In which I mush around the sky like I’ve never stepped foot in an aeroplane before, discover that there are always Days Like These, discover go-arounds and aim the aeroplane at a hole in the forest.
Lovely sunny day, if decidedly on the windy side, was the conclusion from the morning peer out of the window. Large cumulus clouds hurtling across the sky promised a bit of a bouncy ride but as usual the prospect of the train trip was far more stressful that the thought of any airborne catastrophe. This impression was not dissolved by the rather vague conductor who gave me no confidence whatsoever that the train would actually stop at the correct station.
Despite my leaping from my seat to check, the train did in fact arrive without incident.
A long stare from the train window as the train passed had shown the windsock pointing square across the runway and another glance on arrival confirmed it was almost a toss up as to which direction to use.
We settled on 22, and my first full lot of left-hand circuits.
I checked out the aeroplane and started up with no problems. Then came the first radio call and the first set of stupid mistakes for the day. Could I remember the correct callsign? Could I remember even which runway we’d decided on? Could I buggery…
My burbling was tactfully ignored by the bloke the other end of the radio who went ahead and gave us the information I meant to ask for anyway.
We lined up and went through the final set of checks. In particular another check on the windsock and a reminder about the need to hold the into-wind wing down to stop the wind lifting it from that side, while at the same time holding opposite rudder to stop the nose swinging around into the wind like a weathercock.
Today, this meant in practice, proceeding down the runway with left rudder and right control column, which felt most peculiar. I’d got pretty used to needing right rudder on take off.
We got off the ground without too much difficulty and started the climb out as normal. The first noticeable difference to the circuit itself was how quickly we zipped along the crosswind leg (which today of course actually had a tailwind). I found myself in great confusion trying to level out, and sort the power, and trim, all before it was time to turn again.
On reflection that hurried crosswind leg probably explained at least some of what was to be a very wobbly day for me. I don’t think ever did get the trim sorted the whole lesson!
The climbout was very bumpy over the trees and we were a bit all over the place. I was somewhat comforted by the knowledge that had I flown through this kind of turbulence not so very long ago, it would have turned me grey and green. Today it was just annoying because it was knocking me off track.
For some reason in spite of the crosswind which should in theory have been blowing us further from the airfield on the downwind leg, I still repeatedly found myself too close in. I had a hard time finding good aiming points in this direction. No equivalent to the handy pylons in the other direction!
The radio calls caused more confusion as (somewhat unusually) we actually had someone talking back to us on the radio today, and I kept needing reminding to acknowledge what he was telling us. I also managed to talk over the top of at least two other people’s transmissions.
The pre-landing checks were at least becoming more routine by now, though because I seemed to be having a blind spot with the trim today, every time I glanced away we were gaining or losing 100′
The approaches were in keeping with the rest of the circuit–which is to say, rubbish. I turned too late, or too soon, then overcompensated and swung back in over the other direction. I was too high one minute then almost on the grass next door. I forgot the radio calls or I forgot the flaps. Or both
“You know, you can use the throttle and talk at the same time.” Laurie patiently repeated.
The evidence suggested otherwise.
The third or forth time of this we were so high and fast it was blatantly obvious we weren’t going to make the runway with room to take off again.
“What are you doing to do now?” Laurie asked as we hurtled over the threshold still a couple hundred feet in the air.
“Uh, go around.”
“Right, full power then and tell them what we’re doing.”
Drat, that involved using the throttle and talking at the same time again of course. Cue me losing the ability to do either.
“Full power.” We were still going down instead of up and Laurie intervened to push my hand along with the throttle full forward.
“Tell them then.” I hadn’t done that either.
“Uhh, Golf Hotel Uniform going around.” Did I transmit that ‘uuh’? Too late now. Positive rate of climb so lose the second stage of flap and try to gather my wits.
At 200′ we were still climbing normally so I put away the remaining flap and started to relax and think about how not to do that again next time round. Concentrating on trying to get the trim properly sorted for the climb this time I only dimly heard Laurie say something on the radio but didn’t really register what it was.
I could guess soon enough though as he suddenly pulled the throttle back and my stunned mullet look returned in force as our not-exactly-excessive airspeed vanished very quickly indeed.
“Need to get the nose down a lot quicker than that.” Laurie warned, doing so. “Where are you going?”
Where was I going? Where was I going? All that presented itself ahead was a bloody great forest. Neither of the two clearings I could see looked especially inviting as places to put an aeroplane.
“Inviting compared to what?” was the pertinent question though. Given that the alternatives would most likely be hitting the trees or stalling while trying to reach somewhere else.
“There.” I pointed at the flattest looking clearing and immediately thought I should have picked the rougher-looking but longer one instead.
“That clearing? Fine. Okay, full power let’s go.”
We climbed away and my heart rate slowly returned to normal.
This interruption had been an interesting break from the usual round and round of the circuit but had done little to improve my apparently lacking concentration and after another circuit or two we came to the conclusion that it was rather a waste of money for me to be up there not really achieving very much.
We went around for one more circuit and were visited by a rather pretty jet doing a low pass over the runway as we extended downwind to make sure he was well out of the way by the time we arrived.
Back on the ground I wasn’t much better off and my excessive use of power while we were taxying almost had us through the boundary gate and out onto the road.
Eventually we came to an stop and shut down. I deposited my headset on top of the panel and resisted the urge to wail and demand “Why can’t I do this time what I could do last time!”
“Well that wasn’t up to your usual standard.” Laurie allowed in a masterful understatement. “Late night?”
Unfortunately I didn’t even have that excuse. Or indeed any explanation whatsoever. The weather didn’t help but wasn’t really enough to make such a drastic difference all by itself. It was the very definition of “One Of Those Days”
“You’ll do better next time,” Laurie said, and I wasn’t sure if it was an instruction or reassurance. Either way I thoroughly hoped it was right.
Back in the cabin, things looked more optimistic. Derek, with perfect timing, had the kettle on as we landed and the coffee was being poured as we stepped inside and a waiting trial-flighter with an anticipatory grin all over his face reminded me why flying was sooo much fun it was worth days like these.
I booked my next lesson for two weeks time and in a hopeful gesture also arranged to have a bash at the air law exam the same day.
Lots of swotting to do between now and then!