Racing the storm

Discussion in 'Lessons Learned' started by dungoofed, Jul 11, 2016.

  1. dungoofed

    dungoofed Guest

    A long time friend of mine was in town and we'd been talking about him, his wife, and kids flying with me. The night before we had met up for dinner and he threw out the idea of going today. Forecast for the next day was clear, sounded like a good idea

    We changed the plans early the morning of because his parents also wanted a turn. I would fly from my home base to an airport closer to them, less than 30nm away. The airports are less than 15min flight time apart... if even that. I would be no more than 8 minutes from a familiar field at any given time and that fact stuck in my head even though I expected no problems.

    I checked the weather that afternoon before heading to the airport. There were now some clouds across the area but they were all in the 3000+ range and winds were < 10kts. No problems for some short sightseeing flights. Forecasts in the area suggested these conditions would continue... except for one from my home field that said "thunderstorms in vicinity" later in the evening. I checked the weather radar and noted a storm well to the NW that looked like it was going to stay well to the north. I wasn't too concerned but decided that worst case I could just land at the remote airport, tie it down, and either wait for the storm to pass or retrieve the aircraft the next morning.

    The flight to the other airport was uneventful, fairly smooth and calm for a summer evening. The expected clouds were over my head but high enough that clouds were never of issue. I made a nice landing in gentle winds and taxied out. I took up a load with 2 kids and their mom and we toured the area. Then up with the grandparents. Smooth flights, smooth landings, wonderful day. Everyone enjoyed themselves. My friend was going to go last, return with me to my home airport and we'd drive back. His wife decided she wanted to leave the kids with the grandparents and go along.

    Up to this point in the story, there's no lesson to be learned. We had a good day, we had the sort of day with an airplane you go home proud of.

    I pulled out my phone just to peek at where that "no-factor" storm had gone. Funny, I wasn't seeing it... oh the radar overlay on foreflight wasn't on. Oops.... and there it was. Big red and yellow radar returns to the west of the airport I was preparing to leave for.

    So this was the point where I should have tied down and hopped in one of the cars right there and gone home. There was absolutely no reason to risk this but leaving the airplane there was going to be inconvenient and I hate leaving it outside in a storm. The storm wasn't there yet, I had a clear shot, I was less than 15 minutes away, and I was flying straight towards it so if I encountered anything bad I could do a 180 and land back where I was.

    I explained to my friend and his wife what was up and that the plan was to turn back if we had any problems. They were totally down with it, he even seemed to find it exciting. "We're racing the storm" he said. That phrase triggered memories of cautionary tales which ought to have made me stop the whole thing right there. Obviously I didn't. I'm usually a giant chicken when it comes to these things. Weather forecasts across the area had been frequently "scattered thunderstorms" for a while and I'd canceled several flights in the past few weeks because of it only to be frustrated as I watched clear skies prevail all day long.

    I actually had been feeling a bit foolish about chickening out all those times. I mean one always wants to be careful with weather and flying but if you only fly perfect days you don't get to fly much right?

    And so we departed, I tuned in the ASOS at my home field as soon as I got to pattern altitude. Same light winds, same 3000+ clouds that had been there all day.... oh and "lightning distant all quadrants". I still have no idea what "distant" means but it sounds like "far" to me.My eyes scanning ahead saw one or two small patches of light rain.... nothing too worrying. I watched for the lightning and saw nothing. They sky was getting darker out that way but nothing too scary. My course would put me right into the downwind for the best runway option. We briefly had a few drops of rain hit the windshield... just light rain, no big deal. Air was still smooth, I was in familiar territory, I'd been flying great all day, and we were almost there. Very shortly I had the airport in sight and as predicted I was in a perfect position for a downwind entry on my chosen runway. There were dark skies beyond... but still no lightning. No heavy rain shafts that I could see. We were good, I hadn't pushed my luck too far.

    I quickly grabbed the weather again... same boring winds and cloud reports with the same ominous lightning distant. No worries, I quickly ran through my before landing checklist as I entered the downwind. Boy that sky sure looked dark beyond... I was still heading straight for it in the downwind but I was about to land so again, no worries. Since I'd been trying to get there quick I had the throttle set pretty high all the way in and slowed down later than usual. My speed on downwind was higher than I usually do but I had it down into the white arc abeam the numbers. This runway was longer than I needed so if I landed a tad fast, not a big deal.

