Solo Nav 2

After a week of bad weather, it was nice to wake up this morning to see things were looking positive for my second solo nav flight, which was a route out via Framlingham and Snetterton Heath.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

I got to the airfield, checked over the NOTAMs etc, and my instructor had checked over my route planning to make sure it was all in order. After the paperwork, I went out and preflighted the aircraft (G-SHWK), and then we did a single circuit as a dual check to make sure I still remembered how to fly.

With that out the way, it was time for me to head off on my own. After departure it seemed air traffic were a little confused as while I was approaching 2000′ heading out to the East they instructed me to orbit for spacing in the circuit – this was quickly resolved after I explained I was departing on a cross country ?

The point I was using to start the route is a place known as six mile bottom, recognisable by being where a railway line crosses the A11. This was the first time I’ve approached it after taking off on 05, and I did initially manage to fly straight past it, so I did a 180 degree turn and got back to it.

After that I turned on to my heading for the first leg to Framlingham, and then noted down the time and did a quick gross error check. I had quite a while until my first checkpoint as I had a 20 knot headwind – eventually however Bury St Edmunds appeared – I was slightly left of track so I made a correction for this. The rest of the leg proved uneventful, I made contact with Wattisham Approach to get a MATZ penetration, and other than a couple of further adjustments to my heading as I was still drifting left a bit I made it to Framligham with no problems. I did encounter a nice demonstration of the effect of thermals however – there were a few breaks in the clouds allowing sunlight to the surface, and as I flew over those sunlit areas I would start to gain height if I didn’t compensate – I’ve never experienced it this obviously before, but I think the cold temperatures meant it had an exaggerated effect.

For the next leg to Snetterton Heath I tried to compensate for the fact my first leg had shown the wind was not doing exactly what was forecast – I realised once I could see Eye and Diss that I’d slightly overcorrected as I was ending up a bit to the right of my planned track, so I picked a heading in the middle which seemed to work well.

Once Snetteron Heath appeared (it’s a disused airfield which now has a race track, making it very easy to recognise from above), I turned on to my next heading back towards Cambridge (attempting to adjust for the wind). I then made contact with Lakenheath approach to get approval for entering their MATZ. I realised as my first checkpoint came into view I’d slightly overcorrected, so I adusted my heading slightly.

After clearing the MATZ, it was just a case of contacting Cambridge Approach and heading in. Upon contacting Tower I did rather foolishly request a crosswind join, which was impossible as it would have required me to be the other side of the airfield to do, however Tower realised this and gave me a downwind join instead, which was the right answer. The landing was a little flat, but I touched down with an almost zero rate of descent which is ideal (if I’d have had the nose a little higher so it wasn’t as flat then it would have been what’s known as a ‘greaser’, or essentially perfect landing).

It was then just a case of taxiing back, shutting down and heading in to complete the paperwork, and pay for the total of 95 minutes of flying (which my wallet didn’t like!).

Next up is my Qualifying Cross Country (QXC) flight, which is a solo flight of at least 150nm, landing at two other aerodromes (in my case Sywell and Connington). I’m booked in for this for tomorrow, so if the weather cooperates it could be a fun day (statistically speaking though it’s unlikely, as very few people ever get to do their QXC on the first attempt!)

Solo Nav 1

The weather today finally co-operated and I was able to do my first solo navigation flight. My original booking was for the 9am slot, however it was clear that the visibility probably wasn’t going to improve sufficiently for me to get it done (and due to one aircraft being in maintenance I couldn’t extend beyond the slot), but the 2pm slot was free, and so I was booked into that. We did however get the ‘dual check’ done, which was a single circuit just to prove I could still take off and land safely.

I was keeping a close eye on the various weather reports throughout the morning, and fortunately things went as forecast (or better in some cases) and so by 2pm things were looking OK.

