Ab Initio 43: “Up in the Wind”

In which I get carried away with the challenge of a crosswind to play in and fly a silly number of circuits

I really have been unreasonably fortunate with weather lately. The forecast had been dire and morning lived up to it, but by lunchtime the rain had passed and blue was beginning to appear between the clouds.

And I was grinning with all the enthusiasm of having firmly been “not getting my hopes up” and suddenly finding I hadn’t needed to bother.

The wind was a bit across 22 as I peered out from the train as I passed, but not by too worrying an amount, and Keith confirmed it when I arrived. One circuit, which while not brilliant was declared, “Well recovered” and he got out. “You can stay up as long as you like.”

No one booked after me! Great stuff.

“And don’t forget the flaps!”

I have a bad habit of leaving them down when backtracking and Keith, worries that I’m going to forget them altogether and take off again with them in that state. Not without reason–I did just that on one of my earlier solos.

Not today though. Today the aeroplane all but leapt into the cold headwind and climbed beautifully. It was decidedly on the choppy side over the trees and the cycle path on short final was also churning up a fair bit of turbulence, and the first couple of landings were less than entirely graceful.

As the crosswind picked up on about the third or forth approach, a gust suddenly found me rapidly heading towards grass instead of runway. Whoops! Throttle forward, “Golf HotelUniform, going around.” I hoped my eyepopping expression wasn’t too obvious from the call.

Pronounced crossed controls on the next approach and kept the drift more under control to touch down nicely. But still still still left of the centreline! To the point where I even perturbed the a/g guy. Botheration.

I made a very deliberate point of allowing a bit more for drift in the turn next time around and landed in a more respectably central spot. Got a bit too thoughtful climbing away thinking it over, and found myself at 800′ before turning. Lesson of the day–one circuit at a time!

I could almost think I was getting the hang of this when the wind on the next approach was passed as 270/18kts. My small measure of newly found confidence wobbled a bit and I glanced hurriedly at the windsock. I had landed in similar wind conditions, but this would be the first time solo. I wiggled a little more comfortably into my seat. Fair enough. If it looked too alarming I’d go around–it’s not like it would be the first time that day!

I lowered the upwind wing and straightened out the crab, gulped as either a gust or my heavy handedness tipped me a bit too far into the bank, and hastily fixed it. Having kept the speed up a little to ride out the bumps over the cycle path it took me rather a long time to slow down in the hold off and I was close to muttering out loud “Sink will you!” by the time the first wheel touched.

Typically, given my concerns, it was one of the tidier arrivals. However, I was by now some yards past my chosen ‘wimp out’ marker so elected to backtrack rather than attempt a touch and go. Even though the racetrack was empty today, I didn’t especially want to end up visiting it.

Next one, just to make sure I didn’t get cocky I ended up well too high and went around. One after that made me grin all pleased with myself again, and it was about then I realised “As long as you like”, really should mean “As long as you can afford” and I checked my watch. Eeep. More hair-raising than the landings that.

I landed, grinning and tired and settled up.

“You must have had fun up there today,” Derek said as he made out the bill. I grinned even more broadly. I really had!

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