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.