Plane & Pilot
Monday, August 1, 2005

Turbulent Times

Grappling with gusting winds during landings

A few weeks ago, New York was experiencing an extended period of rainy weather, accompanied by what seemed like constant low overcasts, reduced visibility and winds that were designed to test the quality of airplane tiedown ropes. I was really looking forward to the break in the weather that had been forecast for the coming weekend.

On Sunday morning, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The wind socks and flags at the airport were barely moving, seemingly confirming the morning’s good report from the FAA weather briefer and everything I had seen on the computer. My friend and I piled into a trusty Piper Cherokee 180, expecting a ride well-suited to casual sightseeing and taking aerial snapshots. We weren’t more than 300 feet into the initial climb when the turbulence started. It was moderate turbulence for a Cherokee 180, with a few severe jolts thrown in for good measure. It took another 2,200 feet to get through the worst of what Mother Nature had cooked up. There was a band of not-too-bumpy air between 2,500 feet and 4,000 feet. Above that, the turbulence started again.

By the time we were ready to return to the airport, the wind situation on the ground had changed. The three wind socks were fully inflated and pointing in different directions. It took a lot of work during the approach and landing to combat the fickle winds and even more work to be nonchalant. The touchdown resulted in only one bounce of a couple of feet, followed by minor maneuvering to nudge the plane to the runway centerline.

With winds on my mind, I perused the NTSB’s files for recently completed investigations of accidents that were related to wind conditions while landing. Although the airplanes got banged up, the occupants generally escaped injury.


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