Lee to Sandown

After many, many hours in the circuit it was finally time to head out again and go on a bit of a road trip. My Dad is nearing the end of his license and needed to get some instrument practice in and I needed to get in some tight turn practice. We convinced our instructor into letting us do our own segment of flying and then stop at Sandown on the Isle of Wight for a cup of tea.

What a view

The day was warm and there were a few layers of puffy clouds – perfect for my Dad’s instrument flying. He took the first shift and we headed east over Portsmouth and Chichester. He covered his head in the infamous instrument visor and flew solely on instruments. Our instructor made a call to Solent radar requesting a traffic service and we headed into some clouds. As my Dad sweated keeping the plane straight and level I got to enjoy watching the plane be swallowed and spat out by the clouds around it. It was amazing!

Clouds surrounding our PA-28 over a natural harbour and land.

Into the clouds

After that exercise was finished we set off for the east side of the island. My Dad made a descent and began an approach to the Sandown; we approached from the dead side of the airfield and crossed runway to enter the circuit on the base leg. After a few bumpy circuits and a a good deal learnt about landing on grass runways we parked up and headed into the airport café for a cup of tea and slice of cake.

Parked up at Sandown

Once we were topped up on tea and cake we wondered back out to the plane and it was my turn to take control. This would only be my second take-off from a grass strip and I was a bit nervous, especially as I looked along the runway and saw what can only be described as a hill in the middle of the runway. I lowered two stages of flaps and opened the throttle. Keeping back pressure on the yoke I could feel the plane trying to get airborne on top of the bumps on the runway. Soon enough the wings generated lift I was climbing out of the runway. I had a shock when I heard the stall warner chime in the background; I pushed the nose down and kept climbing away.

I practiced a few circuits, getting in some practice landing on a short grass strip; my short-field practice is really starting to pay off! After my circuit practice I said good-bye to Sandown and climbed to 4,500ft above Thorney Island.

Finals at Sandown

My instructor demonstrated tight turns: flying circles with a 45° bank. The key is keeping back pressure on the yoke and increasing the power whilst passing through the 30° angle of bank. The primary reason for knowing how to execute a tight turn is that you may find yourself flying head on to another aircraft and you will need to take quick and fast evasive action.

If you don’t execute the turn properly you could find yourself falling into a spiral spin. This is a nasty situation where you will accelerate quickly to the aircraft speed limit. To recover from a spiral descent: close the throttle a tad; level the wings; climb to bleed off some speed and then return to straight and level flight. We practiced a few spiral descent recoveries which I really, really enjoyed them! I do have a thing for aerobatics or anything that feels like aerobatics.

After almost an hour in the air we decided to call it a day and head back along the Solent towards the airfield. As we descended I threaded my way through dotted clouds; enjoying the view as the towered above and fell on below us. As I approached Fawley I said hello to the Lee-on-Solent radio and joined the circuit and made a nice landing in the afternoon sun. Whilst making that landing it really hit me that I am nearly a pilot and can actually take-off, fly and land a plane fairly competently.

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