Day 26 - Lesson 14

Finally back to circuit bashing, and I'm almost ready for my first solo

Posted by Owain Abraham-Williams on Sunday 22nd November 2015

Yesterday the wind had been too gusty to fly, so I was very happy to see that today was a clear day with the wind only blowing at a few knots. Originally I had been booked to fly with a different instructor, Phil, in G-GFCB (often abbreviated to Charlie Bravo, from the last two characters of it’s registration), but when I arrived at the club the schedule had been changed and I was now going to fly with Derek in G-AXTL (again, often abbreviated to just Tango Lima), which I flew last lesson, 5 weeks ago.

Radio Calls

After completing the pre-flight checks I was almost ready to go when I heard Phil over the radio in Charlie Bravo ask the tower for permission to start his engine:

Bristol Tower, Golf Golf Foxtrot Charlie Barvo, with information Yankee, PA-28, request start.

The tower responded lightning fast with approval:

Golf Golf Foxtrot Charlie Bravo, tower, morning and start approved.

And Phil replied succinctly with:

Start approved, thank you.

This was the absolute model of radio communications, and something I should aspire to. The conversation was brief but detailed enough to convey their messages. When it came to my turn I was much slower as I carefully enunciated all the words I had learnt by rote:

Bristol Tower, good morning. Golf Alpha X-Ray Tango Lima is a Piper PA-28 parked south side with information Zulu, QNH one zero one five, request start.

The tower’s response was just as fast as for Charlie Bravo:

Golf Alpha X-Ray Tango Lima, tower, good morning, start-up approved

But I fumbled with my response and felt the need to repeat my entire call-sign:

Start-up approved, thank you. Golf Alpha X-Ray Tango Lima.

The trick with radio communications is to get your message across as quickly and accurately as possible, so you don’t have to repeat yourself and can clear the airways for others. You wouldn’t want to be the one repeating information or using unnecessary pleasantries if someone else was trying to contact the controller with an emergency.

Engine Failure

I was quite nervous to begin with as I hadn’t flown in over 5 weeks, but it all started coming back to me quite quickly. On the first take off Derek quizzed me on what I would do if the engine failed in the initial climb; a scary thought and one that is very unlikely to happen. But it does happen, and the Piper only has one engine, so if it fails you have to act fast.

The rule with engine failure on take off is to NEVER TURN BACK as you’ll lose too much height in the turn and won’t make the runway. Instead, you should look for a field straight ahead, or not more than 30° to your right or left, and land there. The plane will fly without engine power, but it will stall if you try and maintain its altitude, so you must put the nose down to maintain speed, sacrificing altitude for airspeed. Derek was happy with my answer.


As I was approaching the runway at the end of the first circuit, my clearance was to land only due to wake turbulence (I mentioned this in my last lesson), but before touching down we were re-cleared touch-and-go, so I wouldn’t have to stop on the runway. This landing wasn’t too good and I forgot to pull the throttle all the way back, leaving some of the power on when touching down.

I took off and was instructed to do a right-hand circuit (the first was a left-hand one). The circuit was fine and when I came to the landing I really concentrated and managed my best landing yet. The next circuit was back to a left-hand one and the landing was also good. I felt I was really getting somewhere with this.

On the 4th circuit I was asked to “keep tight” by ATC so he could slot us in before the commercial traffic forced us to orbit. The landing was “not bad at all” according to Derek. The next landing I left it very late before flaring, but I was feeling the plane float in ground effect and landed perfectly with Derek commenting “what a cracker!” On the next circuit I had to orbit for several minutes while waiting for the commercial traffic to pass, so we decided to make it the last one. The landing was not bad, but I’d had better ones this lesson.

Ready For Solo

Derek told me that my radio calls needed some work as I was not being precise enough. On one call I had said that I “think I have the traffic in sight” and in another I said I was “about to turn base”. Derek said I either have the traffic in sight or I don’t and I should call as I turn, not before.

However, he also said he was happy with my progress and that if I did three good landings next lesson he’d send me solo, I was thrilled.