After making good progress yesterday, I was keen to strike while the iron was hot and continue with the tailwheel training. The weather forecast was again good, so I booked another session with Dave in the afternoon. Dave returned slightly late from his previous flight, but I chatted with Sarah and Mark’s other half Naomi while waiting. The weather was perfect again, and Oaksey is a nice place to spend idle moments.
There was a threat of showers in the forecast, but Dave returned and told us that while there were a few areas of threatening cloud around, they were all easy to spot and avoid. We both got settled into the Citabria after a short briefing, and Dave called Kemble to book in for circuits while I prepared to get the engine started. We taxyed down to the start of runway 22, and after completing power checks (managing to avoid pulling the mixture this time!) we lined up and began the take off roll.
Take off was fairly straightforward, and we immediately set course for Kemble, signing on with them as we climbed to an appropriate height for the overhead join. We joined the circuit and made ready to continue where we left off yesterday. The first circuit went well, and we established nicely on Final in readiness for the first landing. The final stages of the landing went almost perfectly, and we touched down gently on Kemble’s grass runway. However, after that things went a little awry, as I somehow forgot that in this aircraft you really need to use your feet after landing!
We got things under control, with Dave giving me praise for the landing and a bit of a telling off for the roll out! Backtracking for the next circuit I made a mental note to keep awake once the initial part of the landing was complete!
The next few circuits and landings went generally well. I made the decision to go around on one circuit after rounding out a little high, and finding myself running out of energy while still several feet above the runway. Dave commented that he was glad to see me make the decision and demonstrate a low-level go around, but thought that I probably could have rescued the landing. The next circuit I proved that I could, after again making a slightly unstable approach but taking appropriate action during the round out phase, and touching down nicely on the runway.
On one of the circuits the wind given by the FISO was in clear contradiction with what the windsock was showing. The windsock indicated a near perfect headwind, but the FISO had given something like a 45 degree crosswind figure. Dave questioned this, and the FISO clarified that the wind figure he’d given was an average wind, the instantaneous wind was actually as being shown by the wind sock.
Dave announced he was happy with what he’d seen, and suggested we then make a few circuits to land on the hard runway. Landing on grass in a taildragger can help to ‘flatter’ a poor landing, but on a hard runway it was important to get the landing right, and take an early decision to go around should any bounce occur during landing.
During this phase of the flight, a big black cloud arrived overhead and started to deposit rain on us and the airfield. Another aircraft approached to land, but opted to hold off until the shower had passed. We were joined by a PA28 flying circuits, and this led to a fairly concerning chain of events on the next circuit.
As I continued Downwind (on the correct noise-abatement circuit for Kemble), Dave spotted an aircraft ahead of us and well out to our right, approaching the airfield looking like it was going to make a Base leg join. As we kept an eye on him, I eventually decided to leave the circuit as it wasn’t clear as to what exactly he was doing. We announced this to the FISO, and he suggested that the aircraft we might be seeing was the other aircraft in the circuit on a recently announced Base leg. This turned out to be the case, although the circuit he was flying probably put him on the South side of Oaksey on the Downwind leg! I slotted in behind him and slowed down in order to gain sufficient spacing.
There was some doubt as to whether I had left enough space, as it looked like he might not clear the runway before I needed to land. I announced ‘Final’ at the appropriate place, leading the FISO to respond ‘expect runway occupied’. Dave commented that he probably wouldn’t have bothered making the ‘Final’ call when I did, as it left the FISO with nothing to do other than to advise us to expect to have to go around. In hindsight I should have just continued the approach, announcing ‘Final’ or ‘Short Final’ once it was clear the aircraft ahead had cleared the runway in time.
The landings on the hard runway continued to be good, and I dealt relatively well with the more difficult handling on the ground caused by the change in surface. On each successive circuit we continued on the appropriate track, as the PA28 continued to fly incredibly wide Downwind legs. Luckily for us he was flying that bit faster than us, so we always had plenty of separation despite flying a much shorter circuit.
After completing a couple of circuits on the hard runway, Dave announced he was happy with what he had seen, and that we should head back to Oaksey. He dropped a bit of a bombshell on me in announcing that if I made a good landing at Oaksey, he would hop out and allow me to carry out a solo circuit!
As we approached Oaksey, it became clear that the wind there was less favourable than it had been at Kemble, showing an almost 90 degree crosswind. The circuit and approach went relatively well, but on Final Dave commented from the back that we seemed ‘a bit fast’. For some reason I was flying down Final at 100 mph, well above the usual figure of 90, slowing to 80 and less as we approached the runway. I think I probably should have made an early decision to go around, as it became difficult to lose the extra energy, and we ended up with excess speed as I rounded out.
Oaksey’s runway is plenty long though, so I elected to continue, making a mental decision to go around if the initial touchdown wasn’t a good one. The landing was generally Ok, but I neglected to make sufficient compensation for the crosswind on the rollout, leading to a fraught few seconds until I got us under control.
This obviously (and quite rightly!) gave Dave cause for concern, and he suggested we try another one before I considered going solo. We took off on 22, and Dave suggested we try a landing on 35, which was more appropriate given the wind. However, runway 35 at Oaksey has a house close to it, about half way down, and I’d never landed on it before. The abbreviated circuit and approach all went well, and I made a passable landing, but again the rollout wasn’t particularly good.
We had a final go on 22, making another circuit and coming in for another landing with a fairly strong crosswind. I think to be honest the pressure of potentially going solo and also the fact that I’d spent the last hour and a half making numerous landings had probably pushed me over the edge. The final landing again wasn’t particularly good, so Dave suggested we called it a day there.
We taxyed back and parked the aircraft outside the Club house, and Dave announced that he was happy to sign me off, but that I should come back for some more crosswind circuits and landings before flying in similar conditions myself. He was happy for me to fly the aircraft solo should the wind conditions favor runway 22 at Oaksey however.
We headed back into the office, and Dave updated my logbook with the sign off for tailwheel aircraft (to join those for variable pitch propeller and retractable gear). I settled up my account, and headed home pleased with my achievement, but slightly frustrated at my failure to make some good landings back at Oaksey and hence go solo. Still, I’d had an excellent day’s flying, and really felt that (until the end!) I’d got to grips with the peculiarities of operating a tailwheel aircraft. Hopefully with another short session I can nail crosswind landings too, and start to make some good flights in this lovely aircraft.
Total flight time today: 1:35
Total flight time to date: 246:40