Solo Consolidation Nov - Dec 2004

From this point onwards I had to complete 5 hours solo in the circuit. This takes the form of turning up at the airport, preflighting the aircraft, grabbing an instructor and taking them up. The usual outcome is after 3 circuits or so they'll jump out and you complete 4 or 5 on your own. I won't go into every single lesson but I will say by the time I got the 5 hours I was sick and tired of circuits. I think my flying had reached a plateau of sorts and I was getting frustrated because I wasn't getting significantly better as a pilot. I spent a total of 21.4 hours in the circuit (pre and post solo) which at that time made up the bulk of my total flight time.

The good news was that the weather was generally fairly good over the New Zealand summer and I hardly ever cancelled for weather and when I did it was because the crosswind component was too high. The other good news was that although the objective of flying the circuit remained the same, there were lots of other things that occurred that taught valuable lessons. When you are up there on your own, it can get quite exciting when you are faced with something you have never experienced before.

A hot airballoon decided he was going to land in the middle of one of the runways one lesson that I was up on my own. I got switched to another runway but was so fixated on the balloon that I forgot the first of the big three words in flying (aviate, navigate, communicate). I ended up high and fast on base when the tower asked me where I thought I was going. I chopped the throttle, sweated precious seconds waiting for the airspeed to drop below the flap deployment speed before finally deploying full flap and turning sharply onto finals. After doing a massive S to try to wash off altitude I went around. Now I know you lot over on the American continent would say "why didn't he just slip it down?" Easy answer, I have not been taught how to slip. The reason for this is long and complicated so it will have to wait for another post (I promise to get the definitive reason from Roger and post it here).

One of the other student pilot blogs I read spoke of having an epiphany. I experienced one during a solo circuit session when all that my instructors had been drumming into me about setting an attitude and letting the plane catch up finally clicked in my thick skull. You know when you are having a good lesson when this sort of thing happens.

I also learnt a great deal about dealing with other aircraft in the circuit. The Hamilton control zone is class D which means although the tower issues information about other aircraft to light planes, you as the pilot are still ultimately responsible for maintaining legal separation from other aircraft. In the circuit this is made easier by the fact that almost all other aircraft flying will be at the same altitude so spotting them is that much easier. Also you have the nice people in the control tower keeping track of everything so you really are not alone up there.

However, when I said almost all, I meant that there is always the odd circumstance that will catch out the unwary. Next door the Aero Club is an agricultural aviation company called Super Air. Those guys do some of the most crazy flying I have ever seen. One day I was told I was number 2 to a Fletcher on right base for the same runway I was using. I looked in the usual place and couldn't see him. As the precious seconds ticked by and I still couldn't see him, images of mid-air collisions flew through my mind and I got more and more anxious. Maybe his radio (or mine for that matter) wasn't working quite right because I don't recall ever hearing the other pilot speak but when I did spot him he was on the runway about to taxi clear, and I hadn't even begun my base turn! A couple of circuits later I found out why I didn't see him. He was coming in from about 200 AGL and landing on the grass just off the runway so as to cut down his taxi time to the loader! Since ATC never said anything I didn't worry about it but it certainly impressed me.

The final lesson learned from my solo time in the circuit was that I got a LOT better at landings so now they are not a part of flying to be feared.


Chris said…
Euan, good to see you now have a blog (or perhaps before I didn't find it?). I am about to head off for my next flying lesson today so will read through later tonight. :-)
Euan Kilgour said…
Hi Chris,

You can blame Mark for my blog :) Now that he has made his blog comments limited to bloggers only I thought I'd better create my own from my flight diary. Its a lot more work than I thought it would be! I hope you enjoy reading it.