Flying Training

Lesson 20: Circuits

Saturday 8 April 2006, 4.00pm with Kerry Scott in Citabria VH-RRW

Weather: another clear and sunny day. Wind 230° at 12kt.

Arrived 2.45pm. Started pre-solo Air Law exam 3pm. This is straightforward if you've read your BAK. The student is allowed an hour and a half to do 15 multiple-choice questions. By 3.10pm I was finished, and I'd scored 100%. Three questions made me stop and think - one on refuelling (you need two fire extinguishers nearby), one on testing for the presence of water in fuel (officially you need to use a chemical test kit. Sure.) and one on pressure (a little thought shows that you can determine local QNH on the ground by setting the altimeter to aerodrome altitude and reading the pressure on the subscale. In fact I've seen Kerry do this). Since several of the questions involved light signals I was glad I'd memorised them.

I'd already called the AWIS on the journey into Camden (02 4655 9248) and followed up with Buzzword. (Send 'weather current camden' to 193030. A few seconds later and 55c poorer you'll receive the latest metar in human-readable form.) Because I had a few minutes to spare I listened to the ATIS on the radio in the office (125.1MHz) and confirmed the wind direction and strength, QNH and runway in use. I could tell the wind was picking up as the plane was rocking a little as I did the preflight.

Kerry appeared from the classroom where she'd been giving a theory class from 9am to 4pm, and gave me a quick briefing where she said it was time to emphasise really listening to the ATIS, and also making correct radio calls (ie brief and accurate). While taxiing out to the run-up area she showed me how to hold a little into-wind aileron to keep the wind from lifting one wing, and asked how I would position the aircraft for the run-up. The correct answer was into the wind, so we first turned towards the taxiway (with stick neutral or forward so the tail didn't lift), then spun left through 180° to face into the wind for run-up checks. Afterwards it was another 180° left turn to take us up the taxiway (neutral or forward elevator again) to the hold point. I made the radio call ("Camden Tower, Citabria Romeo Romeo Whisky, ready runway two-four for circuits with Hotel"), responded to the tower's clearance and lined up on the runway (a little left aileron again on the turn).

Take-off is almost easy now - stick neutral at first till the speed gets up, then forward to adopt a flying attitude and lift off as we pass through 50 knots. Hold the right rudder in the climb, trim for 70 knots and look out for traffic (remember: Attitude, Lookout, Attitude, Performance). At 800ft pick a reference point, look from the left all the way around to the right then make a gentle climbing turn to the right. Once established on the new heading, (not before!) glance back at the runway; yes, it's at right-angles to our track, then look back ahead and check the altitude - 1100ft. Keep climbing to 1300ft, level out, power back, trim and make a co-ordinated turn onto downwind.

On downwind think HSHS: Heading (Chatswood on this flight, but reference points change each flight with the wind), Speed (90kts, 2200rpm), Height (stay on 1300ft!) and Spacing (keep the jury strut on the runway). Make a radio call - we've already established contact on take-off, so all we need to do is tell the tower our intentions: "Romeo Romeo Whisky, downwind for touch and go". Tower responds "Cleared touch and go" or a sequence ("Number two, follow the Cessna on final") and the pilot's readback is a brief, "Cleared touch and go, RRW", or "Number two, RRW.").

By this time you're probably a couple of wing chords off the end of the runway and it's carby heat to hot, throttle back to 1500rpm (or even less), raise the nose slightly to wash off speed without losing lift, and enter a turn to the right. With this much wind and the speed dropping the turn is more than 90°, and even a little earlier than usual, as the headwind is trying to blow you away from the runway. By watching the reference point (or better, two reference points) you can keep the ground track square to the runway.

On base and final I had to learn to manage the speed, ie be trimmed for 70 knots and descending at 500 ft/minute. A couple of times I was too high, and Kerry got me to raise the nose till we were at 60 knots, then trim for that before going back into a descent and retrimming. This way we were able to turn what looked like it was going to be an overflight into a half-decent landing.

Close to the ground we experienced a bit of sink before we reached the threshold and my instinct was to raise the nose. This is not the recommended action, and resulted in a late go-around on one occasion (seems we hit the ground and bounced - see Kerry's email below). By repetition and example Kerry was able to remind me that a little throttle is all that's needed to arrest the descent and carry you over the threshold before continuing the descent and flare.

The last few circuits were in non-towered conditions (Camden tower closes at 5pm sharp) and the radio calls change. The new CTAF rules which took effect on Nov 24 2005 define the exact calls, which are basically: taxiing, taking off, crosswind, downwind, base and final, in the form: "Camden Traffic, Citabria Romeo Romeo Whisky, turning base, runway two-four". Tell others your landing intention on the final call: "Camden Traffic, Citabria Romeo Romeo Whisky, turning final, runway two-four, touch and go.". Strictly speaking, the call should end with the location again, since in some areas nearby airfields may be using a common frequency. At Camden this is not an issue as it has its own frequency. (At Hamilton we could hear calls at Albury so I can see the point of repeating the location.)

CTAF calls are made before the turn so that you're more obvious to other aircraft (because your wings are banked in the turn). There is no need for other aircraft to make any response. This keeps the frequency as clear as possible for others to transmit.

Kerry's post-flight debrief was via email:

Hi Iain,

I just finished e-mailing the mob in my PPL Theory class, and I thought I'd drop you a line. I choofed off pretty quick on Sat as dinner was being served in Blackheath at 7pm sharp :-)

Our session of circuits did not include any emergency procedures, but as planned, we concentrated on flying accurately as well as using the radio and having some 'situational awareness' in the traffic pattern.

During this session, your flying did improve in consistency, hence my nagging being broken up with pregnant periods of silence. You also started to use the radio without too much extra brain power being used/taken away from flying.

I'm sure you realised that throughout the session, that where the circuit was flown accurately (ie. you were flying the plane, not it flying you), and thus you only needed SMALL adjustments in attitude and power on final approach, the landings were really good. You also realised a decent bounce is probably a great reason to initiate a go around.

One thing that bothered me was that sometimes you were not looking out the front of the aircraft enough (hence my prompting from the back seat). This caused your downwind leg to suffer - ie. diverged or converged, as well as your xwind and base legs. When you did use "ALAP" (ie did not stare at the RWY) and concentrated on those aim points that are chosen just before a turn, there was less effort, and the circuit was square and correctly spaced.

We did have a fabulous example of a nice steady headwind, and you did experience a base leg where the nose of the aircraft is not pointing in the direction of the "flight path" - but more "into wind" so as to ensure that you don't drift away from the landing area - and this is a very important concept for emergencies as well - in that one could drift to beyond glide distance if one did not make himself aware of the prevailing winds.

As you suggested, I am hoping that you can come and do some early morning flights, so that we can finish off the emergencies and get you to solo standard.

Have a great week, and see you soon.


Next lesson (wind permitting) - glide approaches. I assume [wrongly!] this will involve the use of flap. It's part of the emergency training. I've booked a nice early start: 6.30am. We'll be in WKM again - remember to keep it straight on touchdown, and stick forward if we get tailwheel shimmy! (see lesson 15) I'm hoping for good weather. At this stage the Weatherzone forecast is:

Showers, 14 / 25°C, 5% chance of rain, 1-5mm
9am: WSW 13kt, RH 39%
3pm: SSW 10kt, RH 28%

Kerry says the showers are late and the only possible concern is early-morning fog if the overnight RH is high.

Instructor's notes: "Started using radio, circuit pattern improved & some situational awareness. Where circuits were accurate, good landings followed."