Because I’d already done the dual check in the morning, I could go straight out, which as a new experience for me (normally at least the first circuit is with an instructor). After a bit of a wait for taxi clearance due to lots of other traffic on the frequency, I was cleared to taxi to the holding point, so off I went, remembering to note down the time.

Once airborne and clear of the city I headed for point alpha (a useful landmark at the A14/M11 junction) to begin the route. This turned out to work quite well as I only had to make a slight adjustment to my heading once I got there. After noting the time and doing a gross error check, I started looking for my first checkpoint. The visibility was very good which meant I could see all my marks nice and early, and had plenty of time to identify them and make sure they were what they were supposed to be.

After I was confident I was on track I changed frequency to Marham, as they provide a LARS service covering the area I was going to be flying, and I was going to have to talk to them later for a MATZ penetration anyway. I asked for a traffic service (where they inform me of any traffic they can see on radar that is going to be near me) – at first they couldn’t pick up my transponder, so they just gave me a basic service. As I proceeded on the leg they kept gaining and then losing the transponder, and so were ping ponging me between a basic and traffic service, until they eventually got fed up and just left me on basic, asking me to report at my first turning point (Spalding)!

On the first leg I did have to descend a bit to stay out of cloud (or more accurately out of the small amount of snow that was just under the cloud) – I was a little concerned at first that if this carried on I’d have to look to divert back, and so said to myself if I have to go to 2000′ or below then at that point I’ll divert. Fortunately the lowest I had to go was 2200′, so all was fine.

Spalding arrived pretty much dead on time, and I was only about 1nm left of where I was supposed to be, which over a 34nm leg isn’t too bad (the 1 in 60 rule would suggest I was within 2 degrees of the correct heading). I then turned and started on the leg towards Downham Market. There were slightly fewer landmarks this time, so I was a little less confident of my heading, however everything worked out OK. Marham asked me to tell them when I was abeam Marshland in order to get the MATZ penetration – clearly they had got me on radar as they asked me to report my position just as I was about to do so anyway once I got there. My MATZ penetration was approved, and so I headed to Downham Market and made the turn onto my next leg back to Cambridge.

Once clear of the Marham MATZ I needed to change to talk to Lakenheath as I would be passing through their MATZ, this was accomplished, and other than finding it slightly harder to understand the controller (Lakenheath is a US air base and the controller was clearly from the US by the accent), this was all fine. I started making my preparations for landing once I got to Ely (collecting the ATIS etc), and once I was clear of the MATZ Lakenheath instructed me to freecall Cambridge, which I did.

Cambridge became visible nice and early which is always good (not finding the airfield again would not have made for a good day!), and I asked and was approved for a right base join. I started my descent to circuit height a little later than ideal so needed to do a fairly steep descent, but other than that the approach and landing went well, and I was able to vacate by Charlie.

All in all a good 70 minutes of P1 time for my log book – positive things from it being that my control of heading seemed good, landmarks all appeared pretty much when they were supposed to etc, and I did remember to do some FREDA checks along the way. I still need to work on my altitude a little bit (I was oscillating +/- 100 feet of my target altitude most of the time, which isn’t disastrous, but not ideal), but other than that I was very happy with the flight.

Next up is solo nav 2, though this won’t be until the week after next at the earliest as I’ve got some work next week meaning I can’t do any flying (so I imagine the weather will therefore be glorious!). I also hope to set up my iPad on the back seat for the next one, and have it capture my track so I can compare it to the planned one afterwards to see how accurate my flying was (I would have done so today, but the battery was flat)…

 

Crosswind Circuits

I’m currently waiting to do my first solo navigation exercise, however the weather hasn’t been co-operating. I headed to the airport this morning knowing that I wasn’t going to be doing it (as the cloud base was too low over most of the route), but I thought I’d see if there was anything else I could do. After a quick discussion with the instructor, we decided that as the wind was essentially creating a 90 degree crosswind of around 10 knots (though with gusts up to 16) we would do some crosswind circuits. I knew my crosswind technique needed some work, so this seemed like a good idea.

