formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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March 21, 2017 Crosswind Landings

The Liberty Gazette
March 21, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Have you seen the videos on YouTube of hairy-scary-looking crosswind landings? If not, you really should check them out. We’re taught in pilot school how to handle crosswinds, but some flyers’ skills are better than others. This is one skill that deserves the respect of practice, you know, just in case a pilot finds herself needing to land on a blustery day.

I recall a windy day a few years ago heading to Fredericksburg, but the winds kept us away. There is only one runway at the Gillespie County Airport and the wind was rushing perpendicular to it. When taking off and landing, it’s really important to be heading into the wind. A pilot who finds herself with a direct (90-degree) crosswind will “crab” the plane as much as necessary to keep the flight path straight, even though the airplane’s nose is at an angle to the runway – like sideways.

Then, just before touchdown, the pilot will “kick” the rudder to point the nose straight, and dip the wing down on the side receiving the wind. Crosswind landings can be… exciting, which is why you should watch those videos.

When airplanes are going through flight testing for FAA certification (testing the airworthiness of the design), all they have is the weather they have on the day of testing. So, the official Operating Handbook for any given airplane will advise the maximum demonstrated crosswind capability. Maybe the airplane could handle more crosswind, but it wasn’t tested beyond the weather available that day. Of course, logic tells us that if it wasn’t a very windy day when an airplane was tested for certification, landing in a crosswind that exceeds that demonstration makes one a test pilot.

Mike: Magnificent demonstrations of these skills can be witnessed at Chek Lap Kok Airport near Hong Kong. Monster winds caused by the mountainous geography around the city rush over the runways almost at right angles.

The airport itself is a man-made island in the middle of the bay which replaced the infamous Kai Tak Airport; its only runway sat amid the city’s skyscrapers. The challenging approach path required flying north, aiming at a giant checkerboard billboard erected on the side of an imposing mountain, then nearly scraping terrain while making a sweeping right and steeply descending turn to land to the south. Landing or taking off to the north wasn’t feasible because of the high wall of rock there. To the south was okay, because there were no obstacles over the harbor south of the airport. Despite strong cross-winds, the newer airport is safer.

Since the introduction of the 747 in 1970, most jumbo jets have cross-wind landing gear. The wheels swivel into the wind as the airplane makes ground contact. This increases the amount of crosswind the airliner can handle. The crews still have to be trained in proper procedures and do so regularly in simulator designed to replicate these demanding conditions.

Having respect and confidence in the flight crews’ experience and training, on rough approaches when I’m riding in the back I am often lulled to sleep. I normally fix my feet up against the rail and mounting of the seats in front of me to brace, even as I doze, for when the aircraft plants its feet on the ground and the reverse thrust from the engine brings the aircraft to a halt.

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