Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sometimes the wind doesn't play nice.

This trip would be no exception, in fact it was nearly scrubbed altogether. Winds at PGV were 31015G24 (310° 15knots, gusts to 24k). Winds aloft were 320 @ 30k! The most notable runways are 02/20 and 08/26, and thus promised a crosswind of 50° to 70°. Even with the gusts, they are well within the DA20s limits, but I don't like to get anywhere near those. So I was about to scrub it, when one of the instructors reminded me that 33 was open! At 2700', it would be a nice short field T/O! I looked again at the winds at our Wilmington destination (ILM), and they were high but steady. So off we go!

I was quickly reminded of how much it sucks to pre-flight a plane in 4°C wheather, with the wind laughing in your face! I kept Maggie in the lounge so she'd stay warm. After a grueling 10 minutes, she was ready to go.

Inside, it was marvelous to put the top down...ahhhh a shield from the bitter windchill. Aparently, the DA20 had it's own reservations, as she refused to start! It must have taken 5 minutes of coaxing, and figuring out how long to prime & how much throttle to get her to spring to life. The battery was now in the red with no success. I gave it a minute, and tried again, 6 sec of priming, and closed throttle, and she FINALLY roared to life. I always feel like an idiot when it takes so many tries to start! When the heck are planes gonna get TRUE fuel injection, dang it!

Taxing was certainly an interesting event, as I recalled the elevator & aileron positions for the wind. I kept hard rudder most of the time, just to stay straight! The gusts were enough to shake anyone's resolve! Still, she was running good, and I pushed on. As I did my short field take-off, I realized I completely forgot to activate the flight plan! DOH! Ah well...

I contacted Washington Ctr, and got flight following. I'd been nervous about this trip, as it's to a class D area, that really operates like a class C. A regular class D is super easy to me, but not class C or B. Allot more communication to keep up with, including monitoring the comm and picking up the ATIS Info. With flight following, at least I knew I would be handed off exactly when needed, and thus one less thing to worry about.

I was informed an Tango Airmet was announced, to which I muttered "no duh!." This had been one of the shakiest rides I've ever had. Seeing the altimeter go immediatly 100' above, then 100' below, then back to 4500' was even testing MY stomach. Poor maggie was trying to read a book, combined with the turbulence, was starting to affect her tummy! I had her focus on outside, gave her some direct air, and she felt better. For me, the trim was darn near useless, and had to go with the punches for the most part, and correct when things settled. I was skidding 15 degrees to stay on my desired ground track! I was starting to fear the upcoming landing at ILM!

Fortunately the comm was smooth, as Wash Ctr handed me off to Seymour Johnson...from there, a huge 40 miles out from ILM, Seymour transferred me to ILM Approach. oooooh boy, here we go. I wasn't expecting to be transferred so soon, and hadn't had the ATIS info yet. I think they understood, as they said "223DC, maintain hdg to ILM VOR, right base rwy 35, advise when you have information Echo." I radio back the instructions, and then grab the ATIS on comm 2. Winds are 320° 15k Gusting to 22k, rwy 35 in use. *smirk* ooh boy, a slight xwind and gusts, this will be interesting!

About 9 miles away, I'm long since wondering when they're gonna give me my clearance to decend. "3DC turn hdg 160" Ok now they're at least vectoring me around. A few minutes later, I get an instruction I hadn't heard before "3DC cancel hdg 160, setup right base for 35, contact tower on 119.9" I repeat it all, unsure of why it was worded as such. Now I'm further away from ILM and beside 35, yet still at 4500'! I start to turn to give me a 45 right entry into the downwind, and begin decending. The tower gives me my clearance to which my mind says "sure, be there in 10 minutes lol"

I want to really get down, but I can't. I don't want to cold shock the engine, and she's already borderline on the cold side. I slow her way down, while keeping the decent limited to 1000' per minute, and I leave the mixture at a leaner setting. It seems to work, and I enter the downwind, still high at 1500'. I feel the wind pushing me SE, and have to keep around 10° of right bank to stay straight. It's always a weird feeling when skidding or slidding, to see the plane pointed one way, yet going another.

Since I'm worried about the crosswind, I keep my speed up. Unfortunetly on final, with so much wind, I couldn't get her slowed down to pull full flaps. They say you shouldn't use full flaps anyway in high crosswind. I cross the threshold and I'm doing 75k...way faster than the 60-65 I'm used to. The wind is gusting me, causing me to balloon. I get her pointed down, and the gust dissappears...this goes on for a bit as I bleed the airspeed. I'm workin' the rudders like crazy to maintain the centerline. I was getting real worried about the alignment at touchdown. Either skill or luck (most likely the latter), I had the plane nice and straight, with the left wing a bit low, and the left wheel chirped, shortly followed by the others. Whew! I was more than glad that was over. I used up 3000' of a 7400' runway when it was over...a rediculously huge number when being used to a typical 1200-1600' Still I turn off on taxiway Hotel, and pick up ground. A left on Alpha, followed by a right on Charlie, and I spot the desired Air Wilmington FBO. The nice fellow leads me to my space and I shut her down.

I sat and thought...that was the most challenging flight of my life! Still we arrived safely, with our tummies a little less happy. We had run late, and so had my folks coming to pick us up.

After visiting for a few hours, it was time to head home. I had no desire to practice xwind landings at night. Winds were back to normal, and the Tango Airmet was gone. Tim snapped a few shots of us getting ready to go at ILM.

The trip back was slow, now against the NNW winds, giving us a 95-105k Ground speed. Still I was happy that the turbulence, for the most part, was gone. I was able to snap some pics and videos of our journey home that I'll post later.

It was dusk when we arrived at PGV, much darker than I hoped it would be. With only 02/20 being lighted, I would have to do my biggest xwind landing yet. I setup for what was dominant for current traffic (02).
As I pulled the throttle at the numbers, the wind literally drug me suddenly toward the runway. I added power and got into a 20° right bank...watching as the hospital slide off my right... Crud, I'm gonna be way to close. I threwout the square pattern and made and direct 180 to final. It worked in that I didn't overshoot, which I would've if I'd tried to stay square and fight the wind. Unfortunetly, it meant I didn't go through my step down in speed, and I was on final at 90k. WAY to fast, to the point I was ready to go around if I couldn't get it to slow down. Throttle was cut, and I pitch back to slow down, but the best I could do was 80k. Over the threshold, again fighting the x-wind, and I'm much faster than I like. I get it to 75k and throwin full landing flaps. Almost immediatly she begins to behave nicely...I just hold her off a little longer... A firm landing, but no bounce.

In all the main thing I realized today, is I was often behind the airplane when doing the x-wind landings. I hadn't done them for a while, and while I did keep my speed higher, it was likely TOO high. I wasn't used to burning up so much runway either, and having to be moving so quickly on the rudder! At least I remembered the basics, and kept the wind side wing down, and landed on the correct wheel first. I'm gonna dedicate some time to work on x-wind landings solo, so I'm not so behind next time!

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