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PPL Diary Page Three

All Change !

I had relocated to Cambridge. This now meant a much quicker drive to the airfield, but also new planes, new instructors and full ATC to get used to.

With a large number of potential instructors I clearly need a few nomes-de-plume for diary purposes. I'll call them Hugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb, in the order I get to meet them.

Getting Familiar

There was a good feel to Cambridge as soon as I walked in the door for my first lesson. It reminded me of Pro, with whom I had flown in Canada. I think this was partly due to the busy ops desk, ATC field and the shiny new C172's parked up front waiting for me. It was generally bigger and busier and this would do me no harm at this final stage of my training. However I would still recommend anyone start off at a small field, it's so much easier to get circuits in without distraction. Plus, of course all the extra facilities at a big field come at a price.

I met my instructor Hugh and we walked past the planning desks and PC room to the comfy chairs for a get-to-know-you chat. Interestingly there were also a number of training books and videos in this room, plus the POH's and the radio/nav kit manuals for the four school C172's.

We thought going off and doing some airwork was a good way for me to get to know the new plane and for the instructor to see what standard I was at. So it was on with the yellow jackets for the walk to the plane after checking the tech log and booking out with ATC over the phone. We were taking Charlie Bravo, which was a nearly new C172SP. This had two nice surprises inside - four leather seats and (hurrah!) enough shoulder room for two adults to sit up front easily. No need to cut down my ruler for the Nav sessions now.

The walkaround had been pretty much the same but with a few new items on the checklist. The dash however looked very different. The location of the small gauges and the rev counter tripped me up first, plus there were rather more switches with the fuel switch now having three positions plus a cut-off knob. We also had twin VOR, ADF, DME and a second altimeter. In terms of operation, this plane was fuel injected (no carb heat) and the DI could be slaved to avoid drift. Oh, and did I mention the GPS panel? Plenty to grow into in this machine.

Starting up was odd, requiring some electric pumping before starting with mixture at ICO, moving to rich once the engine fired. ATC control was much like Canada and soon we were cleared for take-off. The runway was literally a mile long, but we were off with a minimal roll and suddenly we were at 1000ft. I had to turn to the instructor and ask him if we really were at 1000ft that fast. "A bit more power than you're used to?" came the reply. It turns out the 172SP has 180HP, compared to the 110HP of the C152. Lots of right boot needed to keep straight under full power. This was the first time I'd been in a plane which went faster rather than just louder when the throttle was pushed!

Over to the West, and hand over from Tower to pick up Approach for a FIS. It was overcast, so my instructor briefly took control to get us above the clouds. This was another first for me - up on top it was brilliant sunshine over a fluffy white cloud carpet, quite breathtaking. Visibility was excellent and we were almost the only plane in the area. It took me quite some time to get used to the picture out the front. For the longest time I would set it up for what I expected to be level flight, only to find us climbing. This did pass and after some MLT's we went onto some steep turns at 60 degrees. It was slowly beginning to feel familiar. Stalls were OK, but we couldn't do a PFL due to cloud.

Following a touch and go or two, it was all over too soon and I realised I'd never enjoyed my flying so much since first solo. The 172 wasn't too different to land, but it did need more time in the hold off. This was explained to me as a momentum effect of the heavier plane. This explanation came as we walked past a Citation (business jet) which Hugh said he also taught on - so I figured he knew all about momentum.

Over a cup of tea in the debrief area, we noted that my general handling was good, but I should spend another lesson getting used to the field, plane and procedures. This felt right. Interestingly I was told the QXC could be entirely my choice of land away airfields, within the rules, but that I would need to do a short dual XC first with Cambridge, since I had never done XC with them before. Again, very sensible. Overall, Hugh felt I should be going for the skills test in 'ten hours tops', which would be about right as I would then have 50 hours. We'll see, I'm not in a rush, but that did sound about right.

06 December 2004

Almost 41 hours UK PPL time.

