Friday, March 24, 2006

lesson #10 The Circuit

Well, that was a most humbling experience.

Where do I even start... I guess I'll take you through the circuit and I'll save my personal comments and thoughts on this lesson until the end.

Friday morning Marc (the flight school owner) called and left me a voicemail, it seemed that Saturday was booking up fast and if I was going to fly this weekend I better get my name in for a slot on Sunday. I called and chatted with my flight instructor Dave, after a bit of chit chat about how the weekend was shaping up (availability and weather) I decided to take the afternoon off work and get a lesson in. It was my first oportunity to go flying in a few weeks and I didn't want to chance putting it off until Sunday and have the weather mess things up again.

I arrived at the airport 15 minutes early and then had to wait for 45 minutes until FFRN got back. Another student, who is working on his commercial licence had Fern over in Cape Breton. They finally returned a half hour after my lesson was supposed to start, since I had time to spare it wasn't much of a issue. I talked with Luke (the commercial student) for a minute or two on the apron and then went and preflighted the aircraft. She needed fuel, so I went to see what was keeping Dave and then we pulled her over to the pumps and topped her up. Finished preflight and then made a call to tower to let them know what we were doing and off we taxied to runway 03.

I first check for traffic and then pull out onto the runway and line her up with the centerline. Do the runway checklist. The taxi and runway checklists are used to make sure that the aircraft is in the proper configuration for takeoff, and you haven't forgot something stupid like leaving the flaps down or your fuel selector on your left tank. I call tower and inform them that we're rolling on 03. As I go to full throttle the aircraft wants to go left and I have to get on the right rudder to stay straight. While I'm steering with my feet (rudder) I also need to check a few things to ensure that we're good for takeoff. Things that need to be checked prior to rotation are: air speed indicator (is it working), tach (are you getting full power) oil pressure (in the green) and oil temp, (usually still on the low side), and how's the engine sound. Runway 03/210 is 7,000 feet but 60 mph comes rather quickly and we begin our rotation, then trim for climb at 80 mph, maintaining a straight out track from the runway, which is not as easy as it sounds with a 6 knot crosswind and your bouncing around. Drop the nose at about 500 - 600 ft to do a forward scan for traffic, we do this because we can't see anything ahead of us in this climb configuration.

At 800 ft I begin our crosswind turn, no more than 15 degrees of bank, because we're climbing. During the crosswind leg we reach circuit height (1,200 ASL) so I reduce throttle to 2,100 rpm and quickly trim the aircraft for level flight. I turn another 90 degrees left at 30 degrees of bank this time, this turn puts us on the downwind and this track parallels the active runway.

I call tower to inform them of our location, " Charlottetown radio this is foxtrot romeo november on the downwind for runway 03". Then I have to get right into my downwind checks which I need to commit to memory. Dave suggested that I should basically sweep left to right to ensure I get everything. For the first few circuits I kept forgetting one or two things, but by the forth or fifth circuit I have it down. Mains on, mags on both, brakes, carb heat on, mixture rich, fuel selector on both tanks, engine oil pressure and temp in the green. Near the end of the downwind leg I reduce power to about 1,700 rpms and wait for our speed to drop down into the white arc, then I add 20 degrees of flaps and quickly trim for 75 mph.

I make sure that I turn in time so that I don't cross the runway's centerline. Left turn to final is at 30 degrees of bank, 75 mph @ 1,700 rpm.

I call tower, "Charlottetown radio this is foxtrot romeo november on final for runway 03, touch and go". Ch'town radio replys with wind information and anything else I need to know. I adjust our power to control our decent, and then pull the throttle back to idle at the runway's threshold. Flare at a few feet, hold it with ever increasing back pressure until she settles down onto the runway nice and gentle like. Adjust trim for takeoff, flaps up and back to full power for takeoff, which happens quick because we're still doing 30-40 mph when I apply power.

My thoughts on this lesson:
As you can see there is alot of work to doing circuits, and it all must be done in addition to flying the plane. I found my first lesson doing circuits alot of hard work, very heavy on the multi-tasking. I found my first few circuits a bit overwelming, with Dave talking me through most of it. The next few circuits I kept forgetting things on my checklist and I was doing things less than acceptable, which to be quite honest drives me right up the wall. This lesson has left me somewhat discouraged, something I haven't felt since my first couple of flight lessons. It seemed that for the most of this lesson I couldn't do much of anything right and I was constantly behind the aircraft for most of the lesson.

I was doing stupid things like straying from our circuit height, which is 1,200 ft, so why the hell am I at 1,100 feet - trim's not bang on and we drifted down a bit on the downwind. I never caught it because I was doing something else. Another thing that I kept doing poorly is trimming for a proper glide speed of 75 mph. I found myself working the yoke to maintain the proper pitch to adjust our speed, when I should have trimmed it right the first time and then adjusted our glide slope with throttle. Dave told me time after time to stop doing this and trim the plane correctly. Finally my flare needed alot of work, a couple of times I flared too early and we floated back up and I needed to add a bit of power. Another couple of times I was not quick enough pulling the yoke back during the last bit of the flare just before main gear touchdown and Dave helped me out.

There's just so much to do and so many things that you need to keep your eyes on, all at the same time, while your doing something else or thinking about what you need to do next. I felt like a juggler who was forced to juggle one ball too many. At the end of a very long hour we finally called it a day. I asked Dave if I sucked as badly as I thought I did, he said that my experience was average and that I will get better at circuits, all I need is more practise.

Late edit:
I should add that a couple of days later as I'm putting the finishing touches on this blog entry, I feel much better. Looking back at this lesson, I realised that near the end I was starting to get comfortable with the pace at which things must happen. By writing this blog entry and effectively going through this lesson again in my head, I have identifed the things that I was doing wrong and I know what needs to be done to fix it. I still expect to make mistakes during my next lesson, but I feel much more confident now than I did a couple of days ago.


At 6:31 PM, Blogger Oshawapilot said...

Don't feel bad at all, Rob.

When you first start with the circuit, there is a hell of alot going on, and everyone gets overloaded. It will come with time - just commit the downwind checks to your mind - that's what I used to forget all the time.

I too had a completely miserable experience with circuits when I was at about your point in my own training. Reading your story immediately reminded me of this post:

I looked it up and re-read it, and there's indeed alot of similarities.

Look on the bright side - once you get through the initial batch of circuits and become proficient (as you will) your solo is on the horizon.

Get that PSTAR and Radio licence out of the way early. ;-)

At 5:20 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Thanks Marc,

Since this lesson, I've read some other people's blogs (including yours), regarding early circuit training and what I went through certainly seems common.

It doesn't help that some of us can be very self critical...

I'm really looking forward to my next lesson, I will get these circuits down.

The PSTAR and radio exams are already done, I'm planning on writing my TC exam in May. I've already memorized the downwind checks, they will not be causing me anymore grief.

I've got my next lesson booked for Sunday...

At 11:37 PM, Blogger manisha said...

I read this block right after my first circuit lesson.

I came back so disappointed at myself (seems like a comman experience ..:) ) even though Mark, my instructor kept reassuring me that it was not bad at all. I randomly googled "how to do your circuit's right" and the link to your block came as a result :-)
I am so glad to have read it... and Marc's comment too.


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