Sometimes we find ourselves in the wrong position to make a normal circuit. We must adapt the normal pattern to place ourselves somewhere safe, in a good position to complete the remainder of the circuit.
Perhaps in a dash to get back safely, you suddenly realise you’ve overdone it and are practically over the field with more than enough height. What to do? The answer is to move away and get back to a more normal position for the height you have. You don’t need to fly directly away, just fly to the point of the ideal circuit that matches the height you’ll have when you get there. It is a matter of continuous judgement and adjustment, although whilst in circuit you would ideally fly in straight lines.
Whilst too close feels uncomfortable, too low feels worse. If only you could regain height somehow. Condor’s Q button doesn’t exist in the real world, and rather overdoes it in sim circuits, so it is better to adjust your position to match your height. Can you make it to a point in the ‘normal’ circuit at an appropriate height? If you are upwind and low, can you move your intended landing area to the upwind end of the field and fly a circuit appropriate to that? Or if very low, land downwind? If you are low and out to one side, could you dispense with ‘downwind’ and fly a long diagonal leg to join a normal base leg? Would it be better to adjust your intended landing area and make a smaller circuit, or turn in early? If you are low and the landing area is a little upwind of you, perhaps you could fly a long base leg to a ‘normal’ Final Turn position. Finding yourself low and well downwind of the field is dangerous – too often people try to stretch their glide, failing to plan for an early arrival somewhat short of the field. You may be able to fly straight in on a lengthy Approach leg, but only from a safe height. Consider an outlanding instead if you are low and downwind.
Remember, you have options. The only thing that matters is to make a safe landing, preceded by the safest circuit available to you. The Duty Instructor may have some questions for you after an unconventional arrival, but better to be available to answer them than trying to force yourself into the ‘normal’ picture only to find you can’t land safely.
Scenario and Demonstration
This demonstration shows our pilot got distracted looking at the train. She has lost 300′ flying into wind realised she was dropping well below 1,000′ QFE a couple of kilometers from home. She can’t risk losing another 300′ and turns back, heading straight to the airfield. The wind carries her quickly downwind and she is back at the upwind end of the field with hardly any height loss, so now she is too close for the height she has.
She decides to fly out to one side to start the downwind leg, but rather overdoes it. When she looks back she is too low. An earlier turn would have put her in a position to start a ‘normal’ downwind leg at High Key, but that’s behind her now. She turns to fly back back to intersect the usual downwind leg, but she could just as easily have opted for a long diagonal leg to the normal base leg. Her shortened downwind leg takes her to the diagonal leg and she is back on track.
The video is best viewed in YouTube in Full Screen mode, to easily see the on-screen messages during the demonstration. Use view, pause and rewind as needed to grasp the content and timing of the messages displayed, then focus on the action.
Performing the Exercise
The exercise leaves you in an awkward position, at 900′ QFE, over 2km from the field and flying away from it. Decide what action needs to be taken, including configuring for landing (the undercarriage is down when the lever is forward). Fly your chosen route to reach the best position for the Approach, having completed the Final Turn.
Afterwards, ask yourself if your legs were as well positioned as you’d like. Were the heights and speeds acceptable? Did you have time to think and adjust all the way round, or were some parts a bit rushed? If you’d do it differently next time, have another go.
This exercise will be followed by others placing you in a variety of ‘Out Of’ positions.
Further Reading and References
Gliding From Passenger to Pilot, 2nd Edition: Page 114-115
BGA Instructors’ Manual, 4th Edition: Section 3, Chapter 14 Pages 9-10
BGA Instructors’ Reference Cards: Ex 12b