly like this:

Fly down to the runway…..Then Fly Over it……Keep trying to Fly Over it.

In his words “Sure, you can talk about the ‘hold-off’ and ‘flaring’ and they’re all the right terms…….but if you fly down to the runway, then level off to try and fly over it and then just keep trying to fly over it, you’ll find the flare happens naturally.   You don’t have enough power on to stay in the air, so you’re coming down, it’s a fact.”

I don’t know why it clicked, but these words just seemed to click – if I was waiting for some coin to drop, this was the speech that made it drop.

Beyond this speech, it was as simple as:   “Right, lets get you the keys……”

I’ve been flying for nearly a year now and I still enjoy being passed the keys to a plane 🙂

Taxi and Take-Off

I’ve spent a year doing left hand circuits, but for the last couple of weeks it’s all change to right hand circuits…….still at least when Air Traffic ask me to “Taxi to Delta via the grass taxi way.”   I know where it is now, I need a map of this airport 🙂

Delta is at the far end, far, far away from where the Cessna’s are parked up and the grass taxi way to it becomes a descent down a hill which would make a pretty good sledge run in the winter.    Stop thinking it’s costing £3/min to be chugging along the grass at a speed you could literally get out and walk faster and just enjoy the views and the fact you’re playing with airplanes, what could be better!

As we finish up on the power checks and set-up on the holding position of Delta my instructor points out that somewhere in the 87+ point checklist, I’ve clearly missed the step to turn the nav/strobe lights on.  Oops!   (We could argue they’re not required during the day, but lets not…..)

First Circuit of the Day

The deal was the instructor would stay quiet, I’d do the circuit and he’d see where I was at from there – I did warn him that traditionally my first circuit of the day was my worst, but we’d see.

Other then a slight moment of doubting myself on when to turn on to base having only flown a right hand circuit a couple of times, the circuit itself was pretty nice and the approach was equally ok.   I turned a bit to soon on to final, largely because of a crosswind that made it feel like there’d never be a good time to turn.

It was all going so nicely, but around 100ft I convinced myself I was too low and was going to touch down before the runway threshold.   Rather then force the landing I decided to just bail on it and go-around.

My instructor said there was actually nothing really wrong with it and was looking good, but it showed I could make safe decisions.    Yeah, feed me the  positive stuff, I’m not paying £179/hour to be depressed 🙂

Second Circuit

An all round better circuit, we’re only talking by factors of 50ft but just that bit better.

A nice final approach with a 7kt crosswind.  As the runway disappeared under us, I began the attempt to “fly over/along it”.    Taking off the remaining power as it went and bringing the nose up in the futile attempt to keep the plane flying over the runway before kicking it straight with the ruder, the main wheels touched down.

…….and that is how I did it the first time!!!!!

It’s a sensation I’d been chasing for ~6 lessons, that nice touch down where you know you’ve landed but it didn’t require medical attention to your back afterwards.   Oh at times its felt like the whole show was a joke and I’d never crack it, but eureka, it can be done!

Admittedly I could have got it a bit straighter just before touch down, but we were on the center line or thereabouts, it was decent enough.

Third Circuit

All in all as nice as the second, slight improvement on the amount of rudder used to kick it straight just before touch down and a landing that felt like a landing – rather than a crash you walked away from.

Flaps up, full power on and back up we go…..

Fourth Circuit

My instructor decided to give my emergency procedures a run and announced we’d had an engine failure on take-off (oh ok there might have been a radio call to ATC to just let them know what we were about to do, but still, not much notice….).    Set the attitude to get airspeed (70kts) and then start picking a field.

The instructor pointed out that if there’s time you can go through the motions of curing the problem.   If not, the rest of the checklist for an engine failure on take off is effectively to shut the engine down and land straight ahead if possible (the checklist says land “Straight ahead” – but maybe don’t do this if straight ahead is a house and 30 degrees to the right is a big grass field….).   The objective though is that you don’t want to be turning without an engine unless you have to and/or have sufficient height.