The first circuit started off OK, until we were asked to switch to the grass runway rather than the main (due to a couple of aircraft departing on the main) – this made life interesting as while the 23 grass runway starts at the same position as the main one, it is a lot shorter, so when using 05 (which we were today) the threshold is a lot further on than the main, and actually quite tricky to see from a distance. My approach was quite unstable, as I took a long time to get properly on the centre line, and my height was a little erratic – this coupled with not properly ‘kicking it straight’ prior to touchdown led to one of my worst landings ever.

I tried to put that one to one side, and the next time around (back on the main), it was a little better, although once again I took a long time to get properly established on the centre line, meaning I was still mentally catching up with the aircraft, and so the landing was again quite poor.

The remaining 3 circuits improved somewhat, as I was making sure I got myself established as early as possible, and was concentrating on trying to get the into wind wheel down first (by lowering that wing just prior to touchdown).  By the end I was OK, though with that level of crosswind I wouldn’t be happy doing them solo yet (the wind level today was above the club’s solo crosswind limit, which is to some extent reassuring). I think I’ll make sure if I get similar conditions again at any stage when unable to do the planned activity I’ll ask to do some circuits to try and work on them.

I did find afterwards that I was the most mentally drained I’ve been from flying in a long time, despite the lesson only being 45 minutes, which is nothing compared to some of the recent ones I’ve had. It serves as a good reminder not to become complacent at least I suppose!

Circuits

I was supposed to be doing dual nav 3 today, however by the time the morning mist had cleared sufficiently to get us above minimums, and then due to a delay while the runway was inspected to check out some potential damage, we ran out of time.

I had a choice at this point whether to just give up and taxy back, or just do some circuits. I decided as I hadn’t done any in a while that this would be a good chance to practise, and try to work on my technique.

Once airborne I was glad we didn’t decide to do the nav, the visibility was quite poor, such that I’d have struggled to make out landmarks that were any sort of distance ahead or to the sides of us (in fact I think if we had tried to do it we’d have turned round and come back anyway as I wouldn’t have learnt anything from it).

The first circuit was a normal one, which other than making my turn from base to finals late and having to go further round to get back on the centre line, was nice. The second I ended up quite high so it was quite a steep approach, however the touchdown was alright and I think I got the flare correct.

The final one I opted to do flapless as I hadn’t done one for a while (and there’s always a chance of having to do a flapless should I have an electrical or flaps failure) – I was a little faster than I was supposed to be on final approach, and so the touchdown was a little fast, leading to us having quite a long backtrack to get off the runway (luckily there was nothing else in the circuit).

All 3 circuits were safe, but I did have a tendency to touch down on one wheel at first – I think as I pull back to flare I’m accidentally raising my hand a little bit as well, causing us to roll very slightly to the right, and thus touch down on the right hand wheel first, this is something I’ll try to keep an eye on and make sure I avoid in future.

Dual Nav 2

When I first woke up I assumed I wouldn’t be flying, as the weather was rubbish and the forecast didn’t look good, however it turned out to be one of those rare days where things turned out better than expected, and by 11:00 things were looking quite good (albeit still quite cold).

The route today was a triangular route out to the Northwest, with the first turning point being Raunds, then up North over Peterborough to Crowland, then back down to Cambridge.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

I got to the airfield a little early in order to get my planning finished (taking in to account the wind conditions etc) – when the instructor (Jamie) got back from his previous lesson, we went through my PLOG to check it was right, and then it was time to go.

Fortunately the aircraft had been used already that day, so it was nice and warm which meant no waiting at the hold for it to come up to temperature (which at just over £3/minute gets quite expensive!). Once airborne I headed for a landmark known as point alpha (a distinctive double roundabout where the A14 meets the M11 and A428) – I initially was looking in the wrong place, but a quick prompt from the instructor sorted that out.

