Monthly Archives: October 2013

Lesson 7 – circuits

After a couple of cancelled lessons, followed by a week on holiday, it had been a while since my last lesson. Too long! The weather forecast was for light cloud and plenty of wind, which isn’t exactly what you’d hope for. Luckily enough, although the weather wasn’t great, it was good enough for circuits, so I headed to the airport and had the pre-flight brief.

The standard circuit direction is left hand, meaning you’d take off, turn to the left, left again, fly parallel with the runway before turning left and left on to final approach:

standard left hand circuit

The active runway today was 22, with a right-hand circuit, so we’d be doing the opposite. Right hand circuits are harder than left-hand, primarily because as the pilot (in the left hand seat) has a restricted view whilst turning right (you are up high). Surface wind was fairly strong, coming from 210degrees at 18knots, gusting higher.

Whilst talking about the wind, I was introduced to the max drift calculation. When flying with wind, unless the wind is directly behind or ahead of you, it will be blowing you off-course. Without correction, the stronger the wind blows, the more off-course you’ll be from your desired heading.  The maximum drift correction calculation enables you (unsurprisingly!) calculate the maximum angle you’ll drift, given your air speed and wind speed. To calculate:

max drift = (60 / air speed) * wind speed

For example, if we were cruising at 90kts, with a wind speed of 21:

max drift = 60/90 * 21 = 14 degrees

Maximum drift applies if the wind is blowing at 90 degrees to the plane (eg if it is blowing at you directly sideways). We know that if the wind is blowing head-on (or directly from behind), no correction is required. Therefore we need a way to calculate the correct drift correction amount (which could vary between 0 and the max drift) for when the wind is between 0 and 90 degrees to the plane.

There are various ways to calculate this, although for me I think the easiest will be using the clock rule:

Max Drift Correction Clock Code
15º = quarter past therefore ¼ the drift
30º = half past therefore half the drift
45º = quarter to, therefore ¾ the drift
60º or more –  apply all the drift


When on final approach, the standard approach is 3º. To roughly calculate the descent speed required for a 3º approach, we can use:

ft/min descent = 5 x ground speed in knots

So, if we are on final approach at a ground speed of 50 knots, we’d need to descend at 5 x 50 = 250 ft/min to be on a 3º glidepath.

Note that this is ground speed – not airspeed!

Another thing I learnt today is that airfield windsocks are typically calibrated to show wind speed, as well as direction. When fully extended (eg blowing 90º parallel to the ground) the speed is at or above 25 knots. You can therefore approximate the speed if it’s between 0 and 25 by looking at the angle to the ground.

For my first lesson of circuits, I’d be concentrating on flying the aircraft. My instructor would handle the radio and the checklists.

After the pre-flight briefing, we went out to the hangar and performed the usual pre-flight inspections. Everything ok, so we taxyed out and got up in the air.  It was very bumpy up there with the wind, and it was fairly hard keeping straight and level. My first circuit was pretty wonky to say the least, but it did seem to improve with each touch and go.

After 6, I was pretty exhausted so we decided to call it a day. A lot happens in a very short space of time (it’s about 5 – 7 minutes per circuit) so it can be quite stressful! I was lucky I didn’t have to worry about the radio and checklists this lesson – no doubt that will be even more difficult when I’m ready to try that.

My other instructor is off work with a bad back (ouch!) so my next few lessons have been cancelled. Weather-depending, my next lesson will be a week today and we’ll either be doing more circuits or stalling part 2.

Unfortunately, the GoPro decided to stop recording before we’d taken off, so I didn’t capture any video from this lesson. However, I did capture our flight using the GPS in my iPhone, so here are my first circuits:

Using my iPhone GPS to record flight data

Another spot of geeking-out. After seeing a couple student pilot blogs with embedded maps of their flights (like this one), I wanted-in on the action. After some searching around, these maps have been created by SpiderTracks – a piece of hardware that provides live flight tracking facilities. At over £1000, I wasn’t exactly ready to hand over my cash, so I’ve been looking at cheaper solutions.

