Monday, December 10, 2007

Day three – Circuits

Today I am judged ready for circuits. This is the circuit-bashing I had thought would be the main part of my solo in a week training. However, I have been lucky with the weather and had good thermals almost every flight. Taupo Club has a $15 circuit rate if you bung off in time (ie for a normal circuit). The Club field is 1,550 ASL, so entering the circuit is usually done at 2,500 feet or so. On downwind you call Centennial traffic and announce your intentions (ie Papa Whiskey downwind right hand for zero-six), perform landing checks (straps secure, undercarriage down and locked, flaps set, brakes, a quick cracking open – club members told a story about a pilot who taped up his brakes so rain wouldn’t get in on the ground, then took a flight without a DI, or cockpit checks. Accordingly, he only realised he couldn’t open his brakes when he was on final and really needed them. His was a high performance glider, so he couldn’t easily wash off speed. He sideslipped to slow and ended up ground looping), then check wind direction and speed using the windsocks and turn onto base and final, adjusting brakes as required. Most of my circuits today involved full brakes from base to final, attempting to maintain 55 knots and then half brakes for the landing (full brakes are applied on the ground). This gives you some options in hand – if too high, you can apply more brake to increase your rate of descent, if too low, you can close brakes to reduce rate of descent.

Gliders approach quite steeply, so the first few landings can be disconcerting and everything seems to happen very fast. Today things started to happen slower for me.

At the start of the day I did my first daily inspection (DI) on the aircraft I’d be flying today – Papa Whiskey, the PW-6. I also washed it and the Twin Astir, Mike Echo.

Washing a glider lets you have a really close look at it and you notice the small chips and scratches, the discolorations etc.

After some classroom revision and checking through my A Cert syllabus, we start the circuit bashing. My first two are with Gordon. We started out with a fairly high release to land on 06 – there was little wind, but later a westerly started up so operations were relocated to the far end of the field and off runway 22. My aerotow was much better. I was more relaxed and I was better able to anticipate the tow plane and follow it. Soon after release we found a blue thermal (very blue day today – no clouds to speak of, but it was warm, so there were thermals off ploughed fields and the like) and climbed to about 3350 feet. When the first one ran out I looked for another one in a likely place and found one.

After a couple of stalls, we went into the circuit, with full brakes turning from base to final. Tried to keep to 55, but a slight tailwind had come up, so speed was a little higher at 60 to 65 knots. Landing was okay, but I still don’t clearly understand what I’m doing in the approach – the relationship between height, rate of descent and aiming point. But I suppose this will come with practice.

We followed this with a shorter circuit with a relatively low “bung-off”, then into the circuit, full brakes and half brakes. My control was better, though with a slight balloon at landing – at least I didn’t instinctively slam it down onto the runway.

Next Tom A took me for a few circuits now an alternative tow pilot had turned up (neither the rostered tow pilot not the instructor had turned up). On my first circuit we found some lift after release and did a few turns. He taught me an important thing – applying a little opposite rudder in turns when thermalling, rather than holding on normal rudder towards the turn. This brings the yaw string over to the upper side.

After a little thermalling, we joined the circuit and I had an okay landing – a bit heavy, but I controlled the brakes on the approach to 22.

An immediate second circuit, with me in control and Tom talking when he has to. There is a strongish sidewind by now, so Tom gets me sideslipping. Managing the brake is a bit tricky, and I’m faster at 60 knots than I want to be, but I round-out nicely, a slight bounce on landing and a good rollout. Tom says, another three or so circuits like that and I’ll be ready to solo. However, it will be up to me.

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