Lesson 23: Circuits (Finally….)

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…..at 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 🙂

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