After lots of searching and thinking, I decided to try using my iPhone (with built-in GPS) and an app called MotionX-GPS, a £1.99 iPhone app with track recording features. I already had the app and had been using it for recording my hiking and walking in the hills, so I was familiar with how it worked and the accuracy had always been good, even when walking through dense forests without a clear line of sight to the GPS gods in the sky.

So, last lesson (lesson 6) I opened up MotionX-GPS and started recording my track as I got in to the plane. Lesson over, I pressed the stop button and saved my track to a GPX file. When I got home, I was able to import the GPX file in to Google Earth, which gives a pretty swanky visualisation of my route:

GPS route of Lesson 6
GPS route of Lesson 6

Google Earth even has a fancy ‘Play Tour’ option, which uses the timing data from the GPS file to recreate and play-back the entire flight in real-time (or speeded-up) using the usual 3D Google Earth style view.  Finally, it also has a ‘Show Elevation & Speed Profile’ option, which generates this pretty cool interactive graph:

Speed and elevation profile from lesson 6


I’ve always been a data fan (my inner geek calling!) but I think this will be particularly useful during later lessons when practicing the circuit, and then reviewing my cross-country routes…

Filming longer with the GoPro – Anker battery pack

I’ve been pleased with the quality of the GoPro and have been replaying my lessons at home to revise what I’ve learnt in the air (and to identify any mistakes or things to do better next time). My biggest disapointment has been the battery only lasts around 1 hour 10 minutes fully charged, which isn’t enough time to capture the entire lesson.

To improve this, I looked around at various power options. Here’s what I considered:

  • Extra GoPro rechargeable batteries – at only £20, one of the cheapest options. However it involves physically swapping the batteries over, something which I don’t want to be distracted with mid-flight.
  • GoPro BacPac – at £50, this pricey option connects directly to the back of the GoPro and provides another battery (without needing to swap anything over). The website doesn’t say how much extra time/power this provides. I didn’t choose this option because when attached to the GoPro the GoPro is too big to fit within the cover, meaning I’d need to also buy new mounting kit.
  • Veho pebble 5000mAh portable battery’ – inspired by the setup used by the excellent GoProFlying, I was tempted to buy this £30 external USB battery pack. It provides nearly 5 times more power than the built-in GoPro battery, so should keep filming for around 6 hours. I decided against this option in the end because of its size and weight. I’m currently mounting my GoPro using the suction cup mount, and this would need to be fixed somewhere nearby – complicating the mounting setup.
  • Anker Astro Mini 3000mAh Ultra-Compact Portable Lipstick-Sized External Battery Charger – I picked this up for only £10 from Amazon. I settled on this solution because of it’s tiny size and light weight. It’s slightly larger than a lipstick and is light enough to leave connected & dangling without danger of it pulling down the suction cup mount.

So far, so good. I filmed two lessons in a row and the GoPro was still fully charged, and the Anker still had charge left. It was fine dangling from the GoPro and didn’t cause any problems with the suction cup mount.

Here’s a snapshot of the installed setup:

GoPro Hero3 mounted inside Piper Warrior using the suction cup mount

The Anker is dangling down out of sight – you can see the USB cable. The other cable dangling down is the audio connector going in to the plane’s rear headphone socket.

Here’s a pic of the Anker at home alongside the GoPro, to give you a sense of scale:

GoPro and Anker Astro Mini battery pack

Lesson 6 – slow flight, and stalling part one

I’d booked a double-lesson slot, so I just about had time for a quick drink after lesson 5 and then we went straight in to the pre-brief for lesson 6.

The first part of the lesson will be about slow flight. It’s not designed to encourage slow flight, but rather make you aware of symptoms of flight at critically low airspeeds, and being able to control the aircraft safely at a slow airspeed whilst accelerating to faster airspeed (such as when recovering from an unintentional loss of airspeed).

