What an amazing way to spend 30 minutes on a sunny Sunday.

I was given a voucher at christmas time by SWMBO for a short flight in a Stampe SV4 at Shoreham. An irritating combination of bookings cancelled due bad wx, work commitments and the aircraft being away for an extended period for maintenance meant that I didn’t get to use my voucher until today.

All I can say is that it was well worth waiting for!

After strapping in and watching while the prop was hand swung, I had my first go at taxying a tail dragger. It seemed to take an age to get any response when pushing the pedals, but when it finally did start to turn, it turned like a dodgem car. Is this common to all tail wheel aeroplanes, or more likley to be just my lack of experience?

We took off and pottered along the coast, heading for Brighton Marina. I took the opportunity to get the feel of the controls, starting with some gentle turns. As I began to feel a bit more confident, the bank angles started to increase until the instructor was happy for me to be twirling us round each wingtip at 60 degrees or more of bank. Great fun and probably not something I’d be allowed to do in the C42 that I’m more used to.

The first aerobatic maneouver was a loop. Using Brighton pier to orient ourselves, the instructor pushed the nose down and let the airspeed build up to 110 knots, then smoothly pulled back. The sensation as we went over the top and I looked up at the sea was incredible! A reasonably tight turn out to sea, climbing back up to about 1800 feet and we pointed back at the pier to have another go. This time I was asked to follow through on the controls to get the feel of the stick forces involved. Paying slightly more attention this time, I noticed the wind singing in the wires next to me as the airspeed bled off at the top and found myself looking straight down at a matchbox sized model of a yacht as we pulled through and back up to level flight. For the 3rd loop, I got to work the stick and throttle myself with the instructor following me and correcting for any mistakes – I’m sure there were several!

We continued along the coast and did the usual ‘ooh, I can see my house from here’ bit. Turning slightly inland, a roll was the next order of the day. Apparently the Stampe has a tendency for the engine to cut on a roll if you’re too ham fisted with it. 99 times out of 100, it starts up again without any problems just by the propellor rotating in the airflow, but the instructor wanted us over the dry bit rather than the wet bit, just in case…

The roll wasn’t quite how I’d imagined it to be. Dive slightly, pull up and stick over to the left and roughly half way forward until we came back round to level again. I’m sure there was something going on with the rudder pedals, too, but it all seemed to happen so quickly I wasn’t sure. We did another 2 of those as well just for good measure, but I didn’t make a particularly good job of following the control inputs.

I was surprised to find that despite this being my first time doing aerobatics, I wasn’t feeling even a tiny bit queasy. Having too much fun I guess!

Regrettably, that was almost the end of the half hour. I was told ‘your aircraft’ and the instructor asked me to fly us along the ridge of the downs back towards Shoreham for a right base join into the circuit for runway 13. As we approached the circuit I handed the controls back and just enjoyed the view as we settled gently onto the grass, then taxy’d back to our little parking spot near the pumps and the fire station.

It was perfect weather today for an introduction to the slighly more hooliganistic corners of the flight envelope. The grin still hasn’t quite worn off, nearly 5 hours later. A big thumbs up for Ian and the rest of the guys/girls at PerryAir and, of course, to my wife for having the idea in the first place!

Now, who wants to demonstrate a stall turn or 3 for me…? 😀

Getting My Mojo Back

After the debacle that was my last lesson, I was keen to get back in the air to try and redeem myself a little. Once again, however, a combination of work and domestic commitments, bad weather and straight forward lack of cash meant that another 8 weeks went by with no aviation being committed. I tried to pass the time constructively, spending my lunch breaks with my head in my books, staring intently at cloud formations and plotting pretend cross countries on my quarter mil chart.

The weather on Thursday and Friday looked decidedly un-cooperative. It started to look a little more hopeful on Friday night, with a long cold front passing from west to east over the south of the country, promising better weather behind it. The forecast winds were still at around 25 knots gusting to 30, so I had to wait until the morning to see what transpired.

I got up at 8:15 on Saturday morning to find a bright day, slightly damp on the ground where there had been rain just after sunrise and a light breeze from just south of west. As the sun climbed higher up in the sky, heating the ground and stirring the air up, the wind picked up a little. I called Keith at just after 9:30. He lives about 10 miles to the north of me and after comparing what we could each see in terms of weather, the verdict was that we wouldn’t be able to get over to Headcorn for circuits but a local training flight might be do-able.

I arrived at Deanland just as Keith did. We opened up the portakabin, put the kettle on and walked out to the middle of the runway to see what was happening. The instability in the air was obvious from looking at some of the cumulus clouds to the north and east of us. You could actually see the tops billowing upwards in the heat from the ground. To the north of the field there was a rainbow arching over the Downs, and the rain falling in the distance was clear to see. We decided to get the aeroplane out of the hangar and get it pre-flighted, then see what the weather was doing. As we were doing this, and as if to confirm the rain that we’d seen earlier, Keiths wife rang to let him know that the heavens had opened and it was pouring down over his house. By the time we’d done that, things had calmed down slightly, although there was now a fairly stiff breeze whipping almost straight down runway 24. To add to the indecision, the windsocks at either end of the runway were pointing in different directions, which I’m told isn’t at all unusual at Deanland.

We made coffee and went over the briefing for a navex to Headcorn, even though it was highly unlikely that we’d be able to make it over there. As we talked, the airfield itself gradually came to life around us, with people arriving and poking their heads round the portakabin door to say hello, grumble about the weather and offer their opinions on what was likely to happen over the next couple of hours. That took up the best part of 45 minutes, by which time the cloud tops had stabilised and the wind had dropped slightly and wasn’t so gusty. Keith pushed his chair back from the desk and said, “Come on then, lets do some flying while we can!”.

Keith pumped a jerry can full of fuel into the C42 and we climbed in. As per usual, it started on the first press of the button and I taxied to the end of the runway and turned into the wind for the run-up checks. I had to be reasonably brisk about getting us lined up and off the ground, as there was someone in the circuit on mid-downwind, so I didn’t want to either have to wait for him or force him to go around by not being quick enough.

The climb out was a little bumpy but not too bad, with the air smoothing out considerably as soon as we got above 1,000 feet. When we briefed the actual lesson we were going to fly, Keith had stressed that he wanted to see me taking more care over attitude and airspeed and at the same time not let my look out suffer as a result. I levelled us off at about 1,800 feet and let the aircraft find its own way through the patches of sink and lift while I concentrated on keeping the nose in the right place and the wings level. I was pleased to find that despite not having flown for 8 weeks, I was nicely relaxed on the controls and able to keep us on heading and track without having to think too hard about what I was doing before I needed to do it. It’s difficult to describe exactly what I mean, but the whole act of flying today just seemed to ‘flow’ more smoothly. The gliding site to the north of the field was active, so we headed off towards the coast for some of what I believe is termed ‘general handling’, i.e. chucking the aeroplane about just for the fun of it! Keith then had me climb up to about 3,200 feet chasing holes in the clouds. By this time we were just out over the sea, so we turned into a gentle descending spiral to the left down to 1,700 feet, heading off to Pevensey marshes to see if I could remember how to carry out a forced landing. Again, I found that it all came fairly easily, there was the usual concentration on keeping the aiming point in sight, adjusting the turn to keep the constant aspect, and I found that as soon as I was thinking, “Bit low, roll out a bit”, or “Wind is pushing me away from the field, turn in a bit more”, Keith would say the same thing half a second later. It seems like I’m actually starting to learn how to fly!

