My lesson today was just after lunch, Derek thought we might have to go to Kemble to fly circuits, but when he telephoned the tower at Bristol they were happy to accommodate us. So I made my way out to G-BNSZ, the Piper PA-28-161 Warrior II which I flew two weeks ago, and completed the pre-flight checks. The weather was beautiful, the wind wasn’t very strong and was blowing almost straight down the runway, perfect for take offs and landings, which today would be on runway 09.
I was a little nervous to begin with, there’s so much to take in and remember when flying circuits. You take off (known as upwind), climb to 500 feet and turn 90° onto the crosswind leg. Then at 1,000 feet you level off, by which time you’ll be ready to turn another 90° and fly the downwind leg, parallel to the runway. At this point you radio the tower and tell them your intentions (e.g. downwind for touch-and go, or to land, etc.)
Then it’s the BUMPFFICH checks (Brakes, Undercarriage, Mixture, Pitch, Fuel, Fuel pump, Instruments, Carburettor heat and Hatches and harnesses), by which point you’ll be near the end of the leg and it’ll be time to turn another 90° onto base. Apply carburettor heat, reduce power to 1,500 RPM and configure the plane for a descent at 70 knots, apply the first stage of flaps, then the second. At about 600 feet, make another 90° turn onto final and radio the tower for your landing clearance. At about 300 feet apply the last stage of flaps and turn the carburettor heat off, you can let the airspeed drop to 65 knots now. Once over the runway threshold begin reducing power and roll-out for a perfect landing. All in about 5 minutes.
My first landing was okay, but I didn’t reduce the power all the way to idle and ended up touching down without rolling-out (also known as flaring) very much. On the next circuit Derek took control on final because we needed to keep our speed up to separate us from a commercial jet, he handed back control just before touching down so I could do the landing, but this time I rolled out too high and started to stall, Derek coached me through the landing and we touched down nicely, but I think this was more Derek’s skill than mine!
On the third circuit the tower told me to orbit at the end of the downwind leg as there was a lot of commercial traffic landing and taking off. Orbiting is where you fly the aeroplane in fairly tight circles over a fixed point, the tower needed me to do this so they knew where I was and keep me close to where I needed to be while higher priority traffic was handled. The traffic was so busy we had to remain orbiting for nearly 15 minutes, given the hourly rate of learning to fly this was an expensive hold. You can see my orbits in this map as the tight, overlapping circles in the lower-left-hand corner:
Although the orbiting was expensive, it did give me a chance to calm down and relax a little, hence my third landing was “not bad” to quote Derek. The fourth circuit had some more orbiting, fortunately not much though. Derek said very little in the approach phase and I managed to touch-down relatively gently, but I rolled out a little high and the stall warner was sounding as I landed.
The fifth and final approach was going fine, Derek didn’t have to coach me at all and I was controlling the airspeed and descent rate well, I felt this was going to be the landing that would eclipse all of my previous landings. And it did. But not in the way I was expecting. I rolled out much too high and we hit the ground hard, then the plane took to flight again and bounced down the runway. Derek had to take control to get us on terra firma.
I felt awful about that last landing, but I was glad the first four were much better. I felt like I was getting there, but I really have to sort out the landing before I’m going to be allowed to fly solo.