Fifth Circuit

I flew the circuit and my instructor decided to demonstrate that the engine doesn’t have to fail on take off.   It can decide it’s going to fail wherever it likes, so this time he ‘failed’ it three quarters of the way downwind.

Constantly asking the question “Can I make the runway” he commenced a glide in approach – in all honesty making it look far to easy.

Sixth Circuit

We must have been flying in the most unreliable plane on the planet, because it had another ‘engine failure’ on take off!   (Honestly I’m sure the book says to land it when the first one happens 🙂  ).

Another fairly nice circuit, though I did need a reminder to make a radio call for downwind – I may have become ‘inflight obsessed’ with flying it straight.

The landing was another good one…..

Seven Circuit & Final Landing

Original plan was that I was going to do a glide in approach, but unfortunately another plane beat us into the circuit by getting clearance to fly straight into final approach.

Got to partially glide in and it was another happy landing……… Go back to the start, I don’t know why this lesson clicked, whether it was just a mental confidence boost to be flying with someone I knew I’d done good landings with, the speech at the beginning or something else.   The trick will be doing it again on the next lesson.


The words I remember hearing were “you’re landings are good enough to go solo.”

After what feels like stacks of lessons, this becomes all you look forward to hearing 🙂

Lesson 20 & 21 : Circuits

Monday, June 18th, 2012 | Permalink

As it was my birthday I decided what better way to spend it then to go flying all day long, so I’d booked in for two lessons on the same day (each lesson is a two hour slot, so other than a spot of lunch in the middle for 4 hours of the day you’re either checking a plane, talking about planes or flying the plane 🙂  ).   There really are worse ways to spend a weekend….


We went through the calculation for working out the crosswind component.

There are many ways to do this, the technically most accurate is:

XWind = WindSpeed * sin(WindDiffAngle)

Where “WindDiffAngle” is the difference between the runway angle and the wind angle, assuming you want the crosswind component of flying into that runway.  Good luck trying to remember your sine tables while somewhere in the circuit or on approach to an airfield.

Lets say the runway is 23  (230 degrees), and there’s a crosswind from 270 at 14 kts.

Flight Computer computing Crosswind Component

Calculating Crosswind Component

Because a Flight Computer (the UK  mandates use of a mechanical version, which for me is stretching the bounds of what you should be allowed to call a “computer”), is essentially a circular slide rule, it can do this equation for you.   Well sort of, because it’s mechanical its solution is that you set the circular part to the wind direction, then mark with a pencil the wind speed.   Then as you rotate the circular part to the runway direction, your pencil mark will move, giving you the final crosswind component for that runway (I can’t wait to try and do all that faffing in the air!)

Mechanical flight computers lack precision and are exposed to the mercy of human error, most of the time you just want a ball park figure anyway – especially when you’re busy doing the top priority of ‘aviating’ in the circuit.

There are many schemes for getting in the ball park, arguably the simplest is the “Clock” rule of thumb.

Quite simply, draw a clock with 60 at the top, 30 at the bottom etc.   Now take difference between the runway and the wind direction (in the above example: 270-230 = 40).   40 is two thirds of 60, so the crosswind component is roughly two thirds of the wind speed – so in our example, 14kts * 0.666 = ~9.32 kts.

If we used the equation to compute this we’d get:   (14 * (sin(40)) = 8.99 kts

So the rule of thumb method has an error of 0.33 kts (for this scenario, the rule has a huge 13% error at 60 degrees), but it gets you in the ball park.   You don’t need to worry too much about that big error at 60 degrees difference between runway & wind direction, because the clock rule of thumb is pessimistic.   It will result in you multiplying the reported wind by 1, instead of 0.87, this will give you an answer with a higher crosswind component then there actually is.