Number 3 to a Hercules

Today's instructor Pugh was as new to Cambridge as I was, having just joined that week. Unlike me however, he brought a wealth of experience with him.

Having missed PFL's last time, Pugh put these on the list, with a return to Cambridge planned for some circuits. The first PFL was looking good for him, but I kept thinking it was wrong. It turned out I had the reciprocal of the wind direction in my head. After that hiccup, all the other PFL's and EFATO practice went perfectly well.

After the rejoin at Cambridge we found out we were number three to a big Hercules transport and a light twin. We had to orbit on late downwind at ATC's suggestion. This really did feel very strange, but it was just a regular MLT after all. We all knew that the turbulence from the wake vortices of the Hercules were dangerous and that ATC would arrange separation for us. After the orbit we extended downwind to follow in behind the twin. Waiting and watching the Hercules land had given me a bit of a buzz from the sheer novelty aspect. No doubt this will devolve into seeing it as just a delay, once I get more used to it. But not yet, this was great fun.

In the debrief, it was decided that I was competent enough with Cambridge procedures. Pugh made a note in my records that I should have a look at VORs in my next lesson.

Foggles on a nice day

Winter Sunshine at EGSC

Instructor Barney was dismissive of the idea that VOR and ADF experience could possibly take a whole lesson - and that we should also do instrument appreciation, with me wearing foggles so that I could see only the instruments and not outside the aircraft. I thought this sounded great. It transpired that Barney had taught on Harriers amongst other fast jets, but he seemed just as enthusiastic to jump in a little C172 with me on what was really a very fine winter's flying day. This was going to be good.

It had been a very cold drive in at -3.5 degrees C, but now the sun was out in force and it was a glorious CAVOK day with scarcely a cloud anywhere in the sky. The plane had been pushed in the hangar earlier to defrost and it just remained for us to pull it out and have it refuelled before doing checks and setting off for the hold.

G-HERC defrosted and almost ready to go

At 3000ft under a FIS, the VORs and ADF were demonstrated and a little practice gained finding our position using the aircraft's twin VOR receivers, plus homing with the ADF. We used Barkway and Cranfield VORs and Bourn's and Cambridge's NBDs for the ADF. The VORs were much easier to ID from their three letter Morse call signs than the ADFs - which were heavily masked in noise and distorted by comparison.

Then, despite the lovely view outside it was on with the foggles for the first time. These are half frosted wide spectacles, such that the wearer can see only the aircraft instrument panel and nothing of the world outside. I had already practiced watching how the AI behaved without foggles and had set the wing bars of the instrument just above the horizon line, so that deviations in bank and pitch could easily be seen. The turns under the foggles were held down to rate 1 - about 17 degrees or so. Climbing went OK, whereas descending was a bit over enthusiastic, but correctable. A small pitch variation shown by the AI meant a big effect from the plane's new attitude, whilst bank was something more like proportional. Finally, still under the foggles I followed the ADF to Cambridge.

Coming out and back to judgement via the visual world was a bit disorienting for a short while but it was already time to get on with the rejoin for R23. We were to make this a PFL and this went just fine, unlike the subsequent precision (short field) landing, which I did poorly. In fact I seemed to be stuck in PFL mode and made a glide approach. That wouldn't have done in real life for a short runway and we would have gone around. It had been a full lesson and I think I had reached my limit at seven things in short term memory. Something had fallen off the end. Despite the touchdown being well past the numbers, this was a very good landing. I was well ahead of the plane and not the other way round, with no doubt about it.

Next would be a dual Nav trip to Sywell and back via something Peterboro' way, with no doubt diversions thrown in. I had been lucky with winter weather so far, having had just one cancellation. Let's hope my luck continues.

Dual XC Checkout

The weather was good, but we would have to hurry round to land at Sywell and turn overhead Whittlesey in order to beat the short winter day.  I was all planned up and we set off without delay.  Today's instructor was Cuthbert.  He said he was basically along for the ride and didn't expect to have to say too much.  This was the type of XC checkout I was expecting.

