Flying Lesson # 8 – Circuits

March 4, 2012

It’s hard to believe I’ve already got 8 hours in the log book. I’ve already learnt so much, though since I’m still flying circuits, I guess my journey is really only just beginning.

Today was very overcast and rainy. It was raining heavily on the way to Archerfield which is never a good sign! When I arrived at the school, we checked the Aerodrome Terminal Information Service (ATIS). It advised there was broken cloud at 400 feet which is too low for a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) Pilot. We waited around for about half an hour to see if things were going to clear up. Finally, we made the decision not to fly. It would be a waste of time and money to go up, have a look and find out we have to land straight away.

Instead of wasting the time that we had, Robert took me into the classroom to work on some theory. We covered loading which is basically the max weight that a plane can have for take-off, how that weight should be distributed and how that affects the Centre of Gravity (COG). It was a pretty heavy lesson, though I had studied this area previously so it all made sense for the most part. After the theory work, Gil (the owner of the school) decided it was time for me to take the ‘Air Legislation Test’ which needs to be done before first solo. Thankfully I had studied well and passed with flying colours. Yay! After that we decided to call it a day and I headed home.

At about 12:20, Gil called stating that the weather was ok and Robert had a cancellation. Can I make it there in 10 mins he asked! Warp 10 down the Ipswich Motorway and I made it there at 12:32. Not bad!

As the weather wasn’t ideal for circuits (a slight cross-wind), we took 10 mins in the classroom so that Robert could explain what to expect and how to handle a cross-wind on landing. Pretty simple I thought and out we headed.

I did the usual checks, made the relevant radio calls and off we went. Circuit after circuit, I was feeling more and more confident. After the last lesson, I came to the conclusion that I was rounding out / flaring too early on the landing and having further to fall after cutting the power. This was proven in my landings and I made a conscious effort to hold off a little more before pulling back.

Now might be a good time to explain how a landing takes place! It’s basically broken up into different stages. While the theory behind it seems simple enough, putting it into practice successfully takes a lot of work.

The first stage is the approach, this is after you have turned onto final from the base leg and are setting up the plane for landing. By this point you should have decreased your speed to around 70 knots in the aircraft I’m flying, you should be under 500 feet and on your way to getting clearance to land. While on final, you are aiming for a point just beyond the threshold (the white lines at the start of the runway) and constantly making small adjustments in aileron and rudder to keep the plane lined up with the centre line. Once you pass over the threshold and are at about 15 feet above the ground, you round out or flare the aircraft, which means to begin flying level with the runway rather than diving into it.

While flying level (all this happens in an instant by the way) you gradually decrease the power to idle. As the airspeed drops, the wings’ ability to create lift decreases and you begin ‘sinking’ towards the runway. Each time you sink, a small backward motion on the control column is needed to keep the plane in the air, which brings me to the next stage, the hold off.

The hold off is exactly as it sounds. When you are about a foot off the ground, you do all you can to keep the plane from touching down. Inevitably the plane will land itself smoothly due to lack of airspeed. After the main wheels have touched down, you keep backward pressure on the control column and let the nose wheel down slowly and softly on your terms at a speed much slower than that at landing.

See, nothing to it! πŸ™‚

After about an hour and a half of circuits and landings, I walked away feeling a lot more confident in my abilities. A few more lessons like this one and I’m sure I’ll have it down.

Can’t wait for next lesson – Circuits!

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