Bumpy Air, More PFLs

Todays lesson did not get off to a good start, despite the unexpected break in the weather. It had been wet and windy for most of the week and I was pleasantly surprised to find the F215 report on Friday night looking reasonably optimistic. Saturday morning was sunny with clear blue skies and just a gentle breeze.

I rang Keith at noon to make sure we were good to go. It turned out that due to a mix up in lesson times, he was expecting me to be there at 12:00pm rather than the 2:00pm I had in my diary, so I had to leave pretty much straight away. This meant getting the kids home from ASDA, where we were doing some clothes shopping, in double quick time and throwing my logbook and kneeboard in the car. I’d had no time to check weather, wind or NOTAMS so decided that I had to rely on Keith having done the necessary instead. As soon as I got onto the A27, I found myself stuck in a queue of slow moving bank holiday traffic which stretched for almost 5 miles. As a consequence, I arrived at Deanland stressed out and irritated, which probably contributed significantly to my piss-poor performance later.

I’d been expecting us to go off to Headcorn for some circuit bashing this time, so I was mildly disappointed when Keith said he wanted to do some more PFLs, steep turns and slow flight instead. But still, flying is flying and it’s all hours in the log book which count towards the licence in the end.

We hopped in the C42, ran through the pre-start checks and taxied down to the end of runway 24 to do our power checks. I lined up, opened the throttle and fed in some back pressure on the stick to keep the load off the nose wheel while we came up to full flying speed. As soon as the main wheels left the ground, the aeroplane was being pushed this way and that by the crosswind, which hadn’t seemed that bad when we looked at the windsock earlier. The climb out was seriously untidy. I had the nose too high and the airspeed too low, so I corrected that, but after a few seconds Keith had to prompt me to keep the wings level as well.

We levelled off at 1700 feet or so and Keith immediately pointed out 2 other aircraft flying nearby. I saw the first one straight away but it took me a good few seconds to spot the second, as it was slightly below us and kept disappearing in amongst the general clutter of fields, trees and houses on the ground. Of course, by the time I’d found it, I’d let the nose drop, losing us some altitude and bringing the airspeed up to nearly 80 knots, so I had to fix that and get us back up to 1700 feet and 70 knots. Keith pointed straight down below us, where there was about 10 – 15 aircraft on the ground at an airfield that I hadn’t even known was there.

I started a slow turn to the left to take us out over the downs for our PFLs, but my co-ordination on the controls was virtually non-existent. My feet seemed to have forgoten how to work the rudder pedals and the aeroplane was being rocked and buffeted by alternating patches of sink and lift as we made our way across the countryside. I could see the Harvard from Shoreham doing some aeros out to sea and Keith pointed out a high wing Cessna of some kind crossing above and ahead of us going east to west. Keith said, “This is why I don’t do flying lessons at 2000 feet”. I laughed, but he said “You don’t seem nervous about other traffic, but you should be”. That made me paranoid and I spent the rest of the lesson scanning the surrounding sky for other aeroplanes.

Keith picked a field for my first PFL. I closed the throttle, dropped the nose and reached up to put the flaps down. There was a midly alarmed tone in Keiths voice as he said “Woah, you can’t just throw the flaps out like that!”. Of course, what I should have done was close the throttle, let the speed reduce to 60 knots, then put the flaps out, then get the nose down to maintain the airspeed. Meh.

I started the turn, trying to keep my eye on the key point that Keith had chosen. I lost sight of it almost immediately and had to raise the left wing to find it again, by which time it was obvious that in a real forced landing I’d never have made my chosen field. I climbed back up for another go, with the air again feeling like a road full of pot holes. When we levelled out, Keith got me to spend a few minutes just playing with the controls to get my feet and hand back in synch with each other on rudder and stick.

We picked another field and the results where slightly better this time, although I struggled to remember the correlation between the key point moving up or down the window and whether that mean too high (increase the turn) or too low (reduce the turn) accordingly. We still ended up too high, and Keith demonstrated a sideslip to lose height quickly without changing direction. That felt distinctly odd, since you’re deliberately flying the aircraft completely out of balance. Keith let me carry on the approach to the field until we were only a couple of hundred feet above the ground and then asked me to take us back up. I opened the throttle and raised the nose slightly, only to have Keith say “No, when I say climb, I mean CLIMB!”, as he pushed the throttle fully open and pushed the stick forard to allow our airspeed to build up. As I put the C42 back to its normal climb attitude, Keith jabbed a finger in the general direction of the front of the aeroplane and said “If that bugger out there decides to stop working, you’re going to expect me to take control and get us safely down on the ground. I won’t have much chance if you keep trying to climb at half power.”

We did some more steep turns, but I was still struggling to keep everything co-ordinated as the aircraft continued to get banged about by the unstable air. By this time I was feeling thoroughly fed up with the whole thing. I didn’t feel like I was learning, in fact it seemed like I’d forgotten half of what I’d managed to do with hardly any effort at all on my last lesson. Keith kept having to remind me to check into the turn for any other traffic before putting the wing down, and I kept allowing the attitude or slip ball to wander off somewhere it shouldn’t be. We did one more PFL which was so rubbish it’s not even worth writing about, then headed back across country to join the circuit to land.

As we reached the downwind turn, more alternating patches of sink and lift kept robbing me of airspeed and height until we got clear of the wooded areas at the start of the downwind leg. I managed to keep us on track this time as we flew downwind, although again I couldn’t see the airfield until Keith pointed it out to me. I started the turn onto base leg just at the right point, and immediately we began to get pushed off to the left of track by the wind. I let the turn carry on to correct for the wind and found that although we were heading in the right direction, the aeroplane itself was crabbing slightly sideways because of the wind direction. As I turned onto final, this became even more pronounced and I ended up with the into wind wing down by about 5 or 10 degrees and the nose pointing off to the right in order to maintain the right track down our final approach. This was actually the only part of the whole lesson where I felt happy with my flying. I kept us on track and as we got down to the last 50 feet, the crosswind seemed to ease off and I could level the wings and bring the nose back round straight. Keith prompted me to bring the power right back and this time I resisted the temptation to haul back on the stick as we got lower, with the result that Keith only had to feed in a dab of back pressure to arrest our descent and get us nicely on the ground. I taxied back to the portakabin and we had a our usual de-brief over a cup of coffee.

All things considered this was a pretty wretched experience as flying lessons go. I’m still not sure if it was the unexpected rushing around to get there, the 3 week gap since my last lesson or a combination of both that did it. Keith said that he thinks the best thing will be to finally get over to Headcorn to start on the circuit work, so we’llhave to wait and see what happens next time. I’ve now got 9hours and 40 minues in my logbook, so the next lesson will see my flying time into double figures at long last!