As we climbed back up, I pointed out to Keith that I’d passed a flying milestone about 5 minutes previously. The total number of hours in my log book is now into double figures at last! It’s taken 19 years from the very first entry to the one that I put in today. I wonder how long it will take before I get into triple figures?

We did some steep turns (which I must admit I always enjoy!) and slow flight next, pulling the power right back to get us down to 60 knots with the first stage of flaps then keep hauling the stick back until we got down to 50 knots, then holding it there, paddling on the rudder pedals to keep us in a straight line. Keith asked me to get the aircraft into a descent at 60 knots, aiming for a point on the horizon, so I pushed the power back up, pulled the nose up a touch and did another little dance on the pedals as we went down at 500 feet per minute. As we levelled out at just under 1,000 feet, we noticed a fairly expensive looking helicopter on a curving path in towards us from the west, descending as he went. He made a pass over a large-ish field at about 500 fet below us and turned back onto a downwind heading just as he passed almost to the limit of where I could see him out of the right hand window. Keith asked me to turn to the left to get us pointing in roughly the right direction for Deanland. To my great surprise, I decided I didn’t want to do that. I said, “Actually if you don’t mind, I’m going to make a right turn instead. If I go left, I’ll be turning my back on that helicopter and I won’t be able to see what he’s up to”. With that, and without waiting for Keith to say anything, I rolled us about 20 degrees to the right, at which point I could see the helicopter again, this time he had descended more and was lining up for an into wind landing in some farmers field at the back of a house that I hadn’t seen earlier. Satisfied that he wasn’t in a position where I had to worry about him any more, I turned back to the left and we headed off to Arlington reservoir to join the circuit downwind. I think that that may possibly count as my first totally independent command decision in an aeroplane.

Back in the circuit, we started getting bounced about a bit on the late downwind leg, with the chop getting worse on the base leg. Reducing speed to 60 knots again, I turned onto final and immediately had to get on the rudder pedals to keep the gusting cross wind from pushing me towards the adjacent field. I’m still having trouble judging height on the approach, so Keith had to prompt me a couple of times to increase power to allow for the gusting wind and the turbulence. As we descended to just a couple of hundred feet off the ground, we hit a patch of sink over the edge of the trees, causing the aeroplane to suddenly drop about 20 feet all at once, prompting a “Whoah” from me and a “Bleedin hell!” from Keith. The landing was seriously hard work on both stick and rudder, I was fighting with the crosswind all the way down to about 10 feet off he ground, where it all smoothed out again. We settled onto the grass, but the C42 clearly wasnt quite ready to stop flying yet, as it did a very gentle bounce and climbed a couple of feet back up into the air. I held the stick whre it was and let it settle again, this time we stayed on the ground and rolled out in perfect time to pull off to the left at the very end of the runway and taxi down to the hangar. We shut down and went back to the portakabin for a well earned (in my opinion anyway!) coffee together with a short debrief. I couldn’t help feeling pleased with myself when Keith said I’d been flying brilliantly.

So, I’ve still not got to Headcorn for circuit practice, but today was a great lesson, very enjoyable and just what I needed to boost my confidence again.

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!

More stalls, steep turns and hooning

Einstein would find airfields extremely intriguing. Not because he ever (as far as I know) had any hankering to learn to fly, simply because time seems to pass at a different rate on an airfield compared to the rest of the world. I’d left the house at 11:00am for my lesson at midday and found to my dismay that there was a huge queue at the petrol station. I eventually got away and onto the A27, only to find the road seemingly filled with Land Rovers pootling along at 40 miles per hour. I normally aim to be there 30 minutes before the allotted lesson start time, to allow for briefing, coffee and any cleaning/refuelling of the aircraft that may be required. Today, it was 12:01 according to my watch when I got out of the car. I’d got distracted by the lovely weather, which had been in direct contrast to the fog and showers which were threatened on the mornings F215 from the Met Office, and missed the turnoff to the airfield. Because Deanland is on a little country lane, I had to drive another couple of miles up the road before I found somewhere safe to turn round and come back.

Having finally got there, I grabbed my stuff out of the car, wound the windows up as quickly as I could, locked the doors and jogged across the car park. Sprinting up the steps and round the corner to Keiths portakabin, I flew through the door and said, “Hi, sorry I’m la…”. I stopped. The office was empty. The C42 was parked up outside with the doors open, rocking ever so slightly in the light breeze. The radio in the corner was switched off. Keiths logbook was sitting on the desk with his kneeboard on top of it. Everything was silent, apart from the occasional call of birdsong from outside. Not even an aeroplane engine being run up. I put my things down and stepped back outside into the sunshine. There wasn’t a soul about that I could see. I walked over to the hangar and pulled back the canvas flap that passes for a door. Keiths Thruster was parked there, so he obviously wasn’t off flying. Somewhat baffled, I walked back to the portakabin and filled up the water filter jug to put the kettle on. I switched the radio on, but nobody was making circuit calls so I switched it off again after a few seconds.

I began to wonder if Keith had got sick of waiting for me and gone home. I went back outside and stood there looking at the clouds out to the west of the field. Keith chose that moment to come strolling round the other corner of the portakabin. He didn’t mention the time, just said hello, asked how I was and we started chatting about the usual aviation-related stuff. We made coffee, talked about one of the other Deanland based pilots who had had to leave his aircraft at Damyns Hall due to an engine problem and moved on to discussing how aeroplane wings produce lift, what sorts of things can make them stop producing said lift, drawing diagrams on the whiteboard showing imaginary streams of air flowing over and under a typical airfoil, rough and ready graphs of power versus drag at different speeds and various little cartoon style illustrations of different aircraft attitudes at different speeds. I was struck how flying and everything to do with it seems to want to move only at its own pace, no faster and no slower. You can’t rush into flying, the preparation must be thorough and accurate, the objectives clear. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like it so much. It’s almost the opposite of my ‘normal’ life, where deadlines, urgencies, budgets and resource availability dictate the order in which and speed at which things happen.

Enough wibbling, however, on with the lesson. We were to learn today about flying more slowly than normal, stalling the aircraft and recovering from the stall both with and without applying power. My confusion about how the rudder pedals work has now been cleared up, so I did a much better job of controlling the aeroplane on the ground today, although I did almost end up taxying up the runway rather than the narrow grass taxiway that runs parallel to it. The bales of hay were in different places to last time, that’s what confused me…ahem….

We took off on runway 24 as usual and climbed up to around 1800 feet, heading for the South Downs. As we gained altitude, the bank of low cloud and sea mist that had been threatening to scupper my lesson earlier could be seen in all it”s glory, a wall of fluffy cumulus curving gently off to the north western horizon and reflecting the sunlight from its upper surface like the light bouncing off a snowdrift on a clear winters day. The clouds continued out over the English Channel to the southern horizon, while we were beneath gin clear blue sky with the sun shining in through the roof window.

