Day 44 - Lesson 24

First solo circuit departure

Posted by Owain Abraham-Williams on Sunday 17th April 2016

Today the weather is beautiful, several wispy cumulus clouds in the sky with a base altitude of about 4,000 feet. There’s only a slight breeze and visibility is at least 10 kilometres. All-in-all perfect flying weather.

Derek says he’d like to send me on my first solo circuit departure, flying cross country on my own. He’d mentioned this last month and it sounded really exciting, now I am actually going to get to do it.

We discus the entry and exit procedures, recap switching from Bristol Tower to Bristol Radar and back again, and check I know the bearings to fly to find Cheddar Reservoir from the airport, and the airport from Cheddar Reservoir.

Before he sends me on my way, he wants to do a couple of circuits with me as it’s been 4 weeks since I last flew. So I go out and run through the pre-flight checks while Derek books us out with ATC.


Just before take off Derek notices I’ve forgotten to switch on the fuel pump. I make a mental note to take the check lists more methodically and not to rush. I join the circuit and run through the BUMPFFICH checks (Brakes, Undercarriage, Mixture, Pitch, Fuel, Fuel pump, Instruments, Carburettor heat, and Hatches and harnesses). There’s traffic arriving ahead of me, another Cherokee, so I’m asked to turn onto final when two miles from the runway, not one. This means I don’t need to start descending until on final.

I turn onto final and start my descent but again Derek notices I’ve forgotten something else, the carburettor heat this time. I worry if this is going to affect his confidence in sending me solo. Undeterred I continue my approach. There’s a private jet taking off ahead of me, so I’m instructed to land rather than touch-and-go to avoid their wake turbulence. I touch down and Derek remarks that my landing was “not bad”. He decides he’s happy enough with it and so jumps out when we’re on the taxi-way and sends me on my first solo circuit departure.

I double check the fuel pump is on while accelerating down the runway, check my indicated airspeed is increasing and pull back on the stick at 60 knots. At 500 feet above the ground I start a climbing turn (limited to 15°) towards Cheddar Reservoir and tower hand me over to Bristol Radar.

I spend the next 45 minutes climbing and descending over Somerset. I fly towards Burnham-on-Sea, turn to fly past Bridgwater and head to Wells. I turn overhead the Cathedral in Wells and fly over Glastonbury Tor before heading back towards the coast. I cross the M5 motorway and turn towards Cheddar Reservoir. The below picture was taken by my wife on her phone as I flew overhead. A very proud moment to be spotted from the air while in command of an aeroplane.

Flying solo over Somerset

After crossing Cheddar Reservoir I look out for the airport, but for some reason became obsessed with the bearings Derek gave me at the start of my lesson. I mix up the departure bearing with the arrival bearing and don’t account for gross errors. It is only as I am turning more towards the coast I realise I must be doing something wrong and look out the window to find the airfield; I’m flying right towards it!

I gather my composure, turn onto the downwind leg, radio the tower, complete the BUMPFFICH checks, turn base, then final, and land reasonably well on runway 27. It feels great to have more solo time in my log book.

However, when back at the club, I’m called out to the aeroplane. The next instructor using the plane has noticed that one of the pipes connected to the engine is cracked. I honestly can’t remember if I looked at that particular pipe during my pre-flight checks. This really worries me and I resolve to take extra care on the check lists, even before I get in the plane.