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Jim’s Journey – Part 4

Days 12 & 13 – The Second Weekend

Saturday was the BBQ. Obviously I can’t move straight to that as you know that there has to be more. You’d be right.

The first thing was it was another sleepless night. As I wasn’t sleeping I thought that I’d try and do some revision. That didn’t go well. I may have learned something but I’m not sure that it was worth the effort. So, a sleepless night behind me, I thought I’d try and catch a few winks before I set off to Hinton for the BBQ. That wasn’t to be as the fire alarm decided to go off. Grumbling a few choice expletives, I got dressed and went outside. It was a hairdryer alert. Grumbling some more, I went back to the room and decided it wasn’t worth trying to sleep.

I headed off early as I’d said that I would help John. By the time I had arrived, everything was in order and so we had a brew. John decided that he would take the stinger out of a wasp with his right elbow. He didn’t quite swear but that may be because he’s a gentleman. Me, I’d‘ve sworn like a trooper (or a squaddie). It swelled up like a football!

It wasn’t too long before people started arriving. Many of whom I didn’t know but some I certainly did. Young Lou came with Tim and another in tow, although technically, as Tim drove, he arrived with Lou and David. I don’t recall meeting David before and we spent a while chatting, as I did with Anthony who had come up from Wales with Carole, Lou, Tim and loads of others. A great time was had by all, especially those that managed to get a flight in John’s RV-8!

Just as a point of interest, David and I discovered that his brother-in-law busted me to private and put me on a ‘three-month bender’ in 1989 (a three-month bender isn’t a boozing competition, basically it means I had three months to prove to the army that I was worth employing). Small world!

Sunday was Sunday. Admin day. And revision, well, as much as I could. Nuff said.

Day 14 – Monday 21 August

The start of our third and final week. Hopefully we’ll have good flying weather for the whole week and we can get more hours in. The day started overcast but was due to clear and so I wasn’t too worried. As I had my Air Law exam booked for Tuesday, I did more revision in the morning. It’s not been going well with random test results due to random questions. However, to make matters interesting, the test was bumped to today. So, from Thursday, to Tuesday, to today with not enough revision done. I don’t know if I should try or not.

As it was the morning, Caroline went up first after we had an extended briefing, revising some of the lessons we had done last week and a new one. Whilst Caroline was up, we had a surprise visit from Anthony and Carole who stopped by the flying club on their way back to sunny Wales. I was in the middle of another ‘mock’ air law test but as soon as I was done, we had a chat. Not too long afterwards, Caroline landed and we had a little get together.

After lunch it was my turn again and, as sad as it may seem, I got all enthused about getting airborne. I had a stinking headache from too much air law and needed the break. John and I were going to do more stalling exercises and, to be honest, I enjoy all the time I get flying no matter the exercise. We got to taxi down the grass to 27 and John let me carry on, guiding me as needed. Once we got airborne, John demonstrated and talked through what he was doing and then I got to copy him. All good fun. John then showed me the ‘circuit’ as I will start flying circuits as of tomorrow. We tried a ‘touch and go’ that ended up being a ‘bang and bounce’ but nothing got damaged apart from my pride and maybe the nose-wheel. I’m not sure.

After landing, completing the post landing check, John taxied to the parking area and then I did the shutting down checks. Lots of checks but they make more and more sense the more you do them. It’s a lot like a very detailed first parade that we did in the army each morning whenever we were using vehicles. Back into the classroom for a debrief and then we had a short discussion over whether I was able to do the air law exam. We decided that I’d do another mock and if I passed, I’d try for the exam proper. I passed the mock; Caroline then told me to do it and John encouraged me too. It was quite late when I actually sat the exam as all the instructors were busy. It was tough and I had never seen most of the questions in the exam proper. Fortunately, I passed but I put that squarely on the instruction by the guys at Turweston as the PPL Trainer App was next to useless. Hopefully it’ll be more useful on future exams.

It was a profound sense of ‘thank flip for that’ that I returned to the hotel for a well-deserved shower and brew. Oh, and to write this as well. Tomorrow is another day!

Day 15 – Tuesday 22 August

What a glorious day! The sun is shining, the birds are tweeting and the clouds are… clouding? Anyway, not many of those so let’s not get mired in inconsequential. It’s a good day for flying. Caroline will be doing stalling and is a little apprehensive as she hasn’t experienced one and doesn’t yet know how benign they are. Once she has done a few, I’m sure she’ll realise that it’s less exciting than you originally believe. That’ll probably be in paragraph two or three! As I don’t have an Air Law exam today, I’ve been reading up on circuits, touch and go and ballooning (weird considering it’s a plane!) that I will hopefully avoid. I’ll try not to break the undercarriage either. Apart from that, it’s relax, have a brew and talk to the other pilots about pilot things. I can bluff with the best of them!

Ok, I was right. Caroline came back much more confident and realised how difficult and benign a stall is in our PA28. She said that she had difficulty pitching the aeroplane skywards and I can quite believe her, I had difficulty raising the nose. Now, I’m no Samson (Hercules?) but it shouldn’t be that difficult so, a bit of lube (WD40) later, the movement is much smoother and lighter.

