Day 5: Lesson 6 – Introduction to Circuits

Date: 06/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.10 0.00 0.00
Total to date 6.50 0.00 0.00

We hit the Bankstown training circuit today for the first time.

I had built up a wee bit of trepidation after the intensity of lessons 1 through 5. It really hit me after Friday’s lessons just how much there is to remember, and learn, to fly well and safely. My mate Chris – now flying 767’s for Qantas – gave me a really apt simile. He said that learning to fly is like wrapping your lips around a fire hose hydrant and turning the water on full. Perfect analogy!

So it was kind of good to get out to the club, check the ATIS, review the circuits checklist my instructor John laid out yesterday, and generally get my game face on.

Unfortunately my lesson was late as both the aircraft I’d booked (Sierra Foxtrot Mike) and John were late down from their respective flights. I asked the duty pilot if there were any other Warriors I could book so that I could have one fuelled, pre-flighted and ready to go when John hit the ground. As fortune would have it, November Foxtrot Romeo was available so I grabbed the flight bag, checked the maintenance release and headed out to the flight line. All good with the aircraft – I called Shell for fuel up to tabs in both tanks and also noted that oil was down to below 6 quarts. When John was ready, we grabbed a quart of aviation grade engine oil, topped up the engine, and started up.

(Mistake! At Bankstown, if you want to fly circuits, you need to radio Ground for permission to start up. We made that call retrospectively). So …

Insight #8

For circuits at Bankstown, always remember to radio ground for start-up clearance before you start up!

Circuits today were from runway 11 right, which entails a long taxi across the main airport apron area and past the western end of the 3 runways. We reached the run-up bay and ran through out run-up and pre-flight checks, then radioed ground for permission to taxi to the runway holding point. Permission received, we taxied, then switched radio to the tower and advised that we were ready on 11 right for circuits. Tower told us to hold short while 2 other aircraft in the circuit landed, then gave us take-off clearance.

John flew the first one. Lining up into the wind (as chance would have it, a 10-knot headwind straight down the runway), he opened up the throttle and we accelerated smoothly down the runway. At 55 KIAS he lifted the nose and we climbed at Best Rate Of Climb speed at 80 KIAS. John ran through the 300-feet checks (he handled procedure checks and radio calls today, expecting me just to do the flying basics), then at 400 feet cleared left-centre-right then at 500 feet entered a 15-degree bank climbing turn onto the crosswind leg (looking back at the runway to confirm we did a 90-degree turn). Climbing quickly to 1000 feet and checking that we were 45 degrees from the upwind end of the runway, John did a part-climbing turn onto downwind parallel with the runway, lowered the nose and throttled back to 2300 RPM. Get this – he wants me to learn to do this power reduction purely by the “sound” – so I don’t have to look at the tachometer! I can only assume this comes with practice. Scooting along at about 95 knots, John checked our distance from the runway (ideally have the outer 3rd of the right wing overlaying the runway as you look down on it), ran through the BUMFISH checks (Brakes – Undercarriage – Mixture – Fuel pump on – Instruments – Magneto Switches on both – Hatches & Harnesses) made our downwind radio call. Reaching level with the downwind end of the runway, John pulled the throttle back to 2000 RPM while keeping a nose attitude for 1000 feet, then put out 2 stages of flap as soon as the Airspeed Indicator was in the white arc (within which you can use flaps). Once we were 45 degrees offset from the end of the runway, John pulled the throttle back to 1500 RPM, lowered the nose and turned onto the base leg. (He was, of course, doing clear left-centre-right for traffic before each turn). Aiming for a descent speed of 70 knots and to reach 500 feet before rolling onto final, John managed nose attitude and throttle to manage our height, airspeed and rate of descent appropriately, then turned onto final and made a textbook landing. Immediately we were down, John retracted the flaps, put the throttle on full and off we went again on my first “touch and go”!

Once the nose was raised John handed over to me, and that’s where the fun began.

