Safety . . . Page 3
Last year about this time, I informed you that contrary to common belief March was
the windiest month of the year, and that April was instead. Well, I must have used the national average for this determination since my recent inquiry into the NOAA files actually reveals somewhat different results. It appears that, using only the four AL reporting points (Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile) that March average winds actually
exceed April’s by a slight amount. My apologies for manipulating facts to make my point at the time. Maybe, I should really be in politics! Anyway, it allows me to again emphasize the upcoming winds as a factor in our flying activities and, not only for March, but in April as well. Alright, we already knew that March was the best for flying kites, but how about airplanes?
I have always believed that a pilot must be able to reasonably negotiate all normal conditions that may confront them and, even though they may not be as expert at some situations as others, they must persevere in their attempts to master all situations. March weather, and especially the strong and gusty winds, will give us all a really good chance to master the art of crosswind landings and handling gusts as well. Of course we cannot exceed the CAP regulation of a maximum of 15 knots of crosswind component in our practice but you may want to brush up on how that is calculated for a given runway and reported wind condition (if you haven’t done that since getting your private, you may want to dust off that rotary slide rule or electronic equivalent).
We operate out of a single runway airport (PLR) and most of the other ones we use are somewhat of the same bent so selecting another runway to take off or land on is really not an option. There will probably be some crosswind component to deal with during a large percentage of our flying activities. Where to find them if you are looking for them? You need not go far away. If the winds are right down the runway at PLR, Anniston (ANB) with a 5
23 runway offers a variation and if that is not enough try Sylacauga (SCD) with a 9
27 or Gadsden (GAD) with 6
24 and 18
36 runways. Again, I will remind you to not exceed the 15 knot crosswind rule. If you aren’t feeling confident enough to challenge some robust crosswinds on your own, by all means grab one of our excellent CFI’s and take them along. The point is, don’t hobble your flying opportunities with a fear of crosswinds when they should be entirely within the capabilities of your aircraft and your pilot’s rating. So you don’t feel too bad about your crosswind and gust capabilities, but you want to know the best techniques to handle them? Again, I defer to our CFI’s on this but here are some things I like to do and they have been endorsed by a least some of our CFI’s.
On final, I prefer to use the crab method at a few hundred feet and then switch to the forward slip just a few feet above the runway. The ultimate goal, of course, is to have the nose of the airplane pointing directly down the runway at touchdown. If you don’t, you most surely will be in for a sharp turn on the runway in one direction or the other. My justification for delaying the slip until the last moment is that crosswinds are almost greater in strength at altitude and my strongest maneuver is the crab and my weakest is the slip. Some will say that you should use the slip at a higher altitude and you will find out if it is strong enough to counteract the crosswind or not and you can make a go
around at higher altitude. Both methods have merits, and you should practice them enough to make your selected method second nature and not something you should be deciding on short final in gusty conditions. Speaking of gusts, you should allow a few knots (half of the runway direction gust factor) when you are on final and realize that a squeaker landing in these kind of conditions is not something to pursue. A good, firm, main wheel landing with the nose pointed down the runway is really
in most of these conditions.
Stay Safe! Ron Harlan, 118 Safety Officer