Today’s lesson was the first (of what will be many!) doing circuits – the circuit is a rectangular pattern flown to co-ordinate activities around a runway for landing, where each ‘leg’ (i.e. side of the rectangle) has a name, and specific activities that are carried out on it.

I woke up to find the wind was looking questionable (I knew that doing the first circuit lesson with a crosswind is not ideal), but headed down to the airport to see how it went (I could at least get the brief out the way).

I had a fairly thorough briefing filling in a lot of the details the textbook doesn’t give (specific airspeeds for the Cessna 172 on the various legs, useful landmarks to know where to turn etc). It was explained that the instructor would fly a circuit to demonstrate, and then it would be my turn (though due to the crosswind the instructor would be helping quite a lot on the final approach).

I was asked if I’d mind another person back seating, which I didn’t (as long as he was prepared for what might be some quite poor landings!). The checks etc were all fine until the power checks at the holding point – the attitude indicator (AI) was dancing around, however as we only need this if we fly in to cloud the instructor decided we could continue (it seemed to fix itself once we took off, so it’s possible the gyro just hadn’t got properly up to speed or similar – still, it showed the reason for all the checks and a good reminder never to skip any of them, as had we been planning on instrument flying it could have gone very wrong if this has only been noticed once in the air!)

I took us on to the runway, at which point the instructor took over and demonstrated the circuit, explaining what was going on all the time and pointing out landmarks to look for. As usual she made it seem easy, but I already knew that wasn’t the case!

Once we landed, we got permission from ATC to backtrack up the runway rather than having to taxi off and back on which would have taken quite a lot of time – fortunately there was nothing waiting to take-off / land so this was approved.

Once in position at the start of the runway we were given take-off clearance so it was now my turn – the instructor was going to do all the checks and radio work in order to leave me to concentrate on the flying (this fits with the principle that a pilot’s priorities should always be 1. Aviate (i.e. fly the aircraft), 2. Navigate (ensure you’re where you’re supposed to be), 3. Communicate). The wind was slightly across the runway, and as such this was my first cross-wind take-off (for this you hold aileron into the wind until just before you rotate and leave the ground).

Despite it actually taking around 6 – 8 minutes to do a circuit, everything seems to be happening almost immediately, as such I’d barely got over mentally getting off the ground and establishing the right climbing speed when it was time to make the first turn to the crosswind (90 degrees to the runway) leg. The only break was on the downwind (parallel to the runway but in the opposite direction) leg, though that will normally be filled with radio work and pre landing checks!

As usual my rudder control wasn’t brilliant and there were a few prompts from the instructor – unfortunately when I tried to correct I’d normally end up over correcting making things rather uncomfortable at times.

When we got to the base leg (90 degrees to the runway and behind it) I was still working on getting the right airspeed when it was time to turn final, and then on final I kept trying to do the instinctive (but wrong) thing to control rate of descent with the attitude rather than the power.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

When you get right down close to the ground you perform a ‘flare’ (levelling off / pitching up slightly to let the main wheels touch down first) – during this I’m supposed to look at the end of the runway and use my peripheral version to notice the ground coming up to meet me, but I found it quite hard to overcome the instinct to look down at the tarmac around me!

We were doing a touch and go (this is where you land but then immediately take off again to save any taxying), as such after we landed it was flaps up, apply full power and take off again – getting in the right frame of mind to do this took a while, and I’m glad Cambridge has a nice long runway or we might have had to stop.

The next circuit wasn’t much better – probably as I was still trying to mentally process the first one, which meant I was ‘behind’ the aircraft mentally (not a good position to be in). The instructor decided we’d stop after this one as the wind was picking up all the time and so I wasn’t going to learn much from the landings etc as she was having to do quite a lot due to the crosswind – I didn’t complain as I was already feeling quite tired!

Once we were down it was then back to park (with a little hurry up from ATC while doing the post landing checks as another aircraft was about to come off the runway behind us). The sky was looking very grey by this point, and fortunately we managed to secure the aircraft and make it inside just as the heavens opened (I was very glad we hadn’t done another circuit at this point!)

The post flight briefing basically covered most of the things I already knew I was doing wrong, and said that it will come with practice. It was also mentioned that lessons were more likely to be cancelled due to weather, as we can’t just get nice and high where the wind has little effect, so it might be worth booking an extra lesson every couple of weeks to keep the number up – I’ll see how this goes and probably aim to book extra ones in weeks the weather looks good at the beginning.

One key tip I was given in the pre flight briefing but totally forgot during the flight, is that I need to try and remember when looking at instruments to only move my eyes rather than my head – that way keeping my eyes on them too long will get uncomfortable and thus it will encourage me to look outside more (I was probably paying rather too much attention to the airspeed indicator and altimeter today).

All in all it was pretty much as I thought it would be – I’d never expected circuits to be easy, and as promised by the instructor beforehand I did come out of it with my brain about to go into meltdown. In order to relax a bit before going in to work I did pop in to the Blue Cross centre that’s out in that part of town to visit the cat I’m adopting (he’s called Pickle – he needs to stay in the centre for a little bit longer due to a skin problem they want to get cleared up), so that was good.