Keith and I sat and stared for a good 30 seconds, mesmerised by the spectacle in front of us. He suggested doing a bit of cloud chasing, which I was definitely up for. I levelled the aircraft and banked us over gently towards the nearest cloud. Keith introduced me to a method of turning which he referred to as the ‘giving it some welly’ method. Steeper than usual bank angles, with a squirt of extra power to keep the speed up in the turn. The G-forces push you into your seat due to the back pressure required on the stick to keep the nose up. Great fun! Level the wings, fly between 2 pillars of cloud then tip the wings back over in the opposite direction to take us all the way around another cloud in a large snaking ‘S’ shape. Back into clear air, I gave it an appropriate amount of ‘welly’ to take us through 180 degrees and back over the edge of the cloud bank again, pulled back the power and put the nose down slightly to keep the speed at 60 knots, then trailed the wheels through the cloud tops, alternating between left and right turns as we descended to 1000 feet down the edge of the bank of cloud like sledging on a tea tray, then open the throttle to cruise climb power and back up to 1700 feet for some more. Keith and I couldn”t help shouting ‘wheeeeee’ every time we went through the top of a cloud and after 15 minutes of playing, we both had huge grins on our faces.

Although I didn”t have a camera with me, I was lucky enough to blag copies of some cloud pictures taken by Ridders on the Flyer forums, who was apparently bimbling along about 2000 feet above us while we were playing and has kindly given his permission for me to reproduce his pictures here. Click on the thumbnails for a larger view.
Thanks to finding these pictures on the forums, I”ve also learnt a new word, hooning, which apparently is the appropriate verb for the type of aviating I have described in the paragraph above. If you still can”t imagine what it”s like, click on this link for a YouTube video which gives a fine example!

As a bit of flying calisthenics, the fun in the clouds was just the ticket. It helped me get into the rhythm of flying the aeroplane, using each of the controls in different ways and just generally get the feel of things. Since I”d had a bit of trouble reaching a couple of the switches in the cockpit on my last lesson, I”d stuck a cushion on the seat before we took off, so the extra playing around time was ideal for getting used to the altered view out of the front caused by the slight change in seating position.

As per usual, I was being lazy with the rudder, and as a result we ended up slightly out of balance on several occasions. Keith told me to take my feet off the pedals, ignore the balance ball on the panel and just look out the front. He kicked the poor aeroplane this way and that with the rudder, while I watched the difference it made to the view and was able to concentrate on what my inner ear was trying to tell me about what the aircraft was doing. As we debriefed the lesson later, Keith said that from the expression on my face he could almost hear the metallic ”clink” as the penny dropped. Suddenly I knew what it felt like to be flying out of balance without having to look at the panel. Amazing!

We turned reluctantly away from the clouds and back towards the general direction of Pevensey/Eastbourne to learn about stalls. As we flew along, I spotted a flexwing buzzing along about 500 feet below us heading west, clearly aiming to get to somewhere that was under the bank of cloud. Hope you had a safe journey, whoever you were.

We”d had a look at how the aeroplane flies when it”s close to the stall last lesson, but we”d not actually gone all the way to a fully developed, nose down, windshield full of green and cows getting bigger, proper stall. We started off by reviewing what we”d done last time and built on that by deliberately flying the aeroplane more and more slowly. First 60 knots clean, then with 1 stage of flap, then aiming for 50 knots, then 45, etc, etc. Finally, Keith demonstrated how slowly the C42 would fly – with full flap deployed, the nose pointing up at a slightly disturbing angle and 80hp of Rotax engine shouting at us from the front, we were crawling along at about 35 knots, nice and level, with just a barely perceptible tremble in the stick to tell me we were close to a stall. We put the nose down, the flaps away and the throttle back to a slightly saner setting and climbed back up for another go. This time at 45 knots, Keith said, “How does the rudder feel at this speed?”. I prodded the pedals a bit by way of an experiment. They felt loose and floppy and the aeroplane didn”t yaw one way or the other. A slightly more determined push – still nothing. Finally, I wedged my heels on the floor of the cockpit and pushed the pedals as far as I could in either direction a few times. This time I got a sluggish and reluctant shake of the nose for my efforts. Lesson learnt – with the nose high attitude blanking the airflow over the tail and the low speed reducing the airflow even more, the rudder response was only very slight. An experimental waggle of the stick demonstrated that the ailerons, although not as badly afflicted as the rudder, were also nowhere near as effective as normal. Which explains why the final approach sometimes feels like I”m needing to make ridiculously large control inputs to stay on track.

The stalls were great fun. Throttle right back, pitch up to the climb attitude and let the speed fall of. As the airspeed dropped below 45 knots, the nose started to want to drop back down. I pulled back on the stick to keep the nose up and the speed kept on dropping. As the speed dropped further, the stick needed to go further and further back until it was fully back. Wiggling the rudder to keep the aeroplane balanced, the tremble came up through the stick again, only this time the nose fell away completely and we were suddenly pointing downwards at the green fields below. Power back on, pitch up at 60 knots and then power back to a cruise climb setting to regain height. I was a bit slow in getting the power on for the first couple of attempts, but got better after that. With a bit of practice, I could recover from a fully developed stall with less than 100 feet of height loss.

We finished off with a bit more of the ”giving it some welly” method of turning an aircraft. As I wheeled the C42 around this way and that, I began to finally feel as though I was actually controlling it, rather than just following it around the sky.

As Keith announced that it was time to go back, I interrupted him at the point where he normally has to tell me which direction to go to get back to the field. I could see Arlington reservoir off to our right and slightly ahead, so I knew that the point where we wanted to join the downwind leg was off to the north west slightly. I”m getting to know the local area at last! It”s only taken 3 hours of flying…

My approach was about the same as last time, which is to say a bit of a mess. I kept getting blown off track towards the airfield by the slight crosswind on the downwind leg and I”d spent so long keeping us going in the right direction that we were still at 900 feet by the time the base leg turn came up. I got us turned, slowed down and reduced height so that we were at a more reasonable 500 feet on final. The wind got me again though, pushing me to the left of the centre line. Keith had to pull the stick to the right quite a bit to get us back in the middle. We crossed the fence and yet again I instinctively started to try and flare about 20 feet above the ground. Keith made me put the nose down and fly level along the ground for a couple of seconds before pulling back the power so we could settle onto the grass. The only positive thing I can say about this weeks landing attempt is that I got further along the final approach before it all felt like it was turning to crap. I mentioned this to Keith during our de-brief and he said to me with a grin, “Do you really want to know why it all goes to ratshit for the last 50 feet? I mean the honest reason?”. I nodded. “Because it was ratshit to begin with. Right from the start of the downwind leg, you had the speed wrong, ground track wrong and height wrong. It will all get better with practice though, so don”t beat yourself up about it”.

It”s the old adage about a good landing always following a good approach. Due to work commitments and the way payday works out this month, I probably won”t be able to have another lesson for the next 2 weekends. Keith has said that next time if the weather is good, we”ll plot a trip over to Headcorn, have a coffee and burger then do some circuits before flying back. Headcorn is only about a 20 minute trip away from Deanland, but it will be good to get a chance to do some cross country nav again.

