Flying is still going great! I am now out of the simulator and have moved onto “upper air work” (slow flight, stalls, spins, steep turns) as well as forced landings in the practice area near Morley, Alberta. This bit has been really weather dependent, and frankly summer has sucked here in Calgary so it’s been slow going. It’s also amazing how good the weather needs to be—it can look like a really nice day, but if the cloud is a bit too low, you can’t get enough height for these upper air manoeuvres.
This week I went for a lesson with a senior instructor at the college, something they do before letting me into “the circuit” (more on that later). This is an extra check on my progress and an extra pair of eyes to offer suggestions and help. In some ways it’s also a bit of a check on my instructor, so I was nervous about it because I wanted to do a good job for myself as well as my instructor. It all went well and the senior instructor suggested I go straight into the circuit.
The circuit is where the most critical pieces of flying are practiced. It’s a fairly small loop around the airport that includes takeoff, a rectangular traffic pattern around the active runway, and then a landing. You can request a “touch and go” where you land the aircraft and keep it rolling, then take off again immediately. The circuit exercises one of the tough parts (landing) as well as flying close to other traffic. At Springbank we’re under Air Traffic Control the whole time so we’re getting instructions from the tower and making radio calls, getting clearances, etc. A typical circuit takes about six minutes, so it’s fairly intensive practice. It’s also very real—tower is slotting incoming traffic into the circuit pattern, so you don’t always fly the same exact circuit and you have to listen out for instructions and do the right things in response.
The great thing about the circuit is that you can do it in worse conditions than the upper air work. You only need a 1500 foot ceiling and 3-5 miles visibility for the circuit, as opposed to a 3000 foot ceiling and 10 miles visibility for the upper air work. This means I’m likely to get fewer lessons cancelled due to weather, and frankly it feels like a good milestone and that I’m making progress.
Landing is absolutely the most fun (and nerve-wracking) piece of flying so far. On all my previous flights I’ve landed the plane with help from my instructor, but in the circuit I could tell she was helping me much less with the landings because some of them have been really heavy! Oops. I certainly wouldn’t buy a plane that had had someone like me learn in it! That’d be like buying an ex-taxi when shopping for a car—don’t!
I also got to the end of the first page in my pilot logbook and I feel that’s a big milestone. As of today I’m up to about ten hours in the air, and ten on the sim. Dozens more to go!