Updated: Aug 2, 2019
My previous blog post around a video of a Jabiru flying in strong winds caught a lot of attention on facebook and there was a lot of opinions on what type of conditions are suitable for flying and instructing in.
Since that post, I have had two incidents where the weather changed quite rapidly and I came back to strong winds at the aerodrome. On both occasions I was flying a C42 microlight and the poor weather was not forecast.
This is unusual because in the ten years before, I have only had one other incident with very poor weather. That was in a PA28 at night...but that's a different story.
At the start of November, I took off on a local sortie at 9am. The surface wind was less than 5kts and it was CAVOK. I noticed a band of poor visibility approximately 30 miles west of the aerodrome. I monitored it throughout the flight and noted that it wasn't moving so I didn't think much of it.
On my second flight at 11am, I took off in similar conditions and noticed that the band of poor visibility was perhaps 20 miles west of the aerodrome. As it was slowly moving towards me, I decided to fly towards it. This was to ensure that I could always turn back.
After cruising for a short while, the conditions started to get a bit bumpy and I suddenly noticed that the band of poor visibility was in fact snow showers and low cloud that I estimated at around 1,200ft. I also noticed that it had started to move rapidly. My ground speed had fallen to around 30kts.
I was still in controlled airspace so I requested a 180 and return to the aerodrome which was granted. This was quickly followed by a number of other aircraft asking for immediate returns.
By the point of turning, the weather front was above me. Moderate to heavy snow was falling around the aircraft and visibility was reduced. Luckily my ground speed quickly improved as I turned and I was able to outpace the front.
The visibility quickly improved as I turned away and my ground speed picked up, but I was heading for a windy landing.
When I arrived on downwind for runway 23, the wind was reported as 300/18kts. Great.
It was extremely turbulent below 1,000ft and as I descended there was a strong wind gradient.
On final approach, the wind was reported as 320/22kts. It was extremely gusty and windshear was horrendous.
The C42 has a maximum demonstrated crosswind of 15kts. For such crosswinds, the manual suggests approaching with one stage of flaps at 58kts.
I elected to fly a flap-less approach at 70-75kts in order to give me more gust protection and rudder authority.
Stabilising airspeed was difficult and I was working very hard to maintain my approach path. It was extremely difficult to maintain a suitable flare height due to the strong gusts. De-crabbing the aircraft was probably on limits as it required almost full rudder authority and a lot of opposite stick.
After landing I immediately braked to lose airspeed and taxied in very slowly.
I was lucky that I had a long runway as I did not wish to go around. The weather front was only a couple of miles from the western side of the runway by that point.
I hopped out to pull the aircraft into the hangar and noticed a small build up of ice on the propellor spinner.
A scary flight indeed and certainly the worst conditions that I have experienced in a C42 or indeed any microlight.
The second incident followed one week later and was somewhat less taxing but I still landed with a 90 degree crosswind at 18kts.
Neither of these were forecast.
Would I take off if those conditions were forecast? Absolutely not. Would I take off when the wind is or is forecast to be 15kts crosswind? Nope.
Some people say that the maximum demonstrated crosswind is nothing more than what the test pilot achieved at the time of testing and is not an absolute limit. Whilst this is true, I would suggest that pilots consider their own abilities in comparison with the test pilot. You also have a duty of care to your passengers and you are responsible if you make a poor decision.
You should also not be fooled by what other pilots tell you. I have found that men often over estimate two things - one is the strength of crosswinds that they have landed in. Make your own decisions and be sensible and realistic about what is suitable for you and your aircraft.
Remember that it is better to be down here wishing you were up there, than to be up there wishing you were down here.
Of course, in the examples above the poor conditions were not forecast. Although it is quite rare for the forecast to be so far off, if this happens to you, then there is not much you can do about it. Consider diverting to another aerodrome if this is possible.
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