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PPL Student pilot, ~20 hrs

Hi, whilst doing some pattern work I frequently find myself unable to keep accurate track of the number of landings. There's an AFIS at my home airport who keeps track (because they charge fees) but there are a few "flatrate" (you pay for 5 landings, but it's flat-rate after 5) air fields or some free gras strips where nobody keeps count.

The flat-rate one is particularly hard, the pattern altitude is just 650 ft and it's very tight, so there's barely any chance even on the downwind to scribble a note on paper or so.

I've tried using a "lap timer" function on my watch, scribbling lines on a tally sheet etc, but am prone to forget to add a line when things get busy. My multi-tasking capability hasn't improved to the point where I can do too many things at once. An extrapolation of flight time and time per pattern isn't always giving me the correct answer either.

Would the Pros have any tips on what might be a useful way to keep an accurate count of the landings? How are you doing that?

Update 14/07/2020

Based on the @Bianfable's tip, I've installed "Altimeter Plus" on Android, and had that active. I thought I'd share the results with you: Screenshot of Altimeter Plus after landing

My problem is solved. I've flown 11 patterns, which are clearly visible (marked yellow). I've done two engine failure after takeoff trainings, marked blue. The red marker must have been a sensor error; I don't remember crashing between the first and second landing. The green markers are forced landings w/o power, aborted at about 350 feet each.

The bad thing about it: Although it was gusty and there were strong winds, I can now see that my altitude control could be improved in the pattern. I don't ever remember being more than 50 feet off, but the data suggests otherwise. Once again, fabulous tips all, but this was the winner. Phone in my pocket keeps count, and provides reprimands to beat oneself up about after landing. Great! Even provides pretty accurate flight time, next time I'll try and activate it on top of the hour for easier calculation of what time second "x" actually is. Next time I'll also have phyphox running and will measure the acceleration on landing. The next thing to improve...

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    $\begingroup$ Great to see it works well :) By the way, I wouldn't beat myself up if the altitude shown here is incorrect. I am not sure how well these sensors are calibrated and I wouldn't trust the absolute values shown (the altimeter in your aircraft should be used for that). But pressure differences are clearly visible :) $\endgroup$ – Bianfable Jul 14 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not too unhappy - my FI is pretty strict (I'm actually happy about it!), his saying is "I'm not happy, until you're not happy" - he would have said something if the altimeter had ever moved 50 feet out of the assigned altitude. In reality that is obviously the only instrument I care about - but it's good to see there are additional backups next to the Alt Static, Transponder or GPS. $\endgroup$ – ExternalUse Jul 14 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ Another alternative is to pick up a "knitting row counter", they come in rings you wear on your finger and you just push to increment them: Row Counter Ring. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jul 14 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding your update, I would just point out that the altimeter in your airplane is probably more reliable for relative small changes than the altitude readout on a smartphone app. It's possible that your altitude control needs some work, but it's also possible that there's just noise in the data from your phone (e.g. from not getting an actual GPS fix each time and the phone just trying to extrapolate from accelerometers.) $\endgroup$ – reirab Jul 15 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab I've looked again today, and never deviated more than 10 feet - the output is identical. So it's probably noise. Also it's in my pocket, ie on a kind-of alternate static. Of course the only thing I rely on is my altimeter (although I've just learned to live without it - got pitch and power setting accurate to 2 knots now. So proud! ;-) $\endgroup$ – ExternalUse Jul 15 at 19:06
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The trick my CFI taught me is to use your Course Deviation Indicator or ADF to keep track of landings. After your first landing, bug a course of 010. After your second landing, bug 020. You can reach over and adjust the knob after every landing without having to juggle a pen and a notebook. It's still a manual step, though.

You could also use a product like Foreflight or CloudAhoy or even a service like ADSBExchange to count the number of approaches you made after the fact.

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  • $\begingroup$ I do like that, might even be able to get this worked into my downwind checks.Thanks! $\endgroup$ – ExternalUse Jul 13 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ This sounded great, but today in p...poor vis and low ceilings we had everything (ILS, NDB) tuned in just in case, so it wouldn't have worked. I'll stick with Bianfable's method now, it's really nice. $\endgroup$ – ExternalUse Jul 14 at 16:45
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The other answers have provided some easy ways to increment your count without too much distraction, but if you are really "prone to forget [...] when things get busy" as you say, this might not be good enough. I would therefore recommend a solution which does not require any action on your side.

Most smartphones today have a pressure sensor. There are apps that can record the pressure data over time (e.g. this one). All you have to do is start the recording before you go flying and then later look at the pressure vs. time plot. In an un-pressurized aircraft it will be easy to see your landings (these sensors are typically accurate enough to tell the difference between your feet and your head).

Alternatively, you could record your GPS position over time (e.g. this app) and look at your flights that way. Note that both of these options would work even with the phone in flight mode.

