Lesson 18. Circuits (and a surprise) Saturday 20 Nov 8am 2004

I arrived at the Aero Club on a lovely still morning about 20 minutes before my scheduled lesson. I read through the manual a couple of times before I got out of the car just going over the emergency and startup checks one more time. Walked in 5 mins early. Got the pre-flight docs for WAM and did the pre-flight. Roger arrived and his first question was, “have you soloed yet Euan?”

If that wasn’t a hint of future things to come then I should have known. I replied in the negative and so Roger went on to say that he would be a passenger on this trip and I was to fly him around the circuit. No problems, I got a comment of praise from Roger when I altered our transponder code to 2200 (that indicates closed circuit traffic) without him asking during the startup checks.

Lined up and took off and as our wheels came off the ground I inwardly whooped because the morning was a cracker – smooth as silk. Did the first circuit, not bad, landing OK. Then the second Roger pulled the throttle on me and we did the EFATO procedure (I picked a paddock which wasn’t that great but Roger complimented me on making the decisions quickly and decisively, which is the key to getting us down safely). The next landing was a flapless. Roger said that good airmanship demands that you stack the odds in your favour if you have a problem (for flapless landings request the longest runway available) as we used up almost half of the grass strip before we touched down and we had to get back into the air smartly. Got a repeated instruction from Roger to get us up which I eventually did the second time but things could have turned to custard pretty quickly if I hadn’t. Oh well, the next time round, Roger asked for a full stop landing. It was about then that I knew I was going solo. The strange thing was, I didn’t feel nervous. Things were stacked in my favour. I had an airplane I knew well, a morning with good conditions for flying, not many planes around the circuit. It didn’t get any better than this. I pulled up near the runup area and let Roger out. He paused to say he wanted two circuits then he’d meet me at the tie down area with the camera. He had told the tower that I’d be on my first solo and they acknowledged (further stacking things in my favour). This would be a piece of cake. Once I throttled up and moved off to the holding point, my mind was going at 100mph thinking about stuff I had to remember.

Roger had said that the plane would behave differently without the weight of an instructor. Did it what!!! It accelerated like a scalded cat, climbed like a Spitfire and turned like spinning coin. The first circuit went pretty quickly. I found myself talking to myself on the way down reminding myself to keep things in order. The first approach was good, but the landing was a bit bumpy. Damn that thing just wants to get back into the air quick. Full throttle, right rudder, flaps to take off, and back on the stick and we are flying again. This is just so cool! OK, back into the circuit. Geez this thing climbs like a F16 without the extra person! OK watch your height on the downwind leg. Good, checks done, radio the tower and request a full stop. Whoops, went past the centreline on the turn to finals. A bit high so back off the power and let her glide, ahhh that’s better. Now add a bit, a bit more that’s better, watch that nose coming up, can’t let it do that, OK dump the power and down we come – hey that’s a nice landing. OK on the brakes, there is the taxiway. Woah, went past it. OK, tower wants us to backtrack. Better thank them, they congratulated you. And back to the tiedown area and Roger with the Polaroid.

My profile picture of me is the photo taken 10 seconds after I shutdown the plane. I had proven to myself I could do it. What a feeling of intense satisfaction. I will remember this day forever.

PS. Yes it says Coastguard on the side in my profile pic but thats because the plane was recently bought off a SAR pilot and he had not arranged to have the markings removed prior to it becoming available for flight training.