Aviation In Canada

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Trust Your Judgment, Part 2

Continued from yesterday...

So there I was, on final, wing low but still drifting off the centerline. Fighting the winds, I finally managed to touchdown, mains first, nosewheel still in the air. A split second after touchdown, my right main wheel rolled on top of a puddle of standing water, left over from the heavy rains the night before. Instantly, faster than I could have imagined, I weathercocked. The wind blew the tail around what seems to my memory now like about 40° to the track I had managed to make on the runway. The left wheel on the pavement, the right hydroplaning and the nose wheel still in the air, I gunned the throttle to prevent what I saw as a disaster happenning if I let all three wheels touch at that angle to the direction of travel. Thanks to a gust, my plan worked in getting me back in the air.

After apologizing to the tower for the late go around, I made the horribly bouncy climb back up to circuit height. All the while regretting getting back into the air. It was so rough up there that I actually decided that if I got back around to landing, I'd put the plane on the ground and keep it there, regardless of the outcome. Not afraid, but knowing I couldn't stay in the air until the winds abated, and figuring it best to make the attempt while being conscious of what I would do, rather than letting things happen.

I lined up with the runway again, still unable to keep it that way. This time I was different. This time I was "landing". I reached the runway, about 15-20° to the centerline and drifting away, and gust after gust kept me floating. I had to make the runway soon, or face the decision to go around again or plant it in the soggy grass next to the pavement. I forcefully put the little airplane down, making a "thud" louder than I recall hearing on any bouncy landings during training.

I taxied back to the club, listening carefully in the wind driven noise around me for any signs of damage to the airplane. I was so punch drunk from the bumps in the air and on the ground that I don't have a clear memory of tying the airplane back down. I re-entered the club, the beads of sweat dried by the forceful wind, and immediately did two things. I gave the lady the keys and told her to have the airplane checked for damage before they let anyone else fly it, then I checked the weather sequence again. There it was: winds 220E10-15. The "E", for "estimated", was there for all eyes to see, but somehow I had missed it. The airfield's anemometer had been broken by the winds the night before, but no NOTAM was issued. I was the one pilot who was not given the voice advisory. The club didn't get it either, but I was the only one stupid enough to go flying that day. The airport was a military aerodrome, and they had a wind station on a nearby island in the harbour where helicopters did "dip" training and this was normally included in the weather sequence in remarks. The winds at that station (which I normally ignored until after this date)? 220@25-35 G 45. Not only was I beyond my limits, I was well beyond the airplane's limits.

My lessons? Look more carefully at the information handed to you. Situational awareness begins long before entering the cockpit, the club, or even the airport property. I knew the winds were high before I even left my house, a 30 minute drive from the airfield. Trust your judgment. If you have to convince yourself of something, you may be better off not doing it.

The airplane wasn't damaged, BTW. Just my self respect.