I arrived at the club just before 9am and asked at reception which plane I was in today, expecting to be told I would be in Juliet November, the Piper PA-28-140 I’d flown last week, but was shocked when I heard that it had been involved in an accident. Apparently a student on their first solo lesson had come in to land too steeply and the propeller struck the ground. It sounded very dramatic, but the pilot hadn’t been injured and had even been flying again since. It was a relief to know he was okay.
Anyway, I tried to put the perils of my fellow PPL student behind me and made my way out to the apron to start the pre-flight checks on a custard coloured Piper PA-28-161 Warrior II with the registration G-BNSZ. The wind meant we would be taking off and landing on runway 09. This would be the first time flying in this direction; all the other times I had been using runway 27. This also meant we would be flying right hand circuits rather than the more common left hand circuits.
This requires a little more explanation. Bristol Airport only has one strip of tarmac that aeroplanes can take off and land on. However, each end is treated as a separate runway. You would never have planes taking off and landing from both ends. The number just helps identify which way you need to take off from or land on.
The runways are given numbers which correspond to the direction they point. If you were to stand at the end of a runway with a compass, the runway number would be the first two digits of the number the compass needle pointed too, rounded to 10°. For example, runway 27 in Bristol runs from east to west on a bearing of 268°, rounded to the nearest 10° makes it 270°, so the first two digits (27) make the runway number. Runway 09 has a bearing of 088°, rounded to 10° make 090° and the first two digits make 09.
The circuit direction is simply the way you should turn once airborne. All traffic should turn the same way when flying circuits to avoid mid-air collisions. Therefore it is standard practice to fly a left hand circuit. Bristol Airport prefer you to fly over the less busy south side of the airfield. When taking off on runway 27 (in a westerly direction) a left hand circuit turns you south. However, from runway 09 you’d be flying north if you turned left after taking off, so you must fly a right hand circuit when using runway 09.
We were given our taxi clearance and because of where the flying club is located this meant crossing the runway from the General Aviation side of the airport to the commercial side. I’ve flown as a passenger from Bristol many times, so it felt quite strange being in the captain’s seat taxiing to the runway on this side of the airport! Soon I was airborne and concentrating on flying the circuit to the best of my (rather limited) abilities.
Flying the circuit pattern was fine, even with a little crosswind. But keeping the aeroplane on the descent path was more difficult as I was over compensating and flapping the wings too much. Derek kept reminding me of this, but the landings themselves were okay. I’d also managed to remember the downwind BUMPFFICH checks (as a reminder, these are Brakes, Undercarriage, Mixture, Pitch, Fuel, Fuel pump, Instruments, Carburettor heat and Hatches and harnesses).
On the last couple of circuits I kept talking to myself, which reminded me of everything I needed to do. This turned out to be really useful and focused my mind.
There was a weather front approaching the airport and by my last circuit the clouds were getting really quite close. Derek told me to stay out of the clouds and said it would be safer to fly below circuit height (usually 1,000 feet above the aerodrome) or closer to the runway if I were ever worried about entering a cloud.
I managed 7 landings in total and felt like I was finally putting it all together. There are still plenty of things that need to be ironed out and perfected, but I felt proud of my efforts today. Hopefully I’ll be flying solo before long!