Once there, I turned on to the first heading and noted the time. At this point I misheard the instructor (he said time, but I heard ten), making me think it was 10:18, when actually it was 11:18, which led to some confusion later on!

Grafham water came in to view fairly quickly, and the route took us straight over this, so it became very easy to check we were on course. Throughout the route the instructor asked me to try and identify various towns to check we were where we should be, which took me a while at first (even big towns look quite small from the air, so correctly identifying them can be tricky), but by the end I think I’d managed it alright.

My climbing problem from nav 1 was back, but during the course of the exercise I realised why – I wasn’t properly trimming the aircraft and thus requiring a bit of a pull back on the controls, which then made it easy to pull back too much. Once properly trimmed I could essentially apply no pressure and then things pretty much stayed where they were supposed to (which is of course the whole idea of trim in the first place!).

We couldn’t raise Wittering to try and get a MATZ clearance, so instead we talked to London Information after leaving Cambridge.

As we got overhead Peterborough, it became clear that ahead of us the cloud base (which was below us) was thickening considerably, and so we decided to divert. I hadn’t had a briefing on this, so it was a bit of a trial by fire – the basic procedure is to plan a new route, estimate a heading for it (attempting to take in to account the wind), then fly that heading. It sounds simple enough, however attempting to draw a line on the chart while also maintaining an orbit around a point is ‘interesting’ to say the least.

Once on the diversion heading, doing a good gross error check and keeping an eye out for landmarks became even more important, as unlike my pre-planned headings there was a good chance this one wouldn’t be quite right. Fortunately things seemed to work out, and we proceeded pretty much on track (though I did keep drifting off heading for some reason, which I need to work on as that could cause me big problems on longer diversions).

The instructor did have to take control at one point on this leg as he spotted an aircraft at our 2:00 position same level, and he wanted to make sure we were out the way of it, as it would have been close otherwise and it had made no sign of having spotted us. I’d like to think I would have spotted it shortly afterwards on my own, however I think my lookout was a bit poor today (I was spending too long checking my heading/altitude and looking at the chart), so need to work on this in future.

We arrived at our diversion point (a village called Sutton), albeit a bit South of where we should be (but easy enough to fix). At that point it was then time to plan the next leg of the diversion to Cambridge – while we were close enough and there were enough familiar landmarks around that I could probably have got back anyway, it was still worth doing, and more practise at gross error checking and landmark recognition etc.

As we got back to Cambridge the instructor told me to get us in and he wouldn’t say anything – I eventually got visual with the field (after realising I’d been looking too far in front of us for a while), and opted to do an overhead join – if I’d got visual sooner I might have tried a crosswind as this would have saved a bit of time. This was all fairly straightforward, and the landing ended up as one of the nicest I’ve done so far, which I was happy with.

Radio Navigation

I’ve had a long break from flying (not through choice, but due to weather), waiting to try and get my first navigation exercise done. After a cancelled lesson last week, I was advised to read up on the radio navigation side of things, as that was something we could do if the weather was good enough for a flight in to the local area, but not for the nav.

This morning while Cambridge was alright (a little cold, and a fairly large crosswind, but well within limits), it was overcast at 500 feet out where the nav was supposed to be going, so we put this plan in to practise in G-UFCB. The instructor mentioned this wasn’t something they’d done in this order before, but they thought I should be able to handle it.

The take-off and climb out were a little shakey (due to a combination of not having flown for 4 weeks and a gusty wind), but safe enough. Once we got to altitude the instructor gave me a few minutes to practise straight and level to get myself back in to the swing of things. Unfortunately I seem to have remembered my tendency to climb slightly when trying to remain level, which would lead to regular prompting to check my attitude during the flight 🙁

We started off with VORs (VHF Omnidirectional Range) – once tuned and identified, these are used by selecting a specific radial (which can be thought of like a spoke from a bicycle tyre), and you then get an indication of how far away from that radial you are, and whether that radial is going to or from the beacon. They can be used either to fly directly to the beacon, or to ascertain position by determining what radial you are currently on (thus giving you a straight line from the VOR station that you know you are somewhere on). The tricky bit here is adjusting for the effects of wind, something I’ve just about got my head round, but will need more practise I think.

