Monday, February 07, 2011

Any Way The Wind Blows

In today's case it was blowing from the South West at >25 knots and gusts reported up to 37 knots. But the visability was good, the cloud base reasonable for todays mission, and although the winds were strong, they were blowing straight down the runway at both the departure point and the destination. So the only two things to elicit a read out on the "Pucker Factor" were the gusts to deal with at Lelystad (my destination) and the winds aloft enroute.

The mission was to ferry "Nippy" across from Texel back to her home-base of Lelystad. A previous attempt the week before came to nought. A check of the weather that weekend had beautiful blue skies on Saturday only to give way to grey overcast stratus and poor visibility. However, the forecast predicted that come the afternoon it would clear up and make way to sunshine. That it did, but only over Noord Holland. The rest of the route from Enkhuizen onwards was shrouded in mist and claggy clouds no higher than 300 ft. It wasn't a completely wasted trip. I got to do some touch and go's in "Nippy" and check the plane out after Michael from VOT had stripped her bare and put her back together again (I just hope that there were no bits leftover when he put her back). Having your mechanic only 40 minutes flight away is a damn sight better than the 3 hours or more I had to contend with when she was looked after in Strasbourg. And although the flying legs were quite comfortable, it was the 8 or more hours either getting there or back that hacked me off.

So the first attempt was scrubbed, but with the strong, almost hurricane force, winds dying down, and the visibility improving, I thought it was definitely doable today. The TAF's from EHAM (Schiphol) and EHKD (De Kooy) both showed lighter winds in the morning, gradually strengthening as the afternoon progressed. No worries, I'd be up in the air by lunchtime.

Michael came to pick me up from the ferry terminal on Texel. We rolled Nippy out of the hanger and I carried out the preflight. As I started her up and asked for the airfield QNH from Mike in the tower, I noticed the windsock was fully inflated and horizontal!! Mike asked me what was the max cruising speed of the little Wooden Wonder, to which I replied "Don't worry, it's fast enough that I won't be flying backwards in this wind".

It was a blustery trek to the departure point of runway 22 in Texel. I had a hard time trying to counteract the affects of the wind on the v-tail. But with the engine run-up checks complete, I was soon in the air, and quite quickly too! Before I knew it the ASI was showing a speed of 80kts and Nippy was climbing like a homesick angel. But it was very early on that I noticed exactly how windy it was once airborne.

I was being thrown around like a ragdoll and really had to crab into the wind. On a normal day with light winds, a normal track would have me steer a heading of 143°. However on today's flight, I was having to steer 180° just to keep centered on the magenta line shown on the GPS. It was quite an odd feeling to be flying and looking 45° to my left. As a result of the winds aloft, a simple jaunt of thirty minutes ended up taking a full hour to complete.

As I flew overhead the city of Lelystad, I could see the airfield away off in the distance. I could also hear from the radio chatter that there was someone even more mad than me bashing the circuit and doing touch and go's. I have no idea if it was a poor student getting in some very valuable training (and having a pair of brown shorts by the end of his sortie) or if it was an owner getting up in any auld weather just to stay current. But given that the winds were now gusting close to 35kts at Lelystad, but right down the centreline. And since there was only one guy in the circuit, I asked the folks on watch in the tower if I could forgo the necessary join at BRAVO, and instead opt for a very long approach over the woods. The reasoning for this was to enable me to assess the strength of the winds from a good distance out and give me enough time to set Nippy up for a stable approach. 

A "keep a close eye for traffic" was the all-clear I needed. With the gusts being 15kts greater than the average wind speed, I tacked on another 15kts to the approach speed and elected for half flaps. The other aircraft in the circuit was turning upwind, so I had plenty of time to set-up for the approach. No worries. Power set to idle, carb heat hot and the flaps slowly coming in as I was feeling out the wind, before you knew it Nippy was flaring oh-so-gently over the threshold, kissing Mother Earth. 

There......Home, Sweet Home. Nippy is now tucked up in the hanger awaiting for the winds to die down and the Spring sunshine to make its appearance. And I am home enjoying a well deserved cold beer.

Below is the METAR from Amsterdam Schiphol at the time I was touching down in Lelystad.

EHAM 071425Z 22026G37KT 9999 OVC018 10/06 Q1011 NOSIG

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