    As I was working towards getting my airplane slowed and descending the air became bumpy for the first time. Normally not a big deal but with the weather bearing down it made me start wondering if I was going to have issues near the ground. As I said before I normally don't go anywhere near a storm and I'm not used to them so everything was making me uneasy. Airspeed was still too high and I wasn't descending fast enough so I pulled back the throttle a bit, things were feeling bumpier. What I needed to do for a good landing was extend my downwind a bit and lose some energy. I was flying towards the weather though, I didn't want to be doing that... and my speed was coming down, the descent was coming in... I made my radio call, put in the next notch of flaps early to help with the speed, and started a standard rate turn to base. As I was banking left a wind gust or maybe an updraft.. or both hit my plane. It felt like I was about to roll over but in reality it probably just pushed me from a 20 degree bank to a 30 or so. Worse my descent was arrested... I may have even surged up a bit. As I started coming around for final I could see two bright white VASI lights staring at me and beyond that I was way too high.... not just slightly high but way too damn high.

    With this sort of situation and sight picture one should immediately start thinking about a go-around... and I did think about it. However a go around would mean the storm getting closer, that rough wind was right at my back. I didn't want to turn around and fly back into worse. I'd salvaged approaches almost this bad before, the runway was long, and if I wasn't going to make it I could always climb back out and I'd already be on course away from the bad weather and back where I came from.

    So, too fast and too high with a storm at my back I chopped the throttle to idle, put in full flaps, and initiated a slip. I came in over the threshold too damn high with too much ground speed... way too much ground speed. Somewhere near midfield I was floating through ground effect and didn't touch down near the last 1/4 of the runway. On touchdown a combination of not transitioning from the slip quick enough(this was happening FAST) and excess speed caused some sideways skidding and swerving. Quick footwork and aileron control kept us on the paved part although I was worried I'd loose it any moment and all the while I was gripping the throttle tight in indecision as to whether to keep it locked down or open it back up and just get the heck out of this mess. No, we were slowing... slowing... not skidding anymore. I had it. I turned off onto the last exit onto the taxiway... seemingly calm but I could feel the slight tremor in my leg as I put pressure on the rudder pedal. My mindset immediately shifted to "let's get the plane inside quick in case something nasty is about to hit".

    I never felt panicked. Even when I momentarily though I was going to skid off the runway I was only thinking about how embarrassing skidding off into the grass would be. That's not to say fear doesn't enter my thinking. That wind I hit on my base turn was I think now the gust front of the incoming weather. Rough, but just based on the "face feel" shortly after getting out on the ramp not beyond my ability to have safely landed in. I probably could have/should have gone around instead of trying to save a bad landing but at that point the wind would have changed direction and I'd have had to either change runways or land with a significant tailwind. I'd been used to calm wind landings all day and wasn't mentally braced for difficult crosswinds or bumpy gusty winds. Fear of the unknown intensity of the incoming weather lead to me deciding to continue this bad landing. As it turns out, I had enough time to have my airplane put away, chat with another pilot who'd landed earlier, then drive about 3 miles towards the storm before any of the rain hit... and the surface winds at least were never too bad.

    What I really should have done is just tied the airplane down at the remote airport and waited it out. I should never have put myself into a situation that made me nervous enough to make further bad decisions. I should never have cut something that close, especially when there was absolutely no good reason to do so.

    My friend seemed to enjoy the whole experience... he likes a little excitement. "more fun than a rollercoaster" was what he said. Maybe I'm still a chicken and it wasn't as bad to an outside observer as it seemed to me at the time. Either way, I'm not happy with my choices even though it ended well.
     
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  2. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    From your description, I think you DID land with a tailwind.
     
  3. N659HB

    N659HB Pattern Altitude

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    That's what I was thinking as well.

    Glad you had a good outcome!
     
  4. RV10flyer

    RV10flyer Pattern Altitude

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    Many of us have been there. Go get a good CFI on a gusty, windy day and practice those xw landings. Practice various approaches...high, low, flaps, no flaps, sim engine out, crab and slip. Do this until it becomes comfortable or you are good and sweaty. Then study more about weather/thunderstorm prediction. Always keep 1 hr min fuel, tie down ropes, covers, snacks and drinks in case you need to turn around and land somewhere safe. Have fun.
     
  5. RV10flyer

    RV10flyer Pattern Altitude

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    Come join us here on POA. We learn a lot from each other.
     
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  6. steingar

    steingar Touchdown! Greaser!