Next up was the DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) – this gives you the slant distance from your present location to the DME station. They’re often co-located with a VOR station, allowing you to therefore get a position fix by determining what radial you’re on, and then the distance you are from the station. We tried doing this, and other than my freehand line drawing skills not really being up to much, it seemed to work.

We then used the GPS, this is essentially the same principal as the GPS you might use in a car, with the difference being it gives you a heading to fly to get to the waypoint rather than telling you what turns to make. We didn’t do very much on this (partly because the GPS in the aircraft seemed a little unreliable), but it all made sense.

As time was getting low (the brief had taken a while, and it had taken a while for the aircraft to warm up etc), we then headed back to Cambridge (we’ll leave the ADF until next time), opting for a right base join. I’ve not done one of these before, and that combined with the fact I’ve not attempted to land an aircraft in 4 weeks meant the instructor was going to talk me through it, and if necessary take control (it was going to be a challenging landing anyway as there was a strong crosswind). I got a bit low during the base leg (I think due to the unfamiliar landmarks giving me little to judge my height from), but after correcting that I managed to get us down without any drama, and without much input from the instructor, which given it was a crosswind that was approaching if not beyond the solo limits I was quite pleased with.

I’ve got another lesson booked tomorrow – in an attempt to increase the chance that I can fly a nav route I’ve been given the second one to plan (which goes in a different direction), so we have a choice of options if it’s still bad out towards one of them…

First local area solo

Today I had my first solo flight away from the airport. The aim was to practise the various things I’ve been doing recently (which are steep (45 degree) turns, practise forced landings (PFLs), and possibly stalling and recovery).

First was a couple of circuits with the instructor (just to make sure I can still actually land!) – it was interesting as the wind was completely calm today, as such on my first attempt I was a fair distance down the runway before touching down (the lack of wind means the ground speed is much higher for the same airspeed). The second one (which was to land) I extended the downwind leg to give myself longer, and was much better.

Then we taxyed back, the instructor got out, and it was over to me. The take-off was uneventful, and I remembered not to turn until either I’d reached 2000 feet or was clear of the city. On changing frequency from the Tower to Approach I remembered to use the ‘Student’ prefix on my callsign (this lets the controller know it’s a student pilot so they can take that into account when planning etc).

I went out to the local area, and once I was clear of the airport and Cambridge started practising my steep turns (remembering that my lookout was even more important than ever now as there was nobody else to catch anything I missed – though as it happened I didn’t see another aircraft throughout the flight – I think nothing else was operating in the area).

The steep turns were OK (I had a tendency not to apply enough back pressure, meaning I would start to descend as part of the turn, but not disastrously so). I then decided to do a PFL – for this you essentially get to around 3000 feet (which is a typical cruise altitude), and pull the throttle. You then have to maintain the best glide airspeed (70 knots for the Cessna 172), pick a field (preferably in to wind, although with the wind calm today this wasn’t an issue), and aim to fly a suitable pattern to land in it. Once you’re safely flying the aircraft towards the field, you look at whether you can restart the engine / fix the problem. For a PFL you proceed as if you are going to land, and then at a suitable point (that avoids breaking the low flying rules) go around. Throughout this you remember to warm the engine every 1000 feet of descent to avoid the PFL turning in to a real forced landing!

When I’d done PFLs with the instructor I had a tendency to get to close to the field, so I tried to avoid this, however with the lack of wind meaning I had increased ground speed I still ended up a little close. On both of the attempts I made however there did end up being an alternative field that I think would have worked had it been a real emergency.

