More circuits

I think I’m going to have to think up more imaginative titles for future blog posts, given the number of circuits lessons I’m likely to have!

Unlike last week, today the surface wind was reported as around 4 knots from variable directions, and a nice high cloud base – by the time it actually came to take off the wind was essentially calm, which definitely made things simpler, and I didn’t feel I was fighting with the aircraft to keep it gong in a straight line as much.

The plan was to do some circuits, practice a go around, and then depending on how I was getting on potentially a practise fanstop (this is where you practise handling an engine failure on take off). Unlike last week I’d be trying to do the checks and radio work as well. The first circuit was OK, though it turned out the low wind had decided to settle as a slight tailwind towards the runway, so we landed a fair way along the runway (luckily it’s a very long runway otherwise we would have had to either go around or at least stop and backtrack rather than just doing a touch and go). The instructor pointed out I had my eyes inside too much and should have been looking out more, and so next time round I tried to concentrate on this.

On the second circuit I noticed that unlike last week I wasn’t having to do much to keep things straight on the downwind (parallel to the runway but in the opposite direction) leg, and so doing the radio call and checks etc was relatively straightforward (it was also the first chance to catch a breath after a final, take off and climb to downwind). The second circuit was better, though the instructor was still having to help a lot in the actual landing (I was failing to apply enough back pressure).

It all went a bit wrong on the third circuit, when as we were low over the runway I was rather abrupt in taking the power out (there wasn’t much of it there, but losing it all at once caused us to drop very hard on to the main wheels and bounce back up), triggering a go around (oh well, needed to practise one of those anyway!).

At this point we were told that the tower were changing the runway from 23 to 05 (i.e. reversing the direction) – I’d always wondered how this was handled with aircraft already in the circuit, what we did is at the end of the crosswind leg instead of making a 90 degree turn left on to downwind,we made a 180 degree turn right on to what was now base leg (to avoid overflying the city the circuit direction for 05 is reversed, so you fly the same path as the 23 circuit but in the opposite direction). Unfortunately of course this meant all the landmarks I was looking for had changed!

As we weren’t in quite the right position due to doing the turn around (and it was good to practise one anyway) we did a go around, which I seemed to do OK though I was quite surprised by how much forward pressure I had to apply to keep the nose from shooting up due to the fairly hefty nose high trim from the landing approach (the instructor suggested that locking your elbow in this situation can help).

On the next circuit we did a touch and go, and then on the way out a practise fanstop – while obviously it’s what would happen in real life, I still was surprised by how suddenly the engine throttled back. I did the right thing and pushed the nose forward to try and get 70 knots (the best gliding speed), but the field I selected would have been too far away (I’ll get a better idea of the gliding range with more practise apparently). The instructor was happy with this in general though (I did at least not do the instinctive thing which is to pull back and therefore have a good chance of stalling!).

I was told the next circuit would be to land (which was a bit of a relief as I was starting to get rather tired!) – this was probably the best yet, and the instructor commented afterwards that it seemed I’d got things trimmed better. It was then a case of taxying back etc.

Debrief afterwards brought up the following points, most of which I was already aware of:

  • Need to try harder to keep my eyes outside and set things by ‘picture’ then cross check the instruments rather than trying to chase airspeeds etc
  • Need to remember right rudder when at high power (I think this one is probably going to come up every time)
  • Really remember that attitude controls airspeed, and power controls rate of descent (while I understand enough of the physics to know that it has to be this way to work, trying to override what is almost a subconscious instinct to pull back when you’re descending too fast is very hard!)
  • Maintain angle of bank in turns – apparently I was getting to e.g. 30 degrees, but then it was drifting back before I rolled out
  • Need to work more on co-ordinating the amount of back pressure I apply in a turn to maintain airspeed or altitude as appropriate

All in all, a good lesson – I just hope the weather is as cooperative for my next one, and hopefully I can get to the point where I’m getting the correct back pressure during the flare etc!