Tag Archives: takeoffs

Day 17: Lesson 23 – Crosswind takeoffs and landings

Date: 26/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.10 0.00 0.00
Total to date 21.14 1.40 0.70

Just a quick post to get up to date. Went up Saturday in IJD for my mandatory crosswind circuits lesson as weather was finally suitable. Wind from south min 10 max 25 knots, gusting, which was pretty much ideal crosswind conditions with crosswind maximum of 17 knots.

That said, during the lesson the crosswind I actually experienced was not above 10 or 12 knots, but it did quality as crosswind, fortunately. I made a reasonable fist of the hour, crabbing into the wind on my approaches and trying to dip my right wing into the wind on landing.

I would very much like to have more crosswind exposure to the same conditions before experiencing any heavier crosswind, however!

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Day 16: Lesson 22 – Circuits/circuit emergencies in strong gusty wind

Following my highly successful and gratifying 4th solo this morning, the wind really got up and we decided to head out for an hour of dual circuits in the hope of knocking off my mandatory hour of crosswind circuits instruction. Unfortunately, the wind – while really starting to blow a gale with gusts of up to 20 knots, first from my left on takeoff and then from my right as the lesson progressed – didn’t have enough of a serious crosswind component to qualify. So that lesson remains to be done. However, John did tell me I could log this hour as “circuits in strong, gusty 20 knot winds, with circuit emergencies”.

Not too much to write. Needless to say it was by far the windiest and most challenging conditions in which I’ve flown so far. The wind played hell with all legs of my circuit, blowing me every which way, and introducing me to the subtle joys of learning to “lay off your drift” by angling the aircraft into the wind so as to fly straight circuit legs. By and large I failed miserably at doing that today. I spent an hour getting thoroughly bounced around and wrung out, making a series of successful but not pretty landings. John – I swear there’s a malicious streak in him somewhere – decided to make 2 of these simulated engine failures. So, 2 circuits in a row, we cut engine power on our monstrously fast downwind legs and made glide approaches to the runway.

Both times I came in too high and, fighting an almost 20 knot headwind to get down to the runway, had much difficulty in doing so. John showed me how to sideslip down to the runway – basically a controlled technique involving opposite rudder and aileron to rapidly lose height without gaining airspeed. My heart jumped into my mouth both times, we lost so much height so quickly that the runway seemed like it was just rushing vertically up at me through the cockpit window. At what seemed like the last moment, John brought the plane out of sideslip perhaps 25 feet off the runway and handed her over to me to land, which I did (though not prettily). I think I’ll need a lot more practise to do the sideslip manoeuvre that close to the ground without needing a change of pants.

(John’s a glider pilot also – it really shows in the confidence with which he sideslipped SFK today).

Less said the better about the landings, but both we and aircraft got back in one piece, so in one sense, mission accomplished.

Day 15: Lessons 19 and 20 – 2nd and 3rd solos

Date: 23/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.90 1.20 0.00
Total to date 20.04 1.40 0.70

Well, no wasting time. Today dawned clear and nearly cloudless, and my usual instructor John wasted no time in getting me out for my 2nd and 3rd circuit solos.

The MO seems to be about gradually letting you do more consecutive circuits each time, loading you up with more responsibility with each solo sortie. 2nd solo was some dual circuits followed by 2 solo circuits – 1 takeoff, 1 touch-and-go, 1 full stop landing. 3rd solo was 4 solo circuits – 1 takeoff, 3 touch-and-gos, 1 full stop landing. (Gotta say by the way, these solos are hard on the cheque book – each full stop landing costs me $15, and over my 3 solos so far I’ve shelled out $45 in addition to the usual!)

Second Solo

I was a tad rushed and bothered when I got out to Bankstown this morning. Had a difficult early morning with the baby – she’s taken to waking up in the middle of the night now and again, and at 4am this morning she managed to climb out of her cot with a big thump onto the wooden bedroom floor. She wasn’t harmed, and we got her back to sleep, but I and particularly Laura were pretty tired and I didn’t feel totally rested. I was conscious of this when I arrived at the club, took a few breaths and just got on with it, but the upshot was that I ended up pre-flighting and taking out an aircraft I hadn’t actually booked! (I’d booked UFY, but I took out NFR). Fortunately my error and lateness in getting out to the circuit resulted in us being no more than 15 minutes late back to the club, but someone else was waiting for the aircraft after me, and it wasn’t great form to bring it in late when I hadn’t even booked it.