Look closely at the image of the flight computer, the pencil mark is now showing maybe 8kts or maybe 9kts of crosswind.   As I said above, being mechanical, they lack precision and this lack of precision comes from:  How thick was the pencil?  and the tolerance spacing between markings of 2kts per box.   Still, it’ll do the computation.

Taxi to Delta… where?



Flying G-SHWK, if the weather hadn’t been so bad the month before I’d hoped to have made this set of lessons the one where I went solo.   However, it was unlikely now, especially as the last lesson had ended with a need to see a couple of lessons of good landings before sending me solo.   At times I’d take 1 good landing, forget a lesson full of them, that is where my head is at this point in the training.

An amazingly hot sunny day, we got clearance to taxi down to holding point ‘Delta’ (where the heck is that!).   I’ve flown here for like a year, we’ve never gone there, I didn’t even know it existed.   Shocking.

Starting to be grateful about not being let loose on my own, I clearly don’t even know my home airport.   Still, it’s easier when there’s someone in the right seat to give directions 🙂

Emergency Stops on the Runway

Once down at Delta, which is the worlds longest taxi.  We waited for a plane to come in, then my instructor asks permission to do an emergency stop on the runway – now rather then getting our clearance, we get told to hold…….forever, for the longest time we were sat there, feet on the toe brakes just waiting for this jet coming in on the ILS (Instrument Landing System).   Waiting and waiting, there was even time to discuss having an ice cream out on the wing!

Finally cleared to go we line up and stop, the instructor runs me through how to do the emergency stop.

Full power on, then a voice “STOP!”    It’s all go from that moment, I pull the throttle out, then probably in a moment of wrongness start applying the brakes, I stop doing that and the plane attempts to get airborne!

The nose wheel is off the ground, we do maybe 50 meters on the back wheels alone before getting the nose back down.   This must have looked properly bonkers to onlookers.   Still, it stops and we have well over half the runway remaining.

Note:  We were not cleared for a take-off, we had been cleared to do an emergency stop.   So we have to ask for clearance again to take off.


The rest of the day was spent flying (right hand) circuits:  Up, round, down, land – almost always not applying enough back pressure.   Up, round and down.

Because I’m not applying enough back pressure my instructor tells me to trim the plane on approach so its nose wants to come up on the approach and basically fly it down with a little forward pressure.   Now on hold off it will be naturally trimmed closer to want to lift the nose…….this makes it a bit easier, but in my head I know I’m now cutting a corner and I want to avoid this trick.

It was a really enjoyable day of flying in some great weather, but I didn’t leave either lesson feeling much closer to going solo.

The positives are that I’m not flying with a map over my instruments, my instructor isn’t having to constantly tell me to “Look up!”   and other than a bit of convergence in the downwind, my circuits are now pretty good.    I just need that last 50ft to be as if I’ve done it a million times before……..and at this rate, I will have done it a million times 🙂

Lesson 19: Circuits

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 | Permalink




Take off, turn, descend, land…….flaps up, full throttle and repeat.

After a shocking last lesson in cross wind my notes clearly  said we’d had some fun in crosswind.

Back flying with my ‘regular’ flight instructor (more hours with her than anyone else, but I’ve had seven instructors to date!).   We’d take G-SHWK up and see how the gods of aviation felt like playing it today.


One general improvement to report, I no longer seem to have a map or a smiley face covering up all the instruments.

I’m not going to even attempt to remember every circuit from this lesson, it’s a blur in a mad run of lessons in May (the weather turned for the better and so I was flying faster than I could stop to write it all down).

A theme of nice circuits, really nice approaches and hard landings is occurring.

There’s no way I could ever put it into words for someone else to truly appreciate unless they’ve seen it first hand, but the last 50-60ft just felt too fast.   There’s a sort of ‘elbow stop rest’ and I keep finding myself pulling the control column back to this point and no further, which ultimately seems to result in landing “flat” rather than with a decent flare.   I’m not sure if it’s just this, a subconscious fear of ballooning (results in having to go-around) or something else going wrong.

