Back to Basics - Circuits

As a pilot certificate holder, we all know how to conduct circuits. But how acurately are we really flying our circuits, and when was the last time you practised a go-around?

In the past 5 years, RAAus has encountered a number of fatal accidents where it is believed that the mismangagement of a go-around contributed to the event. In addition to this, we have also seen a number of loss of control events within the circuit due to pilot error, some of which can be associated with pilots performing non-standard procedures and not maintaining accurate speed control.

Because of this, our week 1 back to basics flight lesson is Circuits. The intention is that pilots review their basic skills to ensure standardisation and proficiency in areas that we may often neglect due to the view that these skills are overly simple, when in fact reviewing these skills may just save a life! 

Read the week 1 safety article on maintaining situational awareness in the circuit, and then complete this week's flight activity.

Flight Activity

Conduct a minimum of three circuits with a focus on the following

  • Radio calls
  • Lookout
  • Maintaining acuracy in speeds within a tolerance of 5kts
  • Maintaining acuracy in altitude within a tolerance of 50ft
  • Ensuring a stabilised approach is maintained with the turn onto final complete by 500ft AGL


  • Prior to take-off, consider local risks that exist at your airfield (operational, aircraft, and personnel)
  • Conduct a pre-takeoff safety briefing including actions to be taken in the event of an engine failure after take-off
  • At least one of the three circuits should include a go-around

Safely Conducting a go-around

For most of us, conducting a go-around is not something we want to do, after all, we are all trying to get in as much landing practice as possible. 

When reviewing previous RAAus Loss of Control incidents an alarming majority occur in the circuit area. It was identified that a number of these incidents could be attributed to mismanagement of the aircraft during a go around. Predominantly this issue occurred when applying full power and having the pitch and yaw of our high power to weight ratio aircraft catch the pilot out.

Remember the most important thing is to fly the aircraft
The old saying AVIATE, NAVIGATE, COMMUNICATE is extremely important when conducting a go around. Firstly fly the aircraft.

Be ready and control the pitch and yaw of the aircraft
When applying power the aircraft will pitch upwards and yaw - If the aircraft was correctly trimmed for the approach it is likely that forward pressure will be required on the control collumn or stick in order to maintain the required airspeed - Failure to do this may result in the aircraft quickly approaching the stall speed, and if not indentified could result in a loss of control of the aircraft.

Once the aircraft is comfortably climbing away move on to navigate. Move the aircraft away from the ground and towards the dead side of the circuit (as applicable). Once the aircraft is climbing away and tracking where you want it to then it is time to communicate and make the radio call. Remember the order, it is important!

Here are our top tips when it comes to conducting a go around:

  1. Identify the need to go around
  2. Smoothly apply climb power (be ready to control the pitch and yaw of the aircraft)
  3. Set the climb attitude.
  4. Once in a steady climb and at a stable airspeed consider retracting the flaps (as required). Remember to do this one stage at a time.
  5. Position the aircraft towards the dead side of the runway (as applicable)
  6. When the aircraft is tracking towards the dead side and the aircraft is in a steady and stable climb then you can make the radio call.
  7. Continue upwind and complete a normal circuit (traffic permitting)

Ensuring a stabilised approach is maintained with the turn onto final complete by 500ft AGL

A stabilised approach is made up of several aspects - These are:

  • Aircraft speed is maintained within the tolerance of 5 kts.
  • Height above ground at various stages along the approach path is consistent with a normal approach path
  • No large changes in configuration of the aircraft and its systems, such as landing gear and flap settings
  • No significant changes in approach power settings
  • The angle or ‘bank’ of the aircraft is not exceeded. A suitable angle or bank turning on to final is equal or less than 30 degrees.
  • Turning onto final above 500ft AGL
  • The aircraft’s rate of descent is within the normal range of 500 – 700 fpm
  • Wind speed and direction and how it is affecting the aircraft. This includes crosswind component.
  • Visibility and turbulence. If it is hard to see the runway or the aircraft is succumbing to turbulence it is often better to conduct a go around and try again.
  • If there are any aircraft close in front or on the runway.

Rather than continuing with a non-stabilised approach it is better to conduct a go around due to the close proximity to the ground. The turn onto final should be completed by 500FT above aerodrome elevation. This should allow sufficient time for pilot to ensure the runway is clear for landing. It will also allow for the majority of aircraft to be stabilised for the approach and landing.

Conduct a take-off safety briefing

Just before every take-off it is important to consider what actions you will do during an emergency on the take-off. The easiest way to have this information at hand is to conduct a verbal take-off safety brief (TOSB).

It is important to have the actions at the front of your mind so that if an emergency does occur you do not have to think about the required actions. This is especially important in our low inertia and high drag aircraft.

The take-off safety brief should consider up to 4 separate situations as follows:

  • Take-off roll but not airborne
  • Take-off airborne but sufficient runway to land ahead
  • Airborne with insufficient runway ahead and below 500ft AGL
  • Above 500ft

It is important to remember the best glide speed of your aircraft and constantly practice emergency situations to allow for readiness if the situation actually occurs. 

One way to change your mentality is to say "on this take-off WHEN the engine fails I will" instead of "in the event of an engine failure I will". This way you acknowledge that the engine will fail on the take-off thereby making you completely ready.

Consider local risks

Even if you operate from your home airport every day, every take-off will be subtly different. It is important to consider the local risks prior to every take-off, especially if you are at a non-familiar aerodrome.

Some of the suggested areas to consider are:


  • Weather (cloud / visibility / wind + crosswind)
  • Traffic
  • Runway length / surface / layout
  • Local terrain
  • Local traffic procedures (have I consulted the ERSA?)
  • NAIPS Weather and NOTAMS


  • Am I familiar with all the systems on the aircraft?
  • Have I checked weight and balance?
  • Through pre-flight inspection?
  • Are there any defects or maintenance due?
  • Is my aircraft registered?


  • When was my last flight? How has COVID affected this?
  • Is my BFR, medical and membership up to date?
  • Who do I have on board?
  • What am I planning to do in this flight?
  • Have I done the IMSAFE checklist?

Radio Calls

We aim to deliver maximum output in minimum time. This allows other pilots to know where we are and our intentions without spending unnecessary time using the radio. When making radio calls, we aim for 4 main criteria as follows:

- The name of the aerodrome

- The aircraft’s type and call sign

- The position of the aircraft

- The pilot’s intentions

Maintaining an active lookout

Apart from being a legal requirement, a pilot must maintain a lookout for other aircraft that are being operated on the manoeuvring area of, or in the vicinity of, the aerodrome, to avoid collision.

Keeping an adequate lookout in the circuit is extremely important as is forms part of your situational awareness. It allows you to have a well-rounded picture of what other aircraft are doing and where they are positioned allowing you to plan and adapt your actions accordingly.

An effective lookout focuses both above and below the horizon, pausing every 10 to 15 degrees to allow our eyes to adjust and finishing in the direction of any turn last to ensure a clear area.

By going back to basics we can combat complacency, ensure we are not building bad habbits, review our skills, and be safer pilots ensuring safer skies!


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