Anyway. (As it turned out, the person/people who had NFR after me cancelled their flight, but still.)

John and I did 3 or 4 circuits – one in particular being a “very good circuit overall” according to John, so I dropped him at the run-up bay on 29 left and headed back for my 2 circuits. Being in NFR this morning and things still being fairly cool, the plane climbed like a bat out of hell! (Unlike UFY in my first solo yesterday – it was hotter yesterday and UFY is an older aircraft).

Not much to say about the circuits that I didn’t describe in detail yesterday. It was wonderfully clear and smooth, nil turbulence. Only issue was a sharp surprise when I was about to turn downwind on my 1st circuit when I noticed a Cessna 152 on my left at about my height and turning downwind himself! Turned out he’d been behind me while I was taking off and he’d done a go-around – that is, he didn’t land but headed back up into the circuit for another go. Tower didn’t see fit to tell me about this until after I’d seen the Cessna myself. Fortunately however I did see him. I didn’t need to take any really drastic evasive action, but it still affected my circuit. I slowed down much earlier than I otherwise would have done just to make sure I didn’t run up the back of him. (My Piper Warrior cruises at about 10 KIAS more than the Cessna 152). I also extended my downwind leg considerably to give him space to land before I did.

Insight #20

This was another good early lesson in the importance of maintaining a vigilant watch outside your aircraft. Even in controlled airspace, the tower won’t always tell you about conflicting traffic. Rely on your own “see and avoid” vigilance first and foremost.

Making a decent landing roll – avoiding a repeat of my unfortunate landing after yesterday’s Advanced Stalls lesson – I taxied back to pick up John, who took a few happy snaps of me for the “first solo” page on the club website and newsletter.

Third Solo

As things turned out, I went out again in NFR for my 3rd solo. In yesterday’s stalls lesson I’d discovered that the stall warning horn was not working (even though I’d tested it before takeoff), and had made sure Ashley had made an entry on UFY’s maintenance release. Consequently, UFY was in maintenance today and unavailable, but NFR became available for my 2nd session today, so it worked out well.

This time it was just 2 dual circuits before John hopped out. (1st dual was marred only by my forgetting to reduce power to cruise on early downwind, but a reminder from John was enough to set that right). Can’t recall all the detail, but a couple of noteworthy specifics:

  • On late final approach for landing after my first circuit I was 99% sure I hadn’t received my landing clearance from tower – there was plenty of radio traffic, perhaps they forgot. I did have the option of checking with them before landing, but I opted to do a go-around – my first solo one, and reasonably well executed I think.
  • Either the 2nd or 3rd touch-and-go was bloody ordinary. Hit the runway OK, but not well lined up with the centre line, so my takeoff roll had me heading for the left hand side of the runway and I had extreme difficulty re-centreing the aircraft. Fortunately I reached 55 KIAS before over the edge so I just lifted the nose and got up. Not the best takeoff I’d ever done.
  • Conditions for this solo were significantly more difficult – a rising crosswind and a fair bit of turbulence so I was bounced around a wee bit. Handled it OK. Made it extra important to focus on my airspeed on base and final legs though, the wind was gusting enough that sometimes my airspeed – which I’m trying to keep at 70 KIAS – would increase up to nearly 80 or down to nearly 60. Proved to myself that my throttle use on landing is getting much better though.

Touching down for my full stop landing, I was glad to get down. The wind was getting up and my work rate in the circuits had been pretty high. But it was a good landing roll, and John grabbed another photo or two and then showed me video of my landing that he’d taken on his iPhone. (I believe he’s emailing it to me, will get it on YouTube when available). It looks good from a distance, anyway.


Weather permitting, tomorrow’s first session is my first completely solo circuit session. I’ll have the aircraft entirely to myself, from startup at the club to taxiing, takeoffs, circuits and landings, to shutdown back at the club, including all radio calls. Can’t wait!


John got some video of my final approach and landing during my 3rd solo yesterday afternoon at Bankstown. It’s taken from his iPhone, so there’s no zoom and it’s a bit shaky, but should you care, at about 29 seconds in to the 1-minute footage, you can see me in NFR make my final approach and landing.

Day 14: lesson 17 and First Solo!

Date: 22/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.00 0.20 0.00
Total to date 19.14 0.20 0.70

My first solo finally happened today!

