Flight log

Hour 23: Right-hand circuits

This week the weather was rainy, windy, and stormy. I cancelled my lessons on Wednesday because the conditions were not near VFR minimums. On Thursday, the conditions are better. Although the weather was not good enough for my first solo, it was sufficiently good for another lesson. So, I took the opportunity to fly with Victor and practice right-hand circuits on runway 24, including power engine failure and flapless approaches with a bit of crosswind.

Full-length video for Hour 23. Right-hand circuits with Victor.

The weather has been unfriendly for VFR flights during the last few days. I decided to cancel my two booked lessons on Wednesday because conditions looked unsuitable for any VFR flight, let alone training or a potential first solo. You can see the predicted conditions just after 8 am on Wednesday, as reported on PlaneSight (see screenshot on the right). I took this screenshot at 5:15 am, looking at the available weather information to help me decide whether to go to Camden or reschedule.

In the TAF (see below), you can see that winds, rain and clouds, with a probability of 30% for thunderstorms, mean that today was not a good day to fly.

The TAF for the morning of Wednesday, 29 November. I'm not flying today.

Later that morning, I chatted with Greg, and we decided that Thursday's weather looked more promising. I booked a flight for 8 am. I was hoping that the weather would be good for a solo. If it weren't, I would do a lesson. Either way, I was flying on Thursday.

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Solo or not?

I arrived at Camden on Thursday morning, unsure exactly what would happen. I knew there was a good chance I would fly. But I wasn't sure whether I had a shot for a solo or if it would be another lesson. 

The problem was still the weather. The instructor cannot send me on my first solo if the weather exceeds the CASA-prescribed minimums. You can learn about the various rules about the first solo flight in paragraph 21.1.1 of Instructor Part 141 Flight Training Operations manual (see Word document on the CASA website). For a distilled version of these rules, please take a look below.

After a debate between Greg, Victor, and George, we decided that a solo would not be possible. I was still keen to do a regular lesson, especially considering that runway 24 was in operation. This would allow me to practice right-hand circuits for the second time. I would also practice flapless and glide approaches. Plus, I didn't want for an entire week to go past without a flight.

Minimum Weather Requirements for Student Pilot's First Solo Flight

For a student pilot to attempt their first solo flight in accordance with CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) regulations, specific minimum weather requirements must be met to ensure safety. These requirements are crucial to providing a safe environment for students as they gain practical flying experience. Here are the key weather conditions and factors that student pilots should consider:

1. Visibility:

  • The minimum visibility for a student pilot's first solo flight typically needs to be at least 5 statute miles (SM) for day operations.
  • Visibility of at least 3 SM is usually required for night operations.

2. Cloud Clearance:

  • Student pilots must maintain a certain distance from clouds to ensure visibility and safety.
  • For class G airspace, they are generally required to maintain at least 1,000 feet above the clouds, 500 feet below the clouds, and 2,000 feet horizontally from the clouds.

3. Ceiling Height:

  • The minimum ceiling height, the lowest overcast or broken cloud layer, should be no lower than 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL) for day operations.
  • Night operations often require a higher ceiling of at least 1,500 feet AGL.

4. Wind Conditions:

  • Winds should be within manageable limits for the student pilot. Strong, gusty winds can make the first solo flight more challenging and potentially unsafe.
  • CASA regulations usually specify maximum crosswind components that student pilots can safely handle.

5. Turbulence:

  • Excessive turbulence can make flying difficult, especially for student pilots.
  • Student pilots should avoid flying in areas with known turbulence or severe weather conditions.

6. Weather Briefing:

  • Before every flight, student pilots should receive a thorough weather briefing from a certified flight instructor or a meteorologist.
  • This briefing should include information on current weather conditions, forecasts, and any relevant weather hazards.

It's important to note that these weather requirements may vary based on specific flight schools, training programs, and regional regulations. Student pilots should always consult with their flight instructors and adhere to the flight school's and CASA's guidance to ensure a safe first solo flight. Safety is a top priority in aviation, and compliance with weather minimums is essential for the well-being of student pilots and others in the airspace.

Weather 

Here's what BOM shows for the day:

No complaints about the weather on the 18th.

