Life as a student pilot at Learn To Fly #9

Life as a student pilot in Hong Kong is honestly not much different from flying in Australia. The instructor rides along for the first two or so circuits and then before you know it, it’s time for you to fly the circuit yourself! My confidence is growing steadily and I have been experimenting with different power settings on different legs. In light of many new flying experiences, I thought I would share my flying solo and landing tips.

1. Be brave

It is normal for you to feel a little overwhelmed before completing your first solo circuit. Flying feels bizarre at first, almost like trying to drink out of a fire hose. I can only urge you to stick with it and fly often.

It helps to keep in mind that you will be soon be rewarded with your first solo experience of flight. I’ve put this point first because flying is a very mental pursuit. There are, of course, many technical aspects to consider as well, which we’ll cover in a moment.

2. Find a stabilised approach

It is a cliché perhaps but, “a stabilised approach is the key to a good landing,” and a stabilised approach doesn’t come together by magic. It starts with a good circuit. Good circuits have simple criteria. They require the pilot to:

  • Take 90 degree turns between each leg
  • Adhere to power settings taught on the ground
  • Check the surface winds to make corrections and predict ground speeds
  • Make smooth corrections and try not be overly controlling
  • Hold airspeed & be disciplined when holding it

Aim for better circuits every time if you want to improve your landings. You don’t have to be perfect, but you have to keep aiming high. As listed above, you will need to hold different airspeeds during flights. Something that will help you transition between airspeeds is pitch and power coupling.

3. Manage pitch and power coupling

Pitch and power coupling is the basic notion that when you power down, you will also have a pitch down moment and vice versa. On most small GA aircraft there are two airspeeds you must adhere to, and to transition and decelerate smoothly pilots must learn to anticipate a pitch down moment when power is being pulled off.

When you are approaching short final you need to pull back the power to idle gradually. While you’re pulling back you should also judge and apply added back pressure on the yoke or the stick in order to hold the final approach attitude. Doing this allows the aircraft to slow at a reasonable rate.

I usually start this deceleration when the aircraft approaches the runway and I am confident that I have the runway “made”, which means if I experience a loss of power the aircraft is within gliding distance.

This stage of landing is very personal and comes down to personal preference. Some like to do it early, and some like to do it late. However, if you want my 2 cents I recommend doing it early if it’s not gusty or turbulent.

4. Forget flaring for now

Unless you’re flying a Space Shuttle or a 777 you won’t be flaring on the last seconds of your landing. “Flaring” implies that the nose is being raised to the landing attitude right away, and this is incorrect as this will cause nothing but a balloon for the small aircraft you will be flying in training.

For these smaller aircrafts, you will be transitioning from an approach attitude to a landing attitude using a gradual process called “holding off”. The aim is to touchdown at a nose-high, tail low landing attitude at just above stalling speed.

A good tip is to keep your eyes looking at the far end of the runway, which will allow you to use your peripheral vision to judge whether you’re sinking or ballooning.

5. Go around when it’s right

If something isn’t working out, know when to push the power to full and to go around. At the end of the day, going around is not a sign of failure, and if you hear that voice of doubt in your head about your current approach, go around and try again! You can do that in a flight test, and you can do that during any flight, solo or dual. You’re always learning as part of life as a student pilot.

Back to Oz

It has been a busy time as I am approaching the end of Secondary School. At the same time, I have more flight training to look forward to at LTF at the end of the year! Despite my busy schedule on-the-ground I am now soloing on the Cessna 172 here in Hong Kong at Shek Kong Airfield, and due to the training that I completed at Learn to Fly, I have been afforded much more freedom as to the types of approaches I am allowed to do, even though I am still a student pilot on paper in Hong Kong.

Some small insights on life as a student pilot for you. Until next time, I hope you enjoy reading my tips and putting them to use.

If you can’t think of anything better than flying solo in the skies, then our solo flight course could be the ticket to your dreams.

Contributed by Learn to Fly student Howard Lao.