Flying Training

Lesson 12: Circuits

Tuesday 27 December 2005 at 2.30pm with Neil Tucker in Citabria VH-RRW

Weather: warm, hazy.

Alexander said to me as we were pulling into Camden Airport, "Did you come flying today because you were bored?". He's perceptive, but not quite right - I went flying today because I could, and because the weather was right. Also, I was in the mood to spend about $200 at Strathfield Car Radios and they were very uncooperative, so I thought I'd spend it on flying instead. I checked the latest TAF (on Curtis Aviation's web site) and it had the wind less than 10 knots so I called Curtis and booked 2.30pm with Neil Tucker.

So once more I had the boys with me, but this time they all made themselves at home in the air-conditioned office while I went and did the preflight. Angus watched as I started her up and waved as I taxiied away. This was actually a lucky move on his part, as we shall see...

I discussed with Neil my troubles keeping her straight and he said we'd do a couple of aborted takeoffs to give me some practice on the rudder. It would also give me some more taxiing practice. Actually the taxiing went well. I felt comfortable and didn't leave the taxiiway, or cut any corners, and I swung quite nicely into wind in the run-up bay. (I should have used more left brake rejoining the taxiway though...)

On the takeoff I anticipated the left yaw and put in some right rudder - too much. We got airborne without Neil having to put in any corrections, but he said, "Straightaway I can see what you're doing, and what we can do about it." He said I was putting in too much rudder, then overcorrecting in the other direction, and said to make little corrections, and lots of them, and to return the rudder to neutral after each one. I've also read this somewhere (though I can't find out where, because it's not in the Flying Training Manual).

I made a nice square circuit (easier without the wind and turbulence) and found my own reference points (we were using 06). On the climb out it was keeping the housing estate on the right of the nose, then I turned left at 1000 feet and judged the crosswind leg by looking back at the runway. By the time I was at 1300 feet I was at the river and ready to turn left for the downwind leg, and there I found a bright object (greenhouses?) halfway up the mountains, which was the heading, and checked speed, height and spacing as per Niall's first circuit lesson.

The base leg was towards a green-roofed house on a hill on its own, and if I turned left just before I reached it, and was at 800 feet, then that seemed to give me a nice final approach. Then it was a case of keeping the aim point (the runway numbers) at the same position in the windscreen, and using power to control the sink rate. Shutting power off completely when over the trees by the river gave us the right speed to reach the runway, and then it was a case of judging the flare correctly and holding the stick firmly, bringing it back slowly as the speed bled off. I didn't commit any major balloons, and Neil's trick of getting the feet moving on the rudder on the final approach really paid off on the ground as I was able to keep the plane straight more often than not. Lastly, the stick must be pulled back firmly after touchdown to hold the tail on the ground [so you don't groundloop!].

We did two or three normal circuits, then executed a couple of simulated aborted takeoffs, as planned. This meant that Neil allowed me to throttle up as normal, while raising the tail, then he pulled the throttle back about halfway and allowed me to to work the rudder for most of the length of the runway, eventually bringing the stick back as the tail naturally lowered. Then we taxiied back to the holding point and repeated the process. This meant less time in the air but was much less stressful than a last minute takeoff in the overrun area!

On the first taxi back we had a call on the radio to say that Angus wanted to go flying but needed his father's permission. Naturally I granted it and on the next simulated aborted takeoff Angus was there behind us in a Grumman Tiger (piloted by Greg). He was watching from above as I did the next couple of circuits, and he even did a couple of turns. Not bad for a 7-year old.

On the second-last circuit the wind got under the wing on the ground roll and lifted it slightly, and Neil informed me that if this happened the way to deal with it was to use aileron exactly as in the air. We finished up with a circuit and landing on runway 10 again (the grass strip), and this was a lovely landing to finish on, because I held it off at the just the right height, and brought the tail down smoothly and in synch with the speed dropping off. I don't know whether it was a perfect three-pointer but it felt pretty good.

This is what we're aiming for:

"The last twenty-five feet above the runway is where most of the flying is for taildragger pilots, and they're doing things with controls that others are not. Since this happens on every landing, these skills are sharp and handy when an airplane like the Citabria is between takeoff and landing." - from Piling Up Smash (via Google: 'Citabria Circuits').