Flight log

Hour 21: Right-hand circuits and Runway 24

On this flight, I used runway 24 for the first time. This runway uses a right-hand circuit instead of the standard left circuit in Camden. This flight might lead to my first solo if my instructor, Victor, is satisfied that I can fly it safely. Aside from the new runway and circuit direction on this flight, I also experienced some unusual instructions from ATC.

Full-length video for Hour 21. For the first time, I captured video door to door.

Since Hours 18 and 19, any flight could morph into a solo flight. Whether my flight instructor would endorse me for the solo would depend on my performance at the start of the lesson and the conditions. Today's flight was very likely to be The One. I felt good, with only a mild feeling of anxious anticipation. I had checked the weather forecast the night before, and it looked OK. I didn't get too hyped about the weather because it can change quickly.

One notable detail in the weather forecast was that the wind was expected to come from the south. I would need to use runway 24, which I have never done before.  This is not necessarily a show-stopper, but it would require me to learn how to do right-hand circuits and approach runway 24 using roughly the same landmarks but from a different point of view.

In today's flight, Victor was also my flight instructor. Victor, like Davide, is a full-time instructor at Altocap and is qualified to endorse me for the first solo.

I was eager to start this flight because of the new runway and the potential solo.

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Right-Hand and Left-Hand Circuits

As you know from my previous posts, a circuit in aviation refers to the standard flight path followed by aircraft when taking off or landing at an airport. It includes several legs: crosswind, downwind, base, and final approach, typically performed in a rectangular pattern around the runway.

The default pattern is where all turns are made to the left. This is the standard training and operational pattern in aviation and is preferred due to better pilot visibility for the turns and monitoring, as pilots usually sit on the left side.

Right-hand circuits are implemented when specific conditions at an airport require right turns. These conditions may include geographical features, noise abatement procedures, or air traffic control instructions. Right-hand circuits demand heightened pilot awareness due to their less common nature. They are explicitly indicated in airport documentation and require specific training.

The primary difference between the two circuit patterns lies in the direction of turns during the circuit. Left-hand circuits are more common and familiar to pilots, offering better visibility and being the default in training. Right-hand circuits are used in special scenarios like geographical constraints or noise abatement strategies. Pilots are trained in both patterns for adaptability and safety in various operational environments.


Here's what BOM shows for the day:

No complaints about the weather on the 18th.

For this flight, ATIS reported this:

Information Bravo, Runway 24, wind 210° 6 kt, visibility more than 10 Km, clouds scattered 2900 ft, QNH 1021, 25°C.

The flight

This flight would start as a normal training flight for circuits. I would practice regular, flapless, and glide approaches. Victor would also simulate engine failures a few times to give me the opportunity to scramble for glide speed and to select a landing site.

My first contact with Ground was rather unusual. Even though I requested clearance for start and taxi, I only got clearance to start. Ground just said, "Start approved". I had to start the engine, roll to the taxiway and make a new call to ask permission to taxi. 

When I made the call to request clearance for taxi, I got another unusual (at least for me) instruction, granting me permission to taxi and then reporting at the run-up bay when ready. In all my previous flights, I had received permission to taxi up to a holding point.

No worries. It's only been a few minutes, while still on the ground, and I had already learned a lot of new radio phrases.

Another new experience was a helicopter hovering near the runup bay I was taxing to. Because of the downwash from the helicopter's rotor, small planes should stay well clear. So, we briefly stopped in the taxiway to wait for the helicopter to move and then continued to the runup bay.

I did the relevant checks at the runup bay and then made yet another call to Ground to let him know I was ready. I made the call, but there was no response. There was no radio chatter. Maybe the controller had gone on a break? I re-transmitted and got a response (in fast-forward mode) clearing me for runway 24, holding point echo.

We're good to go!

After the taxi to the holding point and clearance for circuits from Tower, we took off for the first normal circuit and had an opportunity to acquaint myself with turning right and keeping my position in check.