After that, it was time to head back – this was the bit I was most nervous about, as to whether I would find the airport again (I wasn’t too worried though as if the worst came to the worst I could ask on the radio for what’s known as a QDM, which is a heading to fly that will take me back based on where my radio signal is coming from). After convincing myself that I was definitely pointing in the right direction by checking the distance on the DME (distance measuring equipment – it shows how far away from the airfield you are) was going down, I then was able to get the ATIS information and do my checks etc.

Once handed over to the tower, I was authorised to do a standard overhead join. As I got overhead the radio was busy with a clearance being given to a departing jet. I finally got my overhead call in just as I was about to start descending, and was quickly met with a ‘remain in the overhead’ due to said jet being about to take off. Another orbit around the airfield and I was then approved to descend.

The overhead join was uneventful, and I flew a perfectly reasonable circuit. The landing was a little firmer than ideal (I potentially flared a little early / a little too much), but safe enough. Then it was just taxy back and park up.

All in all, a great 85 minutes of flying, and a good confidence boost that I am safe doing manuevers etc myself. Next time I go solo I’ll also practise some stalling.

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.

This flying lark

While I’ve always found it fun, I think my ability is now getting sufficient to let me really enjoy this flying lark, and finish a lesson wanting more rather than being totally exhausted. I think this has been helped by (and I hope this doesn’t jinx it) the fact I’ve been really lucky with the weather recently – I got all my lessons last week (albeit one I struggled with due to a crosswind), today’s, and the forecast looks alright for tomorrow’s ?

On Friday we did a few dual circuits, then I did 4 or 5 solo. While solo I had to do one go around as the aircraft ahead hadn’t vacated the runway, and when I was coming in for the last time to land, I was told to expect late landing clearance (the aircraft ahead of me was also landing so would have to vacate), and they did mean late – I think I got clearance when I was about 20 feet above the runway!

I felt after that lesson that I was getting a lot more confidence when solo – I’m starting to find time to enjoy the odd glance out at the view around while on downwind, and generally not feeling like I’m going to drop out the sky at any moment, which I think is being reflected in landings generally starting to improve (or at least get more consistent).

The weather conditions were such that solo would be borderline, so we just did some dual circuits instead. We intended to try a crosswind landing on one of the grass runways (thats orientated 28/10 vs the 23/05 main runway) to try and sort out my technique, however once we got up there the wind had got such that it would be beyond limits.

The radio was the busiest I’ve ever heard it so far (not helped by I think two aircraft during the course of the lesson that had issues with their radio making them barely readable), and getting a word in edgeways was at times quite a challenge, but I managed it, and other than on the last circuit mistakenly calling final for touch and go rather than to land, I didn’t make any mistakes (there was one person at one point who transmitted ‘erm, erm, …, <readback of instructions>’!). I don’t know how the controllers deal with it though – I’m only having to worry about instructions sent to me, and where any aircraft that are ahead of me in the circuit are, the controller has to juggle all kinds of things and ensure correct separation etc.

On final on one of the circuits, there was a 737 (which I later found out was carrying racehorses as they were being unloaded when I was taxying back – it was an interesting sight) behind us on the ILS approach – I found it quite amusing hearing them be told they were “#2 to the Cessna on short final”. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see it land from above as it happened while I was climbing back out – we did have to do a couple of orbits though as it needed to backtrack the runway to get to the right taxiway (unlike a light aircraft a 737 can’t use a grass one!).

While I would have liked to have done a bit of solo, all in all I was very happy with the lesson – I coped with a wind that was the strongest I’ve flown circuits in (although admittedly it was pretty much straight down the runway which makes things easier), I had a couple of really nice landings (where you couldn’t actually feel the touchdown), and other than going around on the first one as I flared too early and ballooned, the others weren’t bad.