It was a pleasant flight and we chatted along the way.  Sywell came up on the nose and I joined overhead, taking a long look at this grass airfield, which was to be my first grass landing.  At this point I was getting a bit puzzled about what the altimeter was saying and had finally come to realise I hadn't set QFE correctly, just as I was helpfully reminded.  It hadn't looked right and it had taken me a moment to realise I was going to be several hundred feet out if I wasn't careful, i.e. by an amount equal to the aerodrome elevation.  The landing itself was softer due to the more compliant surface, but that was all there was to grass it seemed.  Cuthbert hadn't known it was my first grass landing and like me didn't seem to think it was a major event.  Many other pilots often have much more to say about their impression of the grass/tarmac difference.

If landing wasn't too different, then taxying was.  It was quite hard to work out which way to go and in fact the tower told us just to head right over to them directly as it was getting late.  Finding my way back to the threshold later was a bit of a challenge too since I was used to a big black bit to aim for.

A good tip came after I found the downwind leg very fast due to the strong wind.  This was to regard the checks as 'prelanding' checks not 'downwind' checks - in other words to get them done earlier, e.g. in the overhead.

Coming back after turning at Whittlesey, I was asked to plan a diversion back to Sywell.  I made a guesstimate and then proceeded to look for the pens and Nav plotter - 'You don't need that lot'  came the advice.  'The best place for you to be looking is outside, not head down measuring the map'.   So I had been taught two ways to do this now at different schools, but I was much more comfortable with Cuthbert's approach.  It seemed much more pragmatic and let me maintain a good awareness of everything else going on in the flight.  My preference to adjust the heading 'bug' (adjustable marker on the DI) early based on track over the ground also got approval.  This meant the forecast wind vector was in error by some amount and I was trimming out the present value of that error.

Finding Cambridge itself was easy, but it had been hard to spot my previous waypoint.  This was the 'end' of the major drain in this area.  What looked like a clear feature on the map was much less defined on the ground. Something to bear in mind when planning next time.

This was a good day out and I was told I should plan a whole day next, for my QXC over any legal route I would like to choose.  There was also talk of polishing me up for the skills test and detailed feedback here was not to taxy beyond a fast walking pace, nor to forget the DI/turn&slip checks during initial taxy - and to make it obvious I was doing them.  I also needed to remember to check the ATIS before calling approach, both new ATC aspects for me.

Not the QXC

New instructor Dibble was really good.  He spent a long time going over my QXC route planning and what I would do if things went wrong etc.  We then went up for a brief look at the viz from 2000ft.  This was OK, but not brilliant due to haze.  About 7 miles was the estimate.

On the rejoin, Dibble asked me to change the approach and request the parallel grass runway.  After we landed he asked how many grass landings I'd done and seemed a bit suprised it was only my second.  He was not unhappy with my landing, but what was on his mind was the crosswind component. This had been near zero five minutes earlier  but was now appreciable and I had needed to kick off quite a bit of crab in the flare.  A call to the tower showed the crosswind to be above club limits for PPLs.  The alternative runway was grass 28 - and this is where Dibble's concern lay.  This runway and circuit were unfamiliar to me - and there were two particular features which could catch people out: 28 crosses the main hard runway (some visual tricks) and there is rising ground on the go-around.

In the end, because there was some doubt, we decided I should go the next day.  A by-the-book decision I was ready to accept.  Not a wasted trip though since the airport and ATC had been the busiest I had ever heard it due to the big AWACS plane blocking taxiway Alpha and the heavy jet which landed as we were in the overhead.


After a similar check out to the day before, today I was off on my Qualifying Cross(X) Country.  I had chosen to visit Wellsbourne since I had been once before and liked it, plus Leicester since I had never been there, but had heard it was a nice field.  On the way back I had inserted a small dogleg to return to Cambridge via overhead Duxford - just to make sure I would be well over the 150nm total flight distance required.