It absolutely poured rain this weekend, and to cap it all off, I contracted a stomach bug on Sunday which put me out of action. I pulled the pin on my 2 planned lessons yesterday, as I was still feeling crook and the weather yesterday anyway still being pretty dodgy. (The south coast of NSW has got an absolute drenching and floods in the last few days – it’s clearly been a pretty big trough system). So when I woke up this morning I was very mindful of being “behind” by 2 more lessons. OK, you can’t do anything about the weather. But it was still a lost day.

This morning didn’t look great either, early on there was fog down to 500 feet which would definitely have kiboshed any flying. However the TAF (Terminal Air Forecast) for Bankstown for today forecast some clearing, and I figured that you need to be out at the aerodrome to capitalise on breaks in the weather. (And after all, forecasts are only forecasts). So after dropping the kids off I hared out to Schofields noting some clearing cloud along the way.

Getting here about 0915 and meeting the Grade 1 instructor with whom I’d been slated to fly today, we checked the ATIS and called the tower, as conditions were still marginal but appeared to be clearing. Tower said that we should be right to fly in about half an hour. My instructor (Ashley) reckoned we’d be right to get the pre-solo checkride done, so I preflighted the aeroplane, which today is UFY (Uniform Foxtrot Yankee), possibly the club’s oldest Piper Warrior.

Pre-Flight and Fuelling

I called Shell to get some AVGAS in UFY’s tanks. Chris at Shell asked me to taxi the aircraft to the edge of the tarmac and he’d meet me there with the truck. (Apparently due the heavy rain there’s a NOTAM – Notice to Air Men – requiring vehicles to stay clear of the grassy areas of the aerodrome to avoid churning up the ground and making mud). I advised Ashley of this, and to my surprise, he asked me to start up the aircraft and taxi it over to the clubhouse. (Up until today I’ve not been allowed to start or taxi the aircraft unsupervised, so this was a first.)

I ran through the pre-flight checks, primed the engine and attempted to start it, but repeated attempts were to no avail. Not wanting to flood the engine or do something stupid, I advised Ashley, who jumped in the aircraft with me and advised me to pump the throttle twice. Which I did, and then I got a start! So a small trick picked up there that may come in handy. Taxi over to the apron in front of the hangar next to Schoies, shut down the engine, then follow Ashley’s directions on left and right rudder as he turns the aircraft around to a suitable position for fuelling.


With clearance to start up, we taxied out to 29 left and on the way Ashley talked me through the plan. He hadn’t flown with any of my usual instructor’s (John) students before so his preference was to sit back, let me do a couple of circuits and only speak or intervene if I was doing anything that was unsafe or dangerous. He was at pains to emphasise that this wasn’t to make me nervous – which I appreciated.

So, taxi via Kilo, Lima and November to run-up bay for 29L, then into the bay for our run-up checks. Run-up and pre-takeoff checks complete, I ran through my now-learned safety briefing – which Ashley seemed content with. Then clearance to taxi to the holding point S4 short of the runway, switch to tower frequency and make the call. “Bankstown Tower, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, ready for circuits on two nine left”. After a brief hold, we were given takeoff clearance and off we went.

Running through the circuit routine, everything went pretty smoothly. I was a little more apprehensive than usual, due to new instructor I guess. After two circuits, landings for both of which were quite good, Ashley commented as such and joked, “Wait till you see what I’ve got in store for you!” Nothing, he added, that I shouldn’t already be ready for, but it was a somehow welcome effort to lighten things up. Ashley did add, though, that my approaches had seemed a little low, and asked what I was aiming for. The runway numbers, I replied. Ash’s suggestion was perhaps to aim for a mark or two above the numbers, seeing as I had plenty of runway and to try to make sure my approaches weren’t too shallow. So I tried this on the next few landings, with good results.

Then Ashley put me though my paces! Over the next 3 circuits we did:

  • Simulated engine failure after takeoff (handled well)
  • Go-around (handled well)
  • Simulated engine failure on downwind (handled OK. This was a glide approach to the runway and I should have got full flaps out earlier than I did. Landing was fast and bouncy. Ashley’s assessment was that I would have been able to stop the aircraft by the end of the runway, but that the glide approach was safe enough and that given my proximity to the runway I could have used full flaps much earlier than I did. It was a really good bit of feedback!)

Insight #19

In an emergency situation necessitating a glide approach to the runway (or other suitable landing area), if you’re confident you’ll make the runway, use your flaps early. It will make your approach and landing slower, easier and safer!

