Flight log

Hour 10: Circuits, repeat 3

This morning flight was about practice, practice, and more practice of circuits. I'm trying to consolidate previous learning so that I can be more fluid and responsive in my control inputs. 

For the first time, I'll be doing all radio calls.

This is the full-length video.

My last flight was two weeks ago, as last week the weather was not good enough. I wonder if this break would affect my performance. Would I regress, or continue where I left off with Davide?

Let's find out.

Greg was back and he would help me out today. The weather looks good for both the morning and the afternoon sessions, so, with a bit of luck, I'll get two hours of circuits training done today.

Weather

The weather at the time of the first flight was as good as it gets at Camden.

Wind was variable at 5 kts with an occasional tail wind 3 kts. The tail wind would give me an opportunity to experience this condition in the final approach for the first time today.

Visibility was reported to be over 10km, however I couldn't see the distant mountain peaks that I normally use for heading reference, so I had to use local landmarks.

It was a cloudy morning, with scattered clouds at 1500 ft.

Temperature was 20°C, and QNH 1020 mmHg.

All good to fly.

Pre-flight briefing

Before the flight, Greg and I examined the notes from my last flight. Here is what Davide noted:

Ensure aircraft is trimmed after rotating. Level off from crosswind to downwind generally conducted late resulting in a climb to 1400-1500FT, this improved as the lesson progressed. Turn onto downwind late in most circuits resulting in a wide circuit spacing. ASPT needs to be conducted after every level off, occasionally power was reduced before the nose was lowered. Once established on downwind aircraft heading and altitude well controlled. Instructor did BUMFISH and radio call. Instructor was prompting power to be reduced to 1800RPM abeam the threshold and 1500RPM turning onto base, occasionally Peter would keep power at 2300RPM. Due to this the base leg usually ended up being high. On final airspeed was too low, occasionally dropping below 60KTS. Instructor reinforced attitude to control airspeed and power to control rate of descent. After few circuits instructor demoed a circuit, after the demo circuits and control on final improved. Ensure especially after applying 30 degrees of flap the nose is lowered to maintain airspeed.

That's a lot to review and improve. In summary, in this morning's flight I will need to:

  1. Trim after rotation.
  2. Level off from crosswind to downwind at ~1300 ft.
  3. Improve spacing, don't be late with the turns.
  4. Improve engine power settings and timing.
  5. Be mindful of low airspeed on final.
  6. Improve use of attitude to control airspeed and power to control rate of descent.
  7. Do BUFISH checks.
  8. Do radio calls.

But there's more. Greg has explained what I have also realised: I'm too slow. I am not yet "thinking ahead of the plane". And even when I know that a change in configuration will be needed in the next few seconds (such as doing a turn, or reducing speed), I find it challenging to complete the required tasks quickly and accurately enough.

My thoughts

I find that a life time of habits is having an effect here. In non-piloting life, I tend to take my time and think about what I want to do. Look for alternatives, balance cons and prons, select a solution, execute it, evaluate, adjust, repeat. When I used to teach enterprneurship, I would talk about the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). In non-piloting life, I do something similar, but very, very slow.

As a pilot, reactions have to be quick. The brain is still a single-core computer, but a lot needs to be done. The solution is to do time-slicing. In time-slicing, the brain switches between tasks very quickly, giving the impression of multitasking. The pilot scans intruments, environment, communicates and aviates, one thing at a time, very quickly.

For me, this is not yet natural. Each of those activities takes too long. When I look at the instruments, I tend to get fixated on them. When I do a radio call, I tend to spend a few seconds thinking what to say, then block my brain waiting for an ATC responce. When I do a pre-landing check, I forgeet about my position in relation to the runway and end up almost outside the control area.

The only solution seems to be practice, practice and practice, to break habits that work well outside the cockpit but not inside.

The flight

You can see the entire flight in the full-length video above. Use the timestamps on the Youtube video to jump around. For the first time I used two cameras. One mounted behind us, looking into the cockpit and the windshield, and the second mounted on the left window to provide a better few of the control panel.

The back camera is a Gopro Hero 12. Although it promises better heat performarmance compared to older models, it still turned off automatically before the end of the flight due to overheating. 

