Crosswinds and Crossroads

Had another action-packed lesson this weekend in the Jabiru J170 at Bankstown Airport, during what is statistically the highest-afternoon-winds month in the year:  (http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_066137.shtml)

As a follow-on to the last lesson, we were to work on final approach and landing, as Brett reckoned I had the other elements of the circuit down pretty well.  And, while I thought last session was windy – I hadn’t seen windy, yet!

It was a hot December day and ATIS report said winds at 080 degrees at 18 knots, max crosswind 12 knots.  To my memory, a 30 degree crosswind of 18 kts would give a crosswind component of 9 knots.  So either it was gusting, or the wind was changing direction occasionally.  OK, so a bit of a left crosswind (and a hell of a tail-wind – wheeeee!).  But then I realised that 14 knots is the maximum for this aircraft – 2 more and we’d have had to cancel…

*GULP*

However, for this to work, I have to be able to trust my CFI completely, so if he is comfortable then so am I.  The first indication that this will be one to remember was the sheer speed at which we taxied:  simply idling along, I had to ride the brakes at times just to keep it from getting away!  But, we got to the runup area, completed the checks, and sidled up to the holding point (Yankee at runway 11 Right, for the nerds…).

Takeoff was normal, I have even learned to keep centreline quite well by anticipating the weathercock into the wind and balancing with opposite rudder.  Although the crosswind leg of the circuit (right-hand this time) happened very quickly due to the tailwind, I was able for the most part to keep a good heading and attitude, and remembered the fuel pump and light switches most of the time <grin> .  I only turned off avionics once I think 😛  Good thing the master and magnetos are on the other side of the panel.  But I digress…

I definitely feel an improvement on the downwind leg, seems like the heading and spacing are coming pretty naturally, and the radio call is second nature.  Still can fluster up my pre-landing checks if I get distracted, but get there in the end.  Have to watch height – a few times, due to the thermals, I gained a couple hundred feet without realising it.

Base turn and leg are pretty solid now, with a good glide path, speed, and spacing.

But, WT*$@#&^ is up with my finals??  Back to that in a bit…

Last lesson, on an equally hot and thermally day (but not as windy), I made a rather steep turn low and slow onto finals.  I *think* that the wind gusted enough at that moment to put me almost sideways, and I just had this dreaded image in my head of a low speed stall and graveyard spiral into the ground from low-altitude.  It really did my head in.

So I seem to be really extra cautious about that particular descending turn (though I didn’t really used to be I don’t think) and it is causing me to turn way too shallow and early, consuming much of my time on finals just getting lined up, when I should just be settling into the glide to land.

Another thing that happened this time was at the end of the takeoff, before turning crosswind, a “really gnarly updraft” (Brett’s words) occurred at about 200 feet, which rolled me right over in the blink of an eye and again… that really Got My Attention.  I managed to right it, but it took several more circuits to get my legs back under me.

Brett explained that over areas where there are a lot of parked cars or tin warehouse roofs, there is going to be a great deal of heat generated – which rises up and causes that momentary weirdness.

So – one more data point:  anticipate these things so I won’t get caught off guard.  Next time I’ll know.

In all we probably did 7 or 8 circuits, and called a full stop for a break.  Plan was to pull into a runup area and rest for a bit, let the brain catch up, and go back out for a bit more.  BUT!  No sooner do I get it onto the taxiway and adjacent to the runup area, that we start lurching off the tarmac to the right.  Nothing either of us could do!  After stopping the engine and investigating, looks like we blew the nosewheel tyre.   Well, good thing we didn’t go up again then, as it could have happened on the next landing, and certainly have been much worse.

Some calls to operations and the ground crew picked us up, and its all been sorted, but that’s really a separate story.

Onward to Debrief, which is Our Little Chat after the lesson where we talk about what went right, what went wrong, focus areas, what’s next, etc.  Pretty much went as expected, need to get those turns onto final under control, watch my trim, work on landing technique, etc.

But the main takeaway was this – the main concern he has right now with sending me solo is basically that I still lack confidence.  That was quite a revelation, because I feel like I generally don’t lack confidence in most situations.  But you know what?  He is right!

This is it – the connective tissue that ties it all together!  Hell, I KNOW how to do this stuff!  I’ve passed the tests, I can take off, I can fly straight and level, turn, descend, (mostly) land, make the calls… Mechanically, I know how this thing ticks… but what ties all those things together?  The CONFIDENCE to go from one action to the next because you KNOW its what needs to be done, without questioning yourself.

I have always suffered from this critical internal chatter that is very good at presenting all the ways something can go wrong, but can’t seem to ever cut in mentally and just say “yes, but I know how to deal with those things”.  So I consume a LOT of brain cycles churning though that stuff that could be spent more productively.

Of course PRACTICE is the best way to just simply make it routine enough that you can shut the running critique off.  And I am getting there.  But even after 30+ years of riding motorcycles, it would still pop up from time and its enough to run you into a ditch just on sheer force of will.

So that’s where I am at… accumulating practice, but currently also researching ways to silence the inner critic, or at least answer it in a way it can be satisfied and fade away.  Email me with ideas!

And for the smart-asses – no, I am NOT “hearing voices”!  At least, that’s what they tell me…

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3 thoughts on “Crosswinds and Crossroads

      • Great post. I certainly know what you mean by the chatter in the head. You know what to do but you second guess yourself. On the ground it is not too bad but in the air that would be dangerous. We did that when we first learned to drive and after things became automatic. There might be comfort level to having Brett as a passenger; that external validation that everything is fine and the experience to deal with what you haven’t yet. Interesting note about the extra heat above parking lots.

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