Before attempting the flying exercise, I had to learn (another!) acronym, which we’ll use as a checklist in the air – HASELL:

  • Height – we must be sufficiently high enough to recover by at least 3000ft AGL
  • Airframe – trim and flaps as required, brakes off
  • Security – seat belts secure, no loose items
  • Engine – temperatures and pressures, mixture rich, carb heat hot, fuel pump on
  • Location – clear of airspace, built-up areas, cloud, danger areas
  • Lookout – turn to check area is clear (especially below), do a 360 or two x 180 turns

After the first HASELL checks, subsequent checks can be reduced to HELL.

The intro to the stalling exercise in my learning to fly book has this great quote:

A well-known aviation writer was once asked what he considered the three most important factors in flight safety. He replied “Airspeed, airspeed and airspeed”; and he’s got a point.

The standard stall recovery is to lower the nose and apply full power. If one wing drops, do not attempt to use the ailerons to level the wings – this will make things worse. Use opposite rudder whilst keeping the control column centralised.

You don’t even need to use power to recover from a stall – pushing the nose forward is enough. However, power can be used to accelerate the recovery and reduce height loss. Power should always be a secondary measure (to lowering the nose).

I’ll be doing some more radio in this flight too.

So, pre-flight briefing complete, it’s back out to the apron and in to the plane, and another round of checks.

Startup checks complete, and it was time to make my first ever radio call to request taxi. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on RTF (radio telephony) in preparation so I was clear in my head what needed to be said:

“Gloucester Tower, Aeros 52 at Apron with Information Hotel, QNH 1020 request taxi”

I waited for a suitable gap in the radio, pressed transmit and made my transmission – saying everything correct except the QNH. In the heat of the moment, for some reason I said “Q-N-H ten-twenty”. What I should have said (and I do know this from all the revision I’ve been doing) is “Q-N-H one-zero-two-zero” but I got it wrong. Luckily they understood what I meant and the response clarified I had the correct QNH by saying “Aeros 52, Gloucester Tower, QNH one zero two zero, taxy alpha one”.  Ten twenty – it’s as if I was telling the time. What an idiot!

After taxying to near the holding point, we did our pre-take off vital actions and power checks. Everything good, so I was back on the radio saying “Aeros five two, alpha one, ready for departure”. Soon after that, we were cleared to take-off, we were on the runaway and I was pulling back on the yoke.

I forgot to switch on the GoPro until mid-flight, but from memory we did our HASEL checks, several exercises at slow speed (remembering to turn with a very small angle of bank – 10 degrees or so, we don’t want to stall!) and then moved on to the stall exercises after doing a FREDA check. 

We experienced quite a lot of turbulence around the Malverns, making for a rather bumpy and unpleasant flight until we turned away and in to some better space. This was a fairly short lesson so after the instructor was happy that I’d done everything correctly, we headed back towards the airfield and joined the circuit on right base. I turned to final, set full flaps and altered attitude to maintain 65kts, using power to control the descent. I was too low this time – four reds on the PAPI – so increased power to correct things. Height corrected, the wind was blowing (12 kts) which made for a trickier landing than any I’ve done before. I was ok down to about 50 feet then the instructor took over as I had lost a bit of airspeed – I think the wind was distracting me (or causing some effect I have not yet learnt about!?).

Flying over GCHQ before turning on to final approach for runway 27
Flying over GCHQ (donut shaped building, bottom right of the windscreen) before turning on to final approach for runway 27

Back safely on the ground, we taxyed to the fuel pumps, refuelled and had a quick de-brief. The instructor was happy with my performance in the exercises but reminded me again to keep my hand on the throttle during take-off. Must really try not to make this mistake again next time.

Next lesson will be stalling part two, then we’ll be moving on to circuits!

