Ab Initio 10 “Circuits in the Murk”

In which I am thwarted by the weather again but get back up in the circuit anyway, meet a new aeroplane and try not to bend that one either.

The forecast had looked dire for days and a peer out of the window did little to console me. Nevertheless I telephoned the school and got the now familiar, “It’s not great, but it’s okay.” I was happy to take someone else’s word for this and bounded off to the railway station.

It was a little better by the time I reached Kidwelly, the threatening rain subsiding to a murky mist and a rather warm breeze straight down 04. No chance at all though of getting any serious height, so the lesson on stalling was postponed again and it was back in the circuit.

Right-hand for 04 again so nothing new today and I headed off to check out the aeroplane. G-BOHU a new arrival this week as G-BNHG was away being poked and prodded for its annual maintenance. ‘HU had a rather louder, red and orange, paint scheme, a lot more radio navigation gadgets, and a callsign similar enough to be confusing. It was the first time I’d flown a different aeroplane (albeit an identical type) since starting learning, and little things like the tension on the trimmer and all the little rattles and noises I’d got used to in ‘HG were slightly different. It was easy to see why people become co convinced that individual aeroplanes have ‘character’.

I walked across to the other side of the airport where ‘HU was parked and after a brief chat with the watchful neighbouring farmer who, not unreasonably, wanted to know who this scruffy looking person poking around the aeroplane was, I started on the checklists. I was just finishing up on the internal checks when Laurie joined me and we were soon ready to roll.

There didn’t seem to be anybody manning the radio today but we called our intentions to anyone listening and started on the power checks. Some peering and discussion ensued as the RPM drop when we tested the carb heat was rather less than expected. The conclusion was it wouldn’t be a problem, but it was my first time doing the checks when everything hadn’t been entirely normal and a reminder that they’re not there to just be done by rote, that it isn’t a foregone conclusion that everything’s fine and there’s a reason for all the myriad checks and tests.

Everything else came up fine. Instruments were checked and set. Compass and DI aligned after some faffing because I still get confused by the fact they turn in opposite directions and find reading from one to the other a bit of a puzzle.

We had to backtrack up the length of the runway before taking off which gave me a chance to practice my still wobbly taxying. The turn onto centreline was a little less hair raising this time, avoiding the impression we were about to join the go-karters on the other side of the fence.

The takeoff went relatively smoothly, I’m starting to have time to think about it a bit more instead of having to concentrate quite so hard on just keeping it stable. I also noticed I was drifting left of the centreline an awful lot and it needed some very firm right boot to keep us on track. Thinking about it, this was something that had been mentioned in the ‘power’ section of effects of controls but it was much more obvious now I actually had something to measure it by.

The bad visibility was even more noticeable once up in the air. The handy set of pylons on the hill I’d been using at a aiming point were nowhere to be seen, and by the time we came to turn to crosswind the runway was all but lost in the mist. Happily the caravan park which is the turning point for base leg was packed full of bank holiday tourists and easy to spot. The vis did slowly improve over the course of the lesson but it was quite off-putting at first and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to go any further afield in it.

The first few circuits were largely refreshers of the previous lessons. I fumbled over the checks, forgot the radio calls, mishandled or forgot the flaps and wobbled all over the sky trying to stay on track. I began to fear that the doomsayers’ warnings about how much time is wasted that way if you don’t fly regularly enough might in fact have been right. I soon settled into it though, and for the first time went a whole lesson without needing reminding to relax so something was obviously going right.

The checks did click into place after a while, and after some encouragement from Laurie not to be afraid to announce out loud what I was doing–something which I found most unnatural at first.

I had a tendency to turn too early at pretty much every stage, which left me with not enough base and not enough final and not enough time! Combined with the fact I tended to come in too high and/or too fast this tended to leave me with a rather steep approach to land anywhere near the first half of the runway. A couple of them ended up being glides in order to come in steeper, but none of them had to be rescued and side-slipped down by Laurie this time at least.

General fumbling aside there were only two proper cock-ups. One was on a particular final near the end of the lesson. Apparently my brain had started to melt because I don’t know what I thought I was doing with the power but we were in fact going up instead of down!

The other could have been nastier and was another complete brain-failure on final. I pulled the nose up without adding power first and nearly stalled us. Saved by a quick reaction and an admirably understated, “You’re too close to the ground for that kind of thing,” from Laurie.

On the whole though it was a good lesson. Once I was settled into the routine and knew more or less what I should be doing, Laurie started to say less and point at things instead. If the speed was wrong the ASI got a finger jabbed at it, if the height was wrong the altimeter got a tap.

Comments and questions became as common as direct instructions. Things like, “I didn’t hear a radio call,” and “So what are you going do about all this extra height?” prompted me when I forgot things and made me think about what I was doing. Remarks like “This should be interesting,” had me searching the cockpit trying to figure out what I’d done wrong this time and “No aerobatics in the circuit please,” meant I’d turned too steeply.

The remarks were thrown in during brief glances up from the new radio nav panel, and long gazes out of the window and made me wonder if there’s a section in the flight instructor training course on how to appear to be looking out the window/playing with the new navigation gadgets/fiddling with the radio/scribbling on a clipboard, while in actual fact paying attention to every little detail of what the student next to you is doing. It must surely be a black art.

Back on the ground 55 minutes and 8 landings later and I was pretty satisfied with how things were progressing. The only noticeable problem mentioned was a tendency to hold a bit much back pressure in the turns. The tendency to let the airspeed get too low, I was assured with a wry laugh, would undoubtedly be cured by doing some ‘proper’ stalling.

For which we would have to wait (again) for the weather.

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