Stalls and PFLs

I took some milk with me when I went flying today. Well, I didn’t actually take the milk flying with me, but rather took a pint of the stuff to the airfield. You see, there is this thing about airfields – none of them have any proper milk. The problem is, when you take milk to the airfield and it doesn’t all get used up, the only option is to put it in the fridge. Which (obviously, doh!) means switching the fridge in in the first place. Then the weather turns and you dont get back to the airfield for 10 days, by which time the milk has gone more off than a very off thing and the fridge has been declared an area of special scientific interest. Not to mention the fact that you’ve now got to pay the electric bill for running the fridge for 10 days to keep a quarter of a pint of mouldy milk cold. All that money could be better spent on actual aviating, so the fridge stays switched off and the coffee gets made with powdered whitener instead. Coffee made with whitener is bad enough, I dread to think what it does to the taste of a cup of tea…

Anyway, enough with the milk rant. Keith decided that the thing to do today would be slow flight, approach to and recovery from the stall and practice forced landings. We got the books out and talked through how a forced landing actually works, the high key point, low key point, the constant aspect relative to the aiming point, etc. We walked 50 yards across the airfield to where there was a concrete tie-down embedded in the grass and spent a few minutes walking around it in ever decreasing circles, crouching down to simulate descending flight and looking at how we could make our perspective view of the concrete block stay the same by turning at a greater or lesser rate. Most amusing for the onlookers, I’m sure, but it was a good way of bringing the text book pictures and white board diagrams to life.

We went out to get the aeroplane checked over and pre-flighted. I was keen to get the checks done and crack on, which was a bad idea. Keith suggested that I think of the pre-flight checks as a list of reasons why we should not go flying, rather than a list of things to do once you’d already decided to fly. Which made sense in an odd way, so instead of saying to ourselves (for example) “do we have enough fuel to go flying?”, we say to ourselves “we can’t go flying because we have no fuel” and then prove to ourselves, by looking at the tank, that we, in fact, do have fuel and it is enough to go flying. We then say “okay, we have enough fuel, but I bet the engine won’t start” – but oh look, we switched both mags on and pressed the red button and it started, etc, etc.

We finally got going, although I seemed to be having trouble remembering which way the rudder pedals worked, the aircraft would swing slightly left and I’d press on the right pedal, making it go further left before pushing (more urgently this time) on the left pedal, over correcting and causing a swing to the right instead, and the cycle repeated.

Edit 06/07: The previous paragraph just serves to demonstrate exactly how confused I got! For the aircraft to turn further to the left, I must have been pressing on the left pedal, instead of the right. The C42 steers the same as any other aeroplane, i.e. press the left pedal to turn left…

It was much choppier on the climb out today as well. The aircraft seemed to want to shimmy this way and that, yawing right and left, pitching slightly up, then down, as we passed through pockets of air that were doing different things. It actually felt as though we were struggling to gain height, but in fact we were just having a slightly bumpier ride than normal – the climb rate, engine note and airspeed were all exactly the same as normal. Ho hum.

We scooted off to Pevensey marshes to try and put into practice what we’d been talking about earlier. It didn’t go too well…after Keith pulled the throttle back to idle, I settled the speed at 60kts and lowered 1 stage of flaps. I then had to keep the aiming point (about a quarter of the way down the field we were going to ‘land’ in) off to my left and below, at my best guess at a 30 degree angle. I then had to use ailerons to initiate a descending turn which would ultimately take us through 270 degrees and onto a final approach into the field. The trick is to keep the aiming point in view at all times, which can get tricky in a high wing aircraft which is banked to the left. If the aiming point is moving down the window, you’re too high, so compensate by decreasing the bank angle until the aiming point comes back to the right place. Similarly, if it goes up the window, youre too low and need to increase the bank angle to get it back in place. All well and good in theory, but when it’s choppy and thermic over the fields, you keep pressing the wrong rudder pedal in the turn, the nose keeps dropping because youre spending too much time looking at the ground, then you sort the attitude and speed out, only to look out the window again and realize you can no longer see or find the field you’re supposed to be aiming for, the workload starts to feel like it’s all getting too much very quickly.
After 3 goes at the field we’d picked, we decided to head off and find another one, this time higher up the South Downs about 600 feet above our nominal ‘ground’ level relative to the 60 feet AMSL that is Deanland. The Ikarus seemed to be having trouble keeping her nose up, needing a considerable amount of back pressure on the stick just to maintain straight and level. I spent a minute on a futile search round the cockpit for the possible source of the problem, without success. I said to Keith that she felt very nose heavy all of a sudden. He pointed at the ceiling of the cockpit, where the flap lever is, and the cause of the problem became immediately clear. After our last PFL, I’d forgotten to put the flaps back to neutral before commencing the climb back up to 1700 feet. As soon as I corrected that, performance returned to normal. Meh…

On the way to the next field, we did some slow speed flight and I had a go at flying the aircraft on the very edge of the stall, just as you would be during the last 2 or 3 seconds before landing. I still kept getting the controls crossed when trying not to let either wing drop in the choppy air closer to the ground. The nose high attitude of the aircraft at that speed felt extremely odd – Keith was paddling on the rudder to demonstrate how ineffective it becomes at slow speed, which in turn made the aircraft twitch and roll slightly and start to feel a bit like a car that’s about to lose its grip on an icy road.

The next couple of PFL went a bit better, although I was still apprehensive about banking the aircraft too much so close to the ground. I have to remember that we’re still at a good 60 kts at that point and the C42 doesn’t even get close to the stall until you get to 40kts.

We headed back towards the airfield, trying desperately to spot a couple of Jabirus that were allegedly joining the circuit downwind at the same time as we were, but failing miserably. I spotted the lake in front of the copse of trees at the start of the downwind leg without any problem this time, which in turn made it easier to track accurately to the base leg turn. The PFLs we’d been doing suddenly started to take on a new relevance as we turned final for Deanlands runway 24, applying exactly the same principles to keep the runway threshold (i.e your aiming point) in sight and at the right angle.

The approach got sloppy again as I tried in vain to juggle airspeed, power and attitude to get us down safely. I seem to be okay up to the point where we’re crossing the fence just before touch down – at that point, I can’t seem to find any useful visual reference against which to judge when to begin the flare. Keith definitely landed the aircraft today, although he gamely tried to tell me I’d done okay!

So, sat in the garden with a cold beer typing this, it’s pretty obvious just how much I still have to learn. Next lesson booked for mid-day next Saturday and Keith tells me he thinks I’m just about ready to start on circuit bashing over at Headcorn. Hmmmm….

Notes to self for next lesson:

  • Try and remember which way the rudder pedals work – left pedal turns you to the left when taxying
  • When it’s time to head back, remind Keith to ask me if I know where we are in relation to the field and see if I can find my own way back without help
  • Try and concentrate a bit more on the landing – ignore the fence, it’s not about to leap up and snatch you out of the air

Remind Me Again What To Do

Summertime, when the living is (allegedly, anyway) easy. My summertime was made a little easier by getting a bonus in my pay cheque. I’d been looking at microlight training rates for a while as a possible route back into flying, so this seemed an ideal opportunity…

An exchange of e-mails and a couple of phone calls later, I found myself sat outside a portakabin at Deanland airfield, watching a Thruster T600 taxi back in with my (soon to be) instructor, Keith and another student.

