Apr 19 2010

Some Windy Flying

Category: Guest Blogger,Solo FlightsDaniel @ 8:30 pm

As I’ve said many times in the past, flying in Chicago can be a little frustrating. The weather never seems to cooperate, especially on weekends. The last few times I had a plane booked recently it was either too low ceilings, pouring rain, thunder-storming, foggy, or a combination of all three. I was itching to fly. I had a plane booked for this past Saturday for over two weeks, so when the weather reports said skies were going to be clear, I was definitely rearing to go. I had my parents coming up to fly and it just worked out that my new friend and guest blogger Kenan was finishing his 3rd flying lesson minutes before I had my plane booked. So, the four of us were going to hit up lunch in Sheboygan.

When we got to the airport, it was windy (I won’t lie), but nothing atrocious. Automated reporting stations had it at 15 knots gusting to 20. I had flown in worse plenty of times, so I wasn’t too worried it – and didn’t really feel like canceling since so many recent flights were scrubbed for weather. We didn’t want to waste this beautifully clear day. The takeoff went fine and although the flight was a little bumpy at times, the air was fairly smooth and everyone enjoyed the 77 nautical mile journey. Upon getting to the Sheboygan area the winds had picked up though, and although KSBM has two almost perpendicular runways, the windsock had the wind splitting the runways at a 45° angle no matter which way you cut it. I knew landing would be fun. I tried Runway 31, didn’t like the approach and went around. I then tried Runway 3 and things weren’t lining up again and I went around. Finally, on my 3rd try I put her down quite smoothly on Runway 3 (more smoothly and softly than even on some no-wind days). Needless-to-say, the first topic of conversation at lunch was how happy we all were to be safely on the ground.

What I failed to realize earlier in the day is that although I’m plenty used to going around, my passengers (my parents in particular) might not be so cool with it. I have no ego, I’m totally fine with going around if something isn’t lining up correctly – ultimately it’s the safest thing to do. However, it’s easy to forget sometimes that even normal landings can be a bit stressful for some passengers in a general aviation plane – doing it 3 times in a row doesn’t help or lend to their confidence. Kenan, a fellow (student) pilot, who went around a couple times earlier that day himself, didn’t bat an eye about my going around – but I know my parents definitely had their hearts racing and probably a little sweat too. The flight back was fairly smooth but the wind was solidly perpendicular to the one runway at Westosha (see the picture of the wind sock just after we landed). I nailed the landing the first try (I guess it’s all about knowing your home runway). BUT, like many good crosswind landings, it involves a substantial crab angle, landing on the windward wheel first and putting the plane down seemingly at an angle. Again, although everything went textbook, one could cut the stress tension from my parents with a knife.

Ultimately, we all laughed about the experience and my parents still want to fly again with me – just maybe on less windy days now. Lesson learned – flying alone or with other pilots is a LOT different than flying with general passengers fairly new to general aviation. And although landing in crosswinds is good practice, letting your parents “see the workings of the sausage factory” might be something to keep for solo days. Lunch at Sheboygan was great though – “The Final Approach” restaurant is a nice classy airport restaurant right off Runway 21. All in all, a really “fun” day though! Check out the pic of Kenan, my dad, and me – and all our hair (what’s left of it) being blown around. My Mom had to take the picture because the mini-tripod for the camera wouldn’t stand up in the wind!

This flight I logged 2.3 hours of cross-country pilot-in-command time.

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3 Responses to “Some Windy Flying”

  1. Dad says:

    Seeing a fully inflated windsock sticking straight out horizontally from the pole should have been the tip-off that perhaps this wasn’t the most promising weather conditions for an aerial joy ride. Our friend Kenan’s further observation that even the pole the windsock was attached to was leaning in the wind should have sealed the deal for the day. But, we figured that if the winds were gusting too strongly while ascending to cruising altitude, we would simply abort our planned trip to Sheboygan and return to our runway. They were….we didn’t…and the rest is the stuff memories are made of.
    In all seriousness, the ride for me really was an enjoyable experience, though admittedly it had its stressful moments. I’m sure my wife would have agreed with me if she were able to speak at the time, but for the entire flight back from Sheboygan she was uncharacteristically silent, with the exception of an occasional gasp or fearful exclamation. Isn’t it funny how adrenaline-rushes affect people in different ways? She was grasping my hand throughout the whole flight, but the doctor has since assured me that the nerve damage is temporary and I should regain the use of my fingers in a day or two.
    Other than the wind, this early summer’s day could not have been more beautiful. The azure sky didn’t have a cloud in it, crystal clear visibility right up to the horizon, and the farm fields below already displaying every shade of green imaginable. Flying is truly a remarkable experience. Seeing the world from an entirely different vantage point, and being able to share it with family and friends, is something which goes beyond all description. On very quiet days, the plane seems as though it’s not moving at all, just the scenery below appears to slowly change. On days like Saturday, there was no question that the plane was moving, and in ways not necessarily directed by the pilot! But at no point did I ever feel that the external air mass had more control of the plane than did my son. (OK, maybe on the first landing approach at Sheboygan, but other than that, not one moment)! And it’s precisely on days like this that one is reminded of how much skill, and training, and calm and clear thinking a pilot must possess. As pleasurable and effortless as a good pilot can make a flight seem, one must never take for granted how much hard work and planning go into achieving that. I gained a new respect for the “art” of flying, while solidifying the pride and confidence I’ve always placed in my son. I’m looking forward to our next adventure together. I know my wife is also….though I’m sure she’ll be tuned into the weather channel the entire drive up to Westosha.

  2. Pastora says:

    Daniel I just wanted to let you know how much respect and admiration I have for you. Last Saturday’s flight was a really scary one, I have to admit. The day was surely a day to always have in my heart for as long as I live. It blows my mind to think how much you have to know and be prepared for when you go up in the sky and be in control. In no moment did I question your ability to land the plane. I am very confident in you. But,yes- I will be worried when I hear you are planning to fly and the weather is not perfect. Please be careful. I love you, Mom

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