Archive for April, 2008

Powerful forces

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Airports attract powerful forces and if you don’t believe me, consider this exchange that took place at the Wendy’s near the Frederick, MD airport this evening.

Me: “I’ll have a number six combo small please, with a Coke.”
Cashier: “That’ll be $6.04.”
Me: “Here you go.”
Cashier: “You know, when people order a number six combo medium, it always comes up $6.66–the Number of The Beast.”
Me: “Always?”
Cashier: “Yes. It really bothers some people. One lady begged me to charge her an extra penny just to change it.”
Me: “Did you do it?”
Cashier: “I said no–in my best Satanic voice”
Me: “Good man.”

Identifying with SUX

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Fresno is FAT. We’re invited to SUX.

Airport identifiers–some of them, well, SUX. Rather than fight it, Sioux City, Iowa, is leveraging the unusual identifier for Sioux Gateway Airport/Col. Bud Day Field.

Airport Operations Manager Elizabeth Smart, CM, ACE (not sure what those stand for–but at least it’s not SUX), reminded me in a letter this week that SUX is a great place and we may want to feature it in our next “A Day in the Life of America’s Airports” story. Could be. SUX has an Iowa Air National Guard unit on the field, air carrier service, and a full-service FBO, as well as corporate operations for companies such as Tyson Fresh Meats. You can see the details in AOPA’s Airport Directory Online. It looks like a nice airport.

Not flying near Sioux City anytime soon, but want the T-shirt? See all of the cool Fly Sux stuff online.

Put your right foot in . . .

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Somewhere over the last 30 years, I went from being afraid of crosswind landings to enjoying the challenge. Now, I almost look forward to a stiff crosswind–steady, not gusty, thank you very much.

Many challenging crosswind situations come to mind–some recent, some not so. Just this year, I’ve battled tough crosswinds at nearby Hagerstown, Maryland, and Winchester, Virginia. Zeroing in on Winchester’s Runway 32 last January, the airplane was at a 40-degree correction, it seemed. On short final, I kicked full right rudder to straighten out the nose and rolled in left aileron to keep it on track for an “arrival.” But on such a gusty day, any time you can reuse the airplane, you’re a hero.

The worst ever was St. Mary’s, Georgia, (4J6) a number of years ago. Runway 22 was the plan, but Mother Nature made it difficult with about a 22-knot crosswind component. No flaps, higher landing speed, a good grip on the airplane, and a willingness to go around and look for another airport.

It all worked out. It’s always important to go into tough landing situations primed to abandon the approach for a runway more aligned with the wind. The worst case is to find yourself with a challenging wind and not enough fuel to go someplace else. Don’t go there. And don’t forget to look for challenging crosswind days to go practice. You’ll enjoy the exercise.


Out of control

Friday, April 18th, 2008

There have been very few times I’ve felt out of control in an airplane, either flying myself or while instructing. But the two major ones that come to mind were both a result of crosswinds.

The first was as an instrument student. I was flying a Cessna 172 in Gainesville, Florida, and my instructor had me commence the approach with a touch and go. We touched down but the tires started screeching as the airplane was pushed hard to the right. I moved feet and hands, but nothing happened.

My instructor was noticeably upset, as he should have been. Instrument students should know how to land in a crosswind. Looking back, I realized that I had applied no correction whatsoever. We went around to try another and he explained it in very simple terms–bank for the centerline and use rudder to keep the nose straight. I’ve been driving that into my student’s heads ever since.

The other time was with a student. He landed in a relatively low crosswind, maybe 10 knots or so. But there was some side loading and all of the sudden we’re on one wheel heading straight for a runway light. Good times…

One that didn’t work

Friday, April 18th, 2008

It sounded like a great idea–fly from Frederick, Maryland, down to Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay, for crab cakes. It was a windy spring day and the forecast called for the possibility of moderate turbulence. Except for a few small bumps the air was smooth.

When I got to Tangier Island, however, the wind must have been 35 knots, perpendicular to (and blowing water onto!) the narrow single runway. Even with full rudder deflection the wind pushed me to the right of the runway–and that Tampico, like its Tobago and Trinidad siblings, had a lot of rudder authority.

I gave the approach two tries and then diverted to Crisfield, Maryland, which had a runway conveniently pointed into the wind. You always have a Plan B (and file an alternate restaurant), don’t you?

Two other airplanes did make it into Tangier Island that day. I later learned that one pilot, flying a twin-engine Beech Baron, had to use differential thrust to land in that wind. The other was a Cessna Skyhawk, and I sure would have liked to see its arrival.