Lesson 5 – turning

I thought it was a little weird to be learning turning in lesson 5, as we had already been turning in previous lessons. This lesson is more of a revision lesson to cover everything that we’ve learnt so far, so it covers climbing, descending and turning – including turning whilst climbing and turning whilst descending.

I arrived a little early for my lesson, so I made a coffee (or, more accurately, Alice, the wonderful office manager) made one for me, and I had a chat with a chap called Adam who was in on work experience whilst studying for his GCSEs. He wanted to be a commercial pilot so was really keen to discover what goes on in flight training. He asked if he could sit in the back seat for my lesson, which I had no problem with – so he was happy.

This was my first lesson with a different instructor. My regular instructor up until now only works on Saturdays, and today’s lesson was mid-week. I was a bit apprehensive after getting on so well with my instructor and worried about potentially re-covering old ground but I needn’t have worried. In my learners file, my instructor had left good notes about what we had covered so far, and what he suggested should be next.

In the pre-flight briefing, I learnt that when turning straight and level, it’s normal to use 30 degrees angle of bank. It’s also ok (and expected) to use 30 degrees of bank in descending turns, except when turning on to final, which should be limited to 20 because of the slower airspeed and increase stall speed (more about that later).

Climbing turns should be limited to 15 degrees of bank to maintain airspeed.

Before starting a turn, it’s critical to have a good lookout. This involves looking across the full 180 degrees, starting from behind your shoulder on the opposite side to where you’re turning, across to end up looking at where you’ll be turning in to. If it’s all clear, start the turn.

Whilst in a climbing or descending turn, just like when climbing or descending when straight, it’s important to DABLE every 500ft.

I taxyed from the apron to the holding point, then ran through the pre-flight checklist. I missed the fuel pump check (it needs to go on) – exactly the same mistake I’d made last lesson. I must make a mental note to double-check this from now on! I also made the mistake of braking whilst power was on. Just like we don’t brake with our foot on the accelerator in a car, we should always reduce power to idle before using the brake. I’d not picked up on this in previous lessons, so I’ve noted it ready for next time.

I made the ‘ready for departure’ radio call, and we received clearance to take-off.

Then we ran through the ‘on runway’ part of the checklist, which is something the instructor had been doing for me up until now. There are four elements in this list:

  • Anti-collision lights – on
  • Transponder – set to ALT
  • Pitot heat – as required (from what I can remember reading, pitot heat is used to prevent icing of the pitot tube, which is used to measure air speed. Only needed if it’s cold outside)
  • Landing light – on

Checks done, and it’s time to take-off. We rotated at 60, climbed at 80 and then (because we were on runway 27) turned to the right for noise abatement. Up until now, I’d been turning right using the specified heading (of 280 degrees) but hadn’t been able to look down below to see what we’re avoiding. So we took this opportunity for the instructor to take control, giving me a chance to have a look down. There’s a housing estate to the left, and a village to the right. By turning this way, we avoid flying over either, and hopefully do our bit to keeping the neighbours happy. My instructor reminded me that noise abatement procedures aren’t something you legally have to follow – so if in an emergency situation we needed to head in that direction then that would be ok – but obviously normally it’s good airmanship to take obey them. Here’s a grab from the GoPro showing the housing estate on the left, and the village church on the right. Notice how we’re avoiding them both:

Photo from inside the cockpit after departing runway 27 and turning for noise abatement at Gloucester.

I also learnt that I should keep my right hand on the  throttle until we reach at least 300ft AGL. I have a tendency to put both hands on the yoke as soon as we’ve rotated, which is a bad habit I need to get out of. It’s important to keep one hand on the throttle incase it accidentally slips back (it could be loose) as a quick reaction would be necessary to re-apply full power to prevent a nasty ending.

After a couple of level turns, I did a couple of climbing and descending turns. Nothing too different from when when I’d turned in previous lessons, although I was trying to improve my lookout technique, which did seem to improve.

