Archive for August, 2012

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 28: Cancelled – Blue Sky, Cross Winds

Sunday, August 12th, 2012 | Permalink

Blue Sky - High Winds

The weather was looking so good, nice and hot with blue sky, my one fear was what would the wind do?   It’s something non-pilots find hard to understand, if it looked like “a really nice day” you’ll get quizzed with confused looks as to why you couldn’t go flying.

As a rule in this training, when all you need is altitude, you’ll get low cloud base and zero wind.   When all you want is no wind, you’ll get masses of altitude with high crosswinds 🙁

Such was the case today, 3:30pm, just before setting off for the aero club, the phone rang.   One look at the phone number and I knew “This can’t be good….”

As my lesson goal was to do glide approaches flying solo, with a ~9 knot crosswind, straight across the runway (Crosswind Component = 9 knots).   There was no point coming in.

Good advice to anyone aiming to start learning to fly:  Book more lessons than you want, book more than you can even afford.    The weather is going to cancel about 1/3 of all your lessons at best and at worst will wipe out the whole month.   As today shows, during training you’re after specific weather conditions, in a 2 hour window, the odds on getting the conditions you need, are often slim.

Try again next weekend……

I’ll end this post with a video from someone at the aero club who did get to go flying the day before:

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.


Cessna 172 : Duel vs Solo

Saturday, August 4th, 2012 | Permalink

In all the excitement, I clearly forgot to document any differences between the C172 when flown with/without an instructor

I’ve read elsewhere that the C152, being only a two seater plane, really has a marked difference without the extra weight of an instructor.   So the intent had always been to try and make a mental note of any differences in the C172 on my first solo.

……..clearly there aren’t any, or none that made me actively think “God that feels different.”   Otherwise I’d like to think I’d have written about them after that first momentous flight 🙂

Looking back at my notes from first solo, the plane rotated and was airborne exactly when it usually is when I fly with an instructor.   So I’m concluding that being a 4 seater it has plenty of power to spare, making the effect of a single passenger getting out unnoticeable (Except the voice in your head, that usually reminds you when you’re doing stuff wrong, goes silent……)

Flight Instructors have told tales of the C152 being so under powered that on a very windy day they are susceptible to getting ‘stuck’ and being unable to exit grass runways.  It’s a tale from a reliable source, so I’m open to believing it – I think it was this underpowered view that made the club get C172’s.

There is a price tag attached to flying a C172.   In my area it’s ball park £50/hour cheaper in a C152.   Over the course of the training it’s going to save you £2-2.5k, there or there abouts…….I’m not sure you could go back after flying a C172 though.