Instructor Grub stepped out after reminding me of the sunset time.  It was now 10:55.  I would have to record all the day's 'brakes-off' to 'brakes-on' times for the three legs and enter these into the tech log, plus my own and the club's log books on my return.  I also had a QXC certificate to be signed by the authorities at Wellsbourne and Leicester.

One of the first things I did en route was to lean the mixture.  Dibble had shown me this the day before.  Previous UK advice had been not to lean below 3000ft, but this had always seemed very arbitrary.  We had leaned in Canada well below this level.  Today I was at 2500 ft and leaned
using the vernier mixture control, by watching the Exhaust Gas Temperature (EGT) gauge and listening to the engine note.

The trip was going very smoothly and after dropping the FIS I had obtained from Cranfield by the M1, I knew the ground ahead was more featureless than before.  But the heading was good and my waypoints came up on the nose.  Wellsbourne was easy to spot and I had already made the opening call.

It was going to be an easy landing; perfectly into wind on the longest runway.  But as I turned downwind I hit a fair bit of turbulence.  Much more than I was expecting.  I think this might have worried a passenger, already thinking ahead to when I had my licence.  Fortunately I had already done my prelanding checks and I was able to concentrate on just the flying.   Then it was down nicely and off for a long taxi to the parking area.

My form was signed as 'excellent' for airmanship by the controller, who said there had been no way to tell I was a student on a qualifier.  This was very nice to hear.  Then it was off for a quick cup of tea and a toastie whilst watching a large Cessna Caravan use reverse thrust to back into its parking space.

At Wellsborne on QXC

It was at this point that I realised that time was marching on and I'd better get on with it.  There were many things eating into the day, much more than just the A to B flight time:  There was time on power checks, at the hold, climbing into the overhead and all the similar things again at the destination.  Paying the landing fee and getting the form signed along with a swift snack ate up nearly an hour.  I had no time to dawdle at Leicester.

It was easy to navigate to where Leicester airfield must be, but I found it very hard to actually see it although I knew I must be there.  Suddenly the triangle of Leicester's tarmac runways became obvious and I don't know how I missed it.  They were using 15, which was the shortest runway I had come across, but perfectly long enough.  Leicester was very busy and it took a while to take my turn and finally taxi down and find a parking spot.

Leicester on QXC

There was quite a queue to pay landing fees, but my QXC form was signed quickly by the CFI.  Over a cup of tea in the restaurant on the top floor came a great sight - a massive Antenov biplane taking off.  Oddly he didn't backtrack to use all the short runway, he just rolled about 50m and was magically airborne.  Someone said this was about 40 knots.  Amazing.

Leicester has a what looks like a one way system on the taxiway past the clubhouse.  It seemed wise to check this and watch where people were doing their power checks.  Upon asking I found there was no one way system in use and power checks for 15 were at a marked hold on the long runway, which was not shown on my AIP chart.  I'm glad I asked.

I'd made good time to Leicester but had had to wait on the ground a fair while, so it was time to be off again.

After takeoff and setting course for Duxford, I went through the usual 'gross error check'.  In other words was I really heading where I thought I was heading?  The answer was no.  This left me with a bit of a sinking feeling.  How terrible would it be to screw up the QXC?    So where was I?  The town below had a number of distinctive road features which I found on the map.  I was then able to intercept my intended track and take up the original heading.  The culprit had been the DI which was no longer aligned to the compass.  It had been checked on the runway numbers, but had clearly moved during take-off.

Upon regaining track, the sinking feeling disappeared and I really felt a renewed confidence.  So it was possible to get a bit lost and sort it out.

Visibility on this leg, the longest, was the poorest; haze seemed to lay in layers ahead and the sun to my right was getting lower making a distraction and worsening the hazing effect.  This was a tiring way to fly, although the waypoints did come up at the right times, bearing in mind I had lost some time recovering the gross error on departing Leicester.