My various routines (like doing the lookout, turning, etc) were OK. There was a bit of gust. During my turn to downwind, my altitude reached 1500 ft as I was busy looking out the window for landmarks and assessing my position. At the end of the turn, I was back at 1300 ft. I'm unsure if I realised how much altitude I had gained or if the plane naturally descended due to the bank during the turn.

The first downwind call and BUMFISH checks (and those that followed) were good. However, my first three circuits were wide (I improved this towards the end), and in the first circuit, the heading was off slightly to the left.

The threshold on runway 24 is depressed by around 100 meters. This means I had to aim to touch down further into the runway compared to runway 06. The first landing was okay, except I needed to hold the nose up by holding the control column back to keep the plane's weight off the front wheel.

I made a better normal approach in the second circuit (except that I was still wide and, at one point, too low).

Circuit 3 was flapless. The approach was bumpy, but the extra 5 kt of airspeed helped with control. The landing was good, with a longer float over the runway compared to the normal approach.

Circuit 4 was an engine failure simulation. Victor set the power to idle, and I quickly set the plane to the best glide speed (68 kt). I started to turn towards the runway but extended the 10° flap too early. If this were an emergency, I would still have made it to the runway, but only at the beginning of the paved part, not 1/3 into the runway as the goal dictates. I actually had to use power to get the plane over the piano keys.

Victor caused another engine failure emergency on upwind.

The last circuit (5) was a normal approach. There was one "glitch": we only got approval to land just a second before the wheels touched down. Having clearance to land is one of the items on the landing checklist that I should always go through on the final leg.


So, what did I learn from this flight?

Even though I wasn't able to do my first solo, I enjoyed practising right-hand circuits and using a different runway. This was an opportunity to understand that landmarks were not the only way to determine my position in the circuit and help with spacing. Victor succinctly explained that I would not benefit from referring to landmarks when operating at an airport I have never operated on before. Instead, I'll have to use the runway and specific structures on the plane to help me with spacing.

I also experienced several new and unique radio calls.

Using the wing struts for spacing assessment

On the Cessna 172, the struts that secure the wings to the fuselage is a common part of the plane that pilots use to determine their position against the runway. Victor explain that this is another skill I'll have to practice, however I can do this after the first solo as to not have to spent time working on new skills at this important junction in my training (which requires focus on basic skills to allow me to complete a safe solo flight).

Being curious, I did some research on the topic of spacing in the circuit using the runway and the aircraft structure only, and this is what I found:

When flying a Cessna 172, the wing struts can be used as visual references to determine your position relative to the runway during different phases of the circuit. Here's how:

On upwind (right after takeoff), look back through the window and determine if the plan is still flying on the extended runway centerline. If no, adjust the heading to get back on the runway centerline. You can turn to the crosswind leg once you have climbed to over 500 ft AMSL. At Camden, I make this turn once I'm over 800 feet.

On crosswind, keep climbing as required. In the Cessna 172, I usual reach circuit altitude of 1300 ft towards the end of the crosswind leg, though a couple of times I had to continue the climb in downwind. Look out the left windows to see where the runway is, and keep heading so that the plane continues to fly perpendicular to the runway. Once the plane is approximately 45° against the runway upwind threshold (i.e. the "piano" bars at the upwind end of the runway), start the left turn into the downwind leg.

On downwind, continue the turn until the plane's heading is parallel to the runway. You have correct spacing once the runway appears halfway up the strut or just below it. Ensure that your altitude is still correct (i.e. 1000 ft ASML or 1300 ft at Camden). 

Turn into the base leg when you have reached 45° from the threshold.

Keep an eye on the threshold and start the turn into the final leg so that when you reach the end of the turn, the plane will have intercepted the runway's extended centerline.

Notice that in the instructions here, I did not make any references to any ground landmarks other than the runway.

Hour 21 instructor review

Here is Victor's review (Hour 21):

Overall good general handling. - Weather conditions discussed before hand were not conducive of a good environment for solo flight. - Wind and turbulence made it hard to maintain altitude on downwind and for your glide to the runway from downwind.

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Hour 21 flight review.

Flight path from Flightradar24 for Hour 21.

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