In progressing to yet another area of the flying syllabus it was time for some more classroom theory although, unlike stalling where you're shown everything from start to finish, this time some common emergency scenarios are thrown into the mix alongside the circuit flying itself. Therefore, whether it an engine failure on take-off, engine failure after take-off, flap failure on approach or any other combination of emergency common to the circuit environment, we needed to learn the associated checklists by heart. These are referred to as memory items and are to be tested alongside the general aims of the lessons - which are predominantly to have us feeling comfortable to fly in the circuit. If you're panicking at reading 'engine fire' I wouldn't worry as it's' all simulated in the sense our instructors will simply pull the throttle back to slow the engine to idle and get us to dummy run through the checklists to prove competency.
Lesson Nine - 22/04/2017
Having completed this lesson all I can say is the phrase "Rabbit in Headlights" comes to mind. Wow! - the circuit sure is busy and there's literally no time for a breather. From the moment you take off to the moment you touch down again there's always something to be doing. The first circuits lesson is designed to introduce you to the principles behind flying one so it's understandable to be a bit rusty.. but I felt incredibly down about my performance afterwards.
Here's what's involved...
It's certainly a lot to do. Now picture yourself having to do it all within the six minutes it takes to fly the full circuit and you can see how I felt stressed. It was incredibly tiring and I felt exhausted by the end of it. To make matters more frustrating, it was so busy in Hamilton's airspace that we often had to extend our flight well beyond the length of the runway for 'spacing' from other aircraft.
What's more, despite all my attempts to get it right - as I had been doing in lessons prior - I just couldn't seem able to maintain attitudes correctly and ended up climbing when trying to remain level. After discussion with my instructor we later attributed this to my seating position having an impact on my perception of the horizon. Being sat way too high in the chair in comparison to previous lessons highlighted the importance of finding and remembering your perfect seating position and then setting it prior to flight. It's certainly not as easy as a cars to change once in flight as you'd end up zooming to the back of the plane on the seats rollers.
During my post-flight debrief my instructor asked me how I felt to which I fully admitted there was room for improvement. Whilst she agreed, she did say that my overall flying -with the seating position excused - was relatively good. She simply compared first-time exposure to the circuit pattern as an overflowing bath with the baths' volume being my mental capacity. I'm thankfully not alone in this regard, with many of my peers feeling exactly the same following this lesson.
In not wanting to feel so stressed for circuits two I made sure to read up on the mass brief materials again in the hope it would help me improve.
Lesson Ten - 24/04/2017
When comparing this Google Maps snippet of my flight with the circuits graphic used earlier, you can see that real circuits are seldom a perfect shape. Often caused by Air Traffic Control delaying arrivals for spacing purposes, some of my circuits in this lesson were quite large with one of them even taking us on a right-hand direction instead. Despite this, I was much.. much happier with my performance.
Prior to departure I made sure to note just how many rotations of the seat adjustment handle were required in order to be in the perfect position and as expected, my ability to maintain straight and level flight improved a huge deal which already put me in a much happier place. What's more the weather during this lesson was perfect. There was no significant cloud development, the sky was as blue as blue can be and you could see for a good 30-40km over the nearby winding hills. There was barely any wind to push me about either. I couldn't have asked for a better day. Although, with the atmospheric pressure dropping it does mean we're likely to see rain before the weeks out.
During this lesson I had an Oman Air cadet pilot join me in the backseat on the request of his instructor and, as you'd expect, this had a slight impact on the handling of the aircraft. Thankfully though his very presence helped to improve my flare on landing as we were a bit tail heavy. All in all, despite one hiccup at the start of the flight with my communication to the tower - which had them speaking words through laughter when reading back my departure clearance - the majority of this flight was a significant improvement on the last. I was climbing at the correct attitude and speed, turning when supposed to, leveling off and handling all communication with air traffic control when required. My management of aircraft speeds during descent and final approach was also greatly improved which went a long way to contributing towards smoother landings than lesson one, but I've still some work to do in this regard. It's amazing just how much back pressure you need to apply to the control column in order to get those back wheels touching down first. It feels incredibly unnatural, almost as if the aircraft would want to climb again and as a result this is an area I need to fine tune during circuits lesson three.
To make things more interesting, my instructor incorporated a couple of emergency procedures in to the mix and I was lucky enough to receive an aborted take-off, followed by an engine failure after take-off, and a flapless approach/landing. Initially the recovery from these was demonstrated before I was then given a shot at them on the next loop around the circuit. When you're faced with emergency situations like an engine failure my studying of the checklists simply flew out the window. I had the basics there, but just wasn't quick enough at getting it done. I ended up lowering the second stage of flap a bit too early which resulted in me losing altitude a lot faster than I would have liked. Sure, we would've made the field but would've landed short and smashed through the fence first making for a harder impact. Either way, it was great to get exposure at this point and in my instructors words, practice makes perfect.
The debrief of lesson two highlighted that whilst my flying was much much better I'd completely forgotten two elements of the circuit. The pre-landing checklists and the 100ft/300ft landing checks. I was so focussed on flying an improved circuit compared with the lesson before that I'd just completely forgotten those two steps. I was forgiven at this point and told my flying was indeed, 'much improved' and back to the school's' standard, yet was asked to read over procedures once again ensuring nothing is missed on the next lesson. Importance was stressed on the emergency procedures too given that circuits three will test all possible scenarios with an aim to sign me off as competent prior to my first solo. Thankfully, I wasn't flying the following day which gave me time to over things in more detail.
Lesson Eleven - 27/04/2017 - CANCELLED
With my own instructor still being away on holiday in addition to recent public holidays, including Anzac day here in New Zealand, this lesson was booked in as an airport standby and assigned to an instructor I'd not previously flown with. With that said though, the odds were against me on this one. The instructor was booked to fly on a navigation flight with one of his primary cadets and I'd only get to fly should the weather not be good enough for them to go. On top of that, if that were to have occurred there weren't even any slots with air traffic control for me to fly about in the airport circuit anyway. With all things considered this flight was eventually cancelled. It was a little frustrating as this marked my third day away from flying since Circuits Two but I appreciated the fact I needed to remain flexible and that CTC can only do its best when my instructor is away.
Lesson Eleven - 28/04/2017 - CANCELLED
When the schedule was released I was pleased to see my flight marked as confirmed and that unlike the previous day there a slot booked with air traffic control. After heading in to the airport to complete all of my planning I was later told the flight needed to be cancelled as the instructor I was allocated - on secondment from CTC Aviation's operation in Bournemouth - was still waiting on his licence conversion papers from the New Zealand authorities. Administrators were hoping they'd have been back in the mornings post, but sadly not and thus to fly would've broken the law. It seems I best get used to this being cancelled malarkey eh! Hey ho - welcome to the world of aviation. Making the most of the ground time I sat with the instructor and ticked off a number of essential exercises trainees have to know such as brake failure, rejected take-off and engine fire on the ground so I guess it wasn't completely a waste of our time.
With lesson eleven being cancelled twice, I've since found out that i'm not booked to fly over the weekend either meaning the total days since my last lesson will be six come Monday. It's becoming more and more irritating that I can't get up and fly when peers around me can, but my instructor did say this could be a possibility during her time away so I can't say I wasn't aware of it. Here's to hoping I can go flying again next week in order to complete circuits three and my first solo although the forecast doesn't look too great and it'll be likely that, despite my instructor being back from leave, I'll receive cancellations due to the cloud cover.
I'll be back with another update next week.. here's to hoping things improve a little.
All the best,