The crab cakes at Crisfield are every bit as good, by the way. In case you were wondering.

Cajoling the crosswind

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Once upon a time there was a pilot (me) who was getting her sign-off in a feisty taildragger. And as fate would have it, winds were perpendicular to the runway that day. “No problem,” said the good instructor. And then he added, “Just remember: Keep positive control until the plane is tied down.” And so I took a deep breath and plunged into the mighty crosswind.

My neck hurt from switching my view back and forth out the left side window (witnessing ever-growing runway numbers and end lights coming nearer) to the front windshield where trees loomed but kept their distance, thank you. The airplane’s nose steadily pointed 45 degrees to the runway’s right side, and the numbers and lights were now really getting very large in the left window, so I formed a plan of action: Get lined up with the centerline, no matter what it takes.

It was an oh-so-sweet touchdown, especially hearing, “Good job, keep her there,” from the back seat. My left hand was on the throttle while my white-knuckled right hand clamped onto the stick. Overjoyed with my glorious success that had solicited kudos from the back, I let go of the controls for just a split second. The airplane reacted immediately, and so did the good instructor. Uh oh–what was I thinking?

Not your typical photo shoot

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

AOPA Pilot senior photographer Mike Fizer and I tumbled into a rented Dodge Minivan–it takes a lot of equipment to richen up a website–at 5 a.m. this morning. We needed to get in a full photo shoot including inflight shots of a Piper PA-12 before the weather forecast came true. We had tried to get our shots on Wednesday evening but the winds were howling. The site? The Hartford,  Wisconsin, (HXF) airport northwest of Milwaukee. The forecast wasn’t very promising but we had no choice but to try again the next morning.

When we arrived just before dawn there was no wind, few clouds and 50 mile visibility. There was even a very high overcast that diffused the sunlight–perfect conditions for a photo shoot. Fizer loaded his equipment, lenses, and memory cards into the pilot’s seat position of a local pilot’s Cessna 172. Most inflight photos are taken from the copilot’s side of the photo airplane so these shots would present a change from the norm.  As I flew the 1947 Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser owned by Romy Baus we climbed to 1,000 feet agl, maneuvered into position, and Fizer started shooting.


X-Wind landings: Just follow the stripe

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

This sounds like heresy, but I’ll say it: Ignore the everlasting crab/slip debate.

Unless your aircraft has a particular limitation that demands one method or the other, it’s a fruitless discussion.

The key to successful crosswind landings is getting your mind outside the cockpit and away from mechanical ‘push this lever’ or ‘pull that one’ thinking.

Concentrate on holding the centerline during final approach, and immediately correct the slightest deviations on landing. As long as you’re continuously tracking the centerline, your hands and feet will naturally do the right things.

Don’t worry about style.

Just follow the stripe.

X-Wind technique–It all depends

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

It depends on what I’m flying. The smaller the plane–the lighter the wing loading, more to the point–the more I’m apt to crab it in, then kick out the crab and land it in the wing-low, opposite rudder move.

Heavier airplanes, or airplanes with higher wing loadings, seem to handle crosswinds better. So I’ll slip these usually as the runway draws near, then sort out the landing technique just before touchdown.

Also, the strength of the crosswind component is important, of course. I just landed a Lear 60XR in 40-knot winds blowing 45 degrees off the runway heading. Not much control deflection was required, but the timing was more critical because things are happening much faster–final approach speed was 140 knots (owing to the gust factor).

Light planes make you work harder because your speeds are slower and so you spend more time in the flare.

In another big difference, heavier airplanes stay put when they land. Lighter planes can reach flying speed in strong winds!

A long-stroke landing gear and a low wing equals success

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

My most memorable crosswind landing occurred as I and Bill Evans, who had purchased the 2005 AOPA Sweepstakes Commander Countdown airplane from prize winner Rob Melnick of Denver, landed for fuel at the Trinidad, Colorado airport in late February 2006.

When there’s a crosswind I roll out of my turn from the base leg on the runway center line. Then I adjust my heading into the crosswind to stay on the centerline. The amount of heading offset required to track the centerline helps me estimate the strength of the crosswind. On short final I then straighten the airplane out by lowering the upwind wing and adding opposite rudder as necessary. I haven’t ever run into a crosswind that was so strong that I couldn’t continue the landing, but I thought I was going to during that landing at Trinidad.