Once the T600 had been put to bed, we had a chat over a cup of coffee, exploring my flying experience to date and recapping on basic things like primary and secondary effects of controls. Keith then talked me through some of the relevant facts and figures relating to the Ikarus C42 that we were about to go and play with.
Briefing and coffe done, we walked out to the aircraft and I had my first opportunity to look at it close up. I’d read through the C42 POH and checklists the evening before, so I knew pretty much what to expect. After completing the walk round check, I settled into the left hand seat and had a look round the instruments, switches and indicators in the cockpit.

Deanland is an entirely uncontrolled airfield, so after startup Keith announced to whoever was listening our intention to taxi for the runway 24 hold. He pointed out the taxiway in the grass and the area at the end of the field where we’d be doing our power checks and with a grin said, “Your aircraft, off you go” – gulp!

The C42 only needs a trickle of power to get it rolling and I managed to get us down to the end of the airfield without damaging anything and without running the prop into the long grass. Power checks were as per any other SEP, T’s & P’s, 3500 RPM, left mag, right mag, back to idle to make sure it still runs smoothly. A 360 degree turn to the left allowed for a quick visual check around the circuit, including a peek up final approach. Pre-takeoff was also the familiar stuff and we were ready to roll in no time. I pushed the little throttle stick fully forward and we fair shot off down the runway, bumping and bouncing over the grass. I found that I didn’t need a huge amount of rudder to keep her straight despite the impressive acceleration. The nosewheel came up very quickly and the main wheels somewhere round about the 55 knots mark if I remember correctly.

We settled into a 60kt climb, leaving the circuit with a turn to the left and levelling off at about 1600 feet. I ran through the basics again, climb, descent, turing climb, turning descent, full power climb, cruise climb, descent with flaps and power, ditto with power at idle. I was really pleased to find that it all came back to me quite quickly – after 10 minutes it felt like I’d never been away. Even Keith commented that I wasn’t flying like someone who’d not touched the controls for over 5 years.

Keith took the controls back and demonstrated some steeper turns and the approach to a stall with the power off. That was very gentle, with only a very slight buffet as the ASI wound down and culminating in nothing more dramatic than a gentle nod of the nose downwards. We then looked around for a suitable field for a PFL. I wasn’t 100% sure of what I was doing at this point, but I followed Keiths directions and we were soon aiming in a generally groundward direction with 1 stage of flaps set. It all seemed to go as planned, but as we approached the field we’d selected, I noticed it had a wide, deep depression covering 2 thirds of its width. If we’d been putting down for real, I’d probably not be sitting here typing this…I forgot to ask Keith about that on the day, must bring it up with him next time.

I put some power back on and we did a few minutes of operations at low level, which was great fun. Next, Keith suggested we have a trundle off in the general direction of Brighton. Using the TV mast at the top of the hill as an easy landmark, I pointed us out to sea to take us directly over the marina, keeping a wary eye out for any traffic coming from or going to Shoreham, as the marina is a very prominent VRP. I did a slow orbit to the right to see if I could see our house, but I couldn’t really make it out.

We carried on inland and turned right to pass to the north of Newhaven and Seaford, then down a little valley back to the coast. A left turn then took us along to Beachy Head, turning back inland just after passing the lighthouse. Keith made another call to announce our position (I was glad he knew where we were in relation to the airfield!) and that we were going to join the circuit on a left base for 24. I descended to just over 1,000 feet and looked out for the turning point for our downwind leg, which was a small wooded area with an equally small body of water in front of it. Said landmark duly appeared and I turned onto downwind. The landmarks for the base leg turn were harder to spot this time, Keith asked me to fly a course which bisected the right hand third of a wooded area ahead, making sure to keep a large white building on my right, descending to 800 feet and sticking 1 stage of flaps in as I went. So far, so good…

Everything went to pot on final approach. I was way too high and way too fast, so the power had to come right back to get the aiming point back in the allotted place in the windscreen. The grass runway with the lump in the middle looked totally wrong – the only thing I had to compare it with was the over 1,000m length of Shorehams hard runway. I persevered with the approach, having to add a little burp of power as we came over the fence. The throttle was moved smoothly back to idle speed as we approached the ground, but I started to flare the aircraft much too early and Keith had to take over in order to get us on the ground in a manner that gave the aeroplane a sporting chance of still being usable afterwards. Let’s just say we got value for money from our £3 landing fee, the ensuing bounces in fact mean that we got 4 for the price of 1!

After that,just taxi back to somewhere suitable in front of the portakabin and shut down. First lesson in the C42 complete and a success even if I do say so myself, albeit a qualified success – still lots that I need to learn!

Needless Puppy Slaughter

There’s something about flying during the colder months of the year that seems to make the whole experience even more magical than it already is. The sky on a frosty morning looks hundreds of times bluer than in the summer and the marked reduction in the amount of dust in the air seems to add at least an extra 50 miles to the horizon.

Our objectives for today were to get the hang of medium level turns, followed by climbing turns, descending turns, recovery from a spiral dive and have a go at a landing. I felt quite pleased with myself when Adrian said that he thought that I’d be able to do the whole lot in one lesson rather than the 2 or 3 that most people take. Flattery always has worked well with me!

After preflight inspection and startup, I called for taxy and immediately got thrown by the fact that the clearance was for the ‘other’ runway, i.e. 02 instead of the usual 20. I fumbled when reading back the clearance and asked Adrian to confirm to me that I’d heard it correctly. Interesting observation that has literally just occured to me as I’m writing this – if I’d been on my own in the aircraft, I would have had to ask ATC to repeat the clearance, so why didn’t I do that instead? Hmmm…..

Anyway, shoddy R/T aside, we trundled away from parking and Adrian gave me the controls as soon as we were clear of the other aircraft parked on the same row. As with the last lesson, I found we were moving much faster than I felt comfortable with and had to slow down immediately, especially as we were catching up quite rapidly with a bright yellow Piper Cub on the taxiway in front of us. Unfortunately, the Cub was moving even more slowly than I usually go at, and I ended up at a most inconvenient power setting just to keep a safe distance behind him – it was not quite enough to keep the Tomahawk from slowing down on the tarmac, but opening the throttle any more had me catching him up again. I ended up progressing down the taxiway with little bursts of power, which didn’t feel very comfortable.

The takeoff was the now customary mild zig zag down the centre line, and we got unstuck at the usual 65 knots. The climb out was okay, for some reason I wasn’t having any problem nailing the airspeed this time, so maybe that’s one little nit that has finally ‘just clicked’ and gone away.

We headed out to the west and up to 2,500 feet to get started. One interesting little niggle that I found this time came when adjusting the DI – as I reached throught the yoke to twiddle the adjuster, I inadvertently dropped the right wing very slightly. Adrian looked at me with raised eyebrows and he reached over and deliberately unset the DI, saying “shall we try that again?”. I went through the process again with the same result. I had a sudden flash of inspiration and unset it myself. This time, I reached through the yoke with my left hand and bingo – no wing drop! Adrian was puzzled until I pointed out that I’m left handed – I clearly have much better co-ordination in the left hand than the right.

The left hand turns were easy enough once I’d worked out where the horizon sits in a 30 degree bank. For my future reference, it’s exactly on the rightmost of the 2 lines of rivets that run up the nose cowl. For the right hand turns, the horizon sits slightly above the join between between the 2 pieces of plastic trim that run up the left hand side of the cockpit.