A quick bite of lunch and then onto my lessons. I was learning to do circuits and that included the take-off and landing as well as the circuit route, altitudes, speeds, headings and more things than I can remember. By the time John had finished the briefing, my brain was literally running from my ears. None of our pre-flight briefings had been so comprehensive or as detailed but, in retrospect, the circuit is a culmination of all our lessons so it makes sense. However, me being me, put a ton of pressure on myself. I even manage to miss an entire section of the pre-flight checks!! Not a great start.

Take-off wasn’t too bad, the climbs and turns were ok. There were a few thermals to make things interesting but, overall, it wasn’t information overload. There are a load of checks and radio transmissions to make but it falls into a pattern. I’m not saying that I’ve got it all, far from it, but it’s becoming more familiar. I go back to the learning to drive analogy. The approach, now that I was doing the majority of the work, was much more difficult. I over thought it and put a shed ton of pressure on myself. As I said to John, afterwards, it was easier when I didn’t know what I was doing. At least I landed on the runway, but I repeatedly touched down with too much speed. John (delicately) showed me the error of my ways and then we’d be off for another circuit.

Although we only did five take-offs and landing, it felt like a few hours had passed. My brain hurt, my legs hurt, in fact, all of me hurt. My brain had decided to shut down and so any cogent thought was beyond my ability. I know I was too critical of my performance (careful!) but I’ve always been like that. I did enjoy it; I enjoy all the time I’m flying but it was the first time in all my previous flights that I felt I didn’t live up to some arbitrary standard I had set myself. In hindsight, a bit pretentious and arrogant but it’s the way I worked when I was in the army – I always gave 300%. Aha! The scholarship is obviously working as intended if I’m thinking that way, at least I’m getting my confidence back.

Another day complete and another day closer to the end of the scholarship. Both Caroline and I cannot believe it has passed so quickly. Still, it’s not over yet and we still have three days so that’ll be more stalling and perhaps a take-off and landing for Caroline and more circuits for me. Already looking forward to tomorrow!

Day 16 – Wednesday 23 August

Overcast but the cloud is high so we should be able to fly ok. In fact, as I type this part (1120 hrs) the sun is peeking through some of the clouds and so I’m guessing that my circuits this afternoon should be clearer. No wind, though and that’s going to make landing a little more interesting. Look at me, talking as if I know what I’m on about!

Caroline is on the second part of her stalling exercises and we did the revision earlier this morning. Stalling isn’t as dramatic as it sounds and you have to try really hard to stall in a PA28. Caroline has to pull back quite a bit to initiate the stall and it’s not that easy for her. Conclusion; it’s unlikely Caroline will ever stall. That’s comforting. I’ve been reading up on emergency procedures like an aborted take off, engine failure and the like. All the things an aerophobiac wants to learn about. Not that I’m afraid of flying, but I’d best not mention it to my wife.

Come 1400 hrs and WN isn’t anywhere to be seen. Checking on Flightradar24, we discover it was on the ground in Kemble. As the flight time alone was 35 mins, if it took off immediately, it would be at least 60 mins before it arrived back at Turweston. So, that wasn’t going to work. Fortunately, HI was free and so we booked out, did the checks and I started the pre-start/pre-taxi/pre-everything checks. It was manic out there and so I had to wait a few minutes before contacting the tower for a radio check and to notify them of our intention of doing circuits. Unfortunately, as it was so busy, circuits wasn’t going to happen. I’d heard the same thing happening to a callsign last week and now it was my turn to feel disappointment. We did a few practice exercises on the ground and then shut the aircraft down.

“That’s general aviation for you!” John said as we exited the aircraft. He was a disappointed as me but there was nothing to be done. It has been nuts all day and there was mention of congenital moronacy (not sure if that’s even a word) but I understand the meaning. Considering they’re all supposed to be qualified pilots, you wonder sometimes. I guess it’s like driving except being a tad shortsighted in three dimensions can lead to graver consequences than in two dimensions.

Hopefully, I’ll get up tomorrow.


Cancel my last.

A little later that afternoon it suddenly cleared up – the aircraft, not the weather; the weather was near perfect with just a little breeze. Just as suddenly, John told me to get my kit, we were going to try again. This time, we had clearance for circuits.

Checks complete, John showed me an emergency stop on the taxi down to 27. Power checks done, we were in a bit of a queue but nothing like an international airport queue – we all know those are fun and we’re either watching a film or trying to get drunk (or both) whilst the poor guys at the front are chomping at the bit! The runway soon cleared and off we took. Or we took off. Either.

We were in a more powerful plane than WN and the difference was immediately apparent. We were climbing at 1000 ft/min unlike WN which may climb if it feels like it. Perhaps. And you have to ask nicely. HI just did as it was told. John talked me through the first circuit as I got my bearings (no pun intended), tried to remember all the checks and RTs (and I even managed to make up a few new call signs for HI!). John makes it look so easy but when you’re doing it yourself, there doesn’t seem like there is enough time before you’re on the final leg and trying to line up with the runway.

It went better than yesterday although I did start with determined trepidation (is that even possible?) and I had told John that I was anxious about the activity for the day. I was putting too much pressure on myself. It did start to make more and more sense as I landed more times. I started to get a feel for it – started to. Still a very long way to go. John tested me on engine failures, we did a fly by (I was too high anyway and it was the safest thing to do), we tried on two and three flaps. We did a smorgasbord of combinations. It wasn’t as bad as yesterday and I’ll leave it at that.

At least I got to go up and practice. It helped a lot and (hopefully) tomorrow I’ll do better still. We can but hope!

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