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Crosswind Landings: Sometimes you Need a Challenge

I am so freaking pumped right now.

I am getting ahead of myself though.

I was honestly a little frustrated with myself after my last flight on Saturday. All we did was patterns at KRTS and a few down at KRNO, but I was still struggling with my flare. I had a couple of okay landings, but I was really struggling to put all of the pieces together. I wasn’t thinking of quitting or anything, but I was really frustrated with myself.

Last night I stayed up far later than I really should have playing Call of Duty. Not exactly a Sunday game, but I lost to the Browns in Madden so I really needed to take out some more frustration. The relevance of this tangent is that as I was going to bed around midnight I decided that I needed to get back to some good habits that I had let slip over the last month, so I set my alarm for 6 am, and went to sleep.

6 am came around far too early, but I knew I needed to stop making excuses and get up. When I get up in the morning I like to read while my house is still quiet and get my mind going for the day. It was challenging to stay awake and not just go back to sleep but I did it.

I got to work and took care of a handful of things I needed to do. It wasn’t a groundbreaking day by any means, but I was productive, which is always a good thing.

Sitting at my desk I could see that there were blue skies outside so I messaged my CFI to meet up at the airport after work. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, I can now get some flying in after work.

The second habit I needed to get back to was getting exercise. I have been doing terrible at that for the last month, so I left my desk an hour early and went over to the gym for some cardio. I was able to hold a better pace than I expected, which was just another win that I needed. I always feel so much better after exercising, so I can’t figure out why I make so many excuses not to do it.

While I was working out, my CFI messaged me to say that it was a little bumpy but that we could still get some more pattern work in. Bumpy is pretty normal in this part of the world, so I was not to be deterred. I finished my workout, got changed, and headed to the airport.

When I got to the airport the METAR was calling for 3kt winds at 180 which is not anything to be concerned about, but as you can see by the windsock in the picture, that weather reading was just a little bit off. We had a full sock most of the time we were out there so winds were actually more like 15-20 kts. Oh yeah, and it was a direct crosswind.

These were the strongest winds we had experienced at the airport so we talked about positioning controls on the ground for the wind as well as proper crosswind controls on takeoff. Based on my previous attempts I was pretty nervous about how I would perform in even more challenging conditions. But we also chatted about how much better many pilots are in challenging conditions because they are forced to focus more on what they are doing.

We took off and it was indeed a little bumpy with plenty of wind. I actually felt pretty good about my pattern shape and taking the winds into account. Unfortunately, my landings were still sucky. Everything was fine right up until touchdown and then I couldn’t position the plane properly so that we landed smoothly. I landed in a crab once, and my CFI actually had to take the controls once because the nose wheel started to get away from me. As you might imagine, I became even more frustrated and was actually about to suggest we just land and call it a day because I wasn’t sure any valuable training was happening.

Fortunately I didn’t say anything and he gave me the tip that I had finally needed to hear. He once again pointed out that I was still carrying a lot of energy across the threshold and that was leaving too much energy when I would go to flare which was causing me to float. So this time I pulled my power to idle shortly after crossing the threshold at about 50 feet.

Holy crap it worked!

I didn’t end up in the middle of the runway, but both mains landed smoothly and the nose came down relatively smoothly. With only a small correction we came back to centerline and took off again to join a fellow Cherokee in the pattern. It was fun to have someone else out there for the first time. The next landing was even better, and I was much closer to centerline at touchdown.

I finally was feeling better about myself and that I may actually get this down. As we were turning downwind my instructor pointed out that most young pilots wouldn’t even be trying to fly in these conditions, and if the second runway had been open, we likely wouldn’t have done crosswind landings either, but it is closed for construction until the Reno Air Races this fall. I came around with one more solid pattern, pulled power as we crossed the threshold, kicked in some left rudder, lowered that right wing, held back pressure as the speed bled off, and then brought it all back to center right as the mains touched down evenly on centerline. As the nose gear settled to the ground I could feel the excitement surge inside of me and I just wanted to shout with happiness.

Taxiing back to the hangar I was so incredibly pumped. I am sure my instructor noticed the change in my demeanor. After putting her to bed we filled out my log book and talked about preparing to solo. Unfortunately, weather will likely keep me from flying the rest of the week, and then I will be out of town for five days, so this my have been my last flight for the next ten days. That being said, if I have to sit and think about my last landing, at least I had three good ones to end on.

It may seem like the first half of this post has nothing to do with flying, but I am more convinced everyday that everything we do impacts our performance. Sleep, diet, exercise, and mental state all play in to how well you perform, and all of those variables play an even bigger role when you are first starting. In my full-time job I can get by without each of those being at their peak because I have strong enough habit patterns to overcome other deficiencies. I am nowhere near that as a pilot, but after today I feel like I will get to the same level of proficiency someday.

