Day 19 - Lesson 13

Circuits at Bristol with low cloud and a crosswind

Posted by Owain Abraham-Williams on Saturday 17th October 2015

It’s now been three weeks since my last flying lesson, the longest gap between lessons since I started training. My heart was in my mouth when I looked out the window this morning, the weather looked bad again. The METAR and TAF didn’t look much better, so I was surprised to learn that today’s lesson would be going ahead. Although the weather wasn’t great, it was just about okay around the aerodrome, so we could fly circuits.

Today was the first of two lessons this weekend and Derek said as long as it went well he hoped to send me on my first solo tomorrow. I was thrilled (and slightly daunted!)


The wind was coming from 030° at 8 knots, which meant runway 09 would be in use. As you will have noticed, the runway has a heading of 090° but the wind is coming from 030°, a difference of 60°. Therefore I will not be flying straight into wind for take off and landing, but instead will have a crosswind (the wind will be pushing me to the right). On take off the crosswind will be blowing under the into-wind wing (the left wing in this instance) so I will need to put the aileron slightly into wind to keep the wings level. Today that means turning slightly to the left. As my speed increases it will be less of an issue, so I may not have to consider it when flying touch-and-goes.

As I approach the runway for landing the wind will be blowing me to the right, so I will have to turn the plane into the wind in order to correct for the crosswind and keep on the extended runway centreline. But this means I will not be pointing down the runway when I land, I’ll have to “kick straight”. This is where the rudder pedal is pressed to turn the aeroplane in the correct direction just before touching down. This diagram may help you visualise that:

Crosswind landing diagram

According to the Air Pilot’s Manual this is called the “Crab Method of Crosswind Landing”. The manual also details a different method called “The Wing-Down Method” where you lower the into-wind wing a few degrees and apply opposite rudder to forward-slip while tracking the extended centreline. Today we’ll be using the Crab Method, but Derek tells me not to worry about it too much yet.


The cloud was really very close. As I turned crosswind on the first circuit we were heading straight for it. Derek told me to turn as we mustn’t fly into cloud, but I left it a little late and had to do a steep turn (which we’d fortunately covered two lessons ago) and we entered the cloud for a second or two. Although I should have avoided the cloud, it was instructional to be inside one momentarily, as I could see how quickly you can go from having good visibility to seeing absolutely nothing in a matter of seconds.


On the first approach things were going well, I was anticipating changes in descent rate and speed by adjusting the throttle, but I had trouble landing. My perspective was wrong and I wanted to keep descending instead of flaring.

On the second circuit Derek reminded me that I didn’t want to fly into the cloud. He said that although a normal circuit was flown at 1,000 feet above the aerodrome, this was only a guide and if flying that high would mean I’d be in cloud then I should fly lower. So on this circuit I kept us at 800 feet.

I descended a little too much in the approach, but anticipated this reasonably well and recovered to the correct altitude without ballooning too high. But again the landing wasn’t up to scratch as I still wanted keep descending instead of flaring. Derek commented that I was “going to fly us into the ground.”

On the third circuit Derek once again reminded me of the cloud and gave me this stark warning:

Whatever you do, if you’re on your own, do not go into cloud, you will kill yourself!

I completed the downwind checks and was about to turn final when the Air Traffic Control tower gave me this message:

Golf Tango Lime, turn base, report final, expect land only

I wasn’t expecting the last part and didn’t have the mental capacity to process it, so only replied with:

Turn base report final

Derek then responded to the tower:

And that was expect land only

A larger plane had just taken off when I was given that instruction, Derek explained that because of the wake turbulence from this plane we were told to expect “land only”, so we’d have to land, stop, wait for the turbulence to die down and then take off. As it happened our approach was slow enough that by the time we were given our clearance the wake turbulence was no longer an issue and we were cleared for a touch-and-go.

I flew the approach for the third landing, but Derek took control just before touchdown so he could coach me through flaring. He told me to feel the effect on the control column as we were floating just above the runway. The words Derek said made sense, but putting it all together in the final stages of landing were proving to be quite difficult.

The fourth landing was a bit better, but I still came down a little too quickly and landed without flaring for very long.

On the fifth circuit Derek noted that I wasn’t being gentle enough in my turns, and said that instead of “yanking it round” I should slowly roll into a turn, then slowly roll back out of it. The approach on this last circuit was fine, but the actual landing was too hard as again I wasn’t flaring correctly.

Derek said that he was happy with my approaches, it was just the landings I had to sort out. He did say that this was always the last thing to come together when learning to fly, so I shouldn’t be too disheartened.

I was really hoping to be able to keep up momentum and improve in my lesson tomorrow, but was told that a booking error had me down to fly G-IFAB, a Cessna 182 with variable pitch propeller, so I had to cancel the lesson even before the British weather had a chance to issue its veto.