We’d now been up in the air around 15 minutes and so I did a  FREDA check, which first came up in lesson 2. I learnt that I’d been missing a couple of checks, specifically:

  • Fuel – is the fuel pump on? should it be? (Above 1000 ft, it can normally be off. When switching it off, check that fuel pressure is maintained. If it goes down, switch it back on. Switch fuel pump on before changing tank & off after changing – checking pressure is maintained.)
  • Engine – carb heat check – turn to hot for around 10 seconds, check the drop in rpm and make sure it returns to normal after switching it back to cold.

We should always do a FREDA check at the top of a climb, and every 15 minutes or so. My instructor recommended switching fuel tank every 30 minutes.

After practicing some more turns, the instructor demonstrated a stall in preparation for next lesson. A lot of people dread the word ‘stall’ and fear can strike upon hearing it. The purpose of the demonstration was to show that stalling doesn’t feel like some torturous experience and can be recovered from relatively easily. Sure enough, as we airspeed decreased and edged towards 50kts, the stall warning alarm sounded. Normally that would be the sign to prevent the stall, but for the purposes of this demonstration we continued to lose airspeed and went in to a stall. We recovered and noted that we’d lost about 200ft altitude in the stall. It didn’t feel that bad – it certainly wasn’t anything like being on the Tower of Terror at Disney!

Finally, we headed back towards the airfield and requested a standard overhead join, a first for me as up previous joins have been direct on to final approach. I’ve been reading up on circuits and rejoining the circuit and had the theory in my head, but was keen to see it in practice.

When joining the circuit with a standard overhead join, you fly towards the airfield at 1000ft above circuit level (standard circuit level, and at Gloucester, is 1000ft, so fly at 2000ft AGL) looking for the active runway. A right-hand circuit was in operation, so I had to keep the airfield on my right at all times. My instructor said something which I found really helpful – imagine the airfield is a roundabout (if you were in a car), and you need to go around it looking for your exit – the active runway. So that’s what I did, I found runway 27, flew over the ’27’ numbers and entered the dead side. Whilst on the deadside, we need to descend down to circuit height at the end of the dead side leg, ready to turn crosswind. I used 1500rpm and a fairly wide arc to turn us, flying over the ’09’ numbers at the other end of the runway at 1000ft. At 1000ft, I increased power back to the cruise setting of 2350, flying at 95kts. After flying straight for a bit, I made a 90 degree turn (level, so 30 degrees of bank) and flew downwind – parallel to the runway.

When turning in the circuit, it really helps to use outside references for turning so that we can focus on lookout and flying the plane rather than spending too much time looking at the direction indicator. Circuits can be very busy and demand total attention and concentration. I then turned (level, with 30 degrees of bank) on to base leg and as soon as the wings were level, checked we’re below Vfe (max flap speed) and selected 2 stages of flap (25 degrees), adjusting attitude for 75kts.

As you approach being 90degrees to the runway, turn on to final remembering to use a maximum 20 degrees of bank (because of flaps and the lower airspeed) then select full flap and adjust attitude for 65kts.

Another acronym: TCP checks:

  • Toes – clear of the brake pedals
  • Carb heat – cold
  • Permission – do we have permission to land?

The landing went well – really smooth in fact – the instructor said “I didn’t even notice we touched the ground”.  Beginners luck? We’ll see. After landing, we had permission to backtrack (turn around and go back up the runway to vacate it), which the instructor did whilst I got my checklist and prepared for the after landing checks. So many checks!

Something I’ve tripped up with a couple of times now is the confusing terminology around flaps. In the closing down checklist, it says Flaps Up. In the Warrior, flaps are controlled using a lever that’s a bit like a handbrake in a car. When the lever is up, the flaps are down (eg. extended). When the lever is down and touching the floor, flaps are up. Flaps Up in the checklist sense means make sure the flaps are up and the lever is down – which makes sense when you think about why we are doing this as a post-landing check. However, for the second time I read “flaps up”, saw the lever was up and said “flaps are up”, before being corrected by my instructor. Silly mistake to make and something else to watch out for in future flights. In my day job, I spend a lot of time talking about usability (of websites) and a big part of that is about designing-away ambiguity. I get the impression that User Centred Design wasn’t a big part of the Piper Warrior design process back in 1970.

