Hey, Let's Make It Another Day!


"Whoosh!" Blustered the gust from the Amtrak Metroliner as it roared past the railroad crossing in my dream. I'd managed to incorporate the sound into my dream but then when Rueben, our geriatric Aussie mix, barked to go out in the middle of the night, I realized it wasn't the Amtrak train; it was the wind bulling its way through the trees outside our bedroom window.

Waiting for Rueben to take care of business, I watched the whirling wind in the willows and began to question the advisability of making the flight I had scheduled in the early morning from Columbia County (1B1) to Hartford, Connecticut's Brainard Airport (HFD). I had already cancelled one appointment to have the software and hardware update performed on my Garmin 480 navigator because of icing forecasts and I was reluctant to have to reschedule again. I'd made the original appointment late in the month to allow the return of my Trimble GPS from FreeFlight where it had been upgraded to accept the now required higher capacity memory card. And now, with the annual inspection due by the end of the month, the pressure was mounting to keep the appointment at Exxel Avionics.

In addition to the imminent deadline for the annual and the previously cancelled appointment at Exxel, I had gotten a call earlier in the week from a friend in Ohio who planned to fly in his Citation with a couple of friends for lunch. I'd told him I had to be in Hartford and he said, no problem, they'd meet me there for lunch. The pressure was ramping up.

Nevertheless, despite the demands to make the flight I pretty much decided not to make the trip and began to list the cancellation calls I'd have to make. But then when I went out to feed the horses the wind was calm. Maybe I should make the trip. Is it a go or a no-go?

I called the phone number that connects me to the AWOS recording at the airport. "Wind from 010 at 15 gusting to 19." Okay, the wind was favoring Runway 3 without too much crosswind. That was doable. I checked the forecast on DUAT for Hartford. At 8 a.m., the wind was from 320 at 8 gusting to 17, but the 11 a.m. forecast called for wind from 330 at 14 gusting to 24. The runway at Hartford is 2/20 so I'd be looking at a 50-degree crosswind, which roughly works out to a crosswind in the gusts of 20 knots.

The POH for the Cardinal lists the demonstrated crosswind velocity as 16 knots. But it points out, "The demonstrated crosswind velocity is the velocity of the crosswind component for which adequate control of the airplane during takeoff and landing was actually demonstrated during certification tests. The value shown is not considered to be limiting." Okay, so a test pilot was able to land and takeoff with a direct crosswind of 16 knots. Good for him. It's not "limiting" but anything above the demonstrated value raises a flag. How comfortable was I with my crosswind techniques? I didn't have anything to prove, but on the other hand I didn't want to disappoint anyone and the expiration of the annual was looming. I was still on the fence.

Finally, I checked the forecast for the expected time of my return flight from Hartford back to Columbia County. The forecast for Albany (ALB), the closest reporting station, was calling for winds from 290 at 15 gusting to 30. The runways at Columbia County are 3/21, meaning at least an 80-degree crosswind. That settled it; I wasn't going. (Later in the afternoon, at about the time I'd have been returning from Hartford, I logged on to the graphical AWOS at Columbia County [saiawos2.com/1B1/sai.html] on my computer. The display showed a direct crosswind of 15 knots with gusts of 19 knots.)

I called Larry Anglisano at Exxel to let him know we'd have to postpone his opportunity to do his laying on of hands on my airplane. He didn't hesitate. "You made the right decision," he said. We rescheduled in time for the annual.

I called my friend with the Citation and left a message. I was concerned he might launch before he retrieved my message and hoped he wouldn't second-guess my decision to abort the flight.

The phone rang. "Hey, Tom. I got your message and uh … you know, looking at the winds and looking at your runway alignment, I don't like that crosswind very much. On the forecast, I saw gusting to 28 and a direct crosswind. It's funny, if you hadn't told me something about the winds I'd probably never have looked at them and we'd have come and landed in the crosswind. Hey, let's make it another day."

One of the reassuring things about plans that involve other pilots is that they understand there are days when it's better to stay on the ground than get in a mêlée with Mother Nature. In order for us to be able to make go/no-go decisions without undue pressure, it's important that we teach nonpilot passengers or people waiting for our arrival not to be terribly surprised -- or disappointed -- if there are days when as pilot-in-command we have to scrub or delay a flight. After all, even the airlines do it.

I know that pilots who earn their spurs in the Midwest where crosswinds are the rule not the exception are much more adept at dealing with wayward winds. But handling crosswinds, particularly with the new light-wing-loading light sport airplanes, is an important skill that all of us should cultivate.

There are two basic techniques for landing in a crosswind. The crab method, as it suggests, has you crab into the wind and fly the approach with the wings level. During the flare for landing, you have to "kick out" the crab angle so you touchdown with the airplane pointing down the runway. In the crab kick-out method, you ideally transition to a slip as the upwind wheel touches the runway. If you touch down while the airplane's drifting sideways there will be side loads on the tires, wheels and landing gear. Not good.

The second method uses a forward slip with the low wing held into the wind. Opposite rudder is used to keep the airplane lined up with the runway. You control drift with the ailerons and heading with the rudder. Done right, the airplane will land on the upwind wheel.

With the first method, keeping the wings level during the approach is more comfortable for passengers. But an advantage of the second method is that it doesn't require quite the finesse to "kick-out" the crab angle at the last moment. You'll also learn earlier in the slipping approach if the airplane has enough control authority to be aerodynamically capable of handling the crosswind.

In all landings, it's important to continue flying the airplane even after it's on the runway, but even more so in crosswinds. Do you remember the taxi diagram that shows how to position the control surfaces to counteract the wind? You should.

The approach should be faster than normal. The rule of thumb is to add half the gust factor to your normal approach speed. If the wind is 10 gusting to 20 knots, you'd add half of 10 or 5 knots. In addition to carrying a bit more speed, it's also helpful to use less than full flaps that present a larger surface for the wind to buffet. Normally runway length isn't a concern with the headwind component so even with a higher approach speed you can use some intermediate flap setting rather than full flaps.

Of course, if the wind is more than you or your airplane can -- or want to -- handle, there's nothing wrong with deviating to an airport with a runway more aligned with the wind. Just because other pilots have managed to land is not a reason to go against your instincts and that awful feeling in your gut that things aren't quite right and try to land yourself. Fly away to play another day.

Thomas Turner, a Master Certified Flight Instructor who publishes the web-based "Flying Lessons" (thomaspturner.net), suggests a gradual ramping up of crosswind experience to learn to wrestle the winds.

"Keep current with crosswinds by purposely seeking out progressively greater crosswind conditions," Turner suggests. "On a day with winds nearly aligned with your home runway, fly to a nearby field with a slightly greater crosswind component. Remember you can always go around and fly somewhere, perhaps home, with less crosswind.

"After a couple landings and takeoffs there, fly to one with more crosswind yet. As much as possible add to your crosswind practice with greater crosswinds until you begin to feel uncomfortable with the approach and go around. Compute the crosswind component at the last airport where you comfortably landed; take two to three knots off that crosswind and consider it your current maximum (you only flew comfortably at the higher crosswind after considerable recent practice with crosswinds building up to that point). Reduce your 'personal maximum' by two knots for every month you go without flying a significant crosswind."

If it's been a while since you had to brush up your crosswind techniques, there's no reason not to log some time with an instructor to get back your competence -- and confidence.

But, even when you're feeling comfortable with your crosswind capabilities, there may still be times when it just doesn't make sense to accept the challenge. No one, at least no one who matters, is going to think less of you for diverting to a more accommodating airport or opting to stay on the ground and making it another day.