Ab Initio 44: “Back and Forth”

In which I try not to confuse myself with the intricacies of overhead joins and fly back and forth between the airfield and a few local landmarks.

I was walking home through the remains of the previous day’s snow, struggling not to slip over and toting a large plastic airport under my arm (nephew’s Christmas present!) when my mobile went off.

Derek from the flying club–could I make it down today instead of tomorrow for my lesson?

Hasty glance at watch and timetable suggested I could, so I scooted home, deposited the toy airport and headed off for the real thing.

I’d finished with solo consolidation now and was greatly looking forward to doing something else. Today was overhead joins and I perched myself on the edge of a table as Laurie drew it out on the whiteboard.

Basically the idea of these is that you arrive overhead (the clue’s in the name) the airfield you’re landing at, find the runway you’re after then descend on the opposite side to the circuit (the ‘deadside’). In theory it allows you to look down at other traffic in the circuit, get yourself oriented and generally sorted out without getting in anyone’s way.

There was a brightly coloured poster on the wall describing it but Laurie’s explanation seemed simpler. The gist was as follows:

If the circuit is right-hand, as we were today on 04, then you approach keeping the airfield on your right, (and vice versa). Fly over it, turning in the same direction as the circuit, until you pass the numbers for ‘your’ runway thus that you can read them the right way up! At this point you should be 2000′ above the circuit pattern, so any aircraft on final should pass well underneath you.

Once you cross the extended centreline for the runway, you start descending to circuit height, keeping to the deadside. You then turn and cross the upwind end of the runway, keeping an eye out for anyone taking off underneath you–although unless they’ve got a very high performance aircraft they’re unlikely to reach circuit height by the end of the runway.

You then carry on heading out until you reach a suitable distance for the downwind leg and complete a normal circuit.

That sounds longwinded now I come to type it but made more sense on the whiteboard and in the air (also the coffee table with toy aeroplanes once I got home…)

The plan was to take off, fly up to Carmarthen, about five miles away, then return, rejoin for a touch and go, then off to the west for a way, then return and rejoin to land.

Laurie asked for a short field takeoff, and we were away. It was nice to be up and going somewhere, even for just a short hop and back. Nice to have a few moments not thinking about landings and checks and circuit position. Time to look out at the landscape below patched with half melted snow and the steel and silver clouds overhead threatening more of the same later. Not a sight that could altogether be described as pretty but certainly striking and a grand perspective to view it from.

We strayed somewhat from the original plan of Carmarthen, in order to go and look for the strip where Laurie’s aeroplane lives before finding the town again.

“Take us back,” Laurie asked, “and make this one a steep turn.”

Whhheeee! Round we go! I didn’t apply quite enough back pressure and we lost some height but we certainly were facing back at Pembrey pretty sharpish.

Prompted, I told them where we were and what we were doing, and got back the runway, wind and traffic information.

With the field out on our right, it was a case of peer across the cockpit to the opposite window and dip the wing a bit to try and read the numbers. This would be a lot easier if I was a giraffe, or we were flying left hand circuits. Nevertheless it went reasonably to plan. I can’t say the same for the landing which was too fast, too high and generally a mess.

Off we went again, this time heading off along the coast in the general direction of Caldy Island. Very ‘general’ at one point as I wandered off course and had to be reminded.

After a few minutes it was time to turn around and tell Pembrey where we were.


I looked across at Ferryside, and out at the airfield and couldn’t so much as hazard a guess how far away they might be.

“We’re be back overhead in a minute,” Laurie pointed out while I dithered. He pointed at the DI and showed me the bearing we were on to the field.

“Tell them we’re 3 miles south west of the field.”

Still in a tangle from this ‘directionally challenged’ moment, I ended up far to close to read any numbers, right way up or otherwise, the whole lot were obscured by the wings.

I circled again and got a bit further out this time. Bit of a muddle but eventually I sorted myself out and got back into the circuit, though Laurie advised I use a gentler rate of descent if I didn’t want to make my future passengers sick. I made a marginally more passable arrival this time and climbed out of the aeroplane with that, now familiar feeling which is a mixture of confusion, tiredness and exhilaration and comes of having stuffed a whole lot of new stuff into my head with mixed success!

The light was starting to fade was starting by the time we went inside and it was full dark by the time we’d finished tying the aeroplanes down. Mind you that probably took longer with my ‘help’ consisting mainly of trying to figure out what how to tie a particular cunning knot Laurie used.

Same again next week–but by myself.


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