The quest to try and figure out what I did on the first circuit lesson that was so much better just continues – oh that isn’t to say what is going wrong isn’t being explained to me.   Unfortunately if you could just read the book and then put the words into actions, learning how to fly would be a lot easier 🙂

Circuits were mixed up with a few practice emergencies and go-arounds.

Another Chance to Land on the Grass

The lesson ended with Air Traffic radioing in that runway 23 had been closed for inspection and could we land on 23 Grass?

……….we could give it a go 🙂

Lesson 18: Circuits (with Crosswind)

Sunday, June 10th, 2012 | Permalink

I’m still catching up on a back-log of flying, so this is a few weeks after the event, but in the grand scheme of the blog, it’s generally in sequence.




We’d be flying G-SHWK.  Of the clubs planes, this one is my favorite.   Cessna, the FAA or even EASA might tell you that as the plane is certified and holds a Certificate of Airworthiness (“C of A”), that it is born equal.   In terms of at what speed it gets airborne/stalls at etc. I don’t dispute it.   However, it doesn’t squeak/creak like Charlie Bravo does.   I’ve flown it at night, I like it.

I’ve flown enough circuits now to not really need briefing on it, but with an instructor I’ve only flown with once before, we had a quick catch-up and a look at the weather:

The wind was really starting to pick up and starting to reach the limits (20kts) of a student pilot, but we’d go up and give it a go.

Taxi and Take-Off

Due to a hose pipe ban, I hadn’t flown in ~3 weeks.   Top tip to anyone taking up learning how to fly:  This is the absolute max gap you want to have between flying lessons, it’s the point where you can’t quite remember the sensation of starting the engine and it all starts to feel non-instinctive.

Circuits and Crosswind

As this was with an instructor I hadn’t flown with for a while, but had been chatting to the previous night through aero club social events, I had hoped the gods of aviation would be kind.   It was not going to happen though, the first circuit was as shocking as any I’ve ever done, the approach was just a fight and at somewhere around 200ft:

Full Power On………”Golf Whiskey Kilo, Going Around….”

That wasn’t the original game plan, but as we started to climb away, I thought “Not to worry, shows you can make safe decisions….”

Circuit #2 was nice enough, the approach was still a good old session with the wind, but better than before.   100ft to the runway still looking reasonable, with 50-100ft to go it all started to unravel and we touched down with a solid full-on WHAM!  🙁

It was so hard that the next words from my instructor was “When we get back up I’ll take control and explain what went wrong there…..”

No joking.

I can look back with weeks of hindsight and I’m convinced my arm was finding a natural ‘back rest’ and would not pull back the controls further than just about nose level.   So we were hitting the deck at 55kts or somewhere around there – it felt like it!

Circuit #3, lets just cut to the chase – the magnitude of disappointment in myself with the landing on this circuit was exhausted audibly in the cockpit with what my instructor described as a “Big Sigh.”

What you have to remember is that my first two landings were things of near perfection.   Since then, I’ve just searched to replicate them and failed, lesson after lesson……three circuits into another lesson, my subconscious was clearly starting to to ponder what the hell I was doing.

I think my instructor got the general impression that this wasn’t going to happen today and called it quits.   The next circuit was to land…… was better, but still completely rubbish in my book.


My instructor said a lot of positive things about my approaches and general flying.

For my money though, this was quite simply my worst lesson to date.   Maybe because this was the 6th circuit lesson I’d had and it was a million miles worse then my first.

Blame it on the cross winds, book some more lessons and see what happens next time – not all lessons are great ones to remember.

Air Law Exam : Passed

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 | Permalink

This is a bit of a belated post, but in the grand scheme of things is largely in sequence.

For those thinking about learning to fly, passing the air law exam is 1 of 3 tick boxes for being allowed to fly solo (the others:  Hold a Class 2 Medical, Have an instructor say you’re good to go……it’s as simple as that :-\  ).

