Saturday, February 5, 2011

Strong Winds Create Opportunities - and closer still

My husband was sure I should solo today. Scott (our CFI) wouldn't suggest I was ready unless he was sure I was ready. I do 100% believe that... but this isn't about if Scott thinks I can. This is about if I think I can.

Anyway... I get there half an hour early but Scott was running late... so I preflighted 93K (flaps working today), get the fuel topped off and then go out to the "instructor bench" with a hand held radio so I could observe students in the pattern and listen to the interchange between the tower and pilots during the process. I got to witness a guy do his first solo take off and landing. He taxis up to 31R and does his call. "Reid-Hillview Tower, this is Cessna ?????, student pilot, first solo, please watch me carefully." It was cute. I watched his first two circuits of the pattern and then I had to go.

I went back to the club and waited in the sun and did weight and balance calculations. Surprised myself a bit on that... I thought that using all but the 30 minute day VFR reserve would move the CG back a bit on a loaded high wing plane like the C172s I fly. Actually it does the opposite. It moves the CG forward a bit. That's because the arm of the fuel is actually further back than I thought it was. Cool to know.

Ok... about the flight portion of the day. By the time he was done with his prior student the winds had picked up significantly. He said he was glad I had decided not to solo today because today wouldn't be a good solo day. They were out in a Bonanza before and were kicked about pretty much the whole 2.5 hours of flight... So we agreed to go out and just see how it goes. Good practice to fly in strong winds and cross winds. I've had very good (light) winds for the last couple lessons so practicing in winds would be a good test of my learnings.

In the end we only did three circuits of the pattern in 0.9 hours Hobbs. RHV has two parallel runways, on a normal day the amount of traffic would have been handled easy by the two runways. However, for some reason the airport managers decided it was a good idea to mow the grass near the left runway on a beautiful weather Saturday in February. Not a good move. So while there wasn't a very large amount of traffic for RHV, all of it was coming in on one runway. The wait in the run up was abnormally long.

When we finally got in the air, not only did we have strong winds, we had to REALLY extend downwind because there was so much traffic coming in for the one runway. This time I was able to maintain my track better. I got to experience strong winds on base and watch them push the plane away from the runway and adjust for those winds. I got to be reminded about cross wind takeoffs and landings, I did those pretty good in spite of the strong winds. Got to experience the effect of strong winds on Vy pitch (its different). Etc, etc... a really good learning experience.

The main thing I learned (or relearned) is when you have strong winds, you won't know if you are in a gust or a regular wind.. and if it is gusty you should carry some additional airspeed on approach so if a gust suddenly goes away the plane doesn't stall! Its not good to be slow in high winds. Also, a good reminder, when you have strong winds, your airspeed may be 65, but your ground speed is NOT, while your descent rate is the same. So if you just do a typical power off approach in strong winds you won't get to the runway, you have to adjust for the winds, keep power longer, stay higher longer, etc. Some adjustment(s) must be made.

As I said, just three takeoffs and landings. But it was a good learning experience. He said I did well. I felt like I did well. This time I agreed, next lesson I could solo! Next lesson, we'll go up together for three circuits and, if I'm having a good day, he'll get out and I'll do my first solo.

In the mean time, solo or not, I keep wanting to go back up and do it again.. just like a little kid who loves that one amusement park ride and just wants to go ride the ride again and again.

Technical Notes
How much extra speed? 1/2 of the difference between the steady wind speed and the gusting wind speed. E.g. winds of 10 knots, gusting to 20 knots, good idea to do your approach at 70 knots instead of 65. With the strong wind its easy to stop when you get over the runway.

Crosswind component. I think the rule of thumb is when the cross wind is at 30 degrees the cross wind component is half of the wind speed. E.g. if the winds are 30 degrees off the runway and 20 knots, the crosswind component would be 10 knots. I think... will have to check on this one.

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