Leaving the circuit

I had a lesson booked for yesterday (Thursday), but despite pretty much perfect conditions it didn’t happen as the aircraft had had a problem and had to go in for some maintenance which wasn’t finished in time.

Today it was too windy to do any solo, and I wouldn’t really have gained anything doing lots of dual circuits, so we decided to move ahead to the next thing, which was learning how to leave and rejoin the circuit.

This was going to be jumping in at the deep end, as while I have read the bits in the book in the past, I hadn’t looked at them recently. We had a quick briefing about what we’d be doing, and then off we went.

The first task once we were clear of the city (or above 1000′) was to make a right turn out to the West, and look for what is known as point alpha – this is a major road junction with a distinctive double roundabout, and one of the points that can be used for starting navigation (using a point just outside the airfield simplifies things as it means you’re not trying to start timing etc while still dealing with completing the initial climb).

Once I’d identified that, we turned back towards the airfield, checked we still had the current ATIS information, switched frequencies back to the tower (when outside the circuit you talk to ‘Cambridge Approach’ (or Cambridge Radar if the radar is active) in order to avoid cluttering up the tower frequency where they need to be giving timely clearances etc) and requested a crosswind join. After a rather rapid descent because I’d started it a little late, we were at 1000′ and crosswind. From there it was a normal circuit with the aim to be to do a touch and go.

I did a go around from the touch and go as I bounced, and so then it was time to turn out to the East, and look for another navigation start point, where the railway line meets a road. Once found, the instructor took control and demonstrated why you shouldn’t rely on the compass when turning (instead you use the direction indicator or DI), by flying a 360 degree turn while I watched it, and saw how it completely misreads.

It was then time to head back to the airfield again, so time to get the ATIS information, report airfield in sight and get told to switch to the tower, and then request a rejoin. We were offered (and accepted) a left base join, and then asked if we could use the grass runway, which we accepted.

The approach to the grass runway wasn’t my best (it’s quite tricky as the perspective is different and the threshold offset slightly), and so I wasn’t too surprised when I ended up ballooning it and so elected to go around. Next time round for the main runway we unfortunately had to go around again as it was clear the traffic that had landed ahead of us wasn’t going to vacate in time (or at least it would be very close, and with the wind as it was doing a very low go around wouldn’t have been ideal)

The final approach was quite tricky as the wind was starting to get really quite gusty and the amount of lift we were getting kept varying. I managed to cope with it however, and made quite a nice gentle touchdown in the end which I was happy with.

In the debrief my RT was complemented (a few minor things to tweak, but that’s to be expected), and we then talked through one of the joins we hadn’t done, which is the overhead join – with this you basically fly over the airfield at 1000′ above the circuit height (so 2000′ in the case of Cambridge), aiming to fly over the runway numbers, and then descend on the dead side of the runway (making all turns in the circuit direction). It sounds relatively straightforward to me, just need to see if I can do it in practise!

I made some mental notes to myself during the lesson of things I needed to revise (particularly power settings for descents, as I’ve got so used to the start of the descent involving flaps and then the amount of power being dictated by the runway perspective), so will make sure to go through these before my next lesson.

Next time will either be finishing off the solo consolidation phase (I apparently need to do just 15 minutes more solo time, and a little bit more on flapless and glide approaches), or moving on to practise some things like short/soft field takeoffs and advanced turning.