Lesson 12 – Survival (CrossWinds & Gusts at a rate of Knots)

Coming off the back of a busy week at work, flying this weekend was something to look forward to.  It was all looking great, except the weather.  Strong winds appeared on Saturday and then again this morning.  The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) had forecast the strong gusty winds, but I was somewhat optimistic about the situation.

On arrival at Air Australia yesterday,  almost all the aircraft were still tied down. This included the Robins which are normally flat out taking unsuspecting passengers for a few spins, rolls and stalls over Cockburn sound.  My greeting from Adam, “Are you sure you wanna fly today?”.  “As long as it is safe”, was my reply.

Having completed the pre-flight, we both decided we would give it a go.  However before going any further, Adam said we’d have to do the “crosswind briefing”.  How right was he!

The briefing was quick and the technique seemed pretty easy.  Before I knew it we were rolling out to the run-up bay in our Cessna 152 (VH-IGX).  On board was my latest gadget, a digital sound recorder to capture all cockpit conversation.  It was wired in with a special cable that connects inline with the headset.  More on that another time.

All was good and we rolled out to runway 12.  After my somewhat tongue twisted ready call, we headed off into the 20-30 knot gusting winds with a good 14 knot cross wind component.  The thing the ATIS doesn’t tell you about the conditions is the turbulence factor.  A quick look this morning on the Air Services Pilot Briefing Service indicated that below 3000ft, there was considerable turbulence.  They were spot on!

We got tossed around like rag dolls at a pit bull party.  When I’ve previously tried similar conditions in the X-Plane 9 simulator, it seemed you got bounced around unrealistically.  I can now confirm, that it was quite realistic after all.  While climbing, flying “straight and level” (near impossible) and on the decent, we were getting thrown all over the place.  I had my trusty GoPro camera on board, mounted atop my head (to my instructors amusement) and playback shows the lack of stability.  Often we would get picked up and tipped sideways or lifted or dropped or all at the same time.  It was a fight.

On the final of Circuit 1, I handed control to Adam (instructor) and he demonstrated the landing.  Somewhat good cross wind technique but with the gusts it was near impossible to maintain a steady approach and he was constantly compensating.  From the landing it was straight into the ground run for the lift off again.  After that, it was over to me.  I re-trimmed straight away and wrestled out another circuit.  On the base leg, we had a good 30-40 degree of drift compensation going on, totally nuts.

On finals of my first approach, we got blown well left of the runway and high, so we did a go around.  It was another round of fighting.  On this approach we managed to get the plane on the ground for a not too bad landing.  Straight around again.  Each minute, you could feel the conditions getting worse.  We did another circuit and landing and did a little bounce after touch down.  It wasn’t hard, just a huge gust of wind came and it lifted us straight up.  Using a little power to provide some lift, it was a smooth touchdown.

This time around, I was feeling a real pinch in my left back, the constant strain of the aileron fight was taking its toll.  Comfort levels were decreasing quickly.  On the downwind leg we advised the tower of a full-stop landing, sweet!  Anyway, the fun just started…

The circuit wasn’t too bad, we were advised we were clear to land following a Vans on late final.  We spotted the traffic and turned into the base leg of the circuit.  My back was pinging with each gust of wind, fighting to keep “stability”.  On turning final, I lowered the flaps at perfect height for our approach.  On lowing the nose I caught sight of another aircraft on finals, just ahead of us.  He had come from no where and the tower didn’t mention anything.  Listening back on my new recording gadget, he was advised to approach overhead and join on the downwind leg behind a Cessna turning base (us), but instead he flew straight in.  Needless to say, we went around…

After another circuit, there were no unsuspecting planes in front and we had clearance. The landing was ok, but really rocky on finals.  Back on the deck and after shutdown, I kept thinking about where that other aircraft had come from…

The conditions today were just rubbish.  But I got so much more out of today than I could have imagined (not including the shoulder pain):

1. Adverse conditions provide a huge distraction from the basics
You have to keep focused on the mandatory basic tasks.  Today I forgot my downwind checks twice.  Also, I found it difficult to keep the circuit height in check.  It was still within the limits, but hard to manage in the conditions.  Also, on the decent, keeping the speed under control was more difficult (ie. getting high on decent).  All these were probably a result of the conditions and the building pain in my shoulder.

2. Respect for the conditions
You can never have enough respect for the wind and weather.  It is a lesson I’m glad I learnt early.  If you have any doubts, keep your feet planted on the ground and go have a beer.

3. Lookout and Lookout again
With the Cessna coming straight in, rather than joining the circuit as advised, it shows that you can’t make assumptions about other aircraft.   Look all around, but also up and down as best you can…

4. Experience, Experience and more Experience
Getting experience in all the techniques, keeping your head and building your skills is so so key here.  Adverse conditions could come your way anytime.  Although I got the aircraft landed 3 times today, I didn’t feel totally comfortable or confident at any point.

Until next time, I’m on Voltarin and Panadol every 4 hours till this shoulder / back eases up…  Will post some video extracts of the flight soon, it looks nuts 🙂

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