The air law book is one of the thicker books in the set of material to learn and more than once it certainly went through my head “How on earth do you memorise all of this…?”   Countered of course with the fact that people do, all the time, so it must be possible.

40 questions, multiple choice (4 answers per question), with an hour to reach the finish, a pass mark of 75% is required.

In my experience, most of the questions had 1 answer you should be able to immediately dismiss, one you should be able to reasonably dismiss and then two that are both reasonable.

Looking back I found that if you try and pick it up and read sections, what actually happens is you start reading the same sections over and over and get quite good at them.   However, the sections you’re not so interested in don’t get much coverage or the sections that the book doesn’t naturally open to gets sparse coverage.   The best solution I found for this is not actually to read it cover to cover and then repeat, but actually to follow a recommendation from someone else at the aero club, get the Simplifier book.   This has 3 example papers in it, now when you think you’ve read up and know your stuff, run through a paper.   Any questions you don’t immediately know the answer to, make a note of/mark, then take your best guess and keep going.  Three important facts will come out of this:

  1. What areas of questioning needs more attention.
  2. Can you get through a paper within the time allowed.
  3. Did you pass – and did you pass by fluke (how many marked up questions did you have), or did you pass by knowing your stuff without hesitation.

Be careful though, with only 3 example papers it’s very easy to become an expert at the questions on those papers (effectively you’ve memorised the answer sheet, not learnt the subject material).

You can read and read and read…..and if you have no purpose for the reading, you can put the book down for a bit, then pick it up, read some more, put it down, pick it up and put it down again.   I had the air law book months before I started learning to fly and I’d been reading it off/on like this for months into my training.   Nothing quite focuses the mind like having a fixed in stone date.   So as a top tip to others, I’d say once you’re approaching your first circuit lesson (e.g. somewhere just after the time you do stalls), start reading up as if you mean it – then set a date to do the exam.  Once you have a date in the diary, you should find it focuses the mind and gives a purpose to the revision.

How did I do on the day?

My preparation results suggested I could finish in time and that I should pass it, but with such a wide topic area there’s always a chance each one will pick the one thing you missed.

The strategy was to make a first pass blitz through the paper and only answer the questions I knew, with absoluteness, the right answer.

On a separate piece of paper I marked up those I thought I knew but could be wrong and from there I would know just how far away from passing I was.

It’s easy to write only about the positives and how well it’s all going for you in blogs like this, I don’t think that adds much value to other readers though and it doesn’t really capture the memories of the experience for myself…..

Suffice to say, by the end of the first run through the paper, I’d counted 11 questions I was doubting myself on – any other day of the week I probably would have been absolute on 7 of those, but when you’re doing it for score it’s amazing how doubt creeps in.

11 questions!    If I got them all wrong, I’d have just failed my first attempt at air law and would have two attempts remaining – this is not the position I expected to be in from the hours of revision and test prep that had gone in the weeks before.   However, statistics were on my side, if I guessed 11 questions I should statistically get 1 in 4 right by pure fluke (2.75).   If I rounded that down to 2 by pure fluke, so long as nothing was wrong in my “absolute right” answers, we’d have 77% and a pass.   That’s with a 1 in 4 guess, I said earlier you can get it down to about 1 in 3 or 1 in 2 with a bit of thought, it’s not like I hadn’t revised this stuff so I should be able to get it in the ball park.   That would put the worst case score closer to 5 out of 11 and give a little margin on the others.

In the end I made my best and final answers, went back through the paper a couple of times just to make sure nothing really silly had happened (like start on line 2 of the answer sheet with the answer for question 1 etc.) and went back to the office to hand the paperwork in for marking.   I’d reached the point of “this is as good as it gets on the day.” inside of 30 minutes, upon returning I got the impression I was quicker then expected.

