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

April 17, 2008 by Steven W. Ells, Associate Editor

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. 

We had departed Centennial Airport earlier that day to fly the Commander to its new home in Santa Maria, California. Mr. Evans had asked me to help him since he wasn’t familiar with the airplane. As we flew south paralleling the north-south orientation of the Front Range of the Rockies, the winds out of the west were howling. I had hoped to get far enough south to be able to get around the southern end of the mountains before fueling but earlier in the flight we had chosen to climb to a cruise altitude where the air was smooth. The turbonormalizer-equipped Commander was a good climber but wasn’t very fast. As a result we used fuel faster and our ground speeds were slower than we had planned. By the time Trinidad came into view, we were starting to nibble at my personal minimums for fuel.

The ASOS reported winds from 270 degrees at 22 gusting to 27. That was a 50-degree crosswind across Runway 21. The runway was plenty long and 100 feet wide. I knew I could lessen the effect of the crosswind by landing on a diagonal track across the runway if necessary but to my surprise the Commander displayed a gritty ability to handle that crosswind and surprised both of us as I greased 112WN on in a slightly right wing low attitude. We both breathed a sigh of relief as we tracked the center line to the FBO.

I believe the combination of the low wing, the crosswind technique that I felt comfortable using, the long-travel trailing-link landing gear, and the vortex generators on the vertical fin that energized the airflow over the rudder were the tools that permitted me to maintain control of the Commander in those gusty conditions.

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