For this flight, ATIS reported this:

Information Delta: Instrument approach, Runway 24, Wind variable 5 kt, occasional tailwind 3 kt, visibility greater than 10 Km, cloud scattered 1600 ft, 23°C, QNH 1002. 

While I was doing the runup checklist, we received a new ATIS report:

Information Echo: Instrument approach, Runway 24, Wind 250° 14 kt, cloud scattered 2500 ft, 25°C, QNH 1002. 

Although clouds had lifted by almost 1000 ft, winds had become much stronger. Victor asked me if I still wanted to go ahead with the lesson. I did, so I continued the runup check and prepared for takeoff.

The flight

In today's flight, I was able to fit eight circuits. The first two were regular approaches. I did a flapless approach in Circuit 3, a go-around, and a couple of glide approaches. I could do all the types of approaches that the flight instructor would evaluate before deciding whether I was sufficiently competent to attempt my first solo.

Today's flight was my second session using runway 24. I felt comfortable with it. The takeoff was easy, and I kept the plane on the extended centerline while climbing. I was mindful of the stronger-than-usual wind from 250° but didn't notice any difficulty keeping my head. 

Positioning

After my last flight with Victor, I wanted to use the runway threshold's position against the plane to help me decide when to turn downwind and base. I practised this technique and noticed that:

1. My turns from crosswind to downwind were generally consistent. Any variation had more to do with when I turn crosswind. I turn crosswind after climbing past 800 ft, which can happen at different points in the upwind leg.

2. My turns have varying radii (especially those from crosswind to downwind and downwind to base). Some are more "tight" than others. This tends to make some circuits wide.

3. My turns from downwind to base are generally late, as you can see in the FlightRadar24 recording. 

In the FlightRadar24 recording, the approach in circuits 3 and 6 is obviously closer to the runway than the rest because these were glide approaches. I could not reach the runway in circuit 3 because I delayed the turn towards the runway. The correct procedure in an engine failure at downwind is to commence the turn to the runway immediately. I delayed the turn for a few seconds, which made it impossible to make the runway. In Circuit 6, however, I managed the glide approach better and reached the runway. In the end, I used power to avoid a touchdown before the depressed threshold on runway 24.

Power on final

In previous lessons, I would fly most of the final leg with power on idle. Today, I used considerable power to keep the plan on the extended centerline. The culprit? The almost 14kt wind blowing from 250°. I used around 1500 RPM to get the plane safely over the threshold at the correct speed. 

Speed

In my first two circuits, during the late final, I allowed the speed to drop very low, almost 50 kt. Remember, before touchdown, speed should be 60 kt. This speed differential is important because it brings the plane closer to its stall speed (~ 45 kt). I must be very careful with speed, especially at that critical moment (final and landing) in a flight. Allowing such a low airspeed reduces the margin of safety. As Victor explained, if a tailwind gust blows at the moment, it only takes 10 kt to cause a stall, and the plan would fall like a brick. You can listen to the conversation at 58 minutes in the video.

(Almost) tail strike

On the last landing, I almost hit the tail on the runway. In the last circuit, I did a glide approach. Because of the strong headwind, I decided not to use flaps. This was another "first". In all previous glide approaches, I had deployed flaps once I was confident I could reach the runway. In this approach, I didn't because of the strong headwind. I think this approach was well done.

However, I raised the plane's nose too much just before the touchdown. A little more and the tail would have hit the runway. You can see this in the video at 00:56:53, where the horizon is momentarily blocked by the dashboard. I was lucky with this one. This is yet another example of how quickly things can change. An otherwise good approach and landing can morph into a nasty accident in the space of a second. 

I wish I had an external video recording to see how close to a tail strike I was.

Hour 23 instructor review

Here is Victor's review (Hour 23):

Great circuits and general handling. - Unable to go solo due to unforecasted fast changing conditions and struggling with landing due to it. (crosswind greater than 8 kts)

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Flight review for Hour 23.

Flight path from Flightradar24 for Hour 23.

PlaneSight shows IFR conditions at 8am for Camden. 

Strong 14 kt wind, almost all of it headwind.

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