First Solo

After 2 more circuits – one very good, one good except for wobbly landing roll – Ashley judged that I was ready to go. So we came to a full stop on 29L, then taxied back to the run-up bay. Ashley hopped out and asked me to pick him up at that spot after one circuit. He closed the door and walked away.

Wow! I was immediately hit by a feeling of space in UFY’s cabin. No instructor sitting beside me, no-one to have to squeeze my arm and hand past to get my right hand down to the trim wheel between the seats. Funnily enough things also seemed really quiet, too.

“Bankstown Ground, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, ready for first solo in run-up bay for two nine right.”

And acknowledging Ground’s directions, “Taxi to holding point Sierra four for two nine right, Uniform Foxtrot Yankee.”

Reaching the holding point, I switch to tower and make my call. “Bankstown Tower, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, ready for first solo circuit on two nine right”. Takeoff clearance received, I lined up and opened the throttle.

Made my rolling checks as I was under way – engine revs max and stable, T&P’s (temperatures and pressures) good, ASI (Airspeed Indicator) live. Hitting 55 KIAS (knots indicated airspeed), I eased back on the control column and up we go, climbing out much fast than usual with only one passenger on board (me!) at a best-rate-of-climb speed of around 75 or 76 KIAS. 300 feet and I check engine RPM, T&P’s, carby heat cold, fuel pump on, alignment with runway. 400 feet I start clearing my turn (right-centre-left) and picking a reference point 90 degree to my left, then at 500 feet into a 15-degree banked turn to the left, keeping an eye on my airspeed.

Looking out my window down at the airfield I’m picking when I’m 45 degrees to the runway, then at about 800 feet I roll into my downwind turn, radioing tower as I do so, “Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, turning downwind, full stop”. Tower advises me to follow traffic (was it a Cessna?) on late downwind, I can’t see it yet so I acknowledge, “Number 2 in circuit, looking for traffic, Uniform Foxtrot Yankee”. Settling down at 1000 feet (fighting off my tendency to gain height in early downwind), I throttle back to 2350 RPMs and start to run through my pre-landing checks, cruising at about 95 KIAS. Brake pressure – good. Undercarriage – fixed to aircraft. Then I sight the plane in front of me so I radio tower, “Traffic sighted Uniform Foxtrot Yankee”. Then the rest of my checks – Mixture, full rich. Fuel Pump – on. Instruments – T&P’s good. Switches (that’s magneto switches) to Both, Hatches and harnesses secure.

Level with the threshold of 29L I throttle back to 2000 RPM and put out 2 stages of flaps, quickly bringing UFY back to about 70 KIAS. Checking again for 45 degree alignment with the runway, I put my carby heat on, throttle back to 1500 RPM, lower my nose and turn left onto base. The aircraft ahead of me has just landed. I fly my base leg, making sure my IAS stays at 70, also that I’m losing height as I go, using combinations of pitch and throttle. At 550 feet I turn left onto final, trying to wake my feet up and conscious of my airspeed.

300 feet and I flip the carby heat to off, adding just a little throttle as my airspeed was creeping a touch below 70 KIAS. Then lower the nose and pull the throttle back to nearly closed. Using my feet as I’m getting blown off runway centre line just a little bit, then I’m just over the threshold, throttle back to full idle and eyes on the end of the runway to judge my landing flare. Bringing out down, I didn’t achieve quite the “chirp” sound of the tyres I was looking for, landed just a bit too hard for that, then I’m on the ground and on my landing roll-out. I manage to make this one a good one, braking smoothly and only remembering belatedly to pull back on my control column.

Turning left off the runway, I radio ground that I’m taxiing back to the run-up bay to pick up my instructor. As I taxi it hits me that I’ve just flown an aircraft, alone, for the first time in my life! A life-long ambition realised and the excitement hits me. I whoop like an idiot into my microphone, glad that I’ve done it and glad that I had my thumb off my radio switch so no-one else had to put up with hearing me.

I enter the run-up bay and pick up Ashley, who grins at me, shakes hands and says “Congratulations!” I then make my last call for the lesson. “Bankstown Ground, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee in run-up bay for two nine left for Schofields, request taxi clearance”. Ground clears me to taxi back to parking via Lima, and adds a welcome note of congratulations on my first solo, which I acknowledge warmly. A long taxi back to Schofields, a quick shutdown, and I’m done.

