By Ivan van der Schaar

With after take-off checks completed, the aircraft climbing straight ahead and the exhilarating feeling of flight settling in we are now going to look at flying the circuit…

Something I have noticed after flying with various students is that the art of attitude flying seems to be fading. Pilots especially new ones seem to be fixated on the instruments and then start "chasing" the needles. This leads to an oscillating flight path as all instruments have some sort of lag in other words the instrument takes time to catch up to what it should be indicating. The greater the attitude change the greater the lag.

So, to overcome this problem I teach my students for the climb set the nose on the horizon, wait for the speed to settle and then only make small adjustments. In a turn check that the difference between the nose and the horizon more or less show the required angle of bank, then cross check with your flight instruments and continue scanning outside and maintain the set attitude. Remember we fly VFR mostly and this writing is intended for VFR flight. IFR has different techniques.

Now to get back to our climb after take-off…

With the aircraft nicely trimmed and climbing steadily at the recommended climb speed climb up to 500ft AGL. Then commence the climbing turn until you are 90' off runway heading. Either to the left or right depending on your airfield. Most circuits are flown as left hand circuits.

Smartly but steadily roll into the climbing turn until the difference between the top of the nose and horizon is 15'. You will probably have to lower the nose a tad to keep the airspeed. Once the desired heading i.e. 90' degrees to runway heading is reached gently roll to wings level and continue the climb. The book says we have to continue the climb on cross wind until 1000ft AGL. But the book was not written for modern day airports neither was it written for a Cessna 150 on the high veld on a summer's afternoon. The point I am trying to make is use your discretion as to when to turn down wind. If you are still climbing then a climbing turn would have to be executed. If you have levelled off then it is a medium turn at 30' angle of bank.

Once on Downwind orientate yourself to fly parallel to the runway and make the radio call and get it out of the way. This gives you more time to concentrate on your downwind checks and to fly the aircraft.

The base turn should be commenced at a 45' angle from the downwind threshold of the runway.
The base turn is a 30' angle of bank. Faster aircraft can make an elliptical course from downwind to final. Slower aircraft usually roll out on base and commence the descend. Complete the base checks. The turn from base to final needed be a 30' bank but more a judgement to turn final approach without overshooting the final approach path. Plan to turn final approach at about 500ft.

On final approach we now have to aim to touch down more or less at the runway threshold. Power and attitude changes must be made gently. The best way for me to ensure I will touch more or less where I want to is to keep the touch down point more or less in the same spot on the windshield for a given attitude.

Continue the descend to the runway and very smartly close/reduce the power at the correct height and initiate the flare. What the right height is I do not know but you will learn this with experience. Now the aim is to keep the aircraft flying straight down the runway with power off about a meter above the surface to the other up wind end. If your approach speed was correct you will not stay airborne for too long. As the speed decreases increase back pressure on the controls until she settles down on the main wheels at a nose high attitude. This should give a smooth touch down. Gently lower the nose wheel and maintain directional control on runway centre line with rudder. If brakes need to be applied do so ever gently to the desired amount of braking power and be careful not to lock up the brakes.

Everyone is impressed by a pilot who can pull of "greasers" or smooth landings. But no one is impressed if you could not stop before the end of the runway. So what I am trying to say is if you hold off the aircraft for prolonged time with valuable but useless pavement flashing past under your tyres you do not have the deceleration needed caused by the tyres on the runway. The aircraft will not slow down as rapidly in flight. So rather get it on the runway ASAP in the desired attitude and speed than floating too far and not being able to stop. If at any time you are not happy with the approach GO-AROUND. There is nothing wrong with commencing a go around and repositioning again for landing.

Something else I have noticed is that pilots tend to fly to big circuits. Now I am not saying cramp your style and make the circuit smaller to the point past you comfort levels. No. What I am trying to say is take consideration for other aircraft in the circuit. You might be a slow aircraft and a bigger faster aircraft being behind you also needs to make use of the same runway. So please plan accordingly and this goes for both the faster and slower aircraft to be considerate to each other.

Well folks my time is running out. Please do consider that the information pertained in these writings are of my own accounts and information I have gathered over my flying career. I do not in any way want to challenge any law books or flight schools general training procedures the latter taking precedence over the above.

Until next month good attitude flying, smooth landings and keep it safe


Ivan's Aviation Minute

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