Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Flying Season Mental Exercise

It’s that time of year.  Hangar doors are folding, the others are rolling, and spinning props stir the air.  Breaking free of the frozen calendar, people and their spirits are flying.  Life is reborn.
Unfortunately April is also home to crazy weather.  And since March was more like January, you could expect to see several month’s worth of random conditions in the next 30 days.  If rain and a rapidly changing atmosphere aren’t bad enough, they almost always also partner with aviation’s nemesis, wind.
All things considered, this spring, unlike any in a while, could be an exceptionally sketchy season for pilots.
Most aviators haven’t had a flying machine out in months, their skills are rusty, and the weather, oh the weather.  Even if it’s just a normal transition to summer, fans of flight everywhere should be careful.  The best pilots get soft without practice and they’ll be starting off in some of the worst weather.
With all that in mind, I wanted to discuss a video I saw online the other day.   It offered so many lessons I thought I’d share it.  Once we've all viewed it, we can discuss it in an effort to get us back in the game.  Here it is.
Ok, let’s do it.  What did you see?  Do you have any thoughts about it?
Here’s what I saw.  First, it is highly likely this person left the ground when they should not have.   Maybe it was to a place where he or she hadn’t checked the weather.  Or it is possible they went flying at their home airport without checking?  They could have even taken off from a base airport knowing the wind was bad but were unaware of the planes limitation or their own. Whatever the case, taking off was almost surely the root cause of near disaster.
Next, and this is the big one, the person flying this plane obviously suffers from one of the most common aviation diseases, runway tunnel vision.  Be it for the purpose of doing what they believe will keep them out of trouble with the Feds, landing on a runway because someone else used it before them, or just having never been taught the runway isn’t always your best option, insisting on putting their plane on that specific runway almost ended up in tragedy.
Is this you; Do you choose a runway by going with what the last person used or what the tower suggests?   Do you get close to the ground and find yourself doing everything possible to get it down?  Is it your belief your plane can’t be landed anywhere but on asphalt or something labeled “runway”?   And more importantly, do you have any idea how little runway you need to land your plane if you have a 15, 20, 25, or greater knot wind?
If the person in this video had the correct answers to these questions, despite taking off when they shouldn’t have, their flight could have had a much better turnout.  So, just in case there is any doubt about the correct responses, let’s go through them.
First and foremost, as PIC your runway decision is based primarily on winds.  They sky is always your friend unless you are on fire.  Even if you’re out of gas, the sky still works for you so use it as long as you can.  If you find yourself trying desperately to get on the ground and you’re not on fire and you still have gas, you need to climb back up to altitude, calm down, and decide on your best option. Most GA planes can be landed in many other places than that runway you’re obsessed with.  Consider them after climbing back up.  And finally, most single engine airplanes could be landed across a 150’ runway if they were in the winds shown in this video.  This means that those “other places” are often much better and safer options.   If by using them you can land into the wind, taxiways, large empty ramps, or areas of grass can save your bacon.  And who doesn’t love bacon?
Like I said, it’s flying season.  So get out there and enjoy.  But before you go airborne, make sure you’ve considered this video and the lessons contained within.  Thinking them through is good for all of us.  Never assume you’re above making the same mistakes.


Anonymous said...

With that much wind, you could almost land across the runway

Rick Pellicciotti said...

I'd like to know what field that was. It certainly looked like there were other options. I landed a Super Cub across the tie down ramp at Hayti, MO once when the wind was 90 deg to the runway. I never saw this guy put the upwind wing down. Very poor technique.

R. Pellicciotti

Hank Galpin said...

Hi Rich,
You've flown my Travel Air 6000 so you can imagine 40 knots almost directly across the runway at Wahpeton a few years ago. We landed on the grass between the taxiway and the runway, almost ninety degrees to the runway. Rolled about 150 feet which is like three wingspans. Had a really hard time taxiing to the ramp. Love your blog.
Hank Galpin