Lesson 13: Circuit Flying at Christmas (Cancelled)

An unexpected day off in the run-up to Christmas presented an opportunity to begin circuit flying and generally just go flying at Christmas, which seemed like a good idea 🙂

…..unfortunately high cross winds were to scupper any such ideas, as on arrival to the aero club, yet another instructor (in all seriousness, this is starting to get silly!) met me and said we’d have to cancel (13 unlucky for some) – but we could do the briefing.


For non-flying readers, circuit flying is essentially flying “laps” of the airport, it’s the pattern planes will enter so they aren’t coming at the runway(s) every which way they feel like.    So an airport might operate a ‘left hand circuit’, this simply means that the circuit is made up of left hand turns.   Height (QFE) of the circuit varies, but is typically 1000ft.

It might be easier with a picture, so here’s the white board from the briefing….

Circuit Flying Briefing White Board

Circuit Flying Briefing White Board

This is a left hand circuit, so the diagram above can be roughly read as:

  1. Vr = Rotate speed, 55 Knots (Cessna 172SP) – bit on that later. The Co of 80knots is Climb Out speed of 80 Knots, this is the speed the club likes to use, 74 would actually be optimum in this plane (according to the aircraft’s book of words).
  2. Climb (Upwind), after 200ft perform after take-off checks
  3. 500ft, using 20 degrees Angle of Bank (AOB) begin a turning left climb onto the Crosswind Leg.
  4. Crosswind Leg :  Level the aircraft off at 1000ft (circuit height), tracking a landmark (red circles with dots in in the diagram above).  APT = Attitude, Power, Trim.   The sequence for leveling off for straight and level flight.
  5. Using 30 degrees angle of bank, turn on to the downwind leg.   Note: We can use 30 degrees because at this point the plane will be flying straight and level – use less in the climb because the risk of stalling are increased.
  6. During the Downwind leg, the radio call is made (see the scribbles below the diagram), T+G =  “Touch and Go”.
  7. Also during the Downwind leg the pre-landing checks need to be run through:  At my aero club these are:
    1. Brakes  : Do we have pressure?
    2. Mixture :  Rich
    3. Fuel : Do we still have plenty, enough to go around etc.?
    4. Harnesses : Everyone strapped in properly?
    5. Hatchess:  Everything locked and secure?
    6. Autopilot:  Off……we’ll do the landing thanks.
  8. Keeping a good lookout and flying against the landmarks to avoid drifting with the wind, turn on to the Base Leg.
  9. Base Leg:  Start the descent for final – PAT (Power, Attitude, Trim), bring the power back into the white arc, lower the initial flaps, turn on to Final.
  10. Final :  Remember that radio call ATC asked for?   Time to declare ourselves on final and get clearance to land (Scribble on the lower right), lower the last stage of flaps (30 degrees) and trim for 65 knots.
  11. And with all that done, all that’s left to do is land the thing…..

Simple……..Now I just need the weather to play nice in the next week and maybe we’ll be able to go and put the theory into practice!

One last note: Remember that rotate speed (55 knots),  well if you’ve read my last few posts, I’ve done take offs in various ways dependant on the instructors preferred style and this is why I’m not a massive fan of flying with different people all the time, but it’s all good.   The constant in my world has been rotating at 65 knots, so me and newest instructor had a bit of a back and forth on what speed I’d rotate at “65…”  “you mean 55”  “No, I mean 65….”.    It’s quite an interesting exercise actually to look online for what others think on this, because it’s far from absolute.

The answer I like the most and I find quite fitting for VFR flight, is

“You have no right looking at the airspeed indicator……once you know it’s alive.  Keep your eyes outside, the plane will take off when its good and ready, the speed is irrelevant.”

I’m sure many an instructor would disagree with that, but it made me laugh and given I’ve been told off many times for “flying on instruments”, it almost has some sanity behind it.

Anyway, it’s something I’ll get a second opinion on in a week or two, I don’t really care who’s right and who’s wrong – I’ll use any number that keeps the examiner happy 🙂

2 Responses to Lesson 13: Circuit Flying at Christmas (Cancelled)

  1. David says:

    “Bakes” – Are you cooking something! I think you meant brakes? You’ve also missed out Carb Heat, something that was drilled into me during my course. Typically the only visible changes you make downwind are the Carb Heat, Fuel Pump on – others are just checks. You should also check you have the right pressure setting (QFE not QNH for example) on the altimeter, but that only becomes more relevant when you have left the circuit. Keep up the writing – its always interesting to read someone else’s account of their progress.

  2. PHC says:

    Oh good spot…….I’ll blame the spell checker and move on 🙂

    The pre-landing checklist published in this post is as approved at the aeroclub I fly at, for the aircraft I fly in (Cessna 172SP) – checklists for other aircraft and/or other clubs may vary 🙂

    QFE/QFH settings etc. are done at my aeroclub as part of the “airfield approach” checklist, so we may just be venturing into the domain of different clubs do things differently….

    Carb. Heat doesn’t appear on any of the clubs ‘normal’ checklists, so I’m concluding they’re using this only in suspected icing conditions – right or wrong? For now I’m just going to leave decisions on approved items on the checklist to the club……though it’s an interesting point and I may have to do a post on this just to document the reasons/answer.

    Once you’re ‘off club approved checklist’ I’ve now flown with so many instructors that I’ve come to the conclusion everyone does ‘it’ slightly differently (where “it” can be substituted with your topic of choice).

    Thanks for the comments, really good hearing from other flying people.

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