A School of a Different Kind

My flight training school of choice was Stapleford Flight Centre, primarily due to reputation and proximity to where I lived. Stapleford Flight Centre (International Civil Aviation Organisation code – EGSG) is a Flight Training Organisation (FTO) that is just inside of the M25 between junction 27 & 28 in the Romford area known as Stapleford Abbots. It is one of the few remaining aviation training providers that is still family run and competes with the likes of CTC and Oxford. My first visit to the centre, I was welcomed by the deputy head of flight training who introduced me to the facilities, gave me a tour of the aircraft, the sims and the ground school areas. Given he himself is a busy flying instructor, I felt no time pressure and was given all the time I needed and all questions answered.

Staplefords fleet includes: C152, C172, C182, PA28, Tecnam P2008JC, PA28R, PA34 and DA42. The primary single engine trainers being the Piper Warrior (PA28) and the Cessna 152, with complex and commercial training carried out on the Piper Arrow (PA28R) which has a retractable undercarriage and variable pitch propeller. The Tecnam is the new addition to the flight centre and is used for single engine training with a long term plan of replacing the aging fleet of Cessna 152 aircraft with these. The Multi-engine aircraft are the Piper Seneca (PA34) and the Diamond Twinstar (DA42) which are primarily used for Commercial flight training, and Multi-engine ratings. The centre also offers charter services and scenic pleasure flights over central London. In my time learning to fly I have been lucky enough to run pax on a couple of these scenic flights conducted in the Piper Seneca because my instructor carried out the pleasure flights.


My first flight was a bit more unconventional than most in the fact that I told my instructor on my first day that I had done 28hours flying 4 years ago and we did 40% of the syllabus in a 1hr10minute sortie, which left me with a headache the size of a planet and capacity drained to the point I had trouble forming sentences but what a brilliant re-introduction. In the sortie we recanted the basic skills of climbing & descending, straight and level flight, turning, stalling, radio work, aerodrome joining procedures and some circuits of which I summarize in below.

Stapleford has a Air/Ground Communication (AGCS) Service or to aviators a radio service, offering little more than basic airfield information and information were appropriate (weather and area information if known) to aviators flying in the vicinity of the aerodrome. The airfield itself has 2 active runways, 1 of which is tarmac (22) and the other grass (04). The Airfield layout is below:


The airfield graphic above shows the circuit pattern for both runways at Stapleford. A circuit is the pattern in which aircraft land at an aerodrome. This affects the way in which aircraft take off, approach and join to and from the aerodrome. Circuits are dependent upon the magnetic direction of the runway, can be left or right hand and depending upon the service offered by the Air Traffic Service Unit (ATSU) at the aerodrome, circuits are flown in a variety of ways. However, one commonality between all circuits in the civilian world is that they will always be flown in a rectangular fashion consisting of a crosswind, downwind, base and final legs. Military circuits vary very slightly in that they are not rectangular but elongated ovals as depicted below.


There are number of different kind of circuits that are taught in the basic PPL course and combine the skills of: straight and level flight; a controlled ascent and descent; a variety of numerous banked turns, the use of flap, its affect on speed, lift and its impact on stall speed and crucially an ability to land safely. The common circuits are: normal, glide and bad weather circuits which all use the same skills.

In my opinion the hardest skill for any budding pilot is learning to land. Although, this comes naturally to many, landing did not come naturally to me both in the military nor civilian. The key to a smooth landing is a smooth reconfiguration on base and a good final approach, if both these are done well then the chances are you will have less to think about as you come to land giving you more time. I found landing actually more tricky in a high winged aircraft (Cessna 152) rather than a low winged aircraft (Grob Tutor 115e – Basic Military trainer) which is often considered counter intuitive as you should be able to see more as you don’t have 2 wings blocking your view of the ground. Nonetheless, practice prevails as your judgement and general handling improves.

To anyone reading this, I’m hoping to provide my view, insight and hopefully an interesting read, not an instructional guide to flying and theory (which you can get from any text book). For anyone exploring flying as a hobby or as a potential job, I hope this provides some insight into basic training. In forth coming posts I will be covering my experiences and lessons learned in: Advice and Equipment required for a private pilot, Communications, Further Circuit work, Practice Forced Landings (PFLs), Navigation & RadioNav and Solo Flight.

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