|Total to date||8.62||0.00||0.00|
Today was cool. Say that up front. Cool because I landed the aircraft 5 out of the 7 landings we did around the circuit (not smoothly or particularly well, but I landed without instructor help) and because the lesson felt like a lot has improved. And because my instructor John was extremely positive at the end of it – “lots of improvement” and “well done”. So I have a really good feeling that positive progress it being made.
No circuits lesson is ever the same. Major differences today were (1) that circuits were in the opposite direction to previous 2 lessons – we were taking off from runway 29 left; and (2) for the first time there was traffic in the circuit other than ourselves, which was good, as I need to start developing some traffic spotting skills and an appreciation for when to slow down or speed up to manage my place in the circuit.
Ride was Sierra Foxtrot Kilo, for the 3rd time (starting to get quite familiar with that aircraft). Previous lesson brought her in right on time, and unusually, no refuelling was needed (full tank on left, up to tabs on right). I had plenty of time to do the pre-flight checks while John was in the clubhouse, and I was comfortably seated and ready to go by the time he came out to the aircraft. Conditions were mild and ideal – CAVOK (no cloud below 5000 feet and >10km visibility) and wind very slight, variable at about 3 knots. There was almost no turbulence today, which helped greatly.
Given that we were doing left hand side circuits today, I’d spent time trying to memorise the DI (directional indicator)/magnetic compass headings needed for each leg. 290 degrees on upwind – 200 on crosswind – 110 on downwind – 20 on base – and 290 again on finals. I didn’t always stay spot on these headings, but was more conscious of maintaining them during flight, so in general the circuits were probably a bit more tidy than in previous lessons.
I tried to focus today on the 2 outstanding areas for improvement from previous lessons – use of feet on the rudder pedals, and proper flaring/round out technique on landings. There was definite improvement on both. Footwork still needs work, but I was more conscious of using rudder today (especially on final approach, which greatly improved my approaches) and John didn’t yell at me anywhere near as much about keeping the aircraft in balance. And the landing flare, while still needing heaps of work, was a definite improvement from Monday. Key to this, I think, was remembering to switch focus to the far centre line and of the runway once we crossed the runway threshold to land. This greatly improves your spatial awareness and sense of how high you are above the runway and when you need to use back pressure on the control yoke to flare out for the landing. Anyway, I still thumped us down rather than eased us down – and I’m not doing a great job yet of keeping my wings level – but much to my surprise John told me that the last few landings I’d done on my own! (I thought he’d been helping me as with previous lessons). So as of today I have officially landed my aircraft unaided* for the first time. That’s way cool.
* Unaided, of course, except for the fact that John is still doing the downwind radio calls and managing the pre-landing, final approach, rolling and 300 feet checklists. My guess is he’ll start moving those jobs on to me pretty soon now.
After 2 or 3 landings, John then demonstrated a flapless landing. This is exactly what it sounds like – a landing with no flaps extended (as opposed to the usual 2 or 3 stages of flap you use for landing). These landings are required knowledge and technique, and are used in situations where a bit more airspeed on approach is desired (such as in especially gusty conditions) and where you may have for some reason lost use of your flaps.
It’s very interesting on the base and final legs. Rather than 70 knots leading up to the runway, you’re looking for an approach speed more like 75 knots, and your descent path on final approach is much more flat than when using flaps. I felt especially conscious of the ground rising up to meet me on these flapless approaches today!
Not much further to say in terms of the contents of the lesson. 3 flapless approaches and then it was time to land, John receiving permission to land on 29 right (the arrivals and departures runway today) which saved us lots of taxiing time and got us back to the clubhouse much more quickly. It’s amazing how quickly an hour rolls around when you’re so focused up there on managing your aircraft and trying to stay ahead of it.
So, what was good today?
- Feet getting much better, use of pedals especially on takeoff and landing (still needs to be better though)
- Starting to get a feel for the landing flare – more work needed of course
- Management of my height in general (though still tending to gain too much height at the top of the crosswind leg due to not putting the aircraft in the right nose-down position quite early enough)
- Getting introduced to flapless landings
- Getting good raps from John for improvement today (and for remembering to wash the aircraft’s windscreen before the lesson)
- And landing the aircraft all by myself!
What was ordinary and/or in need of more work?
Apart from the couple of things I’ve already mentioned:
- I went into 2 or 3 turns today without first clearing the turn (today was clear right-clear centre-clear left)
- On 2 circuits today I went too high in the downwind leg, which forced me to lose height more rapidly in my base leg, which makes it harder to set the aircraft up early and well for a good final approach)
- With other aircraft in the circuit, my traffic awareness was not great (to be fair, it was the first lesson where there’d been any aircraft in the circuit other than me), and I struggled to take on board John’s admonition, when taking off, to delay my crosswind turn until the aircraft in front of me had passed my left wing
- A couple of the early circuits today saw me way too far away from the runway as a result of an extended crosswind leg – need to keep looking back for the 45-degree angle from the runway and make my turn as soon as I’m on 45 degrees
- On the circuits where I was too high on downwind, I was slow to take steps to regain 1000 feet and as a result had to lose height very quickly on the base leg. I need to get more proactive about fixing these things before base.
The later you leave stuff on the circuit, the worse your base leg is and the worse your final approach is. Conversely, if you’re all configured and straight by the end of downwind, and you’re able to roll into base at the right speed and right rate of descent, your final leg becomes a lot better and a lot more manageable.
But all in all, a great lesson today and a good positive step forward. Tomorrow 2 lessons if weather permits – another on circuits (emergency procedures) and perhaps a 2nd lesson in the training area on stalls. Then it will be circuits, circuits, circuits until first solo. Dare I think this might happen next week? Stay tuned.