Monday, May 09, 2005

The Wicked Wind

Sunday morning I met one of my cadets at the airport for an orientation flight; one of the hour-long rides that are a perq of the CAP cadet program for teens. The air was totally clear, but the winds were quite strong and getting stronger. I warned Justin that the ride would be bumpy, but he assured me that he was up for it, and further that he had not eaten a big breakfast. (I'm proud to say that in over 230 such flights, I have only had two regurgatory incidents, and one of those was a college kid with a hangover.)

The wind was 20 degrees off the runway, at 10 knots gusting to 21. An eleven-knot gust factor is considerable, for a plane that stalls at around 40 knots, so I made a shallow climb and kept the airspeed up. I climbed to 6,500 feet, just above some lingering daubs of cloud, guessing that the air would smooth out at that height. Justin (age 16) was able to take the controls and accomplish some turns, and we explored the turning errors of the magnetic compass and the relationship of pitch, power and airspeed.

When we descended again on our way home, over the Pocono Raceway, the air turned rocky again and Justin asked me to take the controls. I checked the automated weather on the radio, the wind was now at 16 gusting to 24, and fluctuating over a sixty degree arc. I tightened my seatbelt and had my passenger do the same, and we entered the traffic pattern for landing. I used half the normal flap setting, and kept about 15 extra knots of airspeed; having flown there for a decade, I know too well the built-in wind shear on the south end of the Mount Pocono airport.

All my hours of Tri-Pacer time must have me in good shape; we got down to a smooth touchdown despite the raging, invisible rapids of wind. The Cessna is larger and heavier, and rides the bumps a little better, but doesn't have the snappy control response of Zero-two Papa. We taxied back, slowly, as the wind was still trying to flip us over; on days like this, you don't stop flying the plane until it's tied down. Justin resumed his normal stream of chatter, and said that he enjoyed the ride; I did, too. As my primary instructor used to say "You can't learn to fly on the calm days!"