Ab Initio 52: “Soggy Circuits”

In which miserable weather drives me back to the circuit where I have a reasonably eventful refresher of this round and round business.

There ought to be a note in Weather Forecasting 101 to the effect that any TAF that runs to two or more lines is going to be staying at home weather. Today’s promised showers, drizzle and periods of generally grotty (not a technical term) visibility.

As I stared out of the train window it looked likely to be right. The cloud was what’s described as “broken” in the official terminology, and that’s exactly what it looked like. As if someone had taken a swing at the flat, grey overcast and shattered it, so that murky sunlight trickled through the cracks.

It was clearly not cross-country weather, but the old standby “good enough for circuits” was still holding. A glance at my logbook showed the last time I flew solo to be before Christmas 3 months ago, so it seemed like a bit of practice would be quite a healthy idea.

Carl was the instructor on duty today and he was peeling the covers off HotelUniform as I arrived, courtesy of a lift from Derek as always.

Coffee was the first priority and a quick discussion of the weather then Carl pronounced he was happy for me to go straight off and do some touch and goes, unless I specifically wanted him to come up for a check circuit first. Well part of me did and part of me didn’t, but I had flown with him not two weeks before and he’d obviously been satisfied enough with the landings to trust I wasn’t going to bend anything, and sooner or later of course the aim of this is to be able to turn up, get in and go without a once-over first. So I said I was happy to go straight up.

I checked out the aeroplane (wherein some wit had affixed a big red cartoonish button labelled “Ejector Seat”) and once in the air promptly repaid this display of instructor confidence with a clumsy swerve onto final after overshooting the turn, followed by an almighty bounce!

Climbing away and trying to compose myself and let that one go, I fumbled for the fresh air vent to cool my now beetroot face, and was hit by the instantly hair-raising smell of burning. An extremely hasty cast about decided me that it was coming from the motor racing track below, where some over-enthusiastic motorcyclist was tearing up the track. A second sigh of relief joined the first as I turned away from the track and the unappetising smell of burning rubber subsided.

The next landing was far more reassuring, a nice, gentle touchdown with the nose in the air. The third was on the flat side–I don’t think I ever really got that approach trimmed properly.

The fourth was a bit fast on final, something I realised when I went to put the second stage of flap down and found it required far more hauling them normal, this only ever happens when I’m too fast, so rather than wrestle with it I picked the nose up, retrimmed and tried again.

“Runway, airspeed, runway, airspeed,” I chanted to myself, which apparently worked for the landing after that was fine. It’s been a fair while since I practised in the circuit and it’s surprising how the accuracy goes! They were none of them terrible, but they all could have been neater on final! I also noticed by 30 degree banked turns were a bit tatty, after weeks of just making tiny shallow little turns while trying to maintain a heading.

As I started to descend for the next, a seagull shot past me in the opposite direction, eyeballing me as he went by as if to ask what on earth I was doing in his sky. And maybe he had a point because next time around the showers that had been threatening finally swept in and swept the runway and Kidwelly away with them. I boggled from downwind at this sudden bit of weather between me and where I wanted to be.

Ahead and to the right the visibility was still fine and the horizon clear, and the edges of the ‘mucky’ patch clearly visible as it moved across the landscape. I considered extending downwind or orbiting or some other delaying tactic while I waited for it to shift, but almost before I’d finished thinking about what I was going to do about it, the moment had passed and things reappeared from the gloom.

Just a shower after all, but it looked like it had more of its friends coming so I made that landing the final one of the day.

A reasonably eventful session considering it was intended to be just a few circuits to keep the rust at bay while waiting for good enough weather for the cross country. It was nice to be up by myself again though!

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