Tailwheel circuit practice

Despite being signed off by Dave after my last flight in the Citabria, I wasn’t feeling comfortable flying it solo, particularly due to the fact I don’t think I made a single ‘good’ landing at Oaksey while flying the aircraft!

Hoping to take David for a flight the next weekend, I booked a refresher session with Dave to try to get a bit more practice in a crosswind, and hopefully start to feel more comfortable landing the aircraft.

The weather was near perfect again (perhaps I should keep flying the Citabria if it makes the weather Gods so favourable!), and I arrived at Oaksey in good time as usual. Dave was running a little late due to a previous flight at Kemble, so I made good use of the time reading through the POH for the Citabria. In reality there’s not a huge amount in there, as it’s a pretty basic aircraft!

Dave walked me through the things to check on the aircraft for the ‘A’ check. After taking a fuel sample from below the aircraft, the drain continued to drip, so I helped him remove the drain and clear out a small particle of dirt from the seal, both of us getting a liberal coating of Avgas in the process! There was plenty of fuel in the aircraft, and after arranging for a a piece of farm equipment to be moved out of the way, we rolled the aircraft down onto the grass to get ready for the flight.

I took my time arranging everything in the cockpit before jumping in and starting to fasten the five point harness. Dave squeezed into the back, and we were ready to go. The engine started easily, and we taxyed towards the threshold of runway 22, favoured by an almost perfect headwind today On the way I realised I hadn’t strapped the kneeboard to my leg, so after failing to do it while taying I gave up until we were in position for the power checks.

After getting the kneeboard secure and completing the power checks, we heard another aircraft announcing ‘Downwind’. With plenty of time to get airborne before we would affect his landing we took to the active runway, Dave spotting him as we lined up. I ensured the tailwheel was straight, before applying full power and starting the takeoff roll.

I was a little sluggish getting my feet moving as I brought the tail up, but soon corrected this and made a fair takeoff for my first attempt of the day. We had planned to initially make a standard landing back at Oaksey (taking advantage of the favourable wind) before heading to Kemble for more circuits (Dave had already flown from there and knew that there was more of a crosswind component than at Oaksey).

The circuit was normal, although as usual I was high on Base and Final. The excess height was easily lost with a sideslip, and I brought us in for an acceptable landing at Oaksey, my first in this aircraft! Once under control, we taxyed back to the threshold and made ready to depart for Kemble.

This takeoff was much better, and we climbed away from Oaksey to the West, changing to Kemble’s frequency and setting their QFE in readiness for joining the circuit. Things were relatively quiet at Kemble, but as we joined we were warned of an inbound ‘non-radio’ aircraft due in the next half hour or so. It later transpired that this was one of Freedom’s Warriors, returning from an aborted flight to the Isle of Wight with total electric failure.

The circuit pattern at Kemble is fairly familiar to me now, and I followed the noise abatement circuit without any issue. As usual I was high on Base and Final, meaning I had more work than was ideal to get set up for the landing. As a result, the first landing attempt was pretty poor, as I approached with too much airspeed and failed to hold off for sufficient time to bleed it off. As a result, the touchdown was accompanied by a predictable bounce, and I immediately took the decision to go around for another try.

The second circuit was much better, although again I was high and slightly fast on Final. I did bring us in for an acceptable (although far from perfect) landing, although neglected to maintain the into-wind aileron required to keep straight on the runway during the roll out.

I flew a total of 10 circuits at Kemble. On one we were following another aircraft Downwind, who appeared to be flying a circuit that seemed half way to Lyneham! I extended Downwind to follow him on Base, announcing this fact to the FISO in the process in order that everyone else knew what I was doing. On another takeoff from the grass we followed an aircraft departing from the hard runway into the circuit, and he continued to the West for several miles before turning Crosswind. Again, I announced I was turning ‘inside the aircraft a couple of miles to the West’ just to ensure people knew what I was doing.

The landings gradually got better, and another bounce triggered a go around (although Dave commented that he felt I could have rescued that particular landing). The majority of problems with the landings were caused by me failing to hold off for a sufficient amount of time. In the Citabria, you really need to be flying level along the runway with the stall warner sounding for a good 5 or 10 seconds before you have bled off enough speed to land and stay down.

The non-radio Freedom Warrior arrived and landed safely (it later transpired the pilot had neglected to turn on the alternator switch, which in this particular aircraft is separate and in a different place to the master on most of the other Warriors). I also saw Sean joining from his flight to Shobdon, and followed him around the circuit, landing on the grass shortly after he landed on the hard runway.

I realised that a lot of the issues were due to me continuing to be too high on Base and Final, so made a point of reducing the power and descending before making the turn onto Base. I carried out two circuits using this method, the first producing a much better landing, and the second leading to Dave finally exclaiming ‘Clucking Bell, Andy Hawkins finally makes a decent landing!’ 🙂 He didn’t use those exact words, but the two he used at the start of the sentence did rhyme with what I’ve put there!

The last circuit at Kemble saw me high on Final again, but I took care to get down to an appropriate profile and speed long before needing to transition to the landing phase, and this again led to a fairly decent landing. Deciding I’d now had enough, we headed back to Oaksey to see if I could continue my recent form and make a decent approach and landing there. We joined Crosswind at circuit height, and as usual ended up a little high on Final. Armed with my new found knowledge, I made sure the height was lost in plenty of  time, and brought us in for an acceptable landing at Oaksey, rounding out a few feet too high leading to a firmer than ideal landing.

I think the reason for rounding out too high is the difference between the width of Oaksey and Kemble. Oaksey’s runway is a lot wider, leading to the illusion that you are closer to it than you actually are. Hopefully if I continue to fly from Oaksey I’ll get more used to the correct ‘picture’, and be able to make more acceptable landings there.

As we taxyed back towards the Citabria’s hangar, a party was in progress at the club house at Oaksey. A number of cars had been parked such that it wasn’t immediately clear if we could taxy past them, so we shut down on the grass and Dave asked some of the owners to move the cars a few feet forwards to give us room. We pulled the aircraft up into the hangar once there was sufficient room, and pushed it back into its parking place.

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Dave and I chatted for a while about the flight, with Dave announcing that he was happy for me to hire the aircraft based on my performance today. Although some of my landings had been far from perfect, they had all been acceptable, and I’d also shown good decision making in terms of going around from the two that caused ended up with a bounce.

Yet again I’d had a near perfect day for flying in the Citabria. I now have it booked for a flight with David next weekend, so hopefully the weather will co-operate and we’ll be able to make the flight.

Total flight time today: 1:35
Total flight time to date: 248:15

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