Circuits

In which I have another crack at circuits, make a new set of mistakes and learn what the phrase ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ actually means.

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Today I was back for another stab at circuits. There was a slight crosswind which made landings a bit tricky but overall it was alright.

After preflighting 5231, we jumped in and J explained that since there was a south-easterly wind, we’d be using runway 18 and therefore the circuits would be right-hand circuits. Circuits at Lilydale are always flown to the west to avoid overflying Coldstream airport. Also, there would be an extended upwind leg – rather than turning onto crosswind at 500ft (AGL) we would have to wait until we were 3nm south of the airfield (where the high-tension powerlines are). This is because certain neighbours have complained about the planes – honestly, if you don’t like planes, why are you living next to an airport?!

We lined up on runway 18R and I was given control to do my first takeoff (last lesson I did touch-and-go takeoffs but this was my first actual take off). I managed to keep us mainly on the centreline and got the plane off the ground so I’d say it was a success!

Once again the entire lesson was just me flying circuits. Rather than describe all of them in detail I’ll just list my problems and observations:

  • I have a habit of raising the nose too early after take off instead of flying straight to allow it to build its airspeed up to 70kts
  • When raising the flaps on the initial upwind climb, I have trouble keeping the plane on its heading – it is extremely obvious that I am not a lefty!
  • When we reach 1000ft (AGL) I level off too slowly and we tend to end up closer to 1250ft (AGL) and therefore need to descend on the downwind leg. I think I was managing to get this under control by the end of the lesson though
  • When turning onto base, a few times I forgot to reduce the power during the turn
  • On base, I need to remember to keep the nose raised which will cause the plane to slow and then flaps can be lowered

Generally my approaches were fairly good, but I had some issues with the actual landings (partly because there was a pesky crosswind which kept blowing us off course). A few times today I knew my approach was good, I knew I was where I should be and I knew the landing would work but got thrown off just before flare by the crosswind.

One thing I noticed this lesson is that my skill with the rudder is improving. Previously I’ve never really been certain when rudder needs to be used. I’ve read descriptions of how you should feel when it’s needed (‘flying by the seat of your pants’) and today I actually really felt that, I could feel in me when rudder was needed. I still needed to look at the turn indicator to check but it was definitely different to previous lessons.

During the debrief J mentioned that I was forgetting to use the ALAP (attitude, lookout, attitude, performance) work cycle enough. When turning I was apparantly spending too much time looking out and not looking enough at the attitude of the plane. Apparantly though most students have the opposite problem, not looking out enough. My general philosophy in life is to be different to most people so I guess that continues here too!

Next lesson we’re going to do yet more circuits and also concentrate on landings more. Today the goal was more getting down without crashing and concentrating on flying a good circuit but next we’re going to concentrate on landing style more too. Hopefully there won’t be a crosswind next time! Overall I’m where I should be at this point so I’m pretty happy.

I know that eventually the parts of the circuit will become second-nature, much like driving is now. By then I’ll probably be completely bored with endless circuits (and start referring to it as ‘circuit bashing’) but right now it’s all too confusing and stressful to be boring! There’s just so much to remember and as soon as I do something I have to start trying to remember what comes next…it just takes time though.

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