Since my last post on the subject back in December, I’ve had quite a few people ask me how the flying lessons were going. Truth is that there hasn’t really been that much to report until now.
Once you’ve covered the basic stuff, you start on what are known as circuits (which my last two posts covered the start of). Basically taking off, flying around the airfield and landing again over and over again. In just over three months I’ve flown about 10 hours of circuits, totalling about 60 take-offs and landings.
Obviously this isn’t really that interesting to report on; some days went well and the landings were pretty good, and on others the landings felt like we’d been shot down. But slowly and surely I got better: learned how to handle the approach so I wasn’t doing everything at once; how to keep the speed just right in the take-off and landing (there’s something deeply psychologically wrong about recovering from landing too short by pointing the nose even further towards the ground) and at exactly which point to flare and hold-off above the runway.
The milestone at the end of this is the First Solo. The moment when the instructor climbs out of the plane and leaves you to fly once around the circuit on your own. Unfortunately my usual instructor is still restricted, which means he can’t yet send students solo, so in order to do so I had to have a check-ride with the Chief Flying Instructor (CFI).
That was a few weeks ago, and it didn’t go so well. Mostly a combination of nervousness on my part, a pretty pesky crosswind that couldn’t make up its mind exactly which way to go, and a couple of procedure mistakes I’ve clearly been doing from the start — flaps away before powering up during a touch & go.
Flew again with John afterwards and we went over the points that the CFI raised, and flew a few circuits on a calm day. Had corrected the touch & go procedure I followed, and I generally just concentrated on going around and actually had one of my best flights yet. In fact, the final landing was probably my best ever. Needless to say, John didn’t see the point of further messing about, so booked me back in to fly with the CFI again.
Turned out that on the day of the booking, he was off; but happily another one of the club’s instructors had become recently unrestricted, and he took me up instead. Keywords of the day: Concentrate and Relax. After I flew a circuit, he took control for the take off so he could talk me through a few points about the previous landing, then gave control back when downwind; another reasonable landing and take-off, and time for an engine failure practice. Power went off, picked a likely looking field, and once it was clear speed was right, he asked me to climb away again and rejoin the circuit followed by another pretty good landing. As we touched down, he took control and announced “I’m bored, and am going to get out.”
So that was it, after exactly 21 hours of lessons as a “Pilot Under Training” I was to get to fly as “Pilot In Command”.
We pulled up outside the tower so he could jump out, a few words of advice and I was on my own; I even managed to make the right call to the tower.
“Wellesbourne Information. Student Golf Whiskey Alpha Victor India. Radio Check and Taxi Instructions for First Solo Circuit. One Person On Board.“
I think I did just about every cliché that student pilots do on their first solo flight. I talked to myself through the checks and procedures the entire way aroun, at one point I patted the seat next to me to remind myself I really was flying on my own, and I remember being delighted to discover that the little Robin really can do 90kts.
The circuit I flew wasn’t too shabby either (shown in Google Earth above/right), it was actually much easier to keep straight and level without the instructor and before I knew it, it was time to turn to base and make the landing. Not quite as clean as the rest of the circuit, with a bit of last minute loss of speed and drift, but nowhere near bad enough to need to go around and it touched down quite gently in the end. As I rolled down the runway, received a congratulatory call from the tower:
“Golf Victor India. Well done!”
All that was left to do was to park up, receive the certificate and pose for the obligatory photo.
Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m quite out of the circuit yet! The next few lessons will be what is known as solo consolidation; more circuits with the instructor, but with increasingly more without as I build up my confidence flying on my own. Then it’s starting on the adventure that is Navigation, with the first landing at an airfield other than my home one and building up to the next big milestone: the Qualifying Cross Country flight.
Really looking forwards to the navigation now, after having been flying around the same scenery for a long time, it’ll be nice for a change. Plus it’ll make the GPS tracks rather more interesting to look at afterwards!
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