I walked away with 11 questions engraved in my brain, how I’d answered these I was sure would be the decider on whether I passed or not.   Thankfully it’s not far to drive from the aero club back to my house……..and there I had an answer book 🙂

Armed with the answer book, I worked out that unless something else had gone wrong, I’d scored about 85%.    Some of the stuff I got wrong, I still kick myself about but there are two things to remember here:   1.)  Exam environments change things, you doubt yourself a bit more, you second guess your instincts etc.   2.)  The objective is to pass, setting a record here is both impossible and pointless.

It would take 24 hours to mark the paper, so we’d have to just wait and see.

End Result

There was clearly nothing wrong with my ‘absolutely sure I’m correct’ answers, because when I called the aero club, the shout I heard from across the room of their office was “He passed, 85%”

Tick in the box………One step closer to flying solo.

As a foot note as this post is written up some weeks after the event, nobody has ever asked me what score I got.   The act of passing is a demonstration of knowledge competence in the area of air law – you could debate what questions you were asked verses the next person all day, but there’s no point.   Either you passed or you didn’t, if you did, it’s a tick in a box that opens a door to attempt the next tick box.


Flying in California

Friday, June 1st, 2012 | Permalink

Before I started learning to fly, I’d go on holiday and do typical holiday excursion things.   Since starting to learn to fly – I’ve found myself looking almost permanently upwards (or at least once outside of LA).

This trip was to tour LA, Palm Springs, San Francisco and then drive back down the coast road via Santa Barbra back to LA.

Palm Springs – Blue Skies

Palm Springs and Blue Skies

Blue Sky over Palm Springs

I didn’t really think through the idea of going flying in the states before leaving, but once we hit Palm Springs, with its seemingly infinite blue skies – time to start emailing local flight instructors who could get me up there!

Having left it late to start asking around and with limited time, it was never going to be easy – Palm Springs was a no go, instructors were busy or I was busy.   Shame, I have to go back there to do some flying, you can’t imagine the vastness of the blue cloudless skies until you really experience it.   I’ve developed a new appreciation of deserts 🙂

San Francisco

It rains in the UK and they say we like nothing more then to talk about the weather, or at least I thought it rained in the UK.  Not like it does in San Francisco!!

At about 5am it must have started raining, not drizzle, the real deal full on soaking rain.  We were out doing tourist stuff all day and it didn’t let up until maybe gone 10pm – normally you get gaps, clearly when it wants to rain in San Francisco, it just rains!

The next day with the last of my emails to local flight instructors drawing blank and the weather not looking to improve.   I decided we should be spontaneous, hire a car for the day and just drive up to Napa and see what we find.

Over breakfast my wife found an advert for a vintage aircraft company.  Great we’ll aim for that and if it doesn’t pan out, we’ll be in Napa the weather was set to be good and we’d go try some wine – life could be worse 🙂

We found it easy enough, but pulling into the small airfield car park things didn’t look very promising.   There were no cars in the car park for a start and the place that looked to be the premises of ‘Vintage Aircraft Co.’ looked pretty silent.   After a stroll over to confirm nobody was home, it was back in the SUV to see if a last, slightly desperate attempt to give them a call yielded any success.

As the phone just rang out continuously and I began to accept fate, a camper van came out of the main hanger area of the airfield and pulled up alongside us.

“Hey, how’s it going……if you’re looking for…..I think they’ve packed up for the day”

“Oh really, I was hoping to go flying – I’m learning in the UK.”

“Wanna to see some cool stuff?? ………follow me.”

I had no idea who this guy was, but the offer of seeing some “cool stuff” sounded to tempting to pass up – especially as the hope of getting up in the air had just been shot down.

He spun his camper round and headed back into the airfield, we did similar and followed him up to the hangers.

At this point, when he was about to pull back the doors to the hanger I had expectations of seeing his plane, maybe it was a C172 he was proud of, or maybe something a bit more expensive like an SR22, or perhaps older like a Tiger Moth.

