Ab Initio 37: “Trying Not To Be Number Three”

In which I endeavour not to follow the prevous two aeroplanes off the edge of the runway and practise a bit more of the solo stuff.

I gave the windsock a frown as I passed on the train. It was pointing resolutely across the runway, slightly favouring 04. I have a bit of a mental blind spot when it comes to the fence at the threshold of 04. I invariably come in high, convinced that any lower and I’ll hit it. It seems a common affliction–the thing looks far taller from the air than from the ground!

I was down to fly at 2.30 but things were running a bit behind and both the previous solo student, and the instructor were still airborne. I settled down to watch and chat and look over someone’s photos from the annual Auster excursion to Rosemarket. I have a soft spot for Rosemarket airstrip as I used to go horse riding along the edge, ad it’s definitely on my list of places to visit once I have my PPL.

The student who was up, had been waiting to do his qualifying cross country but when he’d rung that morning, one of the airfields had advised that the crosswind at their end was probably a bit too chancy for a solo student.

He’d settled for going for a solo nav ex instead and as he arrived back overhead I trooped out to watch, hoping to gauge the crosswind a bit better by watching someone else tackle it.

I’m not sure at which point I realised something wasn’t really right, but when the realisation came, it was, “Shouldn’t he have straightened out by now?” He was very nearly at the point of touching down and still crabbing into the wind. To say it looked a bit alarming doesn’t capture the horrible sense of, “Oh God, I’m watching an accident.”

He went around, after a few unpleasant moments, but not before someone had hit the crash bell.

Unfortunately on the next approach he actually did touch down sideways and went off the runway onto the grass. The initial alarm gave way very quickly to relief, as he wasn’t hurt and managed to taxy back in.

The poor instructor, Keith, who’d watched this from overhead, as he rejoined the circuit, landed a few minutes later, possibly even more in need of strong tea than the student!

We talked a bit about the crosswind, and decided we’d go up and see how I felt about it before deciding whether I’d have a go at some more solo time. It had dropped a bit more since I’d arrived in any case, so we started up and taxyed across to the hold to wait for a microlight to land ahead of us.

I turned my attention to the power checks while we were waiting, only to hear a disbelieving groan from Keith. I looked up to see what the problem was.

The microlight had gone off onto the grass as well.

What a day. Back to the club, shutdown, and more tea while he got a tow. We did not want to make it three out of three!

By the time things were good to go again we were coming up on 5pm. I was due on a train to Milford Haven, to visit my mum’s for a week, which I’d now miss, so phoned to let her know I’d be late. I did chicken out of telling her why, and restricted myself to the fact I’d be late and not the reason!

Finally airborne, I felt much more comfortable. We talked idly about the hectic day, Keith’s upcoming holiday, and the places in Pembrokeshire which we both knew. It was surprisingly easy to relax and put other people’s difficulties out of my mind.

I got a little high on the approach. I know exactly why–instead of concentrating on my descent I was thinking about the fence and watching an aeroplane backtracking the runway. The landing itself was all right though, rudder to rid of the crab, then a touch of wing down to keep from drifting.

“Make it a full stop.”

Was I happy to continue solo?

Was I? I looked at the windsock and thought about it. I’d just watched those two others go slewing off sideways, but I hadn’t, myself, found the crosswind a problem, or even particularly more challenging than normal. If anything, the delay while things were sorted out had allowed it to drop even further.

I said I felt good to go and let Keith out at the intersection.

He reminded me to concentrate just on the landing and not worry about the takeoff until I was certain the landing was complete and under control. Backtracking was definitely to be preferred to a messy touch and go. Given my little contretemps with the flaps last time out I certainly took this to heart!

I backtracked, turned around under the fence and opened the throttle. I still have to bite back the urge to shout “Whhheeeee!” when I take off by myself. I climbed into the circuit and turned downwind, dimly aware of a joining aeroplane being warned there was a solo student loose.

I’m still getting used to the way the aeroplane handles with just me up, and I was having a little difficulty keeping a consistent height. I kept ending up high and either descending too slow and then having to steepen it abruptly for the last few hundred feet, or over compensating and ending with a draggy, shallow approach.

The a/g chap was giving the wind as between eight and ten knots at around forty degrees off the runway, enough to definitely make me pay attention. First landing was a little firm because I let it drift a bit too much after levelling out. Second one was fantastic, if I say it myself, and the third was reasonable. I stopped there as I’m rubbish at keeping track of time and wasn’t sure whether I could fit another in. Must make a note of times next lesson, so I know how long I’ve had.

I was grinning with satisfaction when I got out. I like this solo stuff. It’s a big confidence boost to know that I can consistently put it down in one piece, even on less than perfect weather days.

I paid up, filled out my logbook and was suddenly saved an hour and a half train journey when Keith offered to take me along to Haverfordwest. One of the Tomahawks was going down there for maintenance.


Keith went off to do one last flight, a quick check ride. Even that proved as eventful as the rest of the day and confirmed his ‘these things happen in threes’ theory, when the seat catch slipped and the pilot’s seat headed rapidly towards to the arse end of the aircraft.

A very undignified, abrupt climb later, a more normal attitude was resumed, leaving me and Derek, who were watching from the ground, wondering what on earth that had been about.

While they did a couple more, less exciting, circuits, I helped Derek put the other Tomahawk to bed. We came to the conclusion that you must need good nerves to be a flying instructor–before Keith arrived back on the ground, loudly declaring his intention to walk to Haverfordwest.

I think he must have more than earned his holiday this week!

I hoiked my rucksack and laptop bag into the back of the aeroplane–good thing I’m little and we didn’t have full fuel. The sun had come out properly now and it was a rather lovely evening.

“You can go left hand seat.”

Good stuff, thinks I. Of course it was only once I got home I recalled that was the one that had tried to make a departure to the tail… I gave it good rattle anyway, and I usually do–I’m so short I need it pulled all the way forward which usually requires a good bit of tugging to settle it in place.

Nice evening over a familiar route, and all my old stomping grounds. Oakwood Park, the Haven, Rosemarket. We waved to Keith’s house and my mum’s house and dodged the refineries to arrive over Haverfordwest. It was nice and easy to see, as the County Show was set up across half the airfield and one of the runways. Marquees everywhere.

No one on the radio at this time in the evening so we flew overhead to check the windsock and pick a runway–not a lot in it, it was almost straight across. Needless to say the remaining runway was the crosswind one!

Not my best landing of the day but it was nice to end up somewhere different, and I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the waiting family at least. My nephew had apparently been helpfully shouting, “Down!” ever since we arrived overhead.

His aeroplane impersonations are getting rather good–although rather on the aerobatic side!

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