The wind would add a little extra fun to the CDA (continuous descent approach). The CDA is a noise abatement procedure that is designed to maintain a glidepath that requires minimal thrust until the beginning of the final approach segment, when the last of the drag devices are deployed. In addition to providing vectors, the London final controller states a precise distance from the runway threshold in order for pilots to calculate their appropriate descent rates in maintaining an idle or near-idle descent on a three-degree glidepath. The monster headwind would force a slower vertical speed rate at the standard 180 knots.
Normally, I like to hand-fly the airplane out of 10,000 feet. On this day, I thought it best to allow the autopilot an opportunity to adjust appropriately for the winds in order to intercept the localizer. That being said, I carefully monitored the descent rate by adjusting the vertical speed dial in the glareshield eyebrow. My scan darted between the glideslope indicator, the localizer diamond and the airspeed tape. The airplane was beginning to rock like the gyrations of a mechanical bull at half difficulty level. I was glad that I had made the announcement to seat the flight attendants early.
Once the autopilot intercepted the localizer and then the glideslope, I glanced out into a dull gray overcast. Moments later, just below 1,000 feet, patches of earth appeared. The runway became visible on the horizon. Not surprisingly, the now 37-knot quartering crosswind placed the threshold at almost our 2 o’clock position. Despite the crosswind, the airplane was tracking within inches of the extended centerline.
I took a deep breath and disconnected the autopilot, preparing to wrangle with the bull. I had briefed the need for a go-around if a wind shear warning annunciated or if someone — mainly me — got scared and didn’t like what he saw.
I did my best to make slow and gradual corrections, resisting the urge to level the wings with immediate inputs. The 777 is a gentle beast in turbulence. Pilots have to allow the beast to lumber. Constant erratic control movements will cause the airplane to jerk through the sky, and they’ll be fighting against themselves.
Our operating manual recommends disconnecting the autothrottles in gusty conditions. Fortunately for us, the wind was blowing at a steady state. The power levers were keeping up with the various pitch inputs that I was providing. My primary focus was to align the nose of the airplane parallel to the white stripes on the runway just prior to touchdown.
As 100 feet agl arrived, I applied a few more pounds of rudder pressure on the downwind side. A brief twist of the rudder trim knob assisted with the required force. Within seconds of the last automated voice call-out of 10 feet, the left main truck made gentle contact with the concrete. I slowly released aileron pressure and allowed the right main truck to slither onto the runway. The nosewheel followed as I relaxed back pressure. With the activation of autobrakes, the airplane decelerated at a comfortable pace. Lucked out again …
Above the diminishing hiss of the reverse thrust, my copilots exhaled an audible sigh. They offered compliments on my performance. Perhaps their kind words were justifiable statements of relief that the event was over. It didn’t matter. Mission accomplished.
We taxied to the gate knowing that a bit of wind is just another day in the life of a 777.
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