Flying the Goodwood circuit

Adam Southward (PPL Student)

At roughly 7 hours (out of 45) into my PPL training I had completed the general handling exercises (including stalling) and I was reasonably comfortable with the basic radio procedures. It was now time for circuits. This is the procedure required for aircraft when landing, joining and departing from the airfield, and it is during this exercise that you really start to work a bit harder.


Charlotte, my instructor, told me that it helps to talk yourself through the circuit, even to practice it at home in your head. I thought I'd blog it. So here goes. This is the circuit as it appears in my head (John/Charlotte - apologies in advance if I've missed anything :).

Circuit flying1) Take off and initial climb upwind

So I apply full-power and we accelerate slowly up the runway. Concentrating on keeping the aircraft straight as it bumps along the grass strip, I'm looking for 55 kts (rotation speed). A quick glance down to the engine temps and pressure gauges to ensure everything is in the green. At 55 kts I want a smooth rotation, and in practice it feels like you are literally pulling the Robin off the ground. As soon as we're airborne, I relax the back pressure on the control stick slightly and we build up speed, before settling into the initial climb. Keeping an eye on airpseed and altitude, at this point we also need to consider noise abatement rules around the airfield, and so for most circuits a slight turn is necessary to avoid buzzing residential areas and schools.

Noise abatement satisfied, I'm now looking for 300ft at which point I'll raise the flaps and I want an airspeed of 75 kts, trimming as necessary. I now take my first breath, and keep a good look out as we climb to 600ft (half circuit-height).

Once at 600 ft, we start a climbing turn (15 degree) onto the crosswind leg of the circuit. What do I do before turning? LOOKOUT. And then lookout again, scanning across from far left (assuming a right-hand circuit) to far right. To get correctly positioned on the crosswind leg I'm doing a combination of looking at the runway and looking at the direction indicator (mostly the former).

2) Crosswind

On the crosswind leg we continue the climb at full power. I'm now looking for circuit height of 1200ft. As we climb I'm maintaining a good lookout all around. As we reach 1150ft I start to level out (smoothly). Remember "Attitude, Power, Trim" - as I level off at 1200ft I bring the power down to 2300 rpm (cruise power) and re-trim.

It's time to LOOKOUT again, before making a medium turn (30 degrees) onto downwind. Be careful on this turn not to climb or descend (which I've done a couple of times). If I do then I need to adjust my altitude slightly at the beginning of the downwind leg.

3) Downwind

As soon as we're correctly positioned on the leg (again, referencing visual cues, particularly our wingtip track along the runway), I can make the downwind call on the radio. If it's busy then I'll do my pre-landing checks first, then call late-downwind afterwards. Goodwood will acknowledge and ask me to call in again on Final.

Pre-landing checks - these are the first checks you must remember by heart. On some circuits I remember them all. On others I forget them all. Must try harder.

Providing the checks are complete and I've made my radio call, I'm now looking for my turn onto the base leg. You're looking for roughly 30 degrees back to the runway threshold (approx 4 o'clock in a right-hand circuit).

Apply Carb Heat now and leave on. Another LOOKOUT then medium-level turn.

4) Base

Correctly position, then reduce throttle to 1500rpm. Hold the stick back to reduce speed, then once airspeed is in the white arc (Vfe) we can lower first stage of flaps. We're looking for a descent speed of 75kts.

I'm told a good landing is always the result of a good approach, and the approach starts now. The turn onto final is based on good judgement, imagining the extended centre line from the runway and timing my turn to intersect it.

I make a descending turn at 15 degree and line up centred with the runway (at least that's the plan).

5) Final

With the aircraft now set up for landing, I lower the second stage of flaps, and concentrate very hard on aiming at a point to land just past the threshold. I make my final call now on the radio. 

I'm now looking to maintain 65kts all the way down, and this speed (and my approach angle) is controlled through throttle and pitch, making slight adjustments as necessary. The controls feel quite sloppy at this point - low airspeed and hardly any throttle - and I'm concentrating very hard on keeping the centre line. Carb heat goes off now - just in case we need full throttle. A bead or two of sweat generally appears on my forehead as the runway starts to fill my vision.

I won't go into too much detail about landing - perhaps in another post - but again this is an area that requires study and lots of practice. One thing I know clearly from my initial circuits and landings: If you flare too early, avoid the temptation to pitch the nose down to bring the aircraft down. As long as you aren't too far off, keep holding off and you will come down. Although I guess flaring too early is better than too late. I believe flaring too late is called crashing.

Once you're down then guess what? It's time for another go. Full-throttle, flaps down first stage, and look for 55kts...

Wanna see it? Here's me flying the circuit in the Robin (I'm on the left with Charlotte on the right):


My next step is to study and pass the Air Law exam. Not the most exciting of subjects but one that is required before you are allowed to fly solo. Wish me luck!