This is what wind gusts of up to 13kts felt like in my small Cessna earlier today. Man, we were rocked like a small kite! The airplane felt like it was ready to break apart into small pieces.
Usually, gusty wind conditions are not an unreasonable challenge for most pilots. It’s part of what we sign up for anyway. But for low-timers like myself, this can be so scary. It even becomes scarier when you get to remember that nearly 40% of all fixed-gear, single-engine accidents are primarily caused by unfavorable wind conditions during landing.
Damn, I was in a fix, over the ocean and several miles away from the airport. Was I now going to become an accident statistic?
But this was not a time to recall accident statistics or to cry to mama either. Being the Pilot in Command on this flight, I had to man up and focus on the challenging task at hand.
You`ve Got This – Taming The Unruly Winds
With a firmer grip on the controls, I muttered to myself “you’ve got this”, communicated with my co-pilot & Air Traffic Control and turned the airplane around back to base for an immediate landing.
“You’ve got this, you’ve got this”, I kept on reminding myself as we got closer to the airport.
In order to get a feel for how the wind would affect my performance, as well as get some time to get comfortable with the risky approach, I postponed my initial descent, went right past the usual island turning point, and extended my downwind leg a bit longer.
I also used a slightly higher power setting than usual.
That strategy gave me more control over my position on the glide slope and I hoped it would make it easier to “catch” the aircraft in case we were forced into a
- downdraft – a downward movement of air, often associated with thunderstorms
- microburst – a rapid decrease in wind speed and an abrupt change in wind direction
- or wind shear – a sudden change in wind direction or speed over a short distance
Final Approach – Keeping A Cool Head
At about 3 miles before touchdown, I kept the nose of the airplane aiming in one direction while the airplane itself moved in the other, maintaining an angle known as the “crab angle”.
“Pitch for airspeed, power for altitude” I repeatedly cited what my Instructor taught me as I kept descending lower and lower towards the runway.
Adjusting the flaps and gently throttling back the engine, I tried as best I could to keep my little Cessna reasonably stable. My co-pilot kept a close eye on the instruments, calling out the altitude and any changes in the wind speed.
As we neared the ground, I could see that the movement of the air was much stronger than I had anticipated. The plane was tossed and turned by the gusts, but I stayed calm and focused. It was a constant struggle to maintain control, but I knew I had to keep a cool head.
Touchdown! Accomplishment or Near Miss?
Finally and with a smooth tud, the main left wheel touched down first. This was followed closely by the right one.
The wind was still trying to push us off course, but I eased back on the throttles and used the rudder pedals to keep the plane centered on the runway.
Despite the challenging conditions, we made a successful landing.
As we taxied to the ramp, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. It had been a tricky landing, but we had worked together as a team to bring the plane down safely.
After taxiing in and parking at the ramp, an airport security official who watched the approach with much curiosity and fear came up to me. He gave me a firm handshake and showed me a short video clip of my landing that he was recording via his phone.
“Man from Wakanda. You are one hell of a pilot!” he beamed.
“Oh, thank you. I am only a student and am still learning”, I replied.
And I will always be a student. Why? Because “a good pilot is always learning!” – Jason Schappert.