With holidays, weather cancellations and Christmas it’s been 8 weeks since my last lesson, so I was very glad to be back at The Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club. Today I would be flying with a different instructor, Andrew, in Tango Lima.
Andrew and I spend a while going over what I had learnt so far. I said that Derek had thought I was ready for my solo, but given that was nearly two months ago I expected to be quite rusty. I also mention that I’d been reading up on radio telecommunications as I hadn’t been very precise in a few of my calls last lesson.
We make our way out to the aeroplane and although the sun’s shining with only a few clouds in the sky, it’s bitterly cold. Going through the pre-flight checks is no fun when it’s close to freezing. Once in the plane the temperature difference between inside and outside is all too apparent as the windscreen starts to fog up.
Andrew tells me to call for clearance to start. I ask if we should listen to the ATIS first but Andrew says the tower will give us any weather information we need for circuits. This throws me a little as I’m so used to noting down the weather before talking to ATC, but as we’re just doing circuits I guess it makes sense. We’re given our engine start and taxi clearance and after a short wait for commercial traffic we’re cleared for take off.
On the first landing I descend too much in the approach, my speed drops dangerously close to a stall, I forget to put the third stage of flaps down and I’m not flying along the extended runway centreline; all in all, an atrocious landing. The next landing isn’t much better, I remember the flaps and control my speed better, but still fail to track the centreline and land without flaring.
On the third circuit Andrew takes control momentarily in the descent to get me on the centreline, it’s then I realise I’ve been using the wrong reference point and this is why I’ve been flying off centre. He also talks me through the landing, telling me when to close the throttle and when to flare. We touch down perfectly and I give myself a proper talking-to, resolving to do better on this circuit and land well without Andrew’s help.
Andrew says my speed control is brilliant and reminds me to fly visually, looking out the window and not to become fixated by the instruments. I feel much more confident on this landing and touch down gently with Andrew commenting “that was perfect that time.”
The 5th landing goes well too; I control the descent well, maintaining my speed, flare correctly and touch down smoothly. As I take off and climb back towards circuit altitude Andrew says:
Right, on the next one we’re going to land and I’m going to get out, and you can do one on your own.
My heart skips a beat. Am I really ready for this? My first solo! I tell Andrew that I’m feeling excited about it. The controller tells me I need to orbit at the end of the downwind leg to allow commercial traffic to come and go. Soon I’m given permission to land and touch down right on the “piano keys”, the white lines at the start of the runway.
As I turn onto the taxiway Andrew radios the tower and asks for a slot to send me on my first solo. However, the controller says that now is not the best time and advises him to telephone the tower on the land-line.
After parking and heading back to the flying club Andrew phones the control tower, but the news isn’t good and they can’t fit in a first solo any time soon. With the plane booked for other flights I concede defeat and head home feeling bitterly gutted.