Solo outside the circuit. Today the flying conditions were good!

Today the flying conditions were good and this was confirmed by the fact that the numbers of available car parking spaces at the club were limited! As I parked up I saw a couple of aeroplanes I did not recognised taxiing up towards the clubhouse and I saw Simon busy refuelling after his lesson.

A number of people where stood in the hangar looking at a steam engine Pat had built, it is indeed a fine piece of engineering.

As I went around to the club house Mike was in deep conversation with someone I had not seen before, so I went into the clubhouse and it was just as busy inside. As I walked in I was offered a cup of tea, which I gratefully accepted. I stood talking with one of the people who had just arrived in a Zenair CH70 Microlight, the other aeroplane was a Skyranger Swift also a Microlight.

It was soon time for me to check out the aeroplane before my lesson, all was ok with it and Simon had kindly filled passed the 30ltr mark by 3 or 4 litres. It is something Simon and I need to get better at as I did the same after my lesson by only by around 2 ltrs.

Back in the clubhouse Mike outlined today’s lesson which was a quick circuit or 2 and then I was to fly out to the drains and practice flying on my own, keeping the aeroplane on a chosen heading and height to be decided in advance by myself, the reason it was to be chosen in advance was to ensure I practiced accurate turns and controlling the height.

We flew the circuit without Mike telling me the turning points and I landed ok unsure if I was to do a second circuit or not I asked Mike just after touchdown and thought he had said yes, so I put the power on, but he soon corrected me and I throttled back and taxied back to the club house.

It was now time for me to do my first full solo including leaving the circuit fly around and finding my own way back to the airfield. One thing that always plays on my mind, is how I can be sure if all the parachutists are down before landing as I often don’t hear the “all canopies down” call, Mike gave me some pointers i.e. if the parachute plane is sat in the middle of the runway they are not down however if its parked then they most likely are, but added if I was unsure then radio and ask.

So I was now in the aeroplane alone and was waiting for the parachutes to descend before myself and 3 other aeroplanes could taxi out and take off. The first two went and I was next as the 4th had only just started up, I taxied out to runway 24 and took off, I climbed up to 2,000ft and turned to the east and flew out to the drains. Far beneath me at circuit height and to my left were Mick and Thomas who were flying along the drains also. I flew up towards where the drains narrow at Downham Market and turned around and flew back down the other side, then as I got nearer I looked out to try and find Chatteris airfield, having spotted where it was I turned and flew the route again, but this time at 3,000ft and then a descending turn and continued descent  back down to 2,000ft, I did this a few times and was tempted to take a few pictures, but thought better of this on my first solo outside of the circuit!

Time was soon up and I flew back down the drains, turned towards Chatteris and descended to 700ft, circuit height, were the parachutists up or down!? As luck would have it I saw their aeroplane climbing out so I knew it was safe, I carried out my normal checks and saw another Microlight on the taxiway. I made my joining call and Mick in the other Microlight call that he was lining up for immediate departure and was gone long before I turned on to final. I made my final call and lined up with the runway, which I then needed to correct. As I came into land I held the aeroplane above the runway trying to keep it flying as we are taught and it seemed to hang or rise slightly for a split second before a very gentle touch down, probably the second most gentle I have done, and I felt very pleased with the landing. As I continued down the runway the nose came off the ground a couple of time which I had not experienced before and I meant to ask Mike about, I assumed it was a combination of the lighter weight, full flaps being on and the wind. However on my return to the clubhouse I was asked “how was it?” and I said it was good “and the Landing?” I said it was good too, the approach could have been better lined up, but the landing I was pleased with, I asked why and Katie said it look as if I had bounced, which I hadn’t, maybe the wind caused it to balloon slightly, but if so from in the cockpit it did not seem so. I wanted to discuss this with Mike, however he was in deep conversation, we did discuss it briefly after and he said if it balloons I should go around.

I have relived the landing a number of times and to me I can still not explain what they saw from the clubhouse as for me in the cockpit it seemed a good landing! Thus I left feeling puzzled and confused.

On another and lighter note a friend who reads this blog sent me some stuff and it was taped to the card pictured below which summarises my learning to fly through his eyes!

