15 Unassisted Takeoffs and 14 assisted landings later, I finally landed the damn plane!

So, I returned to Conington on the first of two consecutive November training afternoons with low cloud cover (at 1500 feet or so) and, virtually no wind. Frank looked up at the sky and said ‘Only any good for circuits today otherwise we could have done some spins!’

Its not just me who is in his ‘Naughty Forties’ I see!

I walked out to do the checks and saw a blast from the past in the Conington hangar which was receiving some quite unnecessary additional TLC.

A blast from the past in the form of a 1940s Minicab based out of Peterborough Sibson

A blast from the past in the form of a 1940s Minicab based out of Peterborough Sibson

Today I would be flying in the blue of Juliet Bravo once again. The old lady’s new engine is 50 hours on now and so, I could be a little less tentative with the throttle control. I cannot help but admit it, she is my favourite in the Conington training fleet.

Juliet Bravo - Not the Police BBC Drama but, my 3rd Cessna during training; I hope I am not breaking them!

Juliet Bravo – Not the Police BBC Drama but, my 3rd Cessna during training; I hope I am not breaking them!

As all student and qualified pilots out there will tell you, everybody in training, wants to get to circuits as soon as possible and then, when doing them repeatedly, wants to stop doing them as soon as possible :-)

Cut to the chase, spare me the detail; tell me how it felt!

I have decided in the public interest and on grounds of preventing temporary insanity to poor unsuspecting readers of my blog that, I will save you from the excruciating detail of 15 individual circuits over two hours of training. Do I hear a sigh of relief out there? I think I do! ;-)

My circuits are getting more consistent. Conington village has areas 'No fly' zones which means we have to cut corners!

My circuits are getting more consistent. Conington village has areas ‘No fly’ zones which means we have to cut corners!

I do not need to go into how I nearly landed unassisted 11 times only to have defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by my instructor during the last vestiges of the leveling off and flare procedure do I?

I need not mention the fact that I inexplicably tried to turn left twice (on the crosswind leg. Get me! I am starting to sound like a pilot however boring that may be, it feels good to know the jargon ;-) ) during a right-hand circuit to splutters of disbelief and head shaking from the right-hand seat.

Its simple this take-off lark, just point the spinning bit of metal that way and GO!

Its simple this take-off lark, just point the spinning bit of metal that way and GO!

I need not bore you with the fact that my instructor’s face grew proportionally paler the closer I got to an unassisted landing, nor how he probably needed a few stiff drinks the evening after these sessions either ;-) .

I honestly do not know how instructors have the courage to literally let go of the controls when students are learning to land! I wouldn’t let me land if I were in his shoes I can tell you! :-) .

Similar posture to that taken up by my poor instructor during 14 attempts to land unassisted!

Similar posture to that taken up by my poor instructor during 14 attempts to land unassisted!

It is such a tricky skill to learn (So to be blunt, if you get it horribly wrong, you are probably not going to get a second chance to improve it are you? It’s a bit like ‘sword swallowing’ in many respects I suppose ;-) ) but, after refining my approach 15 times (which felt longer than listening endlessly to my wife’s Michael Bublé collection ;-) ), frankly, I was hoping my instructor would simply let it happen and, to his credit, he did.

The journey to the promised ‘Land’ is hard but worth it!

So, why is the circuit so intensive I hear all my six of my readers cry :-) ?

It is the ‘busiest period’ of a pilots journey where many previously individual techniques are crammed and combined into a 4-5 minute sequence around the airfield. The student must perform climbs, descents, basic and medium turns as well as accurate throttle control whilst, conversing in a language similar to Klingon over the radio, avoiding other aircraft in the circuit (because collisions hurt! :-) ), remembering their post take-off and pre-landing checks without the use of a paper list and finally,  maintaining a posture of confidence whilst keeping all self-respect intact. Phew! ;-)

The typical circuit pattern. Note: They are NEVER this simple!

The typical circuit pattern. Note: They are NEVER this simple!

To add insult to injury thereby increasing what we call ‘pilot workload’, the ‘student of the circuit’ needs to perform the following actions at each bubble point in the diagram:

  1. Apply full throttle smoothly with the control column in a neutral position, steering down the centre with your feet
  2. With engine temperatures and pressures in the green and power developing, pull back at 50 knots to take-off
  3. With a steady climb (at 70 knots) established, at 300 feet raise flaps and perform post take-off checks.
  4. Perform a 15 degree climbing turn on to the crosswind leg, leveling off at 1000 feet with 2200 RPM and trim.
  5. Performing a 15-30 degree turn on to the downwind leg checking you are parallel to the runway. Keep a lookout!
  6. Communicate with ATC – ‘G-BNJB is downwind’. Maintain parallel track to the runway. Listen for circuit traffic!
  7. Perform your pre-landing checks using the ‘BUMFICH’ mnemonic (see below). Call ‘late downwind’ if necessary
  8. Perform a 15-30 degree turn on to the base leg, checking your position and alignment. Keep a lookout
  9. Commence descent: Carb Heat Hot, reducing power to 1700 RPM, deploy 1st and 2nd stage of flaps. Trim again!
  10. Perform a descending turn at 15-30 degrees on final leg. Adjust and align to the runway accordingly.
  11. If necessary adjust power, apply the 3rd stage of flaps and trim for a smooth descent to the runway threshold.
  12. Communicate with ATC – ‘G-BNJB on final. Touch and Go’. Await confirmation to land.
  13. At 200-300 feet from the runway make the decision to commit to the landing or ‘Go Around’
  14. Reducing the power right down over the threshold, level off at 30-50 feet, until the stall warning and then land!

If you had decided to abandon the landing (performed a Go-Around at G1), you would re-apply throttle and climb back up to 1000 feet moving to the right of the runway, and communicating to ATC that you had performed a ‘Go Around’ and then, rejoin the circuit pattern (at G2) and try again!

The pre-landing checks mnemonic is notable as it sounds a little like a chronic ailment of the bottom :-) ; namely ‘BUMFICH‘ but, this reminds you to perform the following checks BEFORE you land anywhere:

The 'BUMFICH' or pre-landing checks during each airfield circuit

The ‘BUMFICH’ or pre-landing checks during each airfield circuit

This check can be done at any time in the circuit but most pilots do this on the downwind leg (which is when you fly parallel to the runway in the circuit for the uninitiated!) as, this provides more time to focus on the final approach and of course the landing.

This is why it takes a minimum of 10+ hours of student tuition before most PPL trainees get to touch a circuit ;-) .

The Landing of Hope and Glory

So, for the entertainment of all, I have included my first unassisted landing although, it should be easy to see my instructors hand ‘quivering’ over the controls once or twice ;-) . He did not, however, touch them I can assure you. This one was mine and mine alone!

That solo is feeling nearer than ever now so, the excitement is mounting just as the UK weather is deteriorating. Anyone for pilot ground school study? :-(

One thought on “15 Unassisted Takeoffs and 14 assisted landings later, I finally landed the damn plane!

  1. Pingback: Tying myself up in knots landing? | Step-by-step PPL

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