The biggest thing I realised during the lesson was that a lot more of it was becoming ‘automatic’ – applying my human factors knowledge I know this is because I’m now building up a muscle memory and thus not having to conciously think about how to do things, just deciding I want to do them, but it’s still nice to feel it in practise. I was also finding I was able to keep my head looking out a lot more, with just the odd glance at the instruments as a double check, rather than trying to fly by them (which the instructor (who I’ve not flown with before) praised me on, together with my general situational awareness, telling me that most people at a similar stage would be staring at the instruments etc). The only thing the instructor mentioned was that I should try and make a visual check of the flaps when I put them down / take them up just in case there was a problem and they hadn’t properly deployed.

Hopefully I can get some more solo time tomorrow – I’d like to try and do a solo flapless landing as I’ve not done that yet…

Crosswinds

I woke up to see clear blue skies and the sun shining, so this morning’s lesson looked to be promising – I then looked at the METAR and TAF and realised that it was going to be a pretty much 90 degree crosswind, which was less encouraging!

Once I got to the aero club, it seemed to be fairly stable at 7 knots from around 320 degrees (the main Cambridge runways are orientated at 230 and 050 degrees, so the wind was at exactly 90 degrees). After a bit of a delay for refuelling, and a quick discussion between ourselves and ATC as to which direction runway to use (eventually we settled on 23), it was off to the hold, get the various checks done, and then off we went.

With a crosswind you have to hold aileron into wind during the takeoff roll – this avoids the problem where the into wind wing starts to produce more lift than the out of wind one, and thus causes uneven loadings on the main wheels so the aircraft won’t travel straight along the ground. While I remembered this for the first takeoff, I did forget a few times for some of the touch and gos (at least until I started wondering why we were drifting when I was steering straight!).

After the first circuit, ATC asked us if we wanted to reposition for 05 as the wind had moved round to about 340 degrees, which we decided to do. On 05 there is a right hand circuit (i.e. all the turns in the circuit are made to the right, and the downwind leg is to the right of the runway), versus the more normal left hand circuit on 23 (the direction is reversed to keep the circuit away from Cambridge city, both to avoid noise complaints and as there are more options should an engine failure occur when not over the city). I changed on to this by making a 180 degree turn at the end of the crosswind leg of the 23 left hand circuit, such that I ended up on the base leg of the 05 right hand circuit.

I hadn’t used 05 very often, which meant I didn’t have any easy to use landmarks for knowing when to turn, and also being a right hand circuit judging the turning point from base to final is more difficult as the perspective is different. Other than occasionally turning a little bit too far on to crosswind or downwind, or not quite far enough I seemed to manage however.

Most of the circuit was OK (with a crosswind you just have to remember to point the aircraft into the wind to try and maintain the same ground track), but the approaches were quite hard work. I managed a few reasonable touchdowns, with a few go arounds when I wasn’t happy (mostly due to balloons probably caused by flareing too early). For some reason on the last couple of circuits I ended up very high – I think I either must have been closer in to the runway (thus giving me a much shorter base leg), or was turning earlier from downwind, so shortening the final approach. With some guidance from the instructor I did manage to get it back under control (the important thing is to try and maintain the correct airspeed, not do the instinctive thing of trying to put the nose down and point at the runway as I seemed to be trying at first).

The final landing, while on two wheels, wasn’t on the correct two wheels (I’m pretty sure I touched down with the right hand main wheel and the nose gear!), but fortunately it wasn’t too bad. We had a quick debrief afterwards – the instructor thought I’d handle the crosswind approaches quite well, and that the main issue I’d had was that I was quite often flareing too soon – I suspect the reason for this is twofold – firstly because I’d been having to concentrate harder on ensuring I ended up on the centre line, and secondly as I’m not used to using 05, and so some of the subtle visual clues that my brain had been using to work out how high I was were gone.

I’ve got 3 more lessons booked next week, and hopefully I’ll get some nice straight along the runway weather conditions so I can do some more solo (while I had filled out the pre-flight paperwork in case, I wasn’t really expecting to do so today, and after the first couple of circuits I’d decided that even if the instructor offered me the chance I’d have said no!).