Plane goes here, relating to not getting it in the middle of the runway; Compass with the wrong points, to me having miss read it; windsock to all the gusty wind; the parachutist, my concern over knowing where they are; Left and right the wrong way around, I haven’t worked out, maybe he is confused! and lastly tea and cake he believes is the real reason I go flying!

I think it’s a fair summary of all the issues i have faced!

I try to give the real feeling I have and not the “haven’t I done well” approach some blogs take.

Finding my way in navigation!

Not a good start to the day as far as flying goes; I normally book my lessons for 14:00 and was about to leave home at around 12:50 when I got a call from Mike. I assumed he must need to move my lesson for some reason, however on answering the call Mike ask if everything was OK, to which I replied “yes everything is fine, I’m just leaving now, I will be with you before 14:00”, the reply was, “I have you booked in for 12:00”. Sh*t, I thought and quickly checked my calendar, no  I have it written down as 14:00, then I checked the on-line system and as normal Mike is right and I’m wrong. Luckily for me Mike and AAA Microlights are very accommodating and by moving a few people around a little he found time to squeeze me in. Thanks Mike and apologies to all impacted.

Today’s lesson the first following my solo was navigation, I pulled out my map which had a route plotted on it from some time ago and Mike thought it was a good route to fly, but we were going to fly it in the opposite direction. Mike had me add the headings and 5nm lines on each leg counting back from each waypoint. I then added a wind arrow to the map and for this flight as the wind was light we made an approximation for the headings and time to fly each leg.

I had checked the aeroplane beforehand so we were ready to go, after starting up the parachute aeroplane called “Clear Drop” with gives around 5 mins before the first parachutists will be on the ground. Our engine was not even up to temperature for the power check, so we taxied away from the club house and waited for the engine to warm up and the parachutists to all come down. A while later we got the radio call “All Canopies Down” so we made our way over to Runway 06, not one I have used much, in fact I think this was only the second time.  Up we went and made a climbing turn to the right on to crosswind leg and then another on to downwind, just as if we were going to do a circuit, but we continued to climb until we reached a chosen height of 3,000ft. I spotted our first point on the map, a roundabout not far from the airfield so from here we changed direction to a heading of 230° towards our waypoint of Kimbolton and noted the time. At around the halfway point Mike asked what could I see and I saw an airport to my left which was Wyton and, after a little prompting, another airport to my right which was Peterborough, ahead was a third airport Alconbury which we flew over; this was re assuring as it meant I was on track. Next was the A1M, A14, A1 junction to my right and in the distance was Grafham Water, about 2nm to the right would be our turning point, Kimbolton Airfield. It appears that spotting little airfields from 3,000ft needs a little practice! I finally spotted it and we turned on to the next leg with a heading of 120° and a new waypoint of Main Hall. As we flew this short leg I called out the things I could see and tried to relate them to the map. As we approached Main Hall, going by the time flown, Mike asked if I could see it and I could not, we must have been over it and Mike suggested we orbit while I look for it, but even with Mike telling me where it was I could not see it! A needle in a haystack comes to mind. Then all of a sudden I can make out the grass strip from the surrounding grass fields! Note to self; on any solo navigations pick something easier to see and check it out on Google earth first!

Main Hall

Form here we turned on to 030° to get back to Chatteris. All the time on each leg I had to make corrections to both height and direction and every time I looked for a land mark I changed one or the other!

My first big error would have been, if Mike was not next to me, a simple one of misreading the compass, I was little disorientated from orbiting, else it would have been a simple turn to the left (it’s the only excuse I have!), but I knew I needed to set a heading of 030° so as the compass clearly has 30 marked on it, no problem, Mike asks do I really want 30? I look at the map and saw it said 25 so I said, no 25, then Mike pointed out my school boy error 30 and 25 on the compass are 300° and 250° I wanted 3 on the compass 30°.

Now with the correct heading we flew back to Chatteris and on the way we done some more landmark spotting and again it took me a long time to find one, Sutton Meadows airfield, which Mike pointed out so easily. I guess or at least I hope the more you fly the easier it gets to spot these things, as I did spot Chatteris airfield OK. Here stated yet more issues for me and I guess one of the main points of the lesson which was correctly joining the circuit.