I really can’t even express how excited I am right now, and pissed that the weather sucks the rest of the week. The whole way home I cranked up the radio and would randomly clap my hands together and yell out because I was so excited. It is a side of myself that I don’t show very often, and generally one that I reserve for competing in sports. Maybe that is why I am so excited right now. I feel a little bit like the competitor I used to be. Either way, I am super excited right now, and can’t wait to get back in the air.

March 13, 2018 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Lessons Learned: Shutting Down an Engine in Flight

Eight engines provide a level of comfort for the B-52.

Eight engines provide a level of comfort for the B-52.

First, a little joke before I talk about a very serious subject.

A military pilot called for a priority landing because his single-engine jet fighter was running “a bit peaked.”

Air Traffic Control told the fighter pilot that he was number two, behind a B-52 that had one engine shut down.

“Ah,” the fighter pilot remarked, “The dreaded seven-engine approach.

While this joke is pretty amusing, it also makes a very important point about the seriousness of shutting an engine down.  The vast majority of people will never be on a plane with an engine shut down.  I don’t think I have ever talked to a person that was on a commercial flight where they had to shut one down, though I am sure it does happen on occasion.

Even in the military it is very much a hit and miss thing where some people never experience it, and others have done it repeatedly.  In this particular instance, it was the first time I had ever been in the seat when we shut one down after almost three years of active flying, whereas one of our loadmasters, who has only been flying for about 8 months had experienced four engine shutdowns.  Luck of the draw I guess.

So what happened?

As is usually the case in most stories like this the day started off out of sorts.  The mission commander was unprepared and we didn’t receive any of our products until an hour after we should have.  That left us with about 45 minutes to prepare our personal products, do a formation briefing, and a crew study so that we could get out to the plane with enough time to get started and take off on time.

Whatever, we are rock stars so we got it done.

Even before the delayed products, we also learned that the pilots on our plane would be receiving no notice checkrides from AMC (Air Mobility Command) which meant that they were all just a little more on edge.

As we were departing on our first route in the number two position, lead started having issues with the copilot’s instruments so they had to break out and we took over.  No big deal, it happens pretty regularly.

Seeing a propeller stopped in flight can be a little uncomfortable.  Fortunately we have three to spare.

Seeing a propeller stopped in flight can be a little uncomfortable. Fortunately we have three to spare.

We continued on the route until about half way through our engineer noticed that one of the engines was fluctuating a little bit.  Nothing catastrophic, but pushing the limits a little more than it should.  We continued on the route while monitoring that engine and performing a few trouble shooting measures.

As we neared the run-in for the drop, we decided, as a crew, that the most conservative response was to return to base and follow the procedure to the letter.  So we notified ATC and initiated our return.

The important discussion that was had at this point was whether we should shut down the engine or not.  The reason that there was even any discussion was because the engine was not consistently out of limits but was fluctuating out of limits on occasion.  None of us felt that we were in any real danger and that it was likely just a gauge issue more than an actual propeller problem.

What ultimately led to the decision to shut the engine down was the engineer reading through the procedures that we had followed to that point which, when all other steps had not resolved the issue, clearly stated that you “WILL” shut the bad engine down.

So we followed the procedure to shut the engine down and made a safe landing back at the base where we turned the plane back over to maintenance so that they could fix whatever they found to be wrong.

As you can imagine there is a lot to be learned from this situation.

The first lesson for me as a mission commander in training is to show up prepared.  When you are just a normal crew member and you show up unprepared you just make life hard on yourself, but when you are the mission commander you make life hard on everyone.  They are all forced to rush and that is when mistakes happen.  Fortunately, nothing bad happened today, but it could have so why make things harder than they have to be.

The second lesson is one that bears repeating over and over again.  Good crew resource management is essential to flying safely.  When the engineer noticed something was not quite right he didn’t play, “I have a secret,” he notified the rest of the crew so that we could work together to come up with the best course of action so that we could all return home safely.

The last lesson is how important it is to know your procedures, and when in doubt to look them up.  It would have been easy to decide that it was just a gauge problem and leave the engine running.  Odds are it would have worked just fine for the ten minutes it took us to get back to base and we would have been fine.

However, what if we were hours from the nearest airport and we had misdiagnosed an actual problem that led to a catastrophic failure of that engine and a much more serious issue.  By following the procedure precisely every single time we can help to ensure that we are flying as safely as possible.

There are regularly times when we are asked to make important decisions as aviators.  That may even include deciding how best to execute a given procedure, but it makes the decision that much simpler when you understand the procedure and how you are supposed to execute it.

Shutting down one of our four engines on the C-130 when we are close to home really isn’t that traumatic of an experience, similar to the “dreaded seven-engine approach.”  It is obviously a much bigger deal in a single-engine fighter, or even a single-engine Cessna.   With that being said, it is never a decision to be taken lightly.

As good aviators we have an incredible amount of trust placed in us by those that we fly around, with, and above.  They are counting on us to make the right decisions at the right times, and we will only be able to make those decisions if we are properly prepared with the proper procedures.

December 13, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.