Here’s a video clip of me doing the landing, starting from the overhead join:

Next lesson (I’d booked a double lesson, so next lesson starts almost immediately) is slow flight & stalling part one.

Lesson 4 – climbing and descending part two

Following on from last week’s lesson, this time we’re looking at climbing and descending in various configurations of power and flap.

For climbing part two, in the pre-flight briefing we talked about the best angle of climb. Note the difference between best rate of climb (from part one) and this new concept of best angle. As you’ll remember from last lesson, the best rate of climb will get you to the highest altitude in the shortest amount of time. The best angle of climb will get you to the highest altitude in the shortest ground distance.

I’ve tried to draw two climb profiles to represent the difference:

Graph showing altitude and ground distance at Vx best angle of climb, Vy best rate of climb, and cruise climb

In the Warrior, the best angle of climb is achieved when climbing at 65kts. When would it be useful to use the best angle of climb, I hear you ask. It’s useful if you have a short runway with an obstruction at end of – maybe some tall trees or electricity pylon. In this instance, you want to gain as much height as possible whilst travelling the least horizontal distance, so that you can clear the obstacle. Once you’re at a safe height, you’d then pitch the nose down to the best rate of climb attitude (or a cruise climb, at around 90kts if you’re happy to climb slowly).

For descending part two, we talked about the effect of flaps. Flaps can help to increase lift, but can also increase drag. This means that you can use flaps to increase your rate of descent. We drew up a table for logging the effects of flap, power, and flap & power, then went out the plane. I performed my first A-check (it was the first flight of the day) and worked my way through the checklist. All went well (once I had found where everything was!).

We pretended the take-off was on a shortfield, and therefore climbed at 65 (the best angle of climb) until we reached around 300ft which was well clear of any obstacles. Everything went as expected, although looking down at the runway it looked longer and thinner than normal – because of the higher nose attitude.

We then measured the effect of descending in various configurations. Here’s the data I logged:

Effect of descending with power (at 75kts)

Power Ft/min
idle -550
+200rpm -450
+200rpm -400
+200rpm -300
+200rpm +100

Effect of descending with flap (at 75kts)

Flap Ft/min
Clean -550
10 degrees -650
25 degrees -750
40 degrees -950

We then experimented using power and flaps for descent. To achieve an airspeed of 75kts and a descent of 500ft/min with 25 degrees of flap, 1500rpm of power was required. Obviously the required power setting will vary depending on the plane, the weight of the passengers, fuel etc but the point of this was to get used to the standard landing profile.

One of the most important things to come from all of this is to remember:

  • Attitude controls  speed
  • Power controls descent

We then headed back to the airfield and I used my new knowledge to fly the final approach down to the runway. Runway 27 at Gloucester has PAPI lights (more info below), which show you whether you are too high or too low. This made judging the correct ‘picture’ of the airfield easier for me, although I mustn’t get used to relying on it as many runways don’t have visual indicators. I actually found judging the right descent profile to be fairly instinctive – perhaps from the many hours of playing on flight sims, or maybe just beginners luck.

Our lesson had run-over a bit so the de-brief was pretty brief, but essentially it was re-affirming the golden rule of attitude controls speed, power controls descent.

Next lesson will be turning.

PAPI stands for Precision Approach Path Indicator. Here’s a photo showing PAPI lights to the right of the runway:

PAPI Lights

The lights are angled along the vertical glidescope, so that the colour changes depending on your height. If you are on the correct glidescope, you’ll see two red and two white lights. If you’re too high, you’ll see all white. Too low, and they’ll be all red (and you had better gain some height pretty quick!). Three red, one white = a little low. Three white, one red = a little high.

Lesson 3 – climbing and descending part one

After a fair few cancellations of this lesson, the weather conditions were finally good enough for me to get back up in the sky. During the pre-flight briefing, I was told we would be practicing climbing (and conveniently) descending. In the syllabus, climbing is exercise 7 and is in two parts (with exercise 8 being a two part descending exercise). However, it makes more sense to do climbing and descending part one as one lesson, then climbing and descending part two next lesson.

Before entering a climb, we have to lookout (around and up in to the airspace we’ll be climbing in to). We then do our standard PAT (power, attitude, trim). In the Warrior, the best rate of climb (known as Vyis 79kts. So:

  • Power – FULL – maintain balance, will yaw left so be prepared to right rudder
  • Attitude – climb attitude, looking for airspeed of 79kts
  • Trim – to maintain climb attitude

During the climb, we need to DABLE – every 500 ft:

  • Direction – are we heading in the right direction?
  • Attitude – are we still in the climb attitude, and is our airspeed correct?
  • Balance – are we in balance? Correct with the rudder if we’re not.
  • Lookout – roll with 15° bank in one direction, looking out, then roll back in the other direction, looking out. (Alternatively we can temporarily push the nose down and then back up again)
  • Engine – are the temperatures and pressures within limits?

Exiting the climb is the one place where we DON’T PAT. Instead, we APT:

  • Attitude – level attitude, wait for airspeed to reach cruising speed of 95/100kts
  • Power – at cruising airspeed, adjust power to normal cruise (which is 2350 RPM in the Warrior)
  • Trim – for level flight

The reason we don’t PAT when exiting a climb is because of the difference in airspeed. As we saw in an earlier lesson, the engine RPM is linked to airspeed. So, if we set 2350 RPM at 80kts and changed to a level attitude, airspeed would increase to the cruise speed of 100kts and then we’d notice the RPM was higher than 2350 and we’d need to repeat the process all over again. So, instead, when exiting a climb, APT.

Always PAT, except when exiting a climb
Always PAT, except when exiting a climb

Before descending, first lookout, then PAT. In the Warrior, the glide descent speed is 73kts. This means this speed will keep you in the air for the longest possible time. Therefore if we were to experience engine failure we’d want to trim attitude to maintain a glide descent at 73kts. To descend, the procedure is fairly similar:

  • Power – to idle, carb heat hot
  • Attitude – glide descent attitude, to maintain 73kts
  • Trim – to maintain glide descent

As with climbing, during the descent we should DABLE every 500 ft. Exiting the descent is a standard PAT, remembering to turn carb heat back to cold before putting on full throttle. More on carb heat in another blog post.

All in all, I found this lesson relatively straightforward and it sure felt good to be back in the air after those few weeks being grounded by the weather. The glide descent resulted in an altitude loss of around 500ft per minute, which felt surprisingly slow. Very reassuring that we’d actually have quite a lot of time to prepare for an emergency landing if the need ever arises (assuming we’re at a sensible height).

I also used this lesson as an opportunity to try out my new GoPro video/audio recording kit. Once I got home, I reviewed the footage and was pretty happy with how it turned out. I’d manage to position it so that you get a good view of the instruments, me, and can see out to the left and right of the aircraft. Here’s a snapshot from in-flight:

Screenshot taken from GoPro recording in-flight

Here’s a clip of me taking off:

To view it full-quality, you need to select HD from the settings menu and then click full-screen.

One annoying thing about the GoPro was the battery life. It recorded 1 hour and 7 minutes before running out of juice. Not enough to capture the landing.

Next lesson – in a week’s time – will be climbing and descending part two.

Flight recording kit

Three lessons have been cancelled since my last post, due to the poor weather. To keep up my motivation I’ve been watching quite a few clips on YouTube of people learning to fly. Particularly inspired by the excelling GoPro Flying channel, I decided I’d like to be able to record my own lessons, so I ordered some kit…

The GoPro is a tiny battery powered HD video camera, with a fish-eye style lens that is particularly suited to filming within the plane. I already had a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition, so I just needed to buy some extra to get it set up within the cockpit.

GoPro Suction Cup Mount is a strong mount – apparently capable of withstanding speeds of up to 150mph – so perfectly strong enough for holding the camera steady inside the plane.

One of the things I particularly liked about the GoPro Flying channel is the way that cockpit audio (including radio transmissions) are recorded alongside the video. After researching various ways of achieving this, I decided to record it directly on the GoPro by using its external mic input. Firstly, you need an adaptor like this to connect to the headphones socket within the plane. It converts the headphone signal into a standard 3.5mm microphone jack, which you connect in to the GoPro using the 3.5mm Mic Adaptor cable.

It’s worth noting the GoPro camera doesn’t come with an SD card, so you’ll need to order one separately if you don’t already have one. I have a 32GB Class 10 card, which is large enough to store over 2.5 hours of high quality HD video – more than enough for my usual lessons, which are around 1.5 hours. If I want to record more video, I can easily reduce the quality.

I’m now eagerly awaiting my next lesson so I can try it out!

Lesson 3 – cancelled

The weather was looking pretty miserable, and I was half-expecting a phone call cancelling the lesson. Sure enough, it was cancelled. It’s a very sad, miserable feeling. No doubt it’s something I will have to get very used to, as it was me who decided to start learning to fly as we approach our British Winter.

Instead of a lesson in the air, I had my first ground school lesson. I was given an introduction to radio telephony, noise abatement procedures, and some of the legal and relevant documentation involved in flying.

For radio, my instructor gave me a handy sheet with some examples of the radio communication required to get from the apron to take off. He emphasised how it’s just an example of how the dialog could go, and not to expect it to always go like that as it would be confusing for me if I heard something else. We talked about one of the most important rules of the radio: listen carefully. Just like in normal life, if we don’t pay attention whilst we’re listening, we often hear what we want to hear. The consequences of this whilst flying can be lethal. This is one of the reasons why important communication must be read-back, so that any misunderstanding can be identified.

After my first trial lesson, my instructor suggested I read CAP 413, which is the Radio Telephony Manual from the CAA. A couple of months had passed, and I had read it a few times. A lot of it didn’t make much sense (I could understand the words but not the context) but as we talked through the basics today, a lot of what I had learnt in CAP 413 started to click in to place. He told me about this supplement to CAP 413 which is a PDF with built-in audio examples of different transmissions. It’s incredibly useful and I’d highly recommend listening to it to get some practice in understanding radio speak.

Noise abatement procedures are an important part of responsible airmanship. Airfields have noise abatement procedures to help reduce the impact of the airfield on local residents, for example by avoiding certain areas so keep noise to a minimum. Gloucester airport has 4 runways (so you can take off in 8 directions). 4 of those directions have specific instructions on when and where you can go after take-off (here’s a diagram showing the noise abatement procedures at Gloucester, which we reviewed together.

Documentation, on the face of it, can seem pretty boring. However, I actually found this part of the lesson to be really interesting and useful. I was shown where the key documentation is kept (each aircraft has its own file and box) and then we looked at the documents together to understand their significance. There are a number of legal documents (such as the certificate of registration and certificate of air worthiness) as well as more operational documents like the technical log (techlog for short). The techlog is updated by the pilot of each flight, listing the duration of the flight and noting any problems with the aircraft. Every day, before the first flight, a full A-check must be carried out, to confirm the aircraft is airworthy. The person who carries out the A-check must then sign-off the check in the techlog. Subsequent flights (on the same day) have a smaller set of checks.

Before heading home, I bought my PPL starter kit – a flight case with the AFE Learning To Fly books, a 2013 VFR chart, log book, checklist, flight computer, rulers, protractors, knee board, and other bits and pieces. It weighs a tonne – I had better start reading…

My PPL starter kit
My PPL starter kit