So we were now flying at 3,000ft on a heading of 060° and needed to descend and turn to join the circuit on Base leg which we did, however before this I got confused and found myself thinking if we took off on 06 we need to land in the opposite direction i.e. 24!  I know this is wrong, but in my confused state it made sense to me! Mike needless to say corrected me and we joined left base for 06. With little or no wind the approach was faster and I rounded out and then stopped the round out and bounced, I put power on and went around the next time I was more composed and made an OK landing and taxied back to the club house for a much needed cup of tea.

As I was last to use the aeroplane and now have a share in it I needed to wash it before putting it away.

Just before washing it Frank was coming back in his Flexwing which provided me with something to take pictures of for this post!

I really enjoy my first navigation exercise, but it has also served to remind me just how much more I need to learn and how much more practice is needed before it becomes second nature.

First Solo after more circuits and practice engine failures

I took a day off work today to have a double lesson of circuits, I took the day off as the parachute club doesn’t normally operate on a Monday, thus allowing me to get more circuits in, so making best use of my time and money. The first hour went OK, some good landings, some not so good, but I was gradually improving over the duration of the lesson. The hour was soon up and we returned to the clubhouse for lunch; Katie took a new guy up for a trail lesson and I took some pictures of Hazel doing circuits in her Thruster.

Lunch was soon over and Katie was back from giving the trial lesson and it was time for Mike and I to continue my lesson. After a couple of circuits on the climb out Mike shut the throttle and I immediately got the nose down and selected a nice black field to land in. I was pleased I reacted to the simulated engine failure, but Mike did point out my selection of landing site was not the best and to always aim for a field with a crop in where possible as a newly ploughed fields will stop the aeroplane quick and possible flip it over. Full power on and turning climb back up to circuit height. The landing was quite good for me, especially as it was yet another windy day! On the next circuit we had another simulated engine failure just as I turned on to downwind leg. Again I got the noes down and turned into wind and this time selected a green field! We climbed back up to circuit height and again my landing was not bad for me! On the next circuit Mike had another test for me, this time just before we turned on to base leg Mike said “right there’s an aeroplane on the runway about to take off, what should we do?” I said and apparently it was correct that we should extent the downwind leg to give them time to take off and that’s what we did. On turning on to final I kept the power on until we were nearer the runway and flew yet another OK approach and landing, apparently Mike wanted to check I would keep the power on as needed and I had passed this test too.

We taxied back to the club house and I felt quite pleased with my efforts, but the day was not over! Once back Mike asked if I wanted to do my maiden solo flight and I nervously agreed, well I think it was nerves, in hindsight I think it was a mix of many emotions ranging from excitement to trepidation as I filled with both self-confidence and self-doubt. Mike gave me a chat to re assure me and reminded me to go around if needed. Mike left the aeroplane and I commenced the start-up checks, I radioed my intent to taxi to runway 19 and commenced taxiing, I back tracked 19 and lined up for take-off and it somehow felt normal and all my nerves had gone. Another radio call stating taking off on 19 and away I went. 500ft fuel pump off (no flaps were needed for the take-off), the climb out was a lot quicker, as Mike said it would be and I found myself going straight through the 700ft circuit height, so I reduced the power and descended back to circuit height and turned onto crosswind, all seemed to be going to plan now. I saw my turning point and turned onto downwind, I carried out my checks, switched the fuel pump on and made my downwind call.  I turned onto base leg at circuit height and checked the runway and approach were both clear, as I came up to my turning point onto final I took the power off and put a stage of flap on and turned on to final, I then added a second stage of flap and saw I was going to be short, so I put some power on and continued. I won’t lie my landing was not the best of the day, but it was OK and I was down without breaking the aeroplane or killing myself! Like a mad man I had been talking to myself all the way around just as I do when Mike is actually sitting beside me, I guess its force of habit!

Back in the clubhouse I was surprised that it had taken 15 minutes, it seemed no longer then 2 or 3 to me. Everyone congratulated me and Pete added that I had done well especially given the wind conditions. I felt totally shattered and immensely satisfied of my achievement and indebted to Mike for his tuition and support from Katie and the other club members.

So a major milestone achieved, but I still have a long way to go.

Me looking smug after my first solo