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    If you haven't raced a storm home or been chased out of an airport by one you haven't been flying long. If I'm racing a storm I don't need no stinkin' downwind. Last one I raced, tower tried to vector me into a downwind. Told him I'd take the straight in, I don't like getting wet. Landed with a tailwind. Big deal.
    Got chased by a boomer on my last training flight with the new airplane. Started raining cats and dogs as soon as I shut down. Thankfully the thing (new airplane) doesn't leak.
     
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  7. mscard88

    mscard88 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Yeah I'm on board with the tailwind. It sounds like you learned a valuable lesson on this flight.
     
  8. exncsurfer

    exncsurfer Pattern Altitude

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    Your story reminds me of this test question, all except for the 'wind calm' part. I'm sure if the wind wasn't a factor you'd have made a straight in to the runway opposite the weather.


    FAA said:
    The destination airport has one runway, 8-26, and the wind is calm. The normal approach in calm wind is a left hand pattern to runway 08. There is no other traffic at the airport. A thunderstorm about 6 miles west is beginning its mature stage, and rain is starting to reach the ground. The pilot decides to

    A. fly the pattern to runway 8 since the storm is too far away to affect the wind at the airport.
    B. fly the normal pattern to runway 8 since the storm is west and moving north and any unexpected wind will be from the east or southeast toward the storm.
    C. fly an approach to runway 26 since any unexpected wind due to the storm will be westerly.


    FAA answer is C, I'm not a fan of their wording as it could confuse someone, is the wind westerly or the storm? They should have just said 'since the storm is to the west'.
     
  9. Stingray Don

    Stingray Don Cleared for Takeoff PoA Supporter

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    Must be an outdated question. Everyone knows the correct answer is: D. Pull the chute

    :p


     
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  10. dungoofed

    dungoofed Guest

    I think you guys are right about the tailwind. From what I remember when I first got out on the ramp the wind was the same light wind aligned with runway heading wind that had prevailed all day. Then I'd say within 30 seconds it was blowing hard in the opposite direction. Maybe blowing one way on half of the runway and the opposite way at the other end during the landing? I've seen it happen before but there weren't any windsocks at each end to visually verify it here.

    I have gone out with a CFI and practiced in nasty wind conditions but that was now over 2 years ago... just passed my BFR recently. I tend to cherry pick days I go out on my own too so it's not like I've practiced it a lot lately. Maybe a refresh is in order.
     
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  11. EppyGA

    EppyGA Final Approach

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    Good job overall. I believe I'd have kicked the slip in much earlier.
     
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  12. danhagan

    danhagan Cleared for Takeoff

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    +3 ... saw the other messages.

    If you see nasty stuff land TOWARDS it ... also, practice power off 180's ... the last thing you want to do is extend a downwind right at something nasty (best yet, land somewhere else).

    Several years ago a Husky departed right into the only massive cell and microburst in the region that was off the departure end of our runway (5T6 around 2007) ... if they had turned after lift off, they would've missed it. They flew a straight out departure right into it and didn't have enough power to outclimb the microburst and didn't survive. Plenty of witnesses as it occurred during a major fly-in ...
     
  13. N747JB

    N747JB Final Approach

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    Way back when I was about 23, I was flying home from Winter Haven FL, where my wife's grandparents lived. I was VFR in our 182, the ceiling was getting progressively lower, and then it got lower still. I was south of LaGrange Ga about 20 miles when I decided we needed to land as making to Atlanta seemed like a long shot. It was starting to rain, not real heavy, but enough to affect visibility and I couldn't find the airport. So, I flew to the VOR and tracked the outbound course to find it, in my nervousness I set it up backwards, but figured it out and found the field with heavy rain off the opposite end of the runway. I landed straight in with a 15+ know tailwind but I was just glad to get on the ground. We rented a car and drove home, that night they CLOSED ATL for several hours due to the storms. I haven't had many instances where I landed a rented a car, but if I hadn't that night, I probably wouldn't be typing this. :eek:
     
  14. Sac Arrow

    Sac Arrow Touchdown! Greaser!

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    With the exception of the landing drama, been there and done that. Throw some terrain in the mix and things can get ugly in a hurry.
     
