Sunday, April 21, 2013


Last weekend seems so long ago but it was less than 7 full days ago that my husband and I launched into the air into another strong wind and AIRMET Tango situation. We were up in Willows, CA for the NASA Race Weekend (NASA as in National AutoSuports Association, not the other NASA). Our flight up to Willows airport (WLW) was in relatively calm air, my first flight in a while without an AIRMET Tango raising the tension in the cockpit.

Sunday night it was time to return and the weather was not as calm. I had watched the winds pick up and grow stronger throughout the day from my perch in the track control tower. As I checked the online weather information I saw what I expected, another AIRMET Tango. This time I saw not only the AIRMET, but PIREPS along near route for light and moderate turbulence. They were from earlier in the day and different altitudes than I was planning to fly, but that definitely did not indicate we would have a smooth ride. Two of our friends flew back from Willows to RHV around noon and they both reported a bumpy climb out, smooth en-route and exciting approaches at RHV with the winds there. There was a layer of high clouds moving north to south but they would not cause IFR or even MVFR conditions on my route. One good thing, we looked to have a 30 knot tail wind on the return trip, so if we did have a bumpy ride, it would be relatively brief.

We caught a ride to the airport after the race event and the winds were very strong there. There was no wind sock but I didn't need a wind sock to tell me the winds were over 15 knots and direct cross wind to the main runway. They were directly at the tail of the plane where it was tied down. We untied the wings but I decided not to untie the tail until right before we were ready to go. A Cirrus SR22T landed and taxied by, headed straight to the fuel tanks. My husband discovered he forgot his phone so we had to wait some more for his phone to be brought out to us. He went back to the diner to wait for his phone and I finished the preflight with the exception of removing the control lock and the tail tie down.

I saw the pilot and passenger of the Cirrus out of their plane and getting fuel and I decided to go and get a PIREP from them. I walked up and introduced myself and asked where they came from and what it was like "up there". They said they launched that morning from Van Nuys into a 50 knot headwind. The headwinds were down to 15 knots at their cruising altitude once they got into central California. The real turbulence started at Sacramento they said and the cloud layer was at 8,500 feet. They were headed up to Vancouver that day and had a very long way to go with the headwinds they were flying into. I thanked them for the info, wished them luck and walked back to the plane.

I saw my husband walking back from the diner so I untied the tail and took off the control lock. The ailerons were flipping left and right as the winds caught them. I reviewed my flight plan and pre-flight making sure I didn't forget anything and mentally urged my husband to hurry. I didn't like sitting in the plane with a strong tail wind directly on my tail. The winds were definitely favoring the shorter, narrower runway at the airport, runway 34. So I planned on where I would do my runup (facing into the wind) and how I would taxi to the take off end (time to practice those quartering tailwind taxi skills!). This runway didn't have a full taxi way so I knew I'd have to back taxi and expected the Cirrus would be taking off on the same runway.

Husband finally arrived and got into the plane and I started up and taxied to my planned run up location. I did my run up and looked for the Cirrus, sure enough it was lined up at the far end of runway 34 and not moving. I waited for a bit and after the Cirrus continued to not move I figured I should tell him I was not going to taxi across the runway. I got on the CTAF...

Willows traffic, Skylane 791 holding short of 34, will take off on 34 after the Cirrus.
The Cirrus responded...
Willows traffic, Cirrus 123 taking 34 for a straight out departure, thanks for waiting. 
No problem, I responded. Good luck! 
We'll need it, the Cirrus pilot said and took off into the winds.

I waited another minute, just in case the Cirrus had an issue and would need to return to the one runway that it was safe to land on. Then I announced my intention on CTAF, looked for NORDO planes and taxied down to the take off end of runway 34. I had the strongest quartering tailwind I'd ever experienced blowing on the plane so I held the elevator full forward and turned the ailerons away from the wind as taught. I had to use the rudder as well to counteract the winds as they pushed on the plane.

A careful turn into the winds and I was lined up with the runway. Still with a cross wind but much less of a cross wind component than I would have had on runway 30. I don't remember wanting to be up and away from an airport as bad as I did at that moment. I knew I would be up for turbulence in the air but at that moment the thought was much more appealing than being blown around on the ground. I forced myself to go through my pre-takeoff checklist carefully not skipping a step and then recalled everything I was taught about cross wind take offs as I smoothly advanced the throttle and the 182 moved forward.

We were in the air in almost no time and it was turbulent, but not the worst I'd experienced. The 182 is a nice plane to be in when the air isn't smooth. Soon we climbed above the most turbulent layer of air and contacted ATC for flight following back to the Bay Area. I didn't file IFR this time because I wanted the flexibility of flying any altitude I want to avoid turbulence without having to ask permission. There weren't many planes flying this night. Not surprising with the winds covering most of California that day and night.

The sun went down before we reached the delta in a somewhat muted sunset. We kept track of the wind directions and used that to decide what side of Mt. Diablo to fly on in order to have the smoothest possible (not smooth, just smoothest possible) descent into the Bay Area proper. There was a small layer of clouds right over Calaveras so I went over the Sunol grade and into the bay that way.  The winds were gustier near the bay as they bounced over and around the surrounding hills.

Soon we were cleared for landing at RHV. The winds were very strong from the east on my base leg and I didn't adjust for that so I overshot final badly. Fortunately there were no other planes in the immediate environment! I have to improve my adjustments for strong winds. In the end I landed the plane very nicely on the center line in spite of more crosswinds on approach and over the runway. The winds were much lower, only 15 -20 knots or so, on the ground at RHV. I was happy to have another minor adventure in flying come to a safe conclusion.

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