In which I translate theory into practice, lose many things up to and including the airfield and find myself afflicted with an addiction to being in the air.
The following Saturday, I woke before the alarm even went off and peered from the blinds at a cracking frosty sunny morning. I fairly bounded out of bed (Extremely out of character for me!).
I rang Cambrian just to check and confirm the train times for my pickup and then headed off.
I’m not in general a great eater of breakfasts but was certain that flying on an empty stomach was a bad plan so threw together a corned beef sandwich for the train. In fact this turned out to be inedible and I rather wished I hadn’t bothered.
Still I was in great spirits when I arrived at the station, even getting used to the tired expression of the train guard when I asked to stop at Kidwelly (the closest station to Pembrey airport is not in fact Pembrey railway station but the little request stop a few miles further along.)
Today the weather could hardly have been better, clear and still, with just a few clouds from 3000ft. The extreme contrast with the previous week was stunning.
Arriving at the airport we dealt with first things first, I got out the money (carefully folded away in an envelope marked “flying” where it wouldn’t “accidentally” get spent on anything else) and got myself equipped with logbook and a set of checklists for the Tomahawk.
As we’d had such ample opportunity during the previous soggy outing to go over the basics on the ground we just had a quick refresher on the effects of controls then it was out to the aeroplane which was already sitting on the tarmac outside the portacabin.
We started right at the beginning with the walkaround checks. “Once you know how to do these you’ll be doing them on your own while I finish up with the previous student”, I was told. I was consequently glued to every detail. I dutifully waggled things that were supposed to ‘have a bit of play in them’, prodded things that weren’t, lifted things up and down, peered at fuel samples and checked for birdnests in the engine (apparently they like it because it’s nice and warm).
After establishing that everything which should move did and everything that shouldn’t didn’t and that both the Tomahawk and ourselves had everything we needed, we climbed inside.
I promptly demonstrated my usual clutzyness by losing, in fast succession, pen, checklist (despite carefully not putting it down outside) and the keys to the aeroplane. All were eventually found, mostly under my seat. Retrieving the keys I put them down beside me unfortunately close to the flap control lever.
“Don’t put them there,” I was told hastily. “They fall in and we spend ages fishing them out.”
I looked down and indeed there was a small plaque mounted in front of the lever reading “Do not put loose items here.”
Well, d’oh. I retrieved the keys before they vanished into the machinery and hung them back on the carb heat lever where they seemed to live.
These little hitches over with I was prompted to start on the internal checks.
Seat, hatches and harnesses. Yup. It was fiddling with those I’d managed to drop everything else.
Brake. Pulled up to park. Yup.
Radio/Avionics. Peer at switches of what may as well be gadgets from outer space for all I know how to use them so far. But they’re all off so that’s just fine.
Instruments. All legible and undamaged as far as I can see. Setting the altimeter is nice and simple–we’re at sea level anyway.
Controls. Full and free movement. This I discovered translates to giving them a good haul about to check they go up and down and back and forth in all the right directions and all of the way. Fine.
Trimmer. A little wheel thing down by my right hand between the seats. All the way forward then all the way back then four turns forward to neutral.
Flaps. The handbrake type arrangement where I nearly lost the keys earlier. They work fine.
Ventilation. Peer, fiddle, closed.
Alternate static source. Huh? Turns out to be a tiny switch down by my left calf somewhere. It’s off.
Carb heat. Where the keys were hanging before I lost them. As I write this I still don’t remember whether up is hot and down is cold or if it’s the other way around. Must check next time I go. (Edit: Note to Self–Down is Hot)
Throttle. Back and forth checking for ‘full and free’ movement again. Set ½ open. This turns out to mean half an inch not halfway. Second (or is it third) d’oh of the morning.
Mix. Rich and I’m told we’ll be leaving it rich for the whole time.
Circuit breaker and fuses. More mystery gadgetry. They’re all normal anyway.
Master switch. The big red one. On.
Fuel. Fine. Pump off.
Primer. Couple of squirts then in and twist to lock. How I’ll remember all the things needing pushing and pulling I have no idea. Hopefully some of this is sinking in.
With all that done the next thing was to have a good peer around to check it was all clear and to bellow “Clear prop” out of the window loud enough to be heard in the portacabin. I took this rather to heart and did the yelling with some amount of enthusiasm…
Start up, a pile more checks then Laurie called for taxy clearance and we headed out to the hold point for power checks.
The main thing that stuck in my mind from that set of checks was that if you accidentally switch the mags to off (fourth d’oh of the day) while checking them, then let the engine stop then restart it normally. Don’t just whack it back to both and hope it works–it might backfire and damage something expensive. I’m pretty sure my eyes bugged out of my head at this tidbit of information.
Laurie called up on the radio again and got us our takeoff clearance and we headed out to takeoff on runway 04. He demonstrated how to make the best use of the runway, tucking our Tomahawk’s tail almost into the fence at the far end!
