Ab Initio 14: “Circuit Basher”

In which I discover I do remember what aeroplanes are for, though not how to make them go at the height and speed I want them to. And in which I put many crosses in boxes and forget the difference being being hijacked and having the radio conk out.

After a very long (though hugely enjoyable) previous day, I was a bit concerned that I would wake up completely wrecked and in no fit state to fly so much as a kite. However rather to my surprise I woke up perfectly fresh a good half hour before my alarm clock went off. (It caught up with me the following day at work where I was a total zombie from about 10am onwards).

The sun was shining and while there was quite a brisk crosswind and some bumpy looking cloud, it looked reasonably flyable. Down at the field the wind was even brisker but the plan was still to go up anyway and if it got to unmanageable to come back down.

The aeroplane for the day was the now almost-mythical G-LFSB, which had been away being repaired or relocated or otherwise engaged for what seemed like forever.

So while Laurie finished up the previous lot of paperwork, out I went to Sierra Bravo to do the preflight. Rather fondly I remembered that my very first trial flight had been in another blue and white Sierra Bravo, one G-BSSB, a C150 from Haverfordwest.

Mind back on the moment, I climbed up into the cockpit. Still fresh from the recent maintenance even the carpets had been hoovered and the shoulder belts were a very snazzy shade of bright red.

Decor aside, it was much the same as the other two school Tomahawks I’d been in, except for a few bits and pieces in different places, in particular the alternate static source which caused me a few moments fumbling around to find it and the both the radio ‘on’ switch and PTT button were in different places which caused me some more fumbling and a few moments embarrassment of which more later.

The only other difference, as in the other two was the sensitivity and ‘springiness’ of the trimmer, which I still haven’t quite got sussed anyway.

Laurie arrived as I was finishing up the checks and we were ready to go. Engine startup was fine and I remembered not to hang to long on the starter which is a bit of a recurring nit. I carefully reread the callsign to myself and muttered “Golf Lima Foxtrot Sierra Bravo” once or twice. Remembering which aeroplane I’m in has also been a recurring nit.

For once I got it right first time. “Pembrey Radio, Golf Lima Foxtrot Sierra Bravo, request radio check and taxy for circuits.”

No answer came the loud reply.

Laurie learned forward and twisted something. “Now try it with the radio switched on.” (Flyer forumites can mentally insert a little blushing smilie here.)

I tried again, and this time got back; “QFE 1024, Runway 22, winds 280 at 10,” or words to that effect.

Laurie had scribbled down the QFE and runway for me to read back and then we taxyed to the hold. My more usual mount G-BOHU was already up in the circuit with another student and called downwind as we finished our power checks.

This left us enough time to take off ahead of them and Laurie explained that if we were at a ATC field it was the kind of situation where you might be cleared for an “immediate” takeoff. “Immediate” in this case specifically meaning you’d completed all your checks prior to entering the runway and could turn straight around at the far end and take off without stopping.

So off we went at a reasonably fast taxy, with Laurie in control as we wanted to be quick about it, and me trying to hurry while taxying would probably have put us in the sheep field. Last minute checks we did as we were going along, then it was swing round, straighten up, control back to me and full power. Bit of right aileron to keep the crosswind from tipping us, plenty of rudder and up we go. Check forward to pick up some speed, only just noticed that another difference with the aeroplane is the red light on the panel instead of a horn as a stall warner. Climb away checks at 200 foot and ignore the slight bumpiness over the trees.

Hold the pitch for 70knots, and apparently yesterday’s enormous Mustang burger had not stuck, as Laurie was moved to comment along the lines of, “You really must be light, I’ve never climbed this fast in a Tomahawk before.” And we were indeed fairly shifting, I suppose that incredibly long maintenance job must have achieved something at least.

A tailwind on crosswind (as well as sounding like some kind of tongue-twister) meant we were turning downwind in no time at all, and I had barely got the power back and the aeroplane trimmed before it was radio call and prelanding checks. By the time I was done with that we’d somehow managed to gain another hundred feet. Drat. Not as trimmed as I’d thought then.