Overhead the Concorde static display at Duxford however, turning to look North towards Cambridge put the sun behind me and that was far better for visibility.  Approach had told me about the traffic in circuit - and today this included a Hurricane on flight tests above the overhead.   Maybe I would see it, that would be great.

It turned out better than great as the Hurricane was cleared to land just ahead on the grass, parallel to me on the hard.  I was then instructed to 'follow the Hurricane' off the active runway.  I never thought I'd be reading back an instruction like that.  What a fantastic moment and what timing!

I thought about how I felt as I walked in after securing the aircraft and I realised I truly felt like a pilot.  There was much more responsibility on QXC than first solo.  I was also quite tired, it had been a long day.  But I knew I had achieved something important and now it was time to celebrate.

I caught up with that Hurricane later !

14th January 2005

Good News and Bad News

I'd been up with instructor Barney to look for gaps in my training and see what needed polishing in particular. The good news was that my flying was good, but that I wasn't displaying airmanship consistently. There were a number of things he wanted me to do which I had never done before and a larger number of things to do differently or more obviously, partly for test purposes and partly because it was good practice. Having come via two other schools, it was now time to mould me into a 'Cambridge Pilot'...

Airmanship covers a whole host of things. It seemed to be a balance of knowledge, experience, confidence and decision making. I was to be less the student and more the pilot in command. I found this a refreshing change after once being told at an earlier school that sometimes I forgot I was the student. Here, I was supposed to.

No prizes yet

Grubb was not forgiving at the best of times, that was his style. Once more I didn't fare too well in the airmanship department. Clearly I hadn't got the message last time, so we spent a long time debriefing this. This was good, since it not only told me what was wrong specifically, but gave me concrete plans to correct it. All my questions were answered with anything taken right back to first principles if necessary. Where there was a debate possible over points of view on a topic, we had the debate. This really suited how I like to learn. All the instructors did this here.

Message received despite the snow

Good news from instructors Pugh and Hugh2. Both instructors now pronounced that I had got the message re airmanship. Hugh2 was an examiner (but would not be mine) so that was good to hear. Airmanship had a lot to do with attitude and state of mind.

Snow had cut my trip very short with Pugh and my trip with Hugh2 later had spent over 10 mins in solid IMC with him at the controls as we rode out a snow shower to the East of the field. We were vectored in by the radar service after that.

In addition to having shown good airmanship I was now fully signed off as OK on two more revision points in the list, which were steeps and stalls. I felt like consolidating all I had revised solo, so a note was made to that effect, conditions permitting, for next time. It would be that or an actual practice test with Barney. I knew though that airmanship would be tested again as I was not yet signed off OK on practice forced landings. We had not been able to try these due to weather, but hopefully we had now seen the last of the snow.

04 March 2005

"Not far off now"

Good news this time from Instructor Windy. I had spent some time making sure I was perfect on the drills, so was pleased to get a well done on the PFL drill points. This time however, we did a PFL at a lower height than I was used to, which meant there wasn't time for both the usual high and low key points, so I found myself out of position. I ended up making the best of it by selecting a new field. Windy pronounced that we would have lived through it, but I was determined not to get caught out like that again. So we did another, this time flying directly to the low key point. I'd like to try this solo too in the near future, from a number of different heights.

There were lots of learning points which were described as minor, but were good practice to get into and would create a positive impression with whoever was a passenger. Some apology was made for being picky, but it really made sense to discuss them, of course. One point brought up some contradiction in the way different instructors had taught me in only the last few days. Windy took this very seriously and will rectify this. Hopefully heads will not roll and he won't mention my name!

I really should have completely stopped myself using power against brakes by now, but this has turned out to be a deeply seated habit on occasion, which I'm finding hard to break whilst taxying. This will be top priority for next time.

The howler of the session was momentarily forgetting to look before a turn. Although I did stop myself and take a look, this really is a no-no. I'm sure I can avoid that in future.

