Day 42 - Lesson 22

Solo circuits at Dunkeswell

Posted by Owain Abraham-Williams on Saturday 19th March 2016

There was a traffic jam on the way to the club this morning, unusual for 9am on a Saturday. When I arrived I darted in and apologised for my tardiness. I needn’t have worried though, as Derek was stuck in the same jam and still hadn’t arrived. While I waited I went out to the aeroplane and ran through the pre-flight checks.

When Derek arrives he tells me we aren’t going to do circuits at Bristol today because of a crosswind; instead we’ll combine circuits with navigation and go to Dunkeswell Aerodrome. It’s about a 20 minute flight away, south of Bristol in the Blackdown Hills in East Devon.

Radio Calls

We take off and head over Cheddar Reservoir, past Bridgwater and Taunton. With the Blackdown Hills in sight ahead of us it’s time to contact Dunkeswell.

Different airports have different types of radio communication procedures. Bristol has a full ATC (Air Traffic Control) and is referred to as ‘Bristol Tower’; here you are required to have a clearance to taxi, take off and land.

Then there are aerodromes like Kemble (who I spoke to on the radio two weeks ago) who only have a FIS (Flight Information Service) which is referred to as ‘Kemble Information’, it’s not a control service so you don’t require clearance to take off and land.

Finally there’s Dunkeswell who have just A/G (Air/Ground) communications. Here you won’t necessarily get information about other aeroplanes operating in the area. When you call on final (or at any time in fact) you may not even receive a reply. You announce your position and intentions so both the tower and other planes know what you’re doing.

Derek prepares me for calling Dunkeswell, reminding me they’re an A/G aerodrome so to address them as ‘Dunkeswell Radio’. He says I should tell Bristol Radar, who I’m currently tuned to, to “QSY Dunkeswell Radio”. QSY is an old R/T phrase which means ‘change too’, I later learn the phraseology I should be using is ‘request frequency change’ not ‘QSY’!

Solo Circuits

We join downwind, radio our position and complete the before-landing check list. Then turn onto base, then final. I’m feeling quite nervous, it’s going to be my first landing in a new airfield. It looks like it’s going to be terrible, but at the last minute I sort myself out and land smoothly. Derek is as surprised as me and says “I wasn’t expecting that.

We fly two more circuits. Derek points out features on the ground I can look out for to aid situational awareness. The landings are both good ones and on the third Derek radios in to say he’s getting out and sending me solo. This is great news, more solo time!

I taxi back down the length of the runway, turn around, announce my intentions and take off. On my first approach I don’t flare properly and land heavily, I’m very cross and curse myself. The second landing is a lot better, but my rudder control isn’t spot on, I struggle to remain on the extended centre line and land not pointing directly down the runway.

The third landing is what Derek would call a ‘greaser’, the plane floats just above the runway until my tires feel like they simply kiss the tarmac as I gently land. That’s the best solo landing I’ve ever done and I feel elated.

On the next circuit I announce this will be a full-stop landing, but the radio operator says Derek wants me to do one more solo landing. So I plan for a touch-and-go, the landing is a good one, but as I reach for the flap lever I realise I forgot to put the last stage down.

Then I do my fifth and final landing, it’s also a good one. Perhaps not as good as the greaser I did on my third landing, but I remembered the last stage of flap and it’s a lot less hard than my first attempt.

I park up at the end of the runway, Derek gets back in and we return to Bristol. Along the way Derek is pointing out features on the ground and making sure I can spot them on my map. I also switch from Dunkeswell radio to Bristol Radar and then to Bristol Tower.

Radio Interference

As I’m approaching the base leg at Bristol Airport we hear a huge amount of radio interference. The noise is incredibly confusing and neither Derek nor I know if it’s our own radio or someone else’s.

Derek adjusts the squelch and volume settings, but it doesn’t have any effect. Meanwhile, I’m getting closer and closer to the runway and haven’t been able to communicate with the tower and let them know my intentions. Finally, there’s a break in the interference so I radio in. They tell me to orbit where I am while they investigate the interference.

All this time commercial jets are trying to take off and land, but with the interference it’s making it difficult. The tower run through some checks and establish the problem is coming from another light aircraft in the circuit. They make the decision to land both them and me as quickly as possible.

I’m instructed to follow a commercial airliner on final, the other light aircraft is told to follow me. As I turn onto final the tower give another airliner permission to take off. Derek asks the tower:

Would you like us to orbit where we are?

But the tower responds with:

Absolutely not, continue your approach.

It feels incredibly hairy, but the other jet is soon away and we’re given our landing clearance.

Maybe it’s the excitement of a busy commercial airport coping with radio interference. Maybe it’s the 2.3 hours of flying I’ve done today. Maybe it’s the fact I’m using runway 09, which I always find more difficult than 27. Whatever the reason, I don’t flare properly and land hard. I feel annoyed with myself about that.

But at least I’ve racked up another 0.7 hours of solo time.