What a winter we are having! This past January and February have brought an unusually high number of days when the reported gusts have flirted with and sometimes exceeded 40 knots. NOTAM Tangos for moderate turbulence and LLWS (low-level wind sheer) have become the rule rather than the exception. And over the CTAF frequency you can hear Byron shouting “Whee!” gleefully with every circuit!
A day with a brisk Northwesterly wind of more modest 10-20 knots is a great place to start refreshing your wind flying skills if it has been awhile. Start with a thorough weather brief using a combination of sources: television weather reports and internet sites such as ADDS followed by a phone call to our friends at 1-800-WXBRIEF. The FAA publication Aviation Weather for Pilots opens Chapter 4 on wind with the lofty explanation that “Differences in temperature create differences in pressure. These pressure differences drive a complex system of winds in a never ending attempt to reach equilibrium.” What that means for us is that those Isobars, or lines of equal pressure, that populate Prognostic charts can tell us a lot about what’s in store. Widely spaced isobars with shallow pressure gradients will lead to quiet days while tightly packed isobars resembling a coiled slinky mean a bumpy ride.
Consult your POH and using the forecast surface winds in your area and a handy wind component chart calculate how much of that wind is crosswind. Does the calculated cross wind component for the runways you expect to use exceed the demonstrated cross wind component of the manufacturer? If so, are you up to playing test pilot in the wind? Do you feel lucky?
Review taxiing procedures. That old adage Climb Into, Dive Away is a useful pneumonic to remember aileron and elevator placement on your way from the ramp to the run-up area. A twenty knot quartering tail wind can be mighty exciting taxiing back for another go round the pattern if you let go of the controls.
Remember S-Turns over a Road, Turns Around a Point and Rectangular Patterns? Practicing ground reference maneuvers again increases understanding of the changes in rate and radius of turn depending on ground speed. Performed at pattern altitude approximately 1000’AGL, wind will turn our attempts at circles into oddly shaped ovals without correct compensation.
The rectangular patterns prepare us for windy day landings which brings us to one of the great unresolved aviation debates; the crab method versus the slip. I will freely admit to a preference for the slip, or wing low, method. Begin by rehearsing the traffic pattern on the ground. Our fastest ground speed is on downwind of course so the turn to base will be steeper. On base the wind is pushing us away from the runway so a crab into the wind is in order.
The turn from base to final is one of the most critical to time correctly. Sure, the landing runway will be primarily into the wind, but Mother Nature rarely lets us off with out at least a partial cross wind component. Relative to the final approach course is it to the left or right of the center line? Will you have to start your turn early because you have a crosswind from the left or wait until almost on top of the extended centerline because of a cross wind from the right (assuming a left hand traffic pattern)?
Flying the final approach with a slip sounds relatively straight forward: lower the upwind wing to counteract drift and than apply opposite rudder to align the longitudinal access of the aircraft with the extended center line. These two seemingly simple steps can become anything but with the fickle wind changing direction and velocity at whim (wind sheer) and a fluctuating load factor that comes with the bumps. Conventional wisdom advises us to increase IAS on final approach by half the gust factor (the numerical difference between the reported steady wind and reported gusts). The extra speed safeguards against variations in airspeed due to wind sheer. But beware, too much of a good thing comes at a cost; many accident reports begin with extra speed on final and end with airplanes in the mud off the end of the runway.
The most important tool for mastering flying in the wind is obeying the laws of common sense. Start with a low approach to feel out the wind before attempting the real thing. Go-arounds are always a good idea. And there are always other runways…
If the crosswind is outside your comfort limits at Somerset head to Solberg, just four miles away and an easy drive for one of the line guys to pick you up. When the winds are across our 30/12 then they are down the runway of 04/22 at N51. Better still, call the office and get on the schedule with an instructor some windy day. We are here 7 days a week, and chances are good if you see the winds are going to be challenging in the next 24 hours a quick call to Miss Melanie will have you scheduled up in no time!