After a few goes at right hand turns, I had those pretty much nailed. We went back to twirling round to the left, but this time with the objective of rolling out on a specified heading and all at once an interesting little bug started to bite which took me the rest of the lesson to get rid of – as I watched the DI get to within 10 degrees of the desired heading, I’d find myself twitching the yoke further into the turn before correcting and rolling out properly. Adrians comment was something along the lines of “I’ve never seen anyone have that problem before”.

After 45 minutes twirling about this way and that, Adrian was happy that I’d got the hang of 30 degree turns and we did some spiral dive recovery. For this exercise, he would bank us over to a least 50 degrees, push the nose down to let airspeed build up, take his hands off the controls and call “recover”. My response was to reduce power, level the wings, pitch the nose up to the horizon, hold it there for a second, apply cruise popwer, let the airspeed sort itself out and retrim. I was expecting the control forces required to be a bit higher than normal, due to the increased airflow over the control surfaces, but I was suprised by just how much more grunt was required to pull the nose up.

We began to make our way back to the airfield, doing a series of turns on the way. 30 degrees to the left, rolling out on the same heading as we started on, spiral dive recovery, climbing turn to put us back on our original heading, then 30 degrees to the right and rolling out again on the same heading. I was pleased to find that I’m getting to know the local area well enough that I knew immediately where we were each time I returned to straight and level. Worthing pier slipped underneath the port wing as Adrian called for rejoin and I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to try and get us safely back on the ground again…

The downwind checks seemed to flow more easily this time, mostly thanks to my wife grilling me on them all through the previous week. We did a left base join, which was a new experience for me – on the other lessons it’s been a normal overhead join. As we turned final and the workload crept up, everything started to go to pot again quite quickly. I was grossly overcontrolling the aircraft in an attempt to track the centreline accurately, forgot to monitor height and we wound up too low. Adrian started going on about watching the PAPIs, which irritated me slightly – they’re a great approach aid, but I don’t want to get into the habit of relying on them, since I’ll be a bit stuffed the first time I fly somewhere that doesn’t have any. Still over controlling, we descended to the numbers with the wings rocking back and forth like I don’t know what. I started to pull back on the yoke at what I thought was the right height, and we seemed to float on down the runway forever before touching down ever so slightly left wing down, to the accompaniment of “Holditoff, holditoff, holditoff…..” from the right hand seat!

As we taxied back to parking, I was thinking to myself that I hadn’t done too badly, all things considered, and was already making a mental list of what I need to concentrate on for next time. Bad mistake! We trundled across the grass and I swung us round next to one of the club Warriors and parked up quite neatly. Chopping the throttle back to idle, I set mixture to ICO and watched the prop wind down to a standstill. As I started taking my headset off, I relaized that Adrian hadn’t said anything and was looking at me with his fingers drumming on the top of the panel. I started to wonder what I’d done and quickly scanned the cockpit for evidence of any misdemeanour. Looking down at my kneeboard, I realised that my checklist was still open at the ‘After landing/shutdown’ page. Oh bugger. I looked back up at Adrian and he said “You didn’t fancy the shutdown checks today, then?” It was one of those “beam me up, Scotty” moments…I’d been so absorbed in thinking about my landing attempt that I’d completely forgotten to run through the proper procedures for shutting down the engine. It wasn’t a dangerous mistake to have made, only the puppies[1] suffered, but it did illustrate to me that being Pilot in command of an aircraft means being responsible for the safe and proper conduct of the whole flight, from the moment you first approach the aircraft with the intention of committing an act of aviation, to the moment you lock the doors and walk away. I think it’s fair to say that I won’t be making that particular mistake again…

Strangely, that last episode put a damper on the whole lesson for me, but I guess it’s just one of those things that you have to put down to experience, make sure you learn from it and move on. I had a little moan about it on the Flyer forums, and got a whole heap of encouragement and commiseration from the other SF’s (You all know who you are, thanks for the support!) I’m not sure at this point whether I’ll get a chance to redeem myself before christmas, we’ll have to see how the money goes in relation to the ‘gifts still to buy’ list. 🙂

Traffic Jam at Kilo 1

With another lesson booked for 9:00am on the 16th, I was once again paying close attention to the forecasts during the week. By Thursday lunchtime things were looking a bit dodgy, with talk of thunderstorms and heavy rain. The met reports began to pick up slightly on Friday morning, and the thunderstorms dissapeared from the METARS, to be replaced with PROB40 SHRA. In the end, Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, with wispy white clouds several thousands of feet higher than any airspace I was likely to be flying in. As I drove round the airfield perimeter road, the windsock was hanging limply from its pole with hardly a murmur of wind to disturb it.

I arrived to find the CFI was the only one in the office but the kettle was nice and hot! Must try and remember to take some cow juice with me next time, I detest powdered milk!

As per Adrians instructions after the previous lesson, I’d got myself an AFE checklist for the PA-38, so as soon as he arrived, I got kicked straight outside in the cold to pre-flight the aircraft for the first time on my own. I managed to avoid either slipping on the grass or banging my head on the top of the door this time – anyone who has flown a Tomahawk will be familiar with ‘nutting the door on the way out’ syndrome, due to the way the doors curve inward over your head.

Once we were happy that everything was as it should be, we climbed in. The first job was to get the aeroplane re-fuelled. As it was stone cold, the engine needed 4 squirts on the primer prior to turning the key and I discovered that the thing needed so much pressure to get it to slide back in that I was starting to wish I’d brought a sturdy mallett along with me to help. Despite this little niggle, Mike-Delta proved to be quite easy to start from cold, so we had a healthy draught going in no time. The first new experience of the day came when Adrian said he wanted me to do all the radio calls this time. I’d always been pretty confident that I knew the R/T procedures, but after making the call ‘Shoreham, Golf Bravo Yankee Mike Delta’, and getting the bog standard ‘Pass your message’ reply, my brain just siezed up completely for a few seconds, before I managed to blurt out that we were a PA38 parked in row 3 and we’d like to taxi to the pumps please if that was alright. Cursing myself for managing to sound so incompetent on my first go on the radio, I tried to respond a little more promptly and crisply to the next call and we trundled over to the pumps to fill up.

Having got my head together a bit with the first set of calls, the next lot were much better:

Shoreham, Golf Bravo Yankee Mike Delta

Golf Bravo Yankee Mike Delta, pass your message

Golf Bravo Yankee Mike Delta is a PA38 at the pumps. We have Charlie and 996, 2 persons on board, request taxi for a VFR flight to the west

Golf Mike Delta, taxi via the Alpha taxiway to holding point kilo one for runway 20, surface wind is 210 degrees at 5 knots.

Via the alpha taxiway to kilo one for two zero, 210 degrees 5 knots, Golf Mike Delta.

…and that was it, I’d finally got to use the radio during a flying lesson!

My taxying was hugely improved over last time, mainly due to my having twigged that you don’t have to steer the aeroplane entirely using the toe brakes! I did, however, make the extremely embarassing gaffe of turning the yoke like a car steering wheel whilst turning the aeroplane, which for some reason Adrian thought was rather funny. His laughter set me off, and between us we giggled our way up the taxiway like a couple of schoolgirls.

