Ab Initio 28: “Going around!”

In which I tear around the circuit on a windy day and discover the merits of going around when it all goes pear-shaped.

Quite often at this time of year we’re treated to the most glorious cold, clear, calm days. Today however had only managed two out of three and the stiff northerly across the Common had teeth in it. Leaning into the wind, rounding a stand of trees the sudden shelter cut it off so abruptly I nearly lost my balance.

It didn’t seem to have deterred too many people though and the sky ahead was lively with school aircraft, the cadets’ motor glider and someone’s lovely loud Yak doing a rather tighter more hair-raising version of the circuit to everyone else.

The person due to fly ahead of me had cancelled so there was plenty of time to get the coffees and gossip in first and regain some feeling in chilled nose and ears before venturing back out.

It had been a month since the last lesson and that had been mostly sightseeing so I did wonder just how rusty I was going to be. Aside from some fumbling for switches (only flown the Cherokee once and I was already looking for its panel layout instead of the Tomahawk’s!) the checks were all just as familiar though and the takeoff a nice one even in the brisk crosswind.

First approach wasn’t too bad, speed a bit more stable but flared well too high and arrived with something of a thump.

Second time around and climbing away I’d forgotten to allow for the drift from the crosswind and we were nowhere near the runway centreline. Likewise turning downwind I was drifting in again. Getting a bit wound up with myself about that one in fact–I’ve been making that particular same mistake for some time now. I did make a conscious effort this time to fly a bit further out before turning. I will not have very many friends in Penclawdd I suspect but it did give me a bit more time to sort things out.

Just for a bit of variety I was too low instead of too high turning finals this time around, something completely pointless with the long main runway to land on. Some increasing gusts were also making holding a stable approach tricky. Another bit of a thump.

Next time I either turned too late, or misjudged how much the wind had increased and had to make a sort of swerve back onto the centreline but the touchdown itself was a bit less dramatic that time.

I made up for that lack of drama and then some in the next one though. Don’t quite know where my brain departed to but I was all over the place and ended up far too slow while being too high to land off it and too low to get the nose back down and get the speed back. Hasty intervention by Laurie on that one before I gathered my wits, so full power and a go-around. I put those rather alarming few moments firmly in the “to think about back on the ground not now” category and carried on with the next circuit.

Spent a lot more time getting tidily trimmed on this one which made matters a bit more stable and less frantic and fiddly but the wind was now gusting upwards of 20knots at 40 degrees off the runway and the hour was fast approaching.

We did get a few more in, which if they weren’t too pretty, at least weren’t dreadful either then it was time to land for the last.

One of the tidier ones albeit accompanied by a running commentary of “Watch that crosswind. Left wing down–right rudder.” With, as I wobble across the centreline a few feet up, “Too much of both. Just keep straight. Hold the nosewheel off–hold it!”

We refuelled in the icy wind which had some assistance in its task of freezing us solid by some helicopter pilot who wavered his way over to land in front of us. We left him to it and gave him a wide berth as we headed back inside for paperwork and debrief.

“All you need is a bit more consistency,” Laurie started, “And some tidy weather and we’ll have you away solo.”

I blinked. I was sat all waiting for a bollocking about that atrocious attempt at a landing I should have thrown away about a hundred feet higher and nearly made an even nastier mess of, and he was talking about solos?

I mumbled something in sort of vague agreement and tried to work out if I was remembering it right. Laurie, after all, is not generally backwards about saying something was a bit bloody rubbish when it was. Maybe he thought I’d startled myself enough that I was unlikely to repeat the performance. Or maybe it’s perfectly normal for student pilots to appear to be trying to do themselves in every so often. I didn’t quite want to find out which it might be.

Once thing for certain though, another time I will most definitely not think twice about saying “balls to this” and going around if I get into a similar position again. I hesitated when I could have recognised sooner it wasn’t going anywhere near to plan. There’s a sort of mental temptation to say “well we’re this close we ‘have’ to land now” which I think I’ll be less likely to succumb to another time.

Which maybe is the point.

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