Base was too high and too fast again and this was to be the pattern for the day although it did get better slowly. I was prompted several times about using the flaps, but was doing a slightly better job of remembering on my own.

The approach was a bit less frantically up and down and my tracking down the centreline was a bit better, though the crab for the crosswind made it all look very odd. The touchdown itself was also interesting, getting rid of the crab with the rudder as we got close enough then holding the into-wind wing down. I didn’t really have the knack of it, but then that’s not surprising at this stage. One of the facts of just having the one runway I suppose, you tend to discover crosswind sooner rather than later.

Several of my circuits were unreasonably wide due to not compensating enough for the crosswind blowing me away from the field and one approach in particular was a rather hair-raising nosedive at the runway with a very steep flare because I’d left the descent way too late then got rid of the power too quickly.

On the plus side, Laurie pointed out a little lighthouse to use as an aiming point on crosswind and the hills at the far end of downwind are getting more familiar and easier to find the same spot to point at. I’d been starting to get a bit frustrated that I couldn’t find decent landmarks to use in this direction. The other way, even though it’s right-hand, I found rather easier.

The conditions did deteriorate a bit later on as the wind got gustier. One rather alarming gust caught us under a wing as we were starting the climbing turn onto crosswind and drew a startled “woah!” from me as the bank angle increased quite dramatically. I think my eyes were out on stalks as I tried to correct it and I think Laurie jumped back on the controls then too.

I was rather satisfied with how quickly my heart rate returned to normal after that little contretemps but as the turbulence only seemed to be getting worse it wasn’t long after that Laurie said to make the next one a full stop.

The debrief was mainly on the subject of making smaller control adjustments (yet another recurring nit), remembering to get the flaps down promptly (and another), and recapping some of the crosswind techniques. Overall I was pretty pleased with how things were coming though and certainly compared to last time I was positively ecstatic.

Back in the portacabin it was tea and coffee all round and a chance to relax before the exam while Laurie went through the planning for a nav-ex with another student.

The sunshine seemed to have brought people out and it was quite lively with people popping in and out. Lots of happy trial-flighters came and went and some of the ‘usual suspects’ popped in to chat even though they weren’t flying that day.

Someone rang up to book a trial flight for an eightieth birthday present, which I thought was absolutely marvellous.

A lady came in who was waiting for a friend of hers flying in from Devon. She’d been waiting in the café but finding it deserted had come in search of anyone who might know when they were due to arrive. The airband radio was duly found and tuned in so she could listen out for them and the coffee and chat continued with a discussion of the pleasures of just being able to nip across the country to visit friends.

There was another student waiting to do an exam as well (Tech) and the two of us were called upon to “pick a number from 1 to 3” to determine which of the three papers we got. I picked 2. He picked 1, joking that he could then do 2 and 3 in the following weeks if he failed.

We then settled ourselves in the office to crack to with them while everyone else (almost) vanished down the pub for Sunday lunch–jammy sods!

The exam itself wasn’t too bad, though I felt most thwarted that after all my puzzling over it, not a single question about quadrantal levels came up.

It didn’t take the full hour, even with rereading my paper and spotting the question where I hadn’t marked the box I mean to mark and dithering over the ones I was uncertain of.

At any rate I passed. And quite nicely too with 90%

Of the ones I got wrong there were one or two I outright didn’t know to the extent I could have sworn I’d never heard them before, one or two which were rather fuzzily worded and any of the answers looked almost right, and one complete brain failure of the, “I knew it this morning dammit!” variety.

The complete brain failure was on a question about emergency transponder codes, so if there are any reading ATCOs and you see a little PA38 squawking that it’s been hijacked–well it might just be me with a radio failure. (I need that blushing smilie again. Or possible the wide-eyed alarmed one given the current feelings about terrorism–I’d really hate to be shot down for a faulty radio…)

Other than “know the difference between ‘unlawful interference’ and a duff radio”, the only thing I’d say to future exam takers is read the question. And then read it again and check it says what you think it says.

The other chap doing an exam also passed though he did loudly declare that he hadn’t enjoyed it one bit.

And the Sunday lunches were apparently very good, though sadly of course lacking in beer.

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