With a new, improved Cabair checklist in hand I knew my stuff today: ‘A’ checks started to make sense and when to turn carburettor heat on or off was no longer some black magic or dark secret.
The school, however, was running late and my time was limited. Still, it was a return to circuits and my handling of the plane much improved compared to a couple of days ago. More to do during circuits though as discussed in a previous post: the sense of messiness continued therefore and with only three times around the airfield my last attempt was nowhere near last year’s performance.
A similar problem as Tuesday as well: although I’m now flying the plane more I’d always been told to use a set of lights by the runway on approach to gauge whether I’m on the correct flightpath for touchdown. Two white and two red and you’re perfect: more red and you’re too low so feed in more power, more white and you’re too high so take some power out. But, as my new instructor pointed out, this is all very well for big airfields like Biggin but smaller ones won’t necessarily and how do I land then? Back to basics, choose an aiming point, fly the plane down.
Today however I did return to the skies harnessing myself in and bracing myself for a frustrating lesson. That deft touch of the controls I’d developed, the near mastery of the circuit I’d assimilated.
Instead here I was bobbing up and down by +/- 100 ft, drifting off my compass heading and getting confused on my balance of power (the throttle), attitude (the pitch or ‘angle of attack’) and the trim (that handy control which locks in the pitch). It was probably my having re-read my notes over and over again.
A new teacher, a new style and new observations. The most important of which was that I was flying on instruments and responding to them. I’d locked in my mind that if this instrument does that I need to correct this way etc. But this flight, and my licence, is according to Visual Flight Rules (VFR) i.e. you can only fly if you can actually see the ground, a certain distance in all directions etc. I was barely looking out of the window, maybe a quick glance away from the instruments rather than the other way round. Given the instrument ‘lag’ I was over-compensating one way and then the other.
I can’t be the only person to do this though as my instructor whipped out a couple of paper circles that were placed on and completely obscured the altimeter and other dials. All of a sudden we were straight and level… using the horizon and the ‘four finger rule’ (put four fingers on the dashboard and at the top of your fingers should be the horizon and that’s your aspect to maintain).
You see and hear this kind of thing in films, don’t you? Trust your instincts, feel the feedback, ignore the computer, use the force, just fly the plane.
And so we return to circuits: just like those at the gym but more exhausting for body and mind. These are to hone your discipline and skills around the airfield. When coming into land you don’t just aim for the runway, you have to join a well-defined, height-regulated and Air Traffic Control (ATC)-controlled pattern.
Circuits helps to speed that process up by taking off, joining the circuit and coming into land before, without stopping, powering up again and taking off.
Each circuit around Biggin Hill takes, I suppose, around 8 minutes. I say I suppose as I’m not really aware of time, just tasks. When taking off you have to maintain a certain speed in the climb and turn at the right point and at the right height. Then there’s the strict circuit height (as other aircraft may fly overhead), keeping distance from and looking out for other aircraft who may be joining the circuit from other airfields, usually from ‘deadside’.
On the downwind it’s checks time and BUMFFICHHL: dab the Brakes, check Undercarriage if not fixed, fuel Mixture to rich, check Fuel is sufficient for a go-around and that the pump is on, set Flaps as required, check Instruments and that the directional indicator aligns with compass and that temperatures and pressures are green, turn Carburettor heat on, ensure Harness is secure, that Hatch and windows are closed, that Landing light is on. Oh yes, and you need to advise ATC of your position. Oh… and fly the damn thing of course.
By the time that’s all done it’s probably time to turn onto base leg. Here you’re really getting ready to land, the flaps go down to improve lift while slowing the plane’s speed. Descending, descending to a turn onto final… the details of which I’ll leave til another day…
After 5 or 6 of these I was dizzy enough combined with my head spinning from task after task. And I’m paying for this?! Still, a circuit will be my first solo activity so, in spite of exhaustion, I feel a whole lot more confident at the end of the day than at the start.
I had planned to escape for long enough to fit in a sneaky lesson but it wasn’t to be. It would probably have been easier to fly to the office today but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself!
In the absence of a lesson log I decided I’d explain the blog title… realising too late that it might sound rather morbid and foreboding, particularly with some of the background to my previous post.
For the non-pilots among you, deadside is the area on the other side of the aerodrome from the circuit which, as I’ll no doubt explain properly in a future post, is the strictly organised stack’em / pack’em / rack’em bit prior to landing. So you usually approach the airport from deadside, the non-active bit before being allowed to join the circuit.
Each aerodrome will have its own instructions for joining the circuit, called joining instructions strangely enough. At Biggin Hill you’re usually asked to call the tower when you’re 3 miles out: as you’ll usually be approaching from deadside the radio call is ‘3 miles deadside‘ to indicate your location and distance.
There. You really wanted to know that didn’t you?
I should explain that today was not my first flight. Indeed I’ve been officially learning to fly for over a year now. Working through the week and socialising through the weekend – things get in the way though. It’s hard to keep the momentum.
An interesting time to try and pick up where I left off a few months ago. Not only is the weather now taking a turn for the worse but last weekend an instructor and student were killed at Biggin Hill when the engine failed shortly after take off. And that’s where I am. Biggin Hill. During the time I’ve been taking lessons I’ve heard of enough fatal crashes and near misses to keep my awareness as to the dangers up. It’s only when I could visualise where the plane came down – what the runway there looks like, that it could have been my aircraft – that it really registered. This lead to a couple of decisions.
The first decision was that I should get back into it – after too long a break. The news item itself didn’t remind me of my absence: I’d been thinking only that week that I needed to return so before the possibility of the tragedy affecting my decision I went and booked a lesson. Over the summer there were too many distractions, too many things in the diary and too few weekend days to be able to take to the skies. Unless you can keep the momentum, as with anything you’re learning, you just waste time on the next occasion getting back to the previous standard so you can progress. Not only does that become frustrating but, with the cost of flying, it’s an expensive approach too.
The second decision was that I should probably tell family of my little hobby. My policy ’til then was that it was going to be another of those surprises I would spring at the last minute: probably at the gates of the aerodrome with a plane hired for an hour and passenger headsets waiting. More importantly I didn’t want people worrying every weekend, knowing that I probably have a flight planned. Now, as much as I know nothing is going to happen, if it did I would hate for the people I most care about not to have known about this diversion of mine and how much I enjoy it.
On my complicated public transport-a-thon journey home I made another decision: that I would log my flights, thoughts and landings in a new blog – too many experiences that I can’t write in my other blogs. At least when family are told they’ll have some background and stories to read and, at a pinch, enjoy.
Think I’ve OD’d on the context and scene setting. So, briefly, cross winds all over the place, plane buffetted up and down along with a very very rusty pilot… but I put it down to the turbulence. Although, perhaps with decision 2, that’s still to come….