Flying Training

Lesson 45: Circuits

Wednesday 1 August 2007, 11.00am in Citabria RRW. Instructor: Jim Drinnan.

Weather: warm (17-22°C). Wind calm initially; but increased to a substantial NW at 7-10 later.

Well, here we go again after a layoff of four and a half months. Since I have to take time off work to look after the boys I thought it was time to make a push for the GFPT, so I rocked up at Camden at 10.30am, having spent the drive practicing checklists and radio calls. After a windy night, it turned out a beautiful day, sunny and calm. I filled out the paperwork, and made a leisurely and complete inspection of RRW, which had just been returned by another student (who is devoting entire days to flying - 7am to 5pm. Mind you, his dad owns a Cessna Citation, which would help).

I met Jim at the temporary fuel bowser (the regular bowser is closed while a huge new tank is installed - good to see some investment in facilities) and in answer to my question he assured me that flying was like riding a bike, and I wouldn't have forgotten it all. And he was right.

I carried out the pre-start checks while Jim had a bite to eat, and checked the ATIS, which was the same as the AWIS I'd called from my mobile on the drive in. The tower doesn't open during the week, so it's a CTAF airfield.

Jim arrived and told me he was just going to be a passenger, so it was up to me. Essentially it was a flight review. So I gave the throttle one full cycle and started up. Minor issues were having the throttle slightly too far forwards so the engine ran at 1400 rpm after starting, rather than Jim's suggested 800 rpm. And though I followed Kerry's ROARS checks, I forgot to switch on the strobes.

But I made the appropriate taxiing call: "Camden traffic, Citabria Romeo Romeo Whisky taxiing to runway zero six for circuits." and that pleased Jim. Once I'd realised that the parking brake was on, and released it, I taxiied over the grass towards the taxiway, avoiding a pedestrian who decided to walk slowly across my path without even looking in my direction (rude and risky). Runup checks completed I scanned base and final for aircraft and listened out for any radio calls, but all was quiet. So I called, "Camden traffic, Citabria Romeo Romeo Whisky lining up and rolling runway zero six, for circuits." and off we went.

By keeping my eyes on a point well beyond the runway I kept straight, and I raised the tail slowly to minimise any p-factor effects. (Jim said that I didn't need to bring the stick forward quite as far as I did.) As I climbed out, Sydney was clearly silhouetted on the horizon and it makes a good aiming point.

We climbed quickly and were at circuit height well before the downwind turn. I had time for the downwind checks, and I remembered Niall's turning point of the triangular group of retirement units. However Jim picked me up on this - I turned too soon, and didn't get square to the runway. The point he was making is that runways and conditions change, so particular aiming points are not to be relied on.

On final, the calm conditions made it easy to keep the aim point fixed in the windscreen, and the runway centreline vertical. I used a little trickle of power over the river to prevent a sink at that point, and levelled out just above the runway. Looking at the far end of the runway I kept it off the ground until the stall warning was going, and with progressive back stick we were on the ground. Jim was quite happy with it, and made me roll out until the next taxiway.

On the next circuit Jim made me tidy up my downwind turn, making it completely square. On the downwind leg I consciously relaxed, releasing the tension in my legs and back, and taking a good look around. This landing was very satisfying - I could hardly feel the wheels touch the tarmac. Jim said, "If you do another one like that, I might have to get out." which really made my day. I'd anticipated the first day being devoted to relearning circuits and the proper touch on the controls, but I'd remembered it.

On the downwind leg Jim decided to mix it up a little and pulling the throttle back he asked me to make a glide approach to runway 10. This I did, though I turned base too soon, so was a little high and fast over the threshold, even after losing some of the height with a sideslip. I let it touch down before it was ready, so floated skywards again, but I held the stick steady, then brought it slowly back as we descended, and though it wasn't my best landing, Jim was happy enough to ask me to drop him off outside the office and carry on as pilot in command. He emphasised that if I was unhappy about any aspect of the approach, that I should go around, and in fact I ended up doing just this.

Taxiing out I made another radio call saying that I was taxiing to runway 06. Another student, though, called in that he was on base for 10, and I decided it would be more relaxing to follow him around rather than always wondering if our paths would cross. Plus it would be a change from the tarmac. So I called in that I was switching to 10, and I waited for him to carry out his touch and go before I entered the runway.

With one person on board the Citabria climbed like a rocket. I turned crosswind at 1000 feet, and seconds later was at 1300 feet and working out the right spacing for the circuit. I did two or three circuits on the grass runway, and began to notice a definite drift carrying me towards the runway on downwind and base. Also, it was beginning to get quite turbulent. I didn't really register, though, just how strong the wind change was (see the weather conditions graphs below), and although I decided to finish up on the tarmac it was just for variety. When I called in that I was downwind for zero six, I heard Jim's voice saying that was a good idea as there was quite a tailwind developing on 10, and the graph below confirms it.

I made some allowance for drift on downwind, but not enough, so I was too close on base. Consequently it became obvious that I was too high on final, and so I called, "Going around". I throttled up, climbed to 1300 feet and kept on the runway heading until I judged that it was about where I would normally turn crosswind, and on this circuit I took particular care over the runway spacing. The nose was pointed distinctly right of track, and the aircraft was bouncing around a fair bit.

On final it became obvious that it wasn't just bumpy, but I was actually dealing with a crosswind landing. So I put the left wing down, kept the aircraft straight with rudder, and considered whether I was actually going to land on left main and tailwheel.

The landing was smooth enough but the wind did carry me well to the right of the centreline. However my feet must have known what do to because I arrested our path towards the edge of the runway, and applied some gentle braking to turn off at the next taxiway. Some debriefing would probably have been good at this point, but Jim wasn't there, so I paid up, filled out my logbook, had some tea and toast and drove home.

I see that my account of the crosswind training with Rob Marshall in lesson 41 is incomplete. That's a pity, as it was a good lesson. I'll read up on crosswind landings again over breakfast tomorrow. Because yes, I'm going up again then. At this stage it looks like the conditions will be calmer, but the wind will still be from the north west. It seems to be the prevailing direction for Camden.


Camden temperature
Camden wind

Time Wind dir Wind speed Gusts Temp Dew point RH QNH
kt kt °C °C % hPa
Wed 11:00 EST
010° (N) 1 4 17.0 7.4 53 1011.0
Wed 11:30 EST
- 0 0 19.2 7.0 45 1010.3
Wed 12:00 EST
340° (NNW) 7 10 21.5 4.1 32 1010.0
Wed 12:30 EST
320° (NW) 11 16 21.8 3.9 31 1009.2
Wed 13:00 EST
320° (NW) 10 13 22.6 5.1 32 1008.8