OK, let’s be fair on myself. It was my first day. A strong 10 knot headwind brought with it some turbulence and mild wind shear that made it a challenging first time out. In general, I flew the circuit as well as a first-timer could reasonably be expected to. At the end of the lesson, John expressed the view that it had gone OK. But I’m pretty sure I made every mistake in the book, including:

  • Not using my pedals on finals, rollout and takeoff. I simply am not using my feet yet. I’m trying to control the aircraft’s direction on finals, on the runway roll and on takeoff purely with aileron. Won’t work. Gotta get the feet involved.
  • Not staying in line with the runway. In my extreme urge not to incur on Bankstown’s runway 11 centre (to my left today), I erred horribly to the right both on takeoff and on finals.
  • Banking too steeply in the climb. I mustn’t use more than 15 degrees of bank in my climbing turns.
  • Turning too late onto downwind. One circuit today saw me miles away from the runway.
  • Not adopting the right nose-down attitude and managing my throttle on downwind. Result? Height gained over 1000 feet – at one stage on one circuit I was at nearly 1200 feet.
  • Not managing attitude and power appropriately on the base leg. On one circuit I was way low and needed to add heaps of power to maintain height; on another, I was way high and needed urgently to nose down and throttle back.
  • Not using my pedals on finals … Wait, did I already mention that? Yes I did, but it’s worth mentioning again because it’s my biggest problem. I’m trying to steer down to the runway with ailerons only and all I’m doing is placing the aircraft out of balance and doing nothing to control my alignment with the runway centre line.
  • Not throttling back over the runway threshold. Every second I’ve got excess power above the runway is precious runway length lost for the landing.
  • Not holding the control yoke back far and long enough on the flare. Result? Excess airspeed and height when I need to be touching down.
  • Panicking and pointing the nose down when I realise I’m too high over the runway. Cardinal sin. Never do it. But god the temptation is so great to do it.
  • Standing on the brakes on rollout when I’m doing a touch-and-go. Gotta look down the end of the runway, and control my nosewheel with pedals only!

Insight #9

On takeoff, finals, and rollout on the runway, use my rudder pedals and leave the bloody ailerons alone unless I need them to balance the aircraft. At these stages of flight it’s all about the pedals!

The hour was up quickly. We’d been the only aircraft in the circuit (nice) and I was wrung out. (I always find that my mouth is dry with dehydration after these lessons!) John got clearance for us to land on runway 29 left (arrivals/departures), meaning we could avoid the otherwise long taxi from the circuit runway back to Schofields. To round things off nicely, I cocked up my final taxi clearance – but John was good enough to jump in and cover me and contended himself with an amused grin and chuckle in my direction.

Parking the aircraft, John looked at me with a straight face and said, “Easy, isn’t it?” I replied that I’m glad it might be for some, but it sure doesn’t come naturally to me. John’s reply was that my flying so far is not “unnatural”, which I’m taking as a compliment and an indicator that I’m probably at pretty much the same place that every new student pilot is at.

But … another hour down, more learning, more experience under the belt. Unless weather tomorrow forbids, another hour on the circuit. Seems weird, but I can’t wait.

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3 responses to “Day 5: Lesson 6 – Introduction to Circuits

  1. You’re not alone, trust me. When I was struggling with my circuits, I had a little ditty I used to sing in my head as I turned base: “Hands and feet, hands and feet…”. But trust in the process – you will find one day very soon, that all the elements will click together and you won’t even be thinking about stuff anymore. That’s when you’d have achieved unconscious competence.

    I also believe that the more comfortable you feel inside the cockpit, the faster everything will gel together.

    Great work!

    • Today – as I’ve just posted – was indeed better. I didn’t feel like a total dickhead in the cockpit and felt that the lesson was halfway decent. Instructor agreed. Slowly, bit by bit, piece by piece, stuff is starting to slot together.

      Can’t wait until the day I grease a landing for the first time!

  2. Pingback: Day 7: Lesson 6 – Second circuits lesson « MidLifePilot's Flying Blog

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