So. Everyone always raves about the day they did their first solo. I can now proudly join their ranks. Awesome. Between my memory, and this written account, I’m sure it will stay with me for many years.

Day 11: Lesson 13 – 8th circuits lesson, and we’re getting there!

Date: 16/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.10 0.00 0.00
Total to date 12.74 0.00 0.00

Yesterday was an enforced day off, which I used to good effect by finishing off my PA28 Endorsement Questionnaire (which I’m about to check against the answers) and doing study for my pre-s0lo theory exam.

Had an hour of circuits this morning and I feel like I’m finally starting to turn the corner! I made a “6/10” landing – the highest rating my instructor has given me so far – and am doing much better in holding off the control yoke on the landing flare. More work to do, but I think I have got the “feel” now. At least 2 out of the 6 or so landings made that lovely “chirp” sound of the tires, and on the later landings I succeeded in not banging the nosewheel down onto the runway.

I erred towards too much height (above 1000 feet) on some of my downwind legs today, which resulted in having to lose heaps of height on my base and final legs. (Wasn’t awful, but not ideal). On one particular landing this resulted in me arriving way too high over the runway, which in turn resulted in me trying to overcontrol my height off the runway with throttle and letting my airspeed creep too low. That’s not good.

Insight #13

Watch the airspeed on late finals! I made one really slow landing on which I was going as low as 50 knots even before I was over the runway threshold. That’s too close to the stall (even though I had full flaps out). Need to maintain about 65 knots over the airport fence and 60 knots over the runway threshold.

On another landing, I arrived a bit high, and while my use of control yoke is getting much better in general, on this particular landing I “ballooned” the aircraft into an upwards trajectory when I wanted to be going down towards the runway!

Insight #14

Watch the height on final approach. If everything else is set up well and you’ve got 2 stages of flap out but still too high, you can consider using your 3rd stage of flap (if you’re still on early finals). You don’t want to arrive high over the runway threshold – if you do, then you’ll take up precious runway length getting down to flare height before you can land, and you risk buggering up your landing by trying to get the nose down too fast. (A go-around nearly always the best option if this happens).

It was really good to experience these two things today, it will only make my future landings better and my watch of height and airspeed more vigilant.

A couple of interesting things today, both relating to a particular controller in the tower about whom my instructor was not very complimentary. On the 2nd circuit, on early downwind, John grabbed the controls to take evasive action as he spotted an aircraft on late crosswind climbing towards our level and coming close to us! It was only as John was doing this that we received a call from the tower advising us of this traffic to our left. Bottom line, the pilot in the other aircraft had started his crosswind leg far too early (probably before he reached 500 feet) which resulted in his catching up to us just as we were on early downwind. John demonstrated the classic responsibility of the Pilot In Command to “see and avoid”. However, the tower should have advised us of the traffic much earlier than they did, a fact which John pointed out via the radio.

On that same circuit, despite our having made the correct downwind call for a touch-and-go, the tower failed to give us landing clearance when we were on very late final approach, so we initiated a go-around (which I’m happy to say I handled quite well despite retracting initial flap too early).

John’s description of the particular person in the tower at this time was “hopeless” …

Day 10: Lesson 12 – 7th circuits lesson

Date: 14/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.70 0.00 0.00
Total to date 11.64 0.00 0.00

Two lessons were scheduled today, but only 3/4 of one happened due weather. The low cloud and gusty wind conditions forecast didn’t arrive until a bit later than anticipated, but arrive they did and after about 40 minutes and 3 circuits my instructor pulled the pin on the lesson. In fact the crosswind was so strong that he made the final landing himself, judging (quite reasonably) that I was not yet ready for it.

But at this stage I’m reasonably sanguine about it all. Possibly foolishly? Here’s my thinking:

  • I’ve still got nearly 5 weeks full time to throw at this before I go back to work (though clearly I’m going to be doing some of my PPL training part-time after then – hopefully I’ll get the GFPT done though!)
  • My landings are getting better – made my best one so far today (though my instructor only rated it a 5 out of 10)
  • I at least got up today, which always feels better than a day with no flying at all
  • I got some additional much-needed study time in, and
  • I can’t do much about the weather anyway.

