Learning to Fly – Day Twelve (Sunset and rain)

Today was the day I was going to crack through the 5 hours mandatory pattern/landings training so we could push on with the cross country/navigational training.  In the morning, we flew dual for ¾ of an hour in mist or near fog to go through some of the different approaches and landings and I then flew solo for a further ¾ of an hour. I was due a 2 hours break before completing my solo time with a 2-hour session. However, the engine on the aircraft we are mainly flying, 990, had twice conked out on us as we were braking hard on the runway. All though that is obviously not such a serious place for an engine to die it does make you a little uneasy flying it at 900ft above trees, roads and houses as you approach the runway. An instructor who took the plane for a spin while I had my break was not at all happy with the sound and it was turned over to our magician mechanic.  So I was out of an airplane and could instead use all afternoon planning and plotting tomorrow’s cross-country. As it happened, 990 was made ready just before sunset but 401 returned home at 17:30 and I quickly pre-checked it, had one ride with Gerry and off it was to the circuit. It was raining lightly but still with 10km visibility. Not a lot to report except for one interesting thing I took away: Checklists are good. I had never flown solo for more than one whole hour before and the evening session lasted 1:42. Towards the end, I obviously started to get tired and I lost concentration. The landings themselves did not suffer, they are pretty much there now, but the approach and the small things slipped. Once I found myself on base without flaps extended and ended up way too high and made my first decided go-around. I was actually straight over the middle line and the runway is very long so I would have made it somewhere long down half of the runway, but it would have been ugly and it gave me a chance to practice go-arounds. For the last 20 minutes, it was getting darker and the runway lights was turned on. I knew I had to do at least two more circuits to make the whole 5 hours in total. The penultimate pattern was OK, and it was off to the last. I tried to remember everything while keeping an eye out for another Warrior that was just one leg ahead of me in the pattern. I was downwind, having done my checks, extended 10° of flaps and the other warrior had called final so at my turning point I started my turn and called left base. Two things suddenly struck me: 1) I had no idea where the other Warrior was and 2) on the previous patterns they had a tendency to do very long downwinds and thus very long finals. In other words, they could at this very moment be zooming towards me from the right doing more than 100mph and I did not know.  Rule 1: Always have aircrafts before in the pattern in sight before making turns. I was feeling very uncomfortable for at least 10 seconds while trying not to panic. I gave full throttle to climb above final altitude so at the very least they would creep under me, when I finally saw them about 100ft and 20 seconds away from the runway. Panic over, I headed towards the last rays of the sun over runway 22 and enjoyed the pretty view of runway lights and approach path guide lights. I landed, taxied to the parking area and wrote down the numbers. I had, right on the exact minute, achieved my 5 hours solo flight.

Summary after 12 days:
Flown: 3 hours and 18 minutes.
Total flying time: 35 hours and 15 minutes.
Solo: 5 hours.
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