‘Circuits? You must be mad! Why would I want to do that?’ That was my response the first time my instructor suggested we do some circuits at the next session. In my defence, I didn’t ever think at that time that I was learning to be a pilot. Rather, I was trying to learn to enjoy being airborne at all. I had sat and watched as pilots took off and landed as if they were on a treadmill. What could possibly be the pleasure in that?
Fast forward a year, and perhaps in divine retribution, I was locked into exercise 12 and 13 (take-off and land) for an interminable three months, almost never leaving our home airfield. Just at the point at which I was contemplating a shotgun, but couldn’t decide whether to use it on myself or my instructor, I nailed going solo.
Now, as a fully qualified pilot, I can revel in the delights of that most elusive experience of all – the perfect landing. I understand why someone will go round and round alone, pitting themselves against the wind and their aeroplane to get it to kiss the ground. Why, I have even had a BA pilot talk about how he treasures the memory of that landing where he was recorded at an impossible 1G – basically touching down with no pressure at all.
The old adage of ‘Any landing you can walk away from is a good one’, holds true. Much of the time, landings are done with no more thought than parking your car in Tesco’s carpark. But even with that, there is the day you do a parallel park where it all syncs perfectly and you are a fool if you don’t take a moment to enjoy it.
On my home airfield we are lucky enough to have a triangle of runways, and there is an unforgettable thrill in getting down on all of them on a windless afternoon. Not one, I hasten to add, that I have ever achieved without an instructor at my side, but I have done at least three of them without one. The approach over the trees and the super-short one, both directions, I am not in any hurry to tackle. One day. Perhaps.
Even with a runway you know as intimately as I do our 26, there are infinite variations, depending on wind and weather and your mood. I used to long for the day when I would record only one landing per flight, rather than the ten in an intense 20 minutes I have done. While you are under instruction, glide approaches feature heavily, but most pilots will use a powered landing to get them where they are going.
‘It’s important to move from the specific to the generic,’ says John, an instructor-to-be. ‘You need to move beyond the detail of what you know, such as where you are when you turn on any leg of the circuit, and be able to apply that to any runway anywhere. To be able to look at a spot on a runway and decide I will put my aircraft down there.’
I’m still working on that, but it is great to have as a goal.