We turned into wind for the power checks and I busied myself with the checklist, wiggling this, waggling that, pressing the other, until all the necessary tasks had been completed. I apparently need to get my finger out next time and do the power checks a bit more quickly – as we turned round to continue to the holding point, I was dismayed to find that there were 3 aircraft all waiting in a line behind us – I could almost see the pilots impatiently drumming their fingers on their knee boards, thinking ‘flaming studes!’. We stopped at the holding point, and just as I was about to press the button to call ready for departure, the radio chose that moment to get extremely busy, with everybody and his dog seemingly wanting to tell the tower their life stories. I eventually got my call in, got cleared to line-up then waited patiently on the centre line for permission to take off.

I was a little slow in applying full power, I estimate that we’d already rolled about 100 feet before I had the throttle more than two thirds open. Runway 20 is nice and long, but that’s not the point…I found myself zig zagging a little bit up the runway due to putting too much right foot in then over-compensating with the left. We managed to get off the ground without any major dramas though, and headed out over the coast.

The main objective of todays lesson was to be to get used to climbing and descending with one and two stages of flap set, attempting to maintain a given airspeed and/or a given rate of descent, this, of course, being precisely what the pilot needs to do in order to control the aeroplane during the landing.

I was a little more relaxed on the controls than last time, although I still found myself chasing the ASI rather than patiently setting attitude then waiting for airspeed to settle before looking to see if any further adjustment is needed. Adrian had me climbing at both Vx (best angle climb, 65 knots) and Vy (best rate of climb, 70 knots) and although the airspeed difference is only 5 knots, the amount of nose-up pitch required with a clean wing to maintain Vx was suprising. I managed okay with the normal climbing and descending, although I found myself consistently forgetting to apply carb heat prior to commencing my descents. The sequence was always the same – quick turn off to one side to clear the area under the nose, put hand on throttle, think to self ‘bugger, forgotten it again’, move away from throttle and apply carb heat before moving hand back to throttle. At least I was being consistent!

The most fun was doing practice landings – I’d start at around 2500 feet, apply carb heat, reduce power and simultaneously pitch up to maintain height while the airspeed dropped off. Once the ASI hit 70 knots, I’d feed in some nose-down pitch to get established in the descent, varying pitch in order to control airspeed and power setting to control rate of descent. Adrian would call out a rate of descent such as 300 feet per minute and I had to try to get the aeroplane to descend at that rate whilst maintaining the 70 knots airspeed as closely as possible. He’d then tell me to apply one stage of flap and keep the descent rate and airspeed the same, followed by which I’d have to apply the second stage of flap, and still keep the airspeed and rate of descent steady. At some random point, Adrian would then call out ‘go round!’, whereupon my response was to open the throttle pretty smartish, knock the carb heat off whilst pitching up and aiming for 65 knots, wait until a positive rate of climb was established, retract one stage of flap, get the pitch and airspeed settled back down, check that we still had a positive rate of climb, retract one more stage of flap, keep climbing up to 2500 feet, then pitch the nose down and allow the aeroplane to accelerate to cruise speed, throttle back to cruise power and trim for level flight. Then do it all over again…and again…and again.

It sounds quite dull and boring put like that, but there is a lot to be thinking about and concentrating on, so the hour goes by quite quickly. I need to make a concious effort to get the firt stage of flaps retracted more quickly when doing the go-around. I’m spending too long watching the altimeter for a positive rate of climb – I should simply check that there is some upwards movement in the needle, then retract one stage of flap.

All the climbing and descending came together as we joined the circuit overhead the field to land back at Shoreham. Adrian really laid it on thick. This was my first time handling the controls in the circuit. I had the check list open on my knee and Adrian was giving me grief about my FREDA checks and at the same time reminding me that the downwind leg was not a good time to be spending too long reading the checklist. I was running slowly through each item on the list while listening to the radio and trying to maintain a mental picture of where the other 3 aircraft in the circuit were in relation to me. Trying to keep my eyes out of the cockpit as much as possible in order to look out for the other traffic, yet also trying to pay attention inside the cockpit in order to maintain height and airspeed, I found myself very quickly at my limit in terms of workload, and Adrian had to operate the radio for me as I fed in a stage of flap and tried to make sure we turned in the right place for base leg. I extended my base leg too far past the centreline and had to compensate to get us back on track. As we tracked the centre line on final, it began to dawn on me that Adrian wasn’t showing any sign of taking the controls back off me, so I realised with a quick adrenalin rush that he was waiting to see how I handled my first attempt at a landing! I concentrated on aiming for the runway numbers, and held my breath as we started to descend the last 100 feet to the ground. As it turned out, he took the controls off me at the very last minute, due to a Cessna not vacating 20 as quickly as it might have done.

I’ve no doubt that Adrian is planning on getting me to try a landing for the next lesson, as he wants me to sit down and learn the pre-landing and downwind checks so that I can do them from memory next time without having to look at the checklist at all. I also have to read the bit in Thom vol 1 about medium level turns and climbing/descending turns. Should be fun…

Getting Serious

7:10am, Saturday October 2nd 2004. The day had finally arrived. I pushed myself out from under the duvet and peered through the bedroom curtains. Broken overcast, a hint of sunshine and some very occasional patches of blue sky greeted my bleary eyes. Satisfied, I jumped back into bed and went back to sleep for a while.

My first ‘proper’ flying lesson in far too many years was booked for 1:00pm and I’d been like a kid waiting for christmas for the past fortnight. The weather over the past few days had been looking none too promising, with lots of rain and high winds to herald the end of the summer.

I got out of bed for real when the kids woke up at 8:30 – to my horror, it was now very windy and had obviously been raining. As we went through the usual family rituals over the course of the morning, the weather improved again and I felt quite hopeful as noon rolled around. I had no need to take anything with me apart from my kneeboard and a pair of sunglasses. I had put said items in a safe place together with the car keys as soon as I’d finished breakfast, but couldn’t stop myself from checking every half hour to make sure they were still there. The clock watching was getting silly, and by 12:05 I’d had enough and announced that I was going to the airport. It’s only a 20 minute drive away, but I didn’t want to risk being late, or getting stuck in traffic, or having a puncture…you get the picture, I’m sure.

I almost burst into tears when, 5 minutes after pulling away from the house, the thickest, blackest, most meanest-looking bit of clag I’ve ever seen came rolling in from the west and began to dump it’s contents all over the surrounding countryside. I was pretty much convinced that there’d be no flying for me that day, but I decided I’d go to the airport anyway and see what was happening. As it turned out, the rain was fairly short lived and was followed by some sunshine and scattered marshmallow style clouds in amongst some lovely blue sky.

Upon arriving at my chosen flying school, I was introduced to Adrian who was to be my flying instructor. We retired to one of the offices and went through my previous flying experience. Some of the questions Adrian asked me left me with the feeling that maybe I didn’t know quite so much about aviating as I thought I did. The main objective of todays lesson was to be climbing and descending both with and without power.

Briefing over, Adrian found me a dog-eared PA-38 checklist out of the lost property cupboard and we walked out to the aircraft, G-BYMD, a lovely little green and white Tomahawk.

