Day 43 - Lesson 23

Powered-off approaches and solo circuits

Posted by Owain Abraham-Williams on Sunday 20th March 2016

It had been great to finally get some solo circuit time yesterday, it boosted my confidence and helped me understand better what it feels like to flare the aeroplane and float above the runway in ground effect while the speed bleeds off.

Today I was hoping for more of the same, but Derek felt flying to Dunkeswell just for circuits would make it an expensive lesson, and he wasn’t sure we’d be allowed into the circuit at Bristol because they get busy with commercial traffic in the afternoon.

He pondered sending me on a solo cross-country exercise, which sounded really exciting! But the cloud base was a little lower than he’d have liked. So we decided to ask for circuits at Bristol; and if declined we’d move on to other aspects of the syllabus like low-level navigation.

I went out to Tango Lima and completed the pre-flight checks. Derek then joined me with the good news that I had been accepted into the circuit. The wind was coming from the North East which meant we would be using Runway 09. ATC instructed me to cross the runway and complete my power checks on the north side of the airport. This is the side where the commercial traffic operates, it feels quite daunting to be looking at the passenger boarding bridges and large jets from my little 4-seater aeroplane. Soon we’re given take-off clearance and I’m climbing to circuit height.

Powered-off Approaches

Instead of the normal approaches and landings that I’ve done dozens of times, and the flapless landings I did with Phil last weekend, today Derek is going to teach me how to do powered-off approaches. This is where the power is not reduced to 1,500 RPM as we would normally when descending, instead we reduce it all the way to idle and glide down.

This means our descent profile is much steeper and we need to turn onto the base leg a lot closer to the runway threshold. Ideally, we should be positioned to turn onto final at 800 feet rather than the 600 feet we would in a powered approach.

This all sounds fairly simple when it’s just numbers, but in reality the steepness of the approach is markedly different. You can’t use the throttle to control your descent rate and you must keep your speed up to avoid stalling. It feels really rather scary as you’re descending towards the ground. Especially when it comes to flaring just above the runway.

My first powered-off approach was fine, I flared well and landed gently. My second circuit was also fine, another good landing. Things were going well. But on my third landing I drifted off the centre-line and in the flare lost too much speed. This made for a harder landing than the first two. I thought this might scupper my chances of going solo, but Derek was happy enough. He jumped out when we were back on the apron and I radioed for taxi clearance.

Solo Powered-off Approaches

I took off, climbed to circuit height, completed the BUMPFFICH checks (Brakes, Undercarriage, Mixture, Pitch, Fuel, Fuel pump, Instruments, Carburettor heat and Hatches and harnesses) and turned onto base. I reduced power to idle, turned onto final and glided down to the runway. I flared while trying to correct for the crosswind and landed well. Not as good as my landings with Derek, but good enough. However, I forgot to turn the carburettor heat off before landing, I must get better at remembering the CRAP checks Phil taught me (Carburettor heat off, Runway clear, Approach looking good and Permission to land received).

On the second circuit I had to orbit at the end of the downwind leg for about 5 minutes while commercial traffic took off and landed. Then I was given my landing clearance. Because of the wake turbulence separation I started my approach with power and then reduced to idle when close enough to the runway. This time I remembered the CRAP checks, flared and kicked straight, landing smoothly. I was pleased with the landing.

My third solo powered-off landing was somewhere in-between. Better than my first attempt, but not as good as my second. Nevertheless, I was happy with the approach and felt I had learned a lot about controlling the aeroplane when coming in to land. So I took off and decided to make this circuit the last one.

I did a normal, powered, full flap landing this time. I felt the aeroplane float above the runway in ground effect and landed incredibly smoothly, a real greaser. It felt like everything I’d learned over the two days of flying this weekend had culminated in a perfect landing. A true consolidation of my training.