  15. bkspero

    bkspero Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Maybe I'm misunderstanding the situation because no one has mentioned this yet, but it sure sounds like the beginnings of wind shear resulting from the incoming storm.

    https://www.faasafety.gov/files/gsl...7/FAA P-8740-40 WindShear[hi-res] branded.pdf

    Am I wrong? Also, if it was, wasn't it something much more dangerous than a simple tailwind? But the kind of thing that can drop you below stall speed in an instant as the plane transitions from one wind direction to another. The OP's "error" of flying the approach high and hot could well have saved his bacon if the plane had passed through a (weak) boundary zone. And it happens well before the storm arrives at the airport. Just as in this case.
     
  16. whereisrandall

    whereisrandall Pre-takeoff checklist

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    The first time I landed in shear (+/-10kts reported by multiple planes including us that same evening) we were bouncing pretty good on 1-mile final. We crossed the threshold in a 172 at 100mph indicated, flaps 20, and bled off speed over the runway. Scary.
     
  17. airheadpenguin

    airheadpenguin Pre-takeoff checklist

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    As long as you take this as an opportunity to learn and don't view it as something to try again you've succeeded.

    You seem to have already put your finger on several things to do differently next time. I'm with @steingar though, if you haven't raced a storm you haven't been doing this long. There are obviously good and bad ways to do it, in my case it was departing 0B5 for KASH when the rain was just starting to fall. Storm was about 20 miles away, I was headed east at 95kt with plenty of options farther east if needed. No biggie, by the time I got back to Nashua there were about 50 miles between me and the storm.
     
  18. bluerooster

    bluerooster Cleared for Takeoff

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    With a storm to the west I would expect the wind to be westerly (from the west). And land on runway 26. Wind direction is allways given in the from direction.
     
  19. jsstevens

    jsstevens En-Route PoA Supporter

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    The worst storm racing I ever did was on my dual long cross country during my PPL training. We flew KORL-KOCF-KBKV-KORL. 8/25/2005. We flew though some light rain on the last leg and landed. Taxied in and then the flight instructor held the plane in place to keep it from rolling across the ramp in the wind while I tied it down. Hurricane Katrina crossed the Florida peninsula east to west as a weak hurricane, headed out into the Gulf of Mexico and became the monster that devastated New Orleans and a lot of the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida panhandle gulf coast. I landed just before the first squall lines hit.

    I would never have made that flight but the flight instructor said it's OK and it was. Just barely.

    John
     
  20. GlennAB1

    GlennAB1 En-Route

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    No, he landed with his tail between his legs...
     
  21. Croomrider

    Croomrider Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Sounds like weather in my area, and something that could happen to me. I think I would have landed straight in towards the storm, which would get you down quicker along with facing the direction the storm front would be coming from if it came. Also, practice approaches that are not totally standard "by the numbers" type approaches. If you know you need to get it slowed down and lose altitude more quickly than normal, practice getting full flaps in as soon as possible and pulling more power, kind of like the tower asking for a short approach. It seemed from your description you were trying to make a "normal" decent/approach when you needed to be doing something else. Glad it worked out good though!

    Mike
     
  22. azure

    azure Final Approach

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    Something like this *did* happen to me at my former home base of KVLL. I landed on 27 with an approaching storm about 5-10 miles out to the west. The prevailing wind was from the SW but just as I was touching down a very strong gust from the NW nearly caused me to veer off the left side of the runway. I definitely side-loaded the mains, in fact skidded sideways and just barely stopped before hitting one of the runway lights. This drove home the lesson to always be prepared to make last minute corrections for wind changes... and also not to try to beat a thunderstorm. :(
     
  23. farmerbrake

    farmerbrake Line Up and Wait

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    I just had a slightly similar experience, although our radar mainly showed the green/blue areas on the radar, barely any yellow, and it didn't appear to be moving, or moving towards the airport if it was.
    Was actually my first TRUE MVFR flying day (Viz 5, ceiling was 8,000 but lowering and started to put a 'few' layer in the traffic patter). Was taking some family around the area about 15nm north of the airport. I knew I had outs like you (including ifr rating if needed).
    After dodging a few clouds heading back to the airport I saw a fairly black sky at the approach end of rnwy 27. Called tower about 13 miles out. They said enter roght downwind for 27. At about 6 out they said there was rain 1 to 2 miles out of the approach end of 27, and wondered if I wanted to switch to 20. I can't remember winds, but I know they weren't more than 5 knots.
    I decided to follow their suggestion and switch to 20.
    Good thing I did. Landed and taxied to the self serve. As i was putting my credit card in the sky let loose!
    Good learning experience for me, although not as exciting as the OP.
     
  24. ralarcon

    ralarcon Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Agree !