We spent quite a long time on the pre-flight inspection and Adrian made it clear that I needed to pay attention, as he’d be expecting me to do it myself after todays lesson. Everything seemed fairly straightforward, except that I slipped on the wet grass and fell flat on my back as I tried to duck out from under the wing after checking the port landing gear.

We climbed into the cockpit and latched the doors shut. After sorting out the knot that the previous student had left the harness in and adjusting accordingly, Adrian helped me go through the prestart checks. At last, we were ready to go. Three squirts on the primer, throttle cracked open just a tad, then a twist of the key and the engine burst into life. So that’s one new achievement – the first time I’ve started an aeroplane myself.

Adrian copied down the ATIS while we waited for the T’s & P’s to settle down. He called ATC for our taxy clearance and manouvered us away from the other parked aircraft and onto the taxyway, then called out ‘You have control’. First thing learned about the Tomahawk – it’s a bit more skittish to taxy in wind than a Warrior. Despite doing my best to follow the yellow line, I was all over the place. I’d love to have been able to hear what was being said in the tower as they watched our progress to the holding point…

Once up in the air, we recapped on primary and secondary effects of controls and trimming for straight and level flight. We then started on the exercises that Adrian had briefed in the office earlier. Adrians first comment to me was to become a mantra for the rest of the lesson – “Keep your eyes off the instruments and out of the cockpit!”. The view over the nose was considerably different to Keefs Arrer and even to the Warrior I’d been in on my birthday, and it was making the attitude hard to judge. I ended up trying to compensate by chasing the ASI and AI, which meant leaving the altimeter to it’s own devices. Eventually I’d find I’d dropped or gained a few hundred feet, so I’d try to fix that by pushing the nose down, which meant losing the airspeed, so I’d get that back, only to find we were now wing down or 20 degrees off heading, so the altimeter got ignored again while I chased the power setting, ASI and AI all over again. In short, I spent a good 15 to 20 minutes just mushing up, down and around between 2,000 and 3,500 feet, at any random heading between 180 and 350 degrees.

I ended up so rattled at my seeming inability to keep the aeroplane under control that when I turned in my seat to check behind and below, I inadvertently pitched us up and simultaneously rolled us to the left by a considerable number of degrees about each axis, the first time I’ve ever been so ham-fisted with the controls of an aeroplane, and also the first time I’ve actually frightened myself in the air.

Adrian told me to bring us around so that the nose of the aircraft was pointing at Hayling Island, then he briefly took the controls to get us trimmed up at 3,000 feet. His next challenge was to have me descend to 2,000 feet and attempt to maintain a 500 fpm rate of descent at 70 knots IAS. This didn’t get off to a good start as I forgot to flip the carb heat on – luckily, I realised what I’d done immediately and corrected it before Adrian had time to say anything. With the inlet ahead of us as a reference point, my standard of flying seemed a little better and we ended up at something like 2040 feet with 75 knots on the ASI. I adjusted power with a concious effort to listen to the engine note instead of eyeballing the RPM guage and we settled back into the cruise on heading and at the right altitude.

As the last treat of the day, Adrian had me playing with the flaps in straight and level, climbing and descending flight. I was still finding it hard to judge the attitude properly without looking at the panel, so my descents in particular went west once more as I began another battle with “instrument panel-itis” and started playing “chase the ASI” again. I think the final straw was when I took 2 stages of flap straight off after a descent without getting the airspeed and attitude under control first. I think we both realized that my brain had got to the ‘overload’ setting and would probably start dribbling out of my ear if we carried on. We called Shoreham ATC for rejoin and Adrian took the controls back for the circuit and landing, which turned out to be less of a drama than we had expected, considering the crosswinds.

We shut down and made our way back to the office and had a fairly lengthy chat about how the lesson had went. I’m booked for another hour on October 16th, and by then I need to have got my own PA38 checklist and read up on a few chapters in Thom Vol 1, so that we can cover climbing and descending turns and perhaps stalling if the weather is okay.


As this happened on my birthday, I have some pictures of the event – click here to see them.

I presented myself at the offices of Southern Flight Centre at Shoreham and settled down for a pre-flight chat with the FI. He was (I think) pleasantly suprised to find that I wasn’t just another ‘trial flight’-er and actually had some prior flying experience. He suggested that we make the trip into a flying lesson and I found myself in the left hand seat for the first time in 13 years!

The pre-flight checks were far more involved than I remebered from my microlight days and seemed to take forever – ATIS to check, magneto and carb heat RPM drop, etc, etc, but we were soon ready to go. After a brief explanation of differential braking, I found myself taxying the aircraft to the hold, where we did our power checks, set takeoff flap and called “Golf Tango November, ready to depart”.

Turning onto the runway, I pushed the throttle forward and held on to the yoke as the speed came up. I could feel the aircraft getting ‘lighter’ as the airspeed increased. As the ASI got to 65 knots, a smooth pull back got us unstuck and we were climbing out. I was hooked again already as I looked down over the port wing and saw the ground falling away!

I was pleased to find that although I was *extremely* rusty on a lot of things, my general handling skills weren’t too bad considering the 13 year layoff! After a brief refresher on effects of controls, the FI talked me through trimming for straight and level then challenged me to try to maintain height and heading without looking at the panel. I did fairly badly at first, taking us 200 feet down and almost 30 degrees of course, but once I’d got some outside references sorted out, I managed much better. There seems to be considerably less ‘seat of the pants’ feedback in a PA28 compared to a 450kg microlight!

Gentle (rate 1) turns were next, and I found these fairly easy and there were no major problems. Steeper turns found me struggling to maintain altitude and airspeed until FI told me to use a bit of throttle to compensate for the increased drag and so forth. At this point, I was starting to feel that I was working quite hard just to stay ahead of the aircraft, and I kept finding myself rolling slowly out of the turns unless I made a concentrated effort to keep the bank on, although I would like to think that this was more an indication of the inherent stability of a well-trimmed Warrior, as opposed to any shortcoming on my part! 🙂

Climbing and descending introduced me to the joys of the carb heat lever – the FI’s explanation of why this control was needed went straight over my head at the time, but as with a lot of things in aviation, reading the books later at home made everything clear.

By now, we were just about in position to join the circuit at Sandown, FI asked me if I could see the airfield, I said no, because I was expecting to see a runway, not realizing that the strip at Sandown is entirely grass! Doh!

The approach seemed to me to be somewhat on the ‘interesting’ side – we arrived on final with about 300 feet too much air below us, and the FI threw in full drag flap and loads of side slip to bleed off the altitude as we headed for the numbers. I guess I’ll find out in due course whether or not this is normal for short field landings – it does seem to make sense in some ways.

Once on the ground, we chatted about flying generally with some of the other pilots, most of whom my FI seemed to know quite well. I must have looked a proper wally, hanging on to their tall aviating tales like an over-eager schoolboy!

The trip back to Shoreham was more of the same, with some beacon and instrument flying thrown in just to really confuse me. We persuaded the FI to demonstrate a wing over for the benefit of our back seat passenger, who’d never been in any kind of aircraft before. He had me try to line us up in the circuit, which I failed miserably to do. My turn onto base leg was about 3 miles too wide, and as for trying to get us lined up for final, well, just don’t even go there…

Back on the ground after a total of 80 minutes in the air, I had an awful feeling that my life was never going to be the same again.