At the end of the lesson rejoin was to left base, positioned by Windy. It was odd for him to take control to do this little bit, but it turned out there was a devious motive. He had positioned us fairly poorly, way too high. It turned out he just wanted to see what I would do about it. The option was always there to go around and on a shorter runway I would have. EGSC is long however and I could see I could get it down in the first third with full flaps and idle power. I spoke my thoughts aloud and Windy accepted my reasoning. This had been a test of making a proactive command decision. Thankfully the landing was firm but good, despite the variable crosswind and the rain.

This had been a good day. I had thought about all the feedback from earlier revision. My drills were perfect and most importantly, I knew they would be. That gave me confidence. I had a different attitude. Despite sitting next to an instructor, I assumed the role of Pilot In Command (PIC), which I still find hard to do in that situation. This helped a lot and despite receiving the learning points noted above, there were a whole host of other things which went off very well indeed. I still wanted some solo practice and there are still some revision boxes to be ticked, but as Windy said, I wasn't far off now. On the drive home I realised I wasn't tired either, which spoke volumes about my progress.

Solo Steepies, Stalls and PFLs

I felt really well prepared for this and enjoyed my hour immensely. Partly because I knew I had been assesed as capable of doing these manoevers solo, and partly, of course, because it was tremendously good fun to do them well.

I flew to my chosen practice area under a FIS and did steep turns first, after clearing the area as the last point of the HASELL checks. The first wasn't too good in terms of height keeping, the next was fine and so was one the other way round. Stalls were rather uneventful in all three configurations. The only time I hesitated was just before pulling the power to practice a forced landing. Was I really going to 'turn off' the engine on a perfectly good aeroplane at several thousand feet and glide it to within nearly 500 feet of the ground? Of course I was, this was excellent practice for the day it really does all go all quiet up-front. Warming the engine on the way down gave some confidence. If, even then, it didn't pick up for the go-around, at least I would be in the perfect position to continue on to land in a field. That, after all, was the whole point.

Today had felt really good. In fact, to me, it felt like a better milestone than First Solo or QXC: more responsibility was mine.

Purely for interest I asked other pilots on the Flyer Forum whether they had considered their solo steeps, stalls and PFL to be such a milestone. The answer surprised me. It turns out that most people had never done this as part of their training. Many of these had said they wouldn't have liked to have been given the chance either. I thought this an odd reaction. Surely, when we begin carrying passengers, as the sole pilot we want to be confident in our abilities to fly safely and be practiced at essential manoeuvers. Each to his own of course, but I'm glad I'm learning at Cambridge.

27 May 2005.

A Potpourri of Revision

Revision was detailed over a few week's lessons.

Notable entries in my student's notes written by my instructors included "student coped well with 15kt pure xwind, although well outside his comfort zone". Those words barely did that experience justice, I'd never crabbed and side slipped an approach quite that much before. The best understatement was "student aborted solo circuits due shower in circuit". Once again, a perfectly accurate summary, but rather missing out on the whole excitement of the occasion, which was as follows:

We had known the weather was less than perfect, but a dual circuit had shown no showers visible. However on solo downwind, I looked out of the circuit to my right and truly to my horror I saw it was pitch black down to the ground due to sudden rain. I was number two to instrument traffic somewhere ahead to my left, so was boxed in as the first of the rain hit the windscreen. I was now preparing for the visibility to collapse to nothing and was thinking about declaring a PAN for immediate landing. Fortunately, a few useful things happened very quickly. The instrument traffic, who I had already reported I could not see, went around . The tower told me this and then invited me to turn base immediately. Clearly they had seen what was happening. I was on the ground pronto and taxying back to base, but I was shaking.

Did you see that? I asked as I walked back in the club. Of course they hadn't. My FI came outside with me to look - the blackness had gone, replaced by a fat and vivid rainbow. EGSC changed its METAR to include VCSH (showers in the vicinity of the airfield), right after that. Weather can be very scary.