Not an awful lot to relate in terms of detail about today. We were only up for 35-odd minutes and only did 3 or 4 circuits. But today was notable in 2 respects:

  1. As mentioned above, I made my best landing so far. John only rated it 5/10, but he did say it was “good”. The approach was stable (this was while the wind was on the rise but hadn’t really come up yet in terms of serious crosswind), use of rudder was reasonable, hold-off was good up to the point when main wheels touched the ground with only a light “chirp” sound, and I actually heard the stall warning sound at that point, which is ideal. However I then dumped the nosewheel on the ground rather than continuing to hold off and allow the aircraft to fully land itself. But it was a key learning step and I can’t wait to improve it next lesson.
  2. It was my first experience of serious crosswind. Circuits were on 11 right today, and wind was initially from 150 degrees magnetic (that is, from about 40 degrees to my right) at 10 knots. This threw new variables into the equation. I needed extra right pedal to stay in line with runway on takeoff. And, I had to contend (and struggle) with the crosswind blowing me too close back to the runway on my downwind and final legs in particular.

After my “prize” landing, the last circuit I flew fully today was really difficult. The weather was coming in fast and the wind was both changing direction and increasing in terms of speed and gusts. Things were really bouncy and difficult for me on this circuit, and the landing not awful but the approach pretty scratchy. I’ve not yet been properly schooled in “crabbing” the aircraft into the wind on final approach – though I get it in principle, and this will come in my training.

On the last circuit John checked the wind with the tower and decided that this was our last circuit and we would land. On late base he further decided that the conditions were too challenging for my present level so he took over and landed. Crosswind was gusting up to about 28 knots at this point – the aircraft is only rated up to 17 – so I had no problems handing over the controls!

But it was good early exposure to the joys and challenges of crosswind circuits, takeoffs and landings. I’d like to have got 2 hours of flying in today, but at least I got 45 minutes, and I feel as though the turning point with my landing flare is just around the corner.

Stayed in the clubhouse to (almost) complete my endorsement questionnaire for flying the PA28 Warrior, which is a necessary step before first solo. Tomorrow is no-fly Tuesday – forecast weather would probably ground me in any case – so I’ll bone up for the pre-solo exam and hopefully get that out of the way on Wednesday.

Weather doubtful for rest of week though. Hope I can scam at least a couple more hours of circuits in the air this week at the very least. Otherwise, fear – as a very possible outcome – that Friday’s scheduled pre-solo checkride (and possible solo?) will delay into next week.

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Day 8: Lessons 9 and 10 – 4th and 5th circuits lessons

Date: 10/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.20 0.00 0.00
Total to date 9.82 0.00 0.00

Today started off a bit strangely. I was meant to fly in Warrior X-ray Sierra November (XSN), but having fuelled and checked the aircraft, the seat belt would not fit comfortably over my 6’4″ torso! The shoulder strap just didn’t extend far enough. So I made the call that I could not fly in this aircraft, and we transferred to the club’s newest reconditioned Warrior, India Juliet Delta (IJD), pictured below.

Today was all about circuit consolidation, and also emergency procedures. These included:

  • Engine failure during takeoff roll (throttle to idle, pull back on control yoke, brakes to full stop)
  • Engine failure after takeoff but with runway remaining (nose down, throttle to idle, land on runway)
  • Engine failure after takeoff but with no runway remaining (nose down, glide speed, choose a suitable landing site within 30 degrees either side of the nose, do not turn back)
  • Engine failure after takeoff with minimum 1000 feet height (nose down, glide speed, choose a suitable landing site within 60 degrees either side of the nose)
  • Engine failure with ability to glide to aerodrome (practicing glide approaches).

All interesting and challenging stuff. We had use of runway 29 centre for 10 minutes to demonstrate the first 2 procedures, then we transferred to the circuit runway 29 left for the other procedures. Did them OK and will do plenty more of them I am sure.

Other than this, today was all about circuit consolidation. I started making my downwind radio calls, as an additional element of workload. My instructor is reasonably happy with all aspects of my circuits now, except the landing flare (which is probably the hardest part). This needs more work but I’m sure we can get it sorted out soon. Probably only 2 or 3 more circuit lessons before it’s time for first solo. So need to knock over the pre-solo exam as well. (Tomorrow’s weather may get in the way, so may use this time to prepare for exam and do some theory revision).

Feeling pretty good about the circuits now. By no means perfect, but I’m definitely getting the idea now. Keen for more.

One blemish. On late downwind my instructor sprung a simulated engine failure on me. I stupidly put my nose down to search for a suitable landing spot. WRONG! This was a situation for a glide approach back to the runway. Must get this right.