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  • $\begingroup$ Fabulous, never thought of that. I'll try both approaches later today and will report back. With the app you mentioned, the min interval appears to be 5 min for collection, I'll see if that screws up the result (say it takes a data point on base, the next one will most likely be base again... $\endgroup$ – ExternalUse Jul 14 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ @ExternalUse Sorry, I didn't check the recording intervals or max. recording times for these apps. One may have to look for apps better suited for this application. Personally, I am using phyphox for recording sensor data (disclaimer: I work for the university which developed this app, but I am not associated with its development). You'll have to see what works best for you... $\endgroup$ – Bianfable Jul 14 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ Just had a look around and found "Altimeter Plus" which appears to record (on demand) in 1s Intervals. It's free w/o Ads. Phyphox looks really interesting, too - well worth a second look from what I've glanced at. Thanks for all suggestions! $\endgroup$ – ExternalUse Jul 14 at 8:02
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    $\begingroup$ I was going to suggest a GPS tracker, too. I use my phone for running, an I can follow my track to keep track of laps around a 400m track, so I'd imagine that you could do the same for keep track of laps in the pattern. Of course, that presumes you're making a landing approach on each lap... $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Jul 14 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan GPS can also record altitude (although with less accuracy), so that shouldn't be a problem, unless you execute a go around at very low altitude. My concern is more that the signal strength inside the aircraft might be insufficient for the small antenna in the phone and you wouldn't notice problems until after landing. That's why I think the pressure sensor is more reliable. $\endgroup$ – Bianfable Jul 14 at 11:17
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Get a Tally Counter, and push the button once per landing. No batteries, nothing to fail, easy to use. Not much more you could ask for.

Tally Counter https://tallycounterstore.com/finger-tally-counter-quantity-discounts/

There are even options for mounted ones.

Mounted Tally Counter https://tallycounterstore.com/mounted-tally-counter/

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  • $\begingroup$ I think I found my solution - about to update my question with the test results! Thanks anyway! $\endgroup$ – ExternalUse Jul 14 at 15:46
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(Disclaimer: I'm not a pro at all, I don't even have any license yet)

If you do indeed have a smartphone with you, you might consider just letting a voice recording run for the duration of your pattern work and call out your landings. When you're back on the ground, you can just listen through the recording and count the landings.

This might also have another interesting use, as you could actually comment on your maneuvers, i.e. if you're happy or unhappy with something, so you could analyse it later.

Afaik, Flight Chops (the aviation youtuber) initially started recording his flights on camera in order to be able to analyse them later, so that might be a way as well.

(Also, welcome to aviation.stackexchange 👋)

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    $\begingroup$ Not on a full CVR, but it would at least get your half of the conversation. "Come on... lower... I need to be a bit lower! No, flaps sooner!" $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Jul 14 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, I haven't thought about the decent amount of noise these small airplanes make :D Maybe there's a way to connect your phone to the com system so you can record everything? $\endgroup$ – Jan Nash Jul 14 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ Else, you just might have to scream at your phone a bit :D $\endgroup$ – Jan Nash Jul 14 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ Surely just putting your phone in a holder so it's pointing out the window, with a timed photo app taking a low res pic every minute, then - defeats the noise issue and should be visually obvious if youre on land! $\endgroup$ – Caius Jard Jul 16 at 12:08
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Almost every calculator can be converted into counter just by typing something like 1 + = (and then every time you press = the value is incremented).

This can be used if you need aircraft instruments for the training itself instead.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, that's a good idea but impractical I fear. Keeping it on my lap won't work, and when putting it away it's likely that buttons would be pressed randomly in a side pocket etc. But thanks for the reply! $\endgroup$ – ExternalUse Jul 14 at 7:37
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Pace count beads, which are just some beads on a rope that doesn't let them readily move, would work well if you want to keep track while in the air.

Pace count beads on paracord

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    $\begingroup$ Nice one. These are also sometimes called Ranger beads. I thought about this too. Glad you posted it! Welcome to the site. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Holmes Jul 16 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ Fun idea - might be mistaken for praying though. Might take a student longer to solo if the FI always thinks he's praying to make it ;-) $\endgroup$ – ExternalUse Jul 21 at 9:46
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I use my ADF. Set the frequency to 1000 when I start, bump it by one for each landing.

(Might as well use it for SOMETHING!)

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I asked my CFI this after a day where we did over a dozen landings. He showed me his kneeboard notebook - there was a neat little row of tally marks next to the METAR info for each field we'd landed at.

The trick he used was that he was marking takeoffs, because ultimately what takes off must land (note; this won't work for spaceplanes). During the climb you're really just holding it steady and listening for calls; I find in a c172 that's a good time to grab the pen and make a mark on the kneeboard.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmmmmm, dunno. During the climb to circuit height, I usually have my left on the yoke and the right on the throttle. If anything goes wrong I don't want to find myself fumbling around with a pen. The only few seconds where I relax is on the downwind usually. A simple gust or windshear might throw you into dangerous speed territory on climb, I don't want to have my eyes inside the plane or my concentration diluted too much then. Doesn't work for me. $\endgroup$ – ExternalUse Jul 21 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ Ultimately, all these solutions (beads, clicker, paper, HDG bug) require you to take a hand and touch something inside the plane; you'll just have to work out when you can do it, and be sure that you'll remember to do it on every departure or landing - not just pattern work. It's also worth tying or clipping your kneeboard pen so you don't fight with it when you need it (otherwise why have it?) $\endgroup$ – Knetic Jul 21 at 22:17

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