The side camera is a Gopro Hero 10. This worked for the entire flight thanks to the four heatsinks that I attached.

In this flight I was able to fit eight circuits. Maybe I can do nine next time?

How "rusty" was I after the week-long break? I noticed two things:

  1. I needed Greg's prompting to safely startup the plane. The plane had not flown for a couple of days, so I would have to prime it firsst. I was worried that I would damage the engine if I made a mistake at startup. Did I set the throttle to exactly 1/4 inch open? How do I know exactly when to set the mix to full rich after the engine had started?
  2. I needed some help with the operation of the two radios, i.e. selecting COM1 vs COM2, and the microphone buttons.
  3. I felt good about the rest of the checks: pre-flight, after-start, taxi, run-up.
  4. I also felt good about doing the radio calls, even though I made mistakes. For example, I refered to "holding point Alpha" as "holding point zero six", confusing the holding point and runway designations. I also did not repeat the entire instruction I received.

Takeoff was exciting, as always. At around 500 ft I glanced back to see the runway and ensure I was still on the centerline (I was!). Everything accelerated after that. The Upwind leg is very short and busy. The pilot has to ensure that the climb is at the correct speed (~74 kts), lookout for traffic, check Ps and Ts, anticipate the turn to crosswind, ensure the heading is correct, compensate for crosswind. Greg reminded me to use the rudder to keep the turn indicator ball in the center.

The first circuit was overwhealming. I missed leveling at circuit altitude, and Greg took over to correct. Greg also did the radio call as I was "offline" at the moment. But, I managed to do most of the BUMFISH pre-landing checks. I was too high on final, and as a result landing was not possible, so we went ahead (mind the bird ahead).

Good start (!) (No).

Greg had to continue to prompt me about what I should be doing next. I need to start thinking about these actions as if Greg is not there.

Circuit two was better.

It seems that in all of my circuit sessions so far, the first circuit sets the stage. In the first circuit I demonstrate all of my skill deficits, and use up the rest of the circuits to try and fix as many as I can. The second circuit was better, and managed a decent touch-and-go. I even got a couple of "excellent" remarks from Greg!

Debriefing

I think I made some progress. I am becoming more confident with the radio calls, especially in the circuit. I see improvement across all operations.

However, I am incosistend. As I wrote earlier, I am slow. Altough I understand what I am doing (or should be doing) at a theory level, my execution is slow, and often too late. In the FlightRadar24 video, you can see that a couple of circuits were too wide especially in the crosswidn and base legs. The only reason for this was my slow reactions, as the wind was relatively calm.

Greg gave me this review:

Runway 06, wind variable 5 kts, Occasional tail wind 3 kts, vis > 10km, Cloud Sct 1500, Bkn 3000, Temp 20, QNH 1020 Time of flight 0845 local Peter is progressing however he needs to focus on the following items: 1) Use of trim - You must first set the attitude, let the airspeed settle, then trim. Do not trim prior to setting attitude and airspeed 2) Airspeed - Two ket speeds for Peter to remember, 75 kts on base and 70 kts on final. We use attitude to adjust airspeed and power to adjust rate of descent 3) Power - Power must be reduced when leveling off a climb via the ASPT method. Attitude, Speed, Power, Trim. You must allow time for the airspeed to settle once you change attitude. Remember to use trim to hold the attitude not to obtain the attitude. Peter is having trouble remembering, if too fast, then raise the nose, too slow then lower the nose. Power is not the answer, however some power adjustment may be required depending upon the situation. I have also notice Peters grip on the control column is like a "death grip". I encourage Peter to hold the controls lightly.

I need more circuits. Another session is coming up in a couple of hours. I'll have a sandwich and do some preparation.

Other learnings

Greg shared a Youtube series developed by Recreational Aviation Australia that covers the topic of Loss of Control. I started watching these videos, and realised that many of the pilot action that lead to loss of control are similar to the issues I described above. These videos are very impactful, and recommended watching for all pilots and students.

Here is the first episode:

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Shorter and narrated video.

Hour 10 Flightradar24 record.

Take off.

My first approach was too high, and did a go-around.

The second approach was better, and safe to land.

Smooth landing. Need to make these consistent.

Demonstrating the "death grip". Must relax a little.

Turning downwind.

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