Insight #12

You need to be prepared for simulated emergencies, just as you need to be prepared for the real thing. Instructors can and will spring them on you at any time!

Day 7 – Lesson 8 – Circuits (third lesson), including Flapless Landings

Date: 09/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.00 0.00 0.00
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.

Insight #11

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.

Day 6: Lesson 7 – Second circuits lesson

Date: 07/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.12 0.00 0.00
Total to date 7.62 0.00 0.00

Did the second lesson on circuits today. I’m feeling a little more certain that I might just make it as a private pilot one day.

Ride today was Sierra Foxtrot Kilo, which I flew back in lesson 2 (Straight & Level flight). As with yesterday’s introductory circuits lesson, circuits today were on 11 right. Weather was a little easier – wind 080 degrees magnetic at 10 knots so more crosswind to deal with, but less turbulence than yesterday. Cloud bottoms were broken – that’s 5 to 7 eighths of cloud – at 3500 feet (lower than yesterday) but visibility was fine nonetheless.

There were several pretty good things about today. In no particular order:

  • My radio calls were very good (positive comments from John)
  • I remembered (before my instructor) to radio Bankstown Ground for startup clearance before I started the engine
  • I started to line up OK on the runway on finals
  • My takeoffs were better, and
  • I started to feel things were all coming together just a little bit more.

John remarked that today was better (though plenty to work on, which I’ll outline below). His view – to paraphrase him – is that I’m now flying the aircraft safely, what I now need to do is learn to fly it smoothly and in a coordinated, balanced way.

SCORE! High praise indeed from my instructor. He’s not a hard man, but he’s pretty tough on me, so it’s great that he feels I’m showing progress. Today was certainly heaps better than yesterday. Wednesday’s lesson – assuming it goes ahead (weather for the rest of the week not looking great) – I’m looking forward to much more than today’s or yesterday’s. For the time being, at least, my very slight sense of dread has abated somewhat.

Now, what was bad today, and what needs work?

  • Still not using my feet. Got slightly better towards the end of the lesson, mainly because John told me he’d cut my left foot off if I didn’t get better. Lining up on the runway using my pedals wasn’t awful. But pedal use in general needs to be a whole lot better.
  • Landings. Well, they’re terrible. OK, I get that they take some work. I flared way too high on 2 landings in particular today, didn’t have my wings in balance, and totally thumped the aircraft down on terra firma. (Not too worried about SFK – like all our Warrior trainers it’s a pretty sturdy little beast). I’m sure John let me go ahead and dump the aircraft on these landings just to let me experience what it was like. Now I’ve gotta develop a feel for how low I need to get the aircraft before I flare out, and how to hold the right attitude during the flare and let the speed bleed off.
  • Airspeed. OK, it only happened once, but at some point today – I think it might have been on my base turn – I let the airspeed get down to around 60 knots, dangerously slow for that stage of the circuit. Gotta watch the airspeed like a hawk.

Insight #10

Watch the airspeed on base and finals! 70 knots on base and approaching the runway on finals, 65 when over the airfield boundary fence and 60 over the runway.

Apart from that, everything needs work of course. I’m 7.5 hours in to this. I haven’t got good at this overnight. But still, it’s nice to have a “better” lesson after 2 or 3 particularly arduous ones. I’m so hoping that poor weather later this week doesn’t step in and stop flying from happening.

Slightly amusing side story

I called the Shell people today to refuel my aircraft. I told the bloke on the phone that my plane needed refuelling. He replied, “We don’t have any fuel.” I thought for a moment, then tried again. “My aircraft needs filling up to tabs in each tank with Avgas”. “That’s better”, says the Shell bloke. “We provide jet fuel, and we provide Avgas. Helps if you tell us which you need”.

A bit pedantic, you may say. And he was a bit patronising, frankly. But he wasn’t being unkind – he was well-intentioned. Guess I’ll be asking for Avgas from now on.

But the bloke in the fuel truck, arriving 10 minutes later, was at pains to tell me that he was not the guy I’d spoken to on the phone. He was clearly a bit embarrassed by his boss’s phone manner!

Quick update

Low cloud prevented my second lesson on stalls today, so we did a ground briefing on circuits. My head is spinning just from that conversation – let alone attempting the real thing. Anyway, weather permitting, tomorrow’s lesson is my first on the circuits – including takeoffs and landings – stay tuned!