They tell me flying is fun, and I guess sometimes it is, but not always.
I had been looking for a chance to go flying. There was a date that worked for me as well as my friend Mark who I like to take along, but a forecast of low clouds and rain which did not materialize caused us to cancel that date. Conferring with Mark, we settled on a day a week later.
The long-range forecast looked good for everything but wind. Normally we don’t have much wind around here, but the weather folks explained that this was an unusual pattern that would eventually move out. We were scheduled for a Wednesday, and winds on Monday and Tuesday had been gusting to 35 knots or more. Wednesday was supposed to be in the 10-15 knot range with gusts to 20, but directly out of the west. Both the airport I fly out of and the destination, Crossville, TN, had a runway 26, so while it might not be as pleasant as a calm day, it did not present any alarm for someone who in a former life was accustomed to winds like that every day.
Of course, that was in a low wing plane that weighed a thousand pounds more than the 172 I would be flying on this trip, but still, right down the runway. I figured I could handle it.
We launched about 9am, hoping to beat the wind. Crossville, home of Trade-A-Plane, sits on what we call the Cumberland Plateau, and is close to a thousand feet higher than Knoxville, even though it is only 50 miles or so away. Weather can be different there, and usually is, but their forecast called for winds to be lower than they were forecast in the valley and generally westerly. If I was going to have an issue, I did not figure it would be there.
With a blazing ground speed of 80 knots, we trudged our way to the west. When I was close enough, I tuned the Crossville ASOS. Winds were from 320 degrees at 18, gusts to 25. Another example that the only forecast you can believe is the one you see in the windshield. My immediate thought was that landing this airplane in those conditions was not something I had to do, and really not something I wanted to do. This was not a critical situation. No one was waiting for me at Crossville. I would like to put another airport in my logbook, but there would be another day when there was not a 60-degree crosswind gusting to 25 knots.
Could I have landed the airplane? Yes. I could have gotten it on the ground. It might not have been pretty, and I might have had to let my passenger clean his pants out after we stopped, but I have no doubt that with a wide, 5,000-foot runway, I could have gotten it on the ground in good enough condition to takeoff again and return to the home airport. But why would I? To prove I could? I have nothing to prove. I was flying for fun, and landing a 172 in a 25 knot 60-degree crosswind is not fun. It is probably doable, but not fun. I had accomplished most of the mission. We got in the air. The scenery was beautiful. The ride was rough. Coming over was slow. Let us see if we can get back some of that 80-knot groundspeed on the way back.
Having said all that, there are times when we do need to challenge ourselves. The reason I feel confident that I could have landed the airplane is because I have gotten myself into situations before unintentionally that were probably more challenging than this one when I had no choice but to land, and I am here to talk about it. I laded once with a 90-degree crosswind at 30 gusting to 40 knots. I learned two things that day: that I could do it, and that I never wanted to do it again. It was not in a 172, but it was a challenge, and thinking back on it, probably a dumb move since it was likely outside the crosswind limit of the airplane. But I did not do that with 50 hours in my logbook. I had plenty of crosswind practice. I had scared myself more than once, and I had learned. I was accustomed to the 15-25 45-degree crosswinds that were common to my airport, so I knew now to make a crosswind landing. If you do not challenge yourself, you never grow, but you have to have guidance in that and increase the challenge gradually.
Lubbock, Texas where I did most of my flying is noted for its wind. Tens of thousands of wind turbines dot the landscape, and on certain days each year, there will be some very significant winds. We are talking blow trucks over on the interstate winds. Boeing and Embraer have both used them to test the crosswind capabilities of their new designs. The 787-900 and the 737 Max both entertained us, as well as the Embraer 300. They were landing with almost 90-degree winds gusting to 60. But they get paid to do that. I don’t. Most GA pilots should never consider doing what those guys do. Maybe it is not even smart to try 60 degrees and 25 knots unless you really must.
You should know your limitations, but that does not mean you always need to operate at the height of them. Often, these days I am just looking to go out and have a relaxing day of sightseeing. The scenery will not change but maybe the next flight will be more relaxing.
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