What I didn’t expect to see, was a replica, 1909 Bleriot!   But that’s what he had….

1909 Bleriot XI

1909 Bleriot XI

Ticks the box for something cool, especially as he built it in 29 days!   It turned out that I was talking to Eric Presten.   He’s got all the right stamps of approval for building and flying such stuff and probably best known for publishing Vintage Flyers photo book of almost every old and cool plane that has ever taken to the air.   It cost me the price of the book, but I did get my copy signed 🙂

Next to the Bleriot (see it run up its engine here) was his Cessna 182, sorry no pictures of that, Google has enough already if you want to see one.

The tour didn’t stop there though, following a motion of did I want to see some more cool stuff, we closed the hanger doors and headed off on foot round the corner.

As the hanger door opened a very shiny plane stood before me (1928, Stearman).

Stearman Fury

Stearman Fury, 1928

Ok, I hadn’t managed to get into the air, but this was turning out to be a pretty successful day none the less and Eric was a really nice guy to chat to about all things planes.

As he was closing up, I figured it was worth a punt and asked if he knew anyone in the area that might be able to get me up in the air today…..

“Oh yeah sure, follow me….”

We jumped in the SUV, drove out of the small (by UK standards, pretty random) airfield and up the road for about 3-6 miles – to yet another small, slightly random airfield.

Eric was telling me that there was a flight school here so there should be no problem getting up in a C172.   Great, I fly those here, so things were looking very much up.

The next thing I remember hearing was:   “Hey, Bob’s in town….”

I’m sure this was meant to mean something, of course Bob, everyone knows Bob.   Don’t they?

When the next sentence was “…..and he has a bi-plane.”   Bob quickly became someone I needed to know 🙂

It turned out that Bob didn’t just have any old bi-plane, he had a 1926 Travel Air 4000.   Believed to basically be the last one of its kind flying.

Travel Air 4000 (1926)

Travel Air 4000 (1926)

I was now presented with options and a bit of a dilemma.

Either go flying in a C172, which you can do pretty much anywhere and I do basically every other weekend or so – but get to fly the plane.

Or go up in a 1926 Travel Air 4000, last of its kind, very cool plane, probably once in a life time – but only get into the sky as a passenger.

Not that tough a decision, once in a life time Vs every other weekend…… It had to be a spin up in the Travel Air!

We did a deal with Bob, in his words “I like flying, not business….”   so I think we covered his costs of flying the plane and made him a bit of cash for the day – but we got a deal way better than what you’d get if you did an air tour in San Francisco (usually also sharing the experience with 6 others etc.)

View of Napa from a Travel Air 4000

View of Napa from a Travel Air 4000

Bob flew us out almost to the coast, over the wine valley’s and along the hills – we flew pretty low, if we were higher than 1200ft I’d be amazed. It was a really, really good trip up and the views were well, the only way to see Napa to be honest.   On the return leg he decided to have a bit of fun with it, pulled back on the stick and we were aiming for the gods…….before cutting the throttle yawing the plane 180 degrees to point back at the ground and then into a dive.   Brilliant!!   Bi-planes, fly slow and this maneuver in them always looks like (from the ground) they’re turning almost on the spot, mid-air.   To make sure we got our moneys worth, he did it again 🙂

Aviation People are Great People

Since I started learning to fly, I’ve met a lot of people who fly or are learning to fly.   It never ceases to amaze me how much they all seem to be willing to help you out, show you something cool they’ve got, take you 6 miles up the road to find someone who can take you flying or just buy you a beer.

I can’t thank Eric and Bob enough for helping sorting this trip out, it was just fantastic.

…….and the last thing to put a smile on my face.   When we landed, I was chatting to the guy who ran the flight school there, asking how much it cost.   $139/hour with an instructor!    Just to put that in perspective, it costs me £179/hour.    It makes the idea of going out there for 1-2 weeks and just building a stack of flight hours very tempting.