Ab Initio 25: “Up and down again”

In which I bounce some more around the circuit, waffle some more on the radio and find out that real weather is rarely as obliging as exam weather.

It was dark when the radio alarm clock went off and there ought be some law against pre-dawn Christmas carols. I sat up still wrapped in my duvet and peered outside– somewhat over-optimistically, as all that could be seen of the sky was an orange halo of streetlight.

I made toast in my downright arctic kitchen and stuffed peanuts and chocolate into my pockets for the walk.

I cringed into my coat as I went outside. How many times do I need to wonder if I’m crackers? What had possessed me to book a 10am flying lesson at an airfield 2 hours walk away, to which no buses run on a Sunday morning? Why am I doing this?

Then the sun came up and the sky turned silver and pink in the wake of a retreating indigo cloudbank and I remembered exactly why.

Plus the cafe promised far more promising a breakfast than my toast which somehow managed to be both limp and burned, so I stomped along at a good pace. It was quiet on the common even for a Sunday morning and more so for the lack of aeroplanes up and about. Had the cold kept everyone else in bed? It was a gorgeous day! Where on earth was everyone?

I was apparently the first arrival so tucked into my second breakfast (much better toast) while waiting and admiring the Christmas decorations. (Very festive–even the tinselled sheep).

Another student was heading off on his qualifying cross country as the weather looked doable. Laurie needed to sort out the paperwork gubbins before he went, so we decided that I may as well have a go at the met exam before my lesson as after.

I settled myself down at the table closest to the radiator with a pen and some scribbling paper and got started.

I was pretty confident. I’d done lots of revision and been utterly absorbed by little else for weeks, but even so exam nerves still tickled at the back of my head.

Remembering a tip from work I left anything that involved working out sums to the end, so I could take my time over the calculations instead of rushing them and mucking them up. As I have a bit of a mental blind spot for directions I also drew a little diagram for anything involving veering, backing or which way winds were coming from!

There were a couple I ummed and ahhed over and got through by a process of elimination–“which of these metars would you expect from such-and-such a region on this chart”.

There seemed a reasonable balance of theoretical “how the weather works” type questions, and practical stuff–getting cloudbases from tafs and deciding whether the conditions on a given form 215 were suitable for a particular flight and similar.

In any case it was my day to be class swot and I got the lot right.

Meanwhile the real weather outside had become distinctly more blustery and didn’t want to make up its mind about direction either. There was some speculation about which runway I’d get as we headed airside. Derek walked out with me to swipe the security door and help with the pre-flight by leaning on the tail for me so I could actually reach the elevator. Laurie was still up with the previous student doing a couple of circuits before he set off and they were using 04 which answered that question.

They landed and stopped just off the taxiway long enough for Laurie to bail out and swap aeroplanes to join me. The engine took a little coaxing to start in the cold, but we were off and running before long.

Having just started to get the ATC radio stuff sorted I was thrown again into confusion by the fact we were talking to Swansea Radio all of a sudden. And then Swansea Tower and then Radio and then… They were doing training of some sort and there was a notam out to that effect, which I had read, and which I’d then utterly forgotten about when confronted with the reality. I sat there a good few seconds waiting for a clearance that wasn’t going to come and that I didn’t need anyway, until Laurie’s emphatic waving at the throttle suggested that getting a move on might be a good idea.

I found out pretty quickly that the nice blue, cloudless sky was far from as innocent as it looked, and the wind over all that nice scenic terrain on the common was having some ‘interesting’ effects. Smooth it was not! I had my hands full and was about three circuits in before I registered “Oooh snow!” on the hills I’d been pointing at on each climb out!

In between trying not to be blown or bumped too far off track, my r/t confusion also continued as it became apparent that we were not the only SierraBravo in the circuit. This called for a whole four extra syllables every time I made a call as G-LFSB, which rather embarrassingly, was almost more brainpower than I had spare. As an extra bonus other people equally confused kept turning up asking for instructions and being reminded by a particular stress on the “Radio” part of the callsign that they weren’t getting any. I’m not sure whether that helped or added to my confusion but it did make me feel better about it!

In addition to the turbulence the wind was gusting quite strongly about 20 degrees off the runway. We fairly hurtled along downwind then took forever on final, which led to my error of the day being consistently too low. Also being too slow with the power changes when trying to fix being too low and getting too slow for the gusty conditions.

We persevered for about 45 minutes by which time the wind was getting decidedly unfriendly and I was starting to feel ever so slightly green about the gills, and we called it a day and headed back for coffee and my third breakfast.

Here’s hoping the weather calms down in the new year!

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