Ab Initio 18: “A selection of circuits”

In which I remember (again) how this is supposed to work and am reminded that there’s a whole eight hundred metres of runway out there and it’s not strictly necessary to plop the wheels on the first two.

Another gusty blustery day. I rolled my eyes at the view out of the window and decided that today I was going to enjoy the day regardless.

To this end I headed off down to Oystermouth Castle with the rest of the reenactors for the first of our winter ‘battle practices’. The plan was to give the flying school a ring later to find out if the wind was any better there.

The forecast had not been promising and it still looked unlikely but as the sun came out I started to get a bit more hopeful, especially as the top of a castle isn’t exactly the calmest spot from which to estimate the wind. I’d nearly been lifted off my feet carrying the kit up the hill–Hang-gliding dangling from a shield does not come highly recommended!

For once though the weather at the airfield was better instead of worse than Swansea and I gave a gleeful yell and dashed off down the hill to catch the bus then train down to Kidwelly.

Today’s hiccoughs were relatively minor–stroppy door-catches and a few mental blind spots on certain checklist items. (That ruddy fuel pump is underlined and starred and scribbled on and still gets forgotten until the end when I put the rest of the electric bits and pieces on.)

We waited a while at the hold for the previous student to land and I was somewhat reassured to find even those well ahead of me and already soled still managed to come in too high at times!

Taxying was a bit better today, I managed to line up with just the one attempt this time. Though the turn wasn’t exactly what you’d call precise we at least weren’t halfway down the runway as in some previous attempts.

Final checks and radio call then throttle open and away we go. I still love this bit!

We climbed away into quite a strong (almost) headwind and I was careful to keep a closer eye on the airspeed and bank more gently into the turn–I’d skirted too often on the edge of stalling last time and didn’t fancy a repeat performance.

In fact I overcompensated somewhat in my preoccupation with that with the result that we climbing too slowly and going too fast and were nearly halfway to back to Swansea by the time I turned downwind.

“Going on a cross country are we?” Laurie wanted to know. Oops.

Some swerving later, we were back on track in time to make a “late downwind” call and turn to base.

This time I got the power back and the first stage of flap in far more promptly so had a bit more time to get the pitch and power sorted to arrive at the turn to finals at the right(ish) height.

I’m getting better at judging that bit. It’s getting easier to see and estimate how soon we’re going to get to the turning point and compare that with how fast we’re descending. Then it’s just a case of working out whether the position and the height are going to coincide where I want them too, at around 600′ starting the turn.

It’s quite pleasing when it works because I can remember not so very long ago being talked through this bit with a constant litany of “bit more power / bit less power, aren’t we a bit high / don’t you think we’re a bit low” etc.

The cockpit has got a bit quieter than that recently, the advice less frequent.

I started the turn slightly early as the still strongish crosswind blew us away from the runway. Mental note for next time around and a quiet “d’oh”–you really would think I’d remember about the crosswind by now, there’s certainly been enough of them!

And so it went. Circuits are circuits so this isn’t a blow by blow, more the edited highlights…

Next one was tidier and I managed to avoid haring off to Llanelli on the crosswind leg this time. Over enthusiasm on the base leg meant that “maintain height while the speed drops off” somehow ended up as a hundred foot climb. Another Oops but the rest of the approach was okay.

Around again and the only comment was that I could do with aiming a bit further along the runway. Trying to land right at the end wasn’t leaving me a great deal of room for error or adjustment.

Next! I aim too far down the runway, descend too late and float for ages.

Next! It’s not too easy finding an aiming point at the right sort of distance. At least aiming right at the end there was a very definite marker. I need to do some very local landmark spotting.

Each successive circuit had been accompanied by a wary look out on the climb at some incoming showers making their way across the sea towards us. We’d been up about three quarters of an hour when they arrived. We managed a few more by some severe corner cutting to avoid them but with the aforementioned stroppy door catch making its presence felt, it was getting decidedly wet and windy in the cockpit so it was time to call it a day.

I was happy enough with that, I’d had a good lesson and felt like I was actually making progress.

Despite it being last thing on a Sunday evening there were still a fair few people hanging around chatting and drinking coffee and it was a lovely way to unwind. Good day!

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