Two years…

Yesterday I flew my “hour with an instructor” to cover me for the Certificate of Experience route for renewing my SEP rating and am now trying to take on board that it’s been almost two years since getting my PPL.

I’ve done lots of things I set out to do in that time, and not managed a lot of others! I’ve had loads of fun and made some muppetish booboos as well. All in all I can’t wait to see what the next two years will bring!

I’d actually planned to do the flight today not yesterday, but since two of the group nearly got stranded in Compton Abbas when the starter motor refused to live up to its name, the group had decided to go back to the engineer again. Weather meant this was a non-starter (pun intended!), but assuming I could coax the engine into life it was good enough for me to venture up with an instructor and get my training hour done before the aeroplane disappeared off to maintenance again.

I particularly wanted to recap the basic instrument flying from the PPL course, as this was something I can’t practise alone and I’m considering going for the IMC rating over the winter. David, the instructor for the day, suggested that if we could get up on top of the cloud we could do some steep turns and stalls, but doubted if the cloudbase was high enough to make much of a job of PFLs.

TOMS, for once in a way started on the first turn and we taxyed out across the rather gloomy and damp airfield. We weren’t alone in spite of the gloom — the aircadets had their motor gliders out, and the parachutists were in full swing, making the place rather busier than the weather would have suggested.

David instructed me to climb straight ahead and reminded me of the importance of small control movements once we entered cloud. It was very quickly I needed to put this into effect as the cloudbase wasn’t much above 1000′ — the reason we weren’t in Devon at the engineers!

It was choppy at the base of the clouds but smoothed a bit as we climbed and I began a cautious 15 degree banked turn to spiral up to it. I more or less managed this okay, with only a bit of a wobble about halfway up when that 15 degrees had started to feel like nothing at all and I struggled to interpret and believe what was in front of my eyes! For a few moments it was only the DI that convinced me of the direction in which I was turning.

I was concentrating so hard on the instruments that I was startled and delighted when we popped out of the top of the cloud at around 4500′ into the most glorious blue sky. I’ve thought before that the IMC rating must almost be worth it for the view alone, and I gazed about happily as we climbed further to gain some height from the cloud tops in order to do some general handling.

A broad plain of cloud stretched away in all directions, punctuated here ad there by taller, fluffier cumulus pushing up from below. Out to the west there was some indication of it breaking up, and a wide circle of lower, thinner stuff which could have been a hole, but for now it didn’t matter all that much.

I did a few medium, then steep turns in both directions, which we largely accepted without comment except for my tendency to slightly over-anticipate the need for back pressure in the steeper turns and bob the nose up on the entry.

I was moderately content with these as it was something I had trouble getting the hang of when training.

My first stall of the day, on the other hand, was atrocious. I couldn’t get a good, clean break, and then I was far too forceful in getting the nose down and shoved us straight over into a needlessly dramatic dive.

“Um, can we have another go at that — I was a bit keen,” I said, rather sheepishly.

The next one David demonstrated with me, and his movements were so much smoother and calmer than mine I committed them firmly to memory and did better on the next two. The hard thing was (as when I’d first learned them) to resist the urge to rush the aeroplane, and calmly go through the recovery and wait — she would start flying again when she was ready, and hustling her along by shoving the nose down like a dive bomber doesn’t help!

The descent back into cloud was a more sedate affair. I got nicely trimmed and set up at a 80 knot, 500 fpm descent and David called out headings for me to fly. The sight and sensation of sinking down into the puffy white layer was most peculiar and it was a pity to leave the blue sky for the dull overcast below.

We broke cloud higher up than we’d entered though at around 2500′ and had enough space from the ground for a few PFL which I made a bit of a muddle of — tending to get far too close to the field to no good effect. My “homework” for the day therefore was more practice on PFLs — ideally going out and trying to undershoot since I seemed so determined to do the opposite!

We finished up with a couple of circuits which were downright hard work in the gusting, rather crossy wind. The first two were nothing to shower me in glory, but the last was at least respectable.

So… about those next two years…?


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