Once we were all lined up straight and had done the final checks it was call ‘rolling’ to the radio and away we went.
After one previous taxying experience I wasn’t exactly expert at going in a straight line yet, so we wobbled about the runway somewhat, but didn’t actually end up on the grass. At 60 knots it was “pull back gently to about 10 degrees”, and up we went.
We climbed away on the same heading. At about 500 feet he said we should lower the nose to have a check in front and go over the post-takeoff checks. Strictly speaking we should have done these checks earlier though I couldn’t imagine at this stage when I would possibly have found the time!
Once we reached about a thousand feet we turned west towards Swansea. The plan was to do some demonstrations of the effects on controls, let me have a chance to get used to the feel of them, then wander over my house and do a little sightseeing. (“Make the most of it.” I was warned, “There won’t be time later in the course.”)
We flew for maybe ten minutes before I was utterly lost. Landmark spotting and navigating are definitely going to be a challenge.
Laurie pointed out the Loughor Bridge and said we were going to use that as an aiming point for a while.
He then proceed to demonstrate the effects of ailerons. While balancing out the yaw effect with the rudder he rolled the wings back and forth several times. He pointed out that the bridge was still straight ahead-we weren’t turning.
He handed the controls over to me and asked me to continue the same manoeuvre. My attempt was rather more mushy but along we flew, wings wagging up and down and me grinning like a fool. This was fun!
Next we did the same with the rudder, swinging the nose of the aeroplane back and forth and back and forth. This created the distinct impression I was going to either be flung out of the window or land in Laurie’s lap any minute. It certainly did demonstrate why it’s a good idea to use the controls together in some sort of coordinated way!
By now we were approaching Llanelli and Laurie switched radio frequencies to Swansea and informed them of our intentions.
He decided we’d wait until we were clear of the city centre before doing secondary effects and demonstrating the spiral descent, so instead he asked me to find my house.
Handily, I live in what is a reasonably distinctive spot to find from the air–hill, river, railwayline, my house. I had a momentary brain failure while pointing it out, forgetting the difference between parallel and perpendicular.
I was also struck again my how much flatter the landscape appears from the air. I’ve walked up the 600ft high hill across from my house and felt every foot–from above it just looked rather barren and flat. I commented on this and was assured I’d get used to it.
Once I’d finished playing tourist we headed north towards Ammanford and started playing with the secondary effects of controls. Basically, the phrase “all things being equal” never happens for real when flying. Anything you do affects other stuff. Rolling the aeroplane makes it yaw. Yawing it makes it roll. Doing things to the pitch does things to the speed. After my previous ground briefing I was reasonably confident on the physics and aerodynamics of why these things happened and it was good to see it demonstrated.
Once we were well clear of the city centre Laurie demonstrated the spiral descent–the way in which the feedback between roll and yaw causes the aeroplane to bank steeper and steeper and turn tighter and tighter as it starts to spiral towards the ground.
It was rather unnerving at first to watch him bank right and then leave go the controls entirely as we started to roll and turn and descend, and that half a corned beef sandwich nearly came back to haunt me at this point. The queasiness soon passed off though in spite of the landscape swinging in gentle circles beneath us. In fact, any disturbance from wind or turbulence was enough bring us back to a wobbly but more or less level condition, thus demonstrating the innate stability of the aircraft in a very reassuring way.
We did a little bit of straight and level and a few turns–enough to remind me just how tricky it was to keep to anything approaching a level course.
“Relax,” I was advised. I looked down at my hands and realised I was clinging to the control column as thought I was afraid it was going to escape. I slackened off my grip and instantly the huge overcompensation of my corrections disappeared. Mental note to self–light on the controls, light on the controls!
We’d now covered the main points of the lesson with a little time to spare so wandered back towards the airfield by way of a large cloud and a quick demonstration of the importance of believing the instruments in the absence of any visual reference.
Starting our descent, we approached the airfield. At any rate I was assured we were approaching the airfield, I couldn’t see anything remotely like it myself.
Laurie pointed out a river estuary winding its way beneath us. “Know where that is?” he asked.
Arse. I knew he was going to ask that. Naturally, I didn’t have a clue. I hazarded a guess at a local river name and got an incredulous, “The what?” in answer. Clearly navigating was going to be a challenge.
Turning to follow the beach towards the airfield which had suddenly appeared out of nowhere we were still a little high so Laurie slopped some height away in a series of sideslipping swerving turns which made me wonder if we had suddenly come under anti-aircraft fire without my realising.
The wind which had been steadily increasing throughout our flight was now giving the traffic controller on the radio a hard time but after two contradicting reports and one go-around we got clearance for the correct, into-wind runway and I followed the controls as Laurie brought us down.
I don’t remember much about the shutdown checks, I was grinning far too broadly and already wanting to go immediately back up.
Logbook all filled out and next lesson booked I got a lift back to the train station where I sat grinning. No one would safe from my enthusing for the rest of the week!