'All Satisfactory', read the instructor's notes. This had included departure, stalls, PFL, EFATO (engine failure after take-off), steepies (although first one poor as usual), fire drill, non-standard join, normal circuit, short field take-off, precision landing. And from instructor Grubb too, who definitely didn't say yes if the answer was maybe.

Rusty handling, good airmanship

'You are spotting all your mistakes', although I hadn't found time to fly in over two months. I expected to be rusty, but I was so pleased to have understood what airmanship was; you couldn't really forget once the penny had dropped and you'd seen the whys and wherefores. Finding time to fly was becoming an issue though.

Ready for Test

After two PFLs flown well and a bout of bad weather circuits (complete with actual bad weather), I was pronounced ready for test. I did have a little doubt over this and wanted to do a bit more Nav as such experience was fading into the past quickly.

Mock Nav tests

The first of these showed that whilst I could still do it, much of it wasn't as automatic as it should be and I wasn't maintaining altitude within good limits. There's a lot to do and if you have to actually think about it all, rather than have it come as second nature, some things are not going to get done at the right time.

The second trip was a delight.

Not the Skills Test

I'd been here before (see 'Not the QXC', earlier). The weather was doing what British weather does best and pleasing itself in it's own good time. I had already met my examiner who had done a good job of explaining what was to come and who had given me my route, which I had planned. NOTAMs were checked, the plane was fuelled up and W+B was done for me plus the examiner. We were ready.

The weather however was not ready.

As pilot it was entirely my decision whether to go or not. It was touch and go re the changeable conditions. There's also a big drive to get on with it, which is hard to resist. However it really must be resisted, as it's a poor reason to do anything. I asked for a cloudbase report from the tower and was given a figure which I knew was just below PPL limits for the club. So that was it, I told the examiner I'd cancelled. He didn't discuss it with me as he was playing his part by the book; he just accepted my decision. Afterwards an instructor said he'd have done what I did.

It is indescribably annoying to cancel your own flight test. There's a lot of prep beforehand and a lot of anticipation in the air. I also knew I'd not be at the airport for a little while too. But, as the flying adage goes - If there's doubt there's no doubt.

Back again

'I'm not accepting that excuse', joked my instructor, as I told him I was tired. We had just spent an hour practicing the Nav part of the test plus General Handling and it had gone really well. But now I was very tired. I should have insisted we landed, but we went on to do circuits. They were poor. I knew my re-booked skills test was only a few days away and I really needed to get back into the swing of things. I'd had to wait some considerable time until me and the examiner were both going to be available. Now it was time to get back in flying shape.

The debrief was long and a bit vague. I found it hard to judge feedback this way. This instructor didn't want to tell me whether I was 'ready for test' and seemed to want to ask me what I thought. Not my learning style at all.

'Test cancelled'

The next day, I asked to fly with any Marshall's test pilot instructor as I wanted to-the-point, dispassionate feedback. This is no insult to any regular instructors, as they will tell you themselves, since they have a similar respect for experience.

We had been through everything on circuits and I was pronounced 'sat'(isfactory). However I then maxed out on precision approaches. I was suddenly, absolutely too tired to fly well and the instructor and I noticed it wash over me. There was no question of a test the following day. Instructor Grubb was an absolute star though, he had let me give it my best shot and had imparted some really succinct advice along the way. Mostly I had enjoyed today, until those last ten minutes. I felt very bad about those.

Of course I knew I had been tired and I would not have flown without an instructor today. It's quite an education to see what happens when your reactions slow up and you're flying. Mistakes by omission begin to increase. That's a lesson to remember.

Sadly I had missed a window of opportunity and it was going to be quite some time before I flew again. I had overseas trips up to the end of the year. Mostly tho', I needed life to calm down a bit. Busy at home and work, it had recently become a triumph simply to arrive at the airport for a lesson, whereas what was really needed was to arrive in good time, calm and having thought through things since the last time I clambered into a plane.

There's nothing worse than setting yourself up to fail. Flying was supposed to be fun